Sunday, January 27, 2013

Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Olivier '48

Olivier cuts scenes 1, 2 and indeed, 4, from Act IV, which does have a considerable impact on the play. By omitting Scene 1, Claudius' character is impoverished (the King is rather flat throughout the adaptation), and we can't evaluate whether Gertrude sides with her son or her husband (though the previous Act definitely leans towards the former). Scene 2's omission is unsurprising, given that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern have been excised from the play completely. So we start with Scene 3, a much calmer moment for lacking the chase through Elsinore. In fact, the King's sealing letters with Hamlet standing right there. Claudius' tone is restrained and ever the politician, he makes it sound like Hamlet's exile is for his own good, to avoid prosecution. The Prince is insolent, but Claudius' lack of reaction turns the words into curious/profound observation rather than insult.

Much more interesting is Hamlet's moment of madness when he calls Claudius his mother. He gets that far-away look in his eyes and his hands clench as if around someone's throat. By transforming his stepfather into his mother, or merging the two concepts, is he in a way giving Claudius a stay of execution? Olivier plays it as a realization. It's as if having decided not to harm his mother, he can now no longer harm her husband. Olivier is answering the question as to why Hamlet allows himself to go into exile rather than give in to his murderous impulse and kill the King instead. The exile saves all their lives, at least temporarily (aside from Ophelia, of course). With Scene 4 missing, THIS becomes the mid-play epiphany, the dramatic turning point. Not "my thoughts be bloody", quite the contrary. Hamlet apparently gives up his revenge, and we'll have to wonder why he returns to Denmark later. He can't even kill his two false friends on the voyage to England since they don't exist. Does Claudius' treachery (the letters requesting his death) reignite his desires? That's an analysis for another day.

As for Claudius, the staging has him go to the window to give his closing speech, speaking to England across the sea. A cool, collected delivery that speaks less to rage than it does to acceptance of one's situation. The role is underplayed here, but one might still praise it as an ideal form of Hamlet himself, i.e. a character who has already come to terms with "the readiness is all".

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