Sunday, November 18, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene - Kline '90

No bed, no inappropriate mounting of one's mother, we seem well away from Zeffirelli's Oedipal staging, though by the end, Kline does give us a light kiss and a lot of hair and face stroking. Tender affection only brought on when Hamlet sees a hope for his mother's soul. But until then, the scene is set in a black room with red curtains, a red carpet and red chairs, foreshadowing the bloody deed that is to come and giving the entire scene, played mostly on the floor, a sense of violence.

Polonius goes out behind the arras earlier than in the text, at "I'll silence me, even here", which stressed this way, is rather like a suicide note. He'll come out again for one last line and bit of comic business before Gertrude asks him to withdraw. Dana Ivey as Gertrude is the one to watch here. Before Hamlet walks in, she's pacing, nervous, but once he enters, she becomes poised and regal, demanding answers as a Queen would. She puts on this character in part out of habit, and in part because it should work on a grown son who acts like a child. Queen/Mother, Country/Son - these concepts are connected, and when Hamlet asks her not to make things worse, he uses the rank weeds metaphor that we linked to Denmark as unweeded garden way back in Act I. From that angle, Hamlet is the rebellious country unhappy with its leaders' decisions, or rather that country's vocal discontents, as Laertes will actually lead the violent revolution. Should we then see Gertrude's mix of chiding and kindness as part of that allegory? A patronized Danish people who can get out of hand because of weakness at the top?

The scene plays out as more of a conversation than most adaptations allow. Gertrude genuinely wants answers and Hamlet is trying hard to convince her of the error of her ways. As the emotions reach a crescendo, the volume does go up, until Gertrude is screaming, through some very real anguish, for her son to stop. By showing her her two husbands, he seems to trigger her guilt and grief, but Gertrude always gets more agitated when he demands she stop sleeping with Claudius (and she gets a number of opportunities, he just won't let it go). Is the King violent? Does she fear political reprisal? Does she use sex as a weapon, and was planning to undo Hamlet's exile this very night with her feminine wiles? Does she truly love Claudius? Is she traumatized by the revelation that Claudius killed Hamlet Sr.? Any of these are possible and could make for interesting staging, though here it remains ambiguous.
The Ghost appears with a slight shift in lighting (no special effects, this was a theatrical production, after all), and it keeps to behind Gertrude, across from Hamlet, a most effective staging of the scene. The sense of worry Gertrude has for her son throughout returns to her here, and even Hamlet seems to be trying to convince himself of his mental health when he talks about his pulse keeping the time. Does it? Keeping time in this play is a most difficult enterprise. Kline's Hamlet doesn't appear to only be mad in craft, as evidenced by his murder of Polonius, and the way he speaks to the old man as if he were still alive. He drags him away, the red curtain getting caught on Polonius' foot and creating a sense of blood even though the scene is actually bloodless. His final good night is somber and macabre. The performance, as much as the text, puts Gertrude in an untenably ambiguous position. Madness and reason, violence and kindness, the men she loves both murderers, and this goodbye that does nothing to quiet her motherly concerns.

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