Sunday, September 30, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - Classics Illustrated

The original
This page is preceded by two brief panels whose sole function is to keep the plot alive. In the first, Claudius dispatches Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to take Hamlet to England. In the second, Polonius describes his plan to hide in the Queen's closet, to which Claudius merely says "thanks". Such brevity is in complete contrast to the page above, which forces the characters to let out an entire speech fixed in a single pose. That's a weakness of the comics medium, but does it inform our reading of the play anyway? Claudius says his speech with an obvious headache and because he doesn't actually kneel before the next panel, he seems to decide that prayer, which he believed impossible, remains the only avenue left open to him. Hamlet, in the second, never approaches the King, and so likely does not hear the coda in the last panel, but note that in that panel, the King does not stop praying. In this version then, Claudius' attempts at prayer may go on longer, and might even succeed off-panel. These words become part of the same self-doubt he shows in the preceding speech. Can he overcome it and find salvation?

That large candle in front of him reminds us that he asked for "light" in the previous scene, and that this light may be physical or spiritual. He needs to shed light on his darkened soul. Should have caught that link earlier, but see how a simple (and fairly primitive) image can, uhm, shed light on Shakespeare's text.

The Berkley version
Tom Mandrake's adaptation omits Polonius (keeping his appearance in the closet scene as something of a surprise), but keeps Claudius' orders to R&G. As in the previous adaptation, they don't get to say their lines, and Claudius, his face in constant, unreadable shadow, dismisses them with his back turned. This is a man who cannot bear to let anyone see him in this state and he might even run from a mirror at this point. Before they've even left, his voice goes to a whisper (smaller lettering) as he starts on his speech. Finally, we're allowed to see his eyes, but he's hiding his face from the reader with his metaphorically blood-soaked hand. Mandrake, as always, is very strong at representing anxiety, and we won't see the King's eyes again in the scene, as he can't bear to look at any part of himself.
Behind his, a shadow with sword drawn. Is that pity in Hamlet's glittering eye? Or regret to find such a pioous Claudius? It does seem like he overhears the prayer if not the admission of murder, and yet, is powerless to act on that confirmation. He turns away and likely misses Claudius' final lines, but you'll note that his own speech is completely omitted. Mandrake is well aware that his reader has probably read or seen the play before, and allows us to fill in that blank. For the uninitiated however, he avoids the theological discussion and lets them assume... what? That Hamlet is satisfied with the King asking for forgiveness? That his mother is the greater target and that this is a result of his "blunted purpose"? It's a rather more ambiguous representation of the scene.

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