Sunday, December 23, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene - Classics Illustrated

The original
While the original adaptation cuts a lot of the play down to the bare essentials, it gives this scene seven pages, including a two-page splash. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, since these comics had a Boy's Own Adventure style, and the scene features both a sword killing and the Ghost. There are still a lot of cuts, mind you. The extra space is given over to action, not words.
As you can imagine, though this Gertrude looks young and sexy, the comic removes Hamlet's rage his mother's sexuality. Classics Illustrated was hardly an innovative enterprise, but we do get a very comic book moment in the showing of the counterfeit presentment of the two brothers, with their pictures inset in the corner, facing each other.
Something else comics do differently than plays and films is the use of captions that interpret the action in third person omniscient. The adaptation does so to cover cuts or clarify actions that would not be clear to its likely pre-teen audience. Some of those interpretations are a little dubious. As Hamlet attacks his mother in the panel following the one above, we learn that he "continues as though the queen had not spoken", suggesting the author believes her expressed regret was contrition enough. Captions are also quick to clarify that she can't see the Ghost.
Above is the two-page splash designed to entrance young readers. While lines are cut like so much fat, a lot of space is devoted to keeping this audience interested. Is that so different from how it's done in the theater? Speaking of cuts, the scene soon wraps up with massive ones made to Hamlet's final conversation with his mother. After "Thou has cleft my heart in twain", she doesn't speak again. Hamlet simply tells her to throw away the worst part and that he's off to England. Even the "grave" pun is omitted in the rush to drag Polonius' body out of the Queen's closet and move on.

Footnotes - Words kids are not expected to know: Glass (mirror); adders (very poisonous snakes).

The Berkley version
In contrast, the Steven Grant/Tom Mandrake adaptation keeps the scene down to three pages, but manages to keep more of the text intact. As usual, Mandrake's art expresses a dark and foreboding mood. Coming into the room, Hamlet already has his sword out and the Queen is already running from it, which changes the tenor of her lines, and Hamlet's too. "Would it were not so, you are my mother" has a murderous edge with a sword in frame, as if the prince is ready to end that state, just as his "father" became a "ghost". When there are cuts, they're unusual and striking. Polonius doesn't cry for help, nor does Hamlet look for a "rat". Either he noticed someone behind the arras beforehand, or he heart a shuffling there, but he just stabs the arras out of the blue, as panel borders get drenched with blood.
Mandrake raises the level of intensity in Hamlet's tirade, closing in with each successive panel on Hamlet's eye and his mother's tear, a skull appearing in the prince's pupil (a Mandrake trademark).
There is no actual movement, no throwing on the bed, no counterfeit presentment, just the sense that Hamlet is dominating his mother, his image impossibly close to hers in that last panel, even as his voice goes down to a whisper. A threat has never been so well implied with so little.

The Ghost breaks the spell and creates another. Unusually, it stays in the picture after Hamlet says it steals away (crucially, "out of the portal" is omitted). So it is present when the prince gives his mother instructions to stop sleeping with Claudius. As with the previous adaptation, this end sequence is heavily cut, though it retains such lines as "I must be cruel only to be kind". Still, Gertrude stops speaking even earlier, at "yet all there is I see". In other words, she does not actually repent. Hamlet only takes it for granted that she does. In this version, it's the Ghost that makes Hamlet realize he should endeavor to save his mother, and her own reactions have nothing to do with his volte-face.

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