Sunday, November 4, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene - BBC '80

As we find Gertrude, she's taking her rings off, getting ready for bed. It's hard not to see this as symbolic, since it prefaces a scene where she is asked to divest herself of a husband. She's agitated and angry to start with, at Hamlet more than at Polonius getting above himself, which comes to a head when she slaps Hamlet for his impertinence. Though it's a good performance, Derek Jacobi overwhelms the scene as usual, so mercurial as Hamlet that any given line may evoke some new analysis. For example, this is the first time Gertrude's "idle tongue" line resonates with so much irony for me, as his delivery of "go, go", a thoughtless reflection of her "come, come", is "idling" in every sense of the word. She makes him idle, just as his line makes her wicked (thus, the slap). As she attempts to leave, he blocks her with a drawn sword, the same he then uses to repeatedly stab the arras.

Anguish is on his face as he commits the blind murder, rather than anger, Jacobi truly making this about Hamlet killing the more ethical part of himself, and finally giving in to the revenge he's denied for so long. Contrast with his counsel to the Queen that she should throw away the worst part of her heart. He has done the opposite. Uniquely, Polonius takes some time to die after he's fallen, extending a hand towards his killer, much as Hamlet Sr. must have done towards Claudius, making the scene even more unbearable for Hamlet. After he's dead, Hamlet shouts his warning of danger at the corpse, as if trying to reach him in the afterlife, and bringing up the question of what happens to the soul after death, central to his early delay of action and his father's true fate (indeed, does the Ghost's appearance in this scene have any relationship to Polonius' sudden entry into Hell?). The emphasis on the line also makes us think of the Ghost as a "busy" schemer, whose machinations will bring on more danger.
From there, Hamlet frequently alternates between quiet kindness and violent accusations. The pictures of the two husbands on each character's necklaces is not a new trick, but Gertrude's reaction to these is always of interest. She refuses to look at either man, especially Hamlet Sr., seeming to grieve anew for him. She tries to flee her son, pacing back and forth in the antechamber, until Hamlet throws her into the bedroom and onto the bed. Here, it becomes a little disturbing, exploiting the Oedipal connections violently and sarcastically. The King's "compulsive ardour" is actually mimed, Hamlet humping his mother frenetically before he breaks down, his face in a pillow. Just when you think it's over, he starts on the "enseamed bed" section and tickles her cruelly, yipping like a lascivious loon on each beat. This behavior is not Oedipal in the sense that Hamlet seems truly in love with his mother, but is rather a parody of the Oedipal compulsion, showing the unnatural in the Claudius/Gertrude relationship through a grotesque lens.
The Ghost appears, still in armor even if many productions choose to dress him in more relaxed attire. But this is not a relaxed Ghost. He is very strict with his son and only mellows slightly at Gertrude's plight. The visitation is fairly standard otherwise, but what comes after provides more examination of the lines through Jacobi's unusual line readings. It's the word "ecstasy" that brings Hamlet back down to earth, when he goes cold and mean to his mother. The tone Jacobi uses makes it clear that the Prince is essentially saying "Don't you DARE say my madness and not your sin is the cause of all this". This Hamlet is far less forgiving than others, even after the Ghost has interceded on her behalf. And yet, he's looking for a way out, and believes he's found it when she says her heart has been cleft in twain. He starts laughing with relief. He believes she can be saved. But can she? She hugs him, seems to believe all will be well, but when he warns her about sleeping with Claudius, she stops. In fear? In shame? Remembering her love or lust for Claudius? In hesitation because she DOES love Claudius? His warnings turn to supplication and back again. There's still anger there, and contempt. Jacobi turns "I'll blessing beg of you" into an attack at her ability to repent, as if to say "You can judge me only when you've admitted your own sin". He is so changeable that you can hardly trust him when he says he's "essentially not in madness". Stern one minute, repentant the next, showing a flash of anger when his mother forgets he's off to England, and then giggling as he imagines his revenge on his school friends.

Polonius' eulogy fits this same pattern. Hamlet is able to choke back a sob by the end (but is he crying for Polonius, for Ophelia, or for his own soul?), and yet still make a Bondian death pun. Notably, he puts the murder weapon on Polonius' body, in a parody of a soldier's funeral, as if to represent machinations "fall'n on the inventors' heads". This is part of Hamlet's denial of action, justifying the accidental murder by blaming the victim. As the scene ends, we're treated to a staging that reveals Hamlet Prince of Denmark as a black comedy, Hamlet dragging a dead body while cheerily wishing his mother good night.

No comments: