Friday, June 8, 2012

III.ii. Critical Reception - BBC '80

Like Olivier's before him, Jacobi's Hamlet sings the opening lines of this sequence, and like Branagh's after him, he infuses the word "friends" with sarcasm and has similar, almost violent mannerisms (for example mock-punching Rosencrantz at "pickers and feelers", and almost jamming the recorder into Guildenstern's teeth). However, there's something very different being done with the staging, something that inspires a new reading of the text. There looks to be a very definite play, on Jacobi's part, on class/position. Hamlet starts out standing on a chair, then comes down eye level to R&G, falls on his knees before them, and finally kisses their feet. From prince to slave over the course of a conversation. This is intriguing because it's a conversation in which Hamlet also claims to lack advancement. He's being incredibly ironic, not only mocking the rise of R&G as sycophants seeking just such advancement, and warning them that the grass is indeed also growing for them. All gardening metaphors are suspect in the play ever since Hamlet called Denmark a rank and unweeded garden, and here, the grass proverb is "musty". Things grow in corrupted form in Hamlet's Denmark, and R&G are liable to choke on the weeds (and in a way, do).

In the text, there is also a play on class in regards to Horatio, but those few lines are some of the rare cuts in this adaptation ("You might have rhymed" and so on). This Horatio is less brazen than other interpretations of the character, and less able to speak truth to power. There is obvious fear of Hamlet in his performance, and a sense that when he says "I did very well note him", he rather means "I did very well note YOU". In this version, remember, Claudius did not really give himself away. There was a stand-off, but the slick politician seems to have come out of it unblemished, while Hamlet appeared completely out of his mind. As usual, Hamlet will dismiss those he doesn't agree with before he hears what he doesn't want to hear.
When Polonius comes in, Hamlet seems to notice the camel-shaped cloud for the first time, and appears genuinely distracted, but the bitterness that ensues reveals it's probably an act. The cloud exists in this version, on a fresco that acts as backdrop to the play-within-the-play. Not that any of its clouds look like particular animals. It's against this background of gods in the heavens that Hamlet's hellish soliloquy is ironically spoken, his hands full of weapons, yet promising not to use them on his mother. As the staging piles on the ironies, so too does the text's ironies become more noticeable. Think of it: Hamlet has just (in his mind) exposed the King's guilt, and is ready to finally do violence, and yet it's to his mother's closet he now goes. Upon her invitation, of course, but if he is so ready to act, why not go directly to the King and murder him? It's because he finds her guilty as well, and indeed makes her the priority over the King. This inner battle has been going on since the start of the play when, in fact, the Queen started out guiltier than the King. Before the revelation of a murder, there was only the betrayal of a husband. It's a fact that continues to blunt Hamlet's purpose.

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