Thursday, June 14, 2012

III.ii. Critical Reception - Zeffirelli '90

An important difference with this adaptation is that the revels continue even after members of the Court scurry for the exits. It's an odd choice, one that devalues the King's power, though it does better match Hamlet's state of mind. His own song and dance is even more over the top than elsewhere, and he clearly sends such words as "wounded deer" in the King's direction so that it might be heard. This entire performance is witnessed by Gertrude who stands shocked and amazed before finally leaving. Hamlet doesn't have much of a conversation with Horatio before running off, so his friend's reaction remains ambiguous, though Claudius was pretty obvious in HIS reaction. And in the wake of all this, we keep finding fragments of the Nunnery scene - Hamlet tells Ophelia to leave one more time, kisses her, and gives a matter-of-fact farewell. You can practically see her mind breaking.

A change of venue, and we're on a parapet somewhere else, though not too long later since Hamlet has a drum around his neck and a recorder in his hand. He is accosted by Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, but he's obviously had time to settle down and is relatively serious and friendly with them. The better to take a darker turn in the middle of a line, specifically at "It is as easy as lying". Guildenstern is particularly sarcastic with his "I have not the skill", which sets Hamlet off to violence and to choking him with the pipe. The true irony is, in fact, that they really DON'T have the skill, neither in music, lying or getting information from Hamlet. One could probably write a dissertation on this idea. People in the play are consistently required to do things for which they "have not the skill", whether it's R&G's undercover work, Polonius' counsel, Claudius' confession, or indeed, Hamlet's bloody revenge. What is easy, on the surface, may not be so simple, and I am constantly reminded of "to thine own self be true" as the key to to the play. Polonius does not feature in this sequence, so no mysterious clouds, etc. Instead, R&G get some of his lines and are left to "easily" transmit the Prince's message. Of course, "easy" has so far been beyond their grasp.
Hamlet runs down the stairs, away from them, for his brief soliloquy, which is even briefer, ending the scene on "Now to my mother". In other words, he places no conditions on that visit, and after speaking of drinking hot blood and doing bitter business, the lack of such makes us believe he's off to murder Gertrude. It's an omission that creates tension, certainly, but thrown on top of the change of venue, it beggars the question of why Claudius is not more in his thoughts. The guilt of the King spreading to the Queen is a central ambiguity of the play (I could, in fact, have switched King and Queen and still been correct), but by forgetting the King entirely, that ambiguity is not well served. Once again, I find myself frowning at Zeffirelli's cuts.


Prof. Chronotis said...

Once again, you've pointed out something about one of these films (and indeed, the play) that I'd never thought about before. Hamlet really is surrounded by incompetents, isn't he? Is there anybody in this play who's actually good at their jobs?

I agree the cuts in the Ziffirelli film are often heart-breaking. But, and I think you came close to saying it here, when you have Helena Bonham-Carter doing that thing she does so brilliantly (demonstrating what happens to a mind when it's been stretched beyond its limits) and Ian Holm being brilliant as always ... one is inclined to be forgiving.

Excellent piece as always, my friend.

Siskoid said...

Horatio is a good friend, but at this point, Hamlet doesn't listen to him, so the point is moot. The Ghost fails to motivate Hamlet toward his ultimate goal. Ophelia, the dutiful daughter, fails to ensnare Hamlet in the way Polonius wants her to. From Hamlet's perspective, Gertrude is a bad mother, and what do we make of her apparently looking on as Ophelia commits suicide and does nothing? Laertes comes home for a revolution then immediately falls in behind the King. There really is something to this, isn't there? The Gravedigger's pretty good.

As for the cuts, Zeffirelli often replaces lines with visuals (actor-driven and not), which I respect. In this case, perhaps that's yet to come in the actual closet scene.