Sunday, February 24, 2013
Unlike most interpretations, they let Claudius win the scene. He comes in with a disarming smile, and Hamlet gets through his lines with fear and apprehension in his voice. The prince even tries to bolt for the door, but is pinned to the wall by the King's bodyguards. Claudius vacillates between kindness and thuggery, punching Hamlet in the gut when he loses patience with him, but wiping the hair off his brow when he finally gives up the body's location. Among the many cuts is Hamlet's seeing a cherub that sees Claudius' purposes. So only in the final disquieting kiss to his mother/father does Hamlet score a point. The look on the bodyguard's face says it all - these people are crazy.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Brian Murray is one of the better Claudiuses, as evidenced by the sincerity he brings to his performance in this scene, a sincerity that draws attention to different words usually spoken quickly or with no particular emphasis, and enriching the text. His concern for Gertrude is heartfelt, and her focus on the murder of Polonius makes us believe she really does think her son mad. She has not gone over to his side. When Claudius says it would have been him killed had he been in Polonius' place, there is no shock or surprise in his voice, only assurance. This is Claudius at his most Kingly, deciding the truth of what has happened and moving from there. He is still a master politician, for example stressing the words "countenance and excuse" for Gertrude's sake, letting her know that while Hamlet is to be punished, the measures will be for his own good.
So what words does Mr. Murray illuminate? To begin with, there's the irony of the phrase "out of haunt", which had escaped me until now. Claudius means that Hamlet should have been kept locked away and not been allowed to walk (haunt) the halls of Elsinore at his leisure, but he doesn't know most of the current trouble is due to his brother's Ghost doing the same. Should we also see a pun in "The sun no sooner shall the mountains touch"? Shakespeare is notorious for playing on sun/son, and in this case, the phrase might have a double meaning akin to "before Hamlet can make his own escape", or even "before Hamlet can gain support and reach the top, i.e. kingship".
There were several cuts in Scene 1, the most important of which was Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's presence, but they're in this scene, obviously having been told to find Hamlet in between scenes. Kline's Hamlet is calmer and less obviously mad than most others in this sequence, bringing genuine outrage to the sponge speech. He even lets his anger come out when he says he's the son of a king, making this Hamlet more indignant about the subverted class system than most. And indeed, the same way Claudius has subverted the succession, R&G (at least, in Laertes' absence) have taken his place as the favored son of a king. A bloody rag in his hand, Hamlet uses the prop effectively AS a sponge, perhaps indicating that what they have soaked up is steeped in blood, fruits of a tree growing from a murder.
Instead of being brought to Claudius, the start of this scene is trimmed off and Claudius and his officers come to him. Both Kline and Murray play this scene calmly and reasonably, letting the words act as veiled threats or lunatic dissertations. Though underplayed, there is still a lot of invention on show. For example, though gesturing at Claudius when mentioning the "fat king" is par for the course, allowing the other hand to gesture at R&G on "lean beggar" is not. It becomes a reference to the sponge metaphor, and inverts the cannibalistic relationship between the characters. The King eats them like an apple, and they eat him like a fish. Who is using who?
Hamlet leaves his stepfather with a violent kiss on the cheek, which seems even more threatening than the words they've just exchanged, as if telling Claudius that kiss might well have been a dagger. He let him get too close. There's also some very effective staging - and excellent use of the text as written - as R&G are sent away. Claudius continues speaking after giving the order, and they turn around to, sponge-like, receive more of his words. It's an almost comical move that motivates the harsher "Pray you make haste" as Claudius seems to finally lose patience with his chief sycophants.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Claudius, for his part, suffers some cuts in the breakneck pace Zeffirelli has adopted. In Scene 1, his "it had been so with us had we been there" serves as a punchline, cutting from blood stains on the floor to his office, where he arrives in a hurry to give the order to apprehend Hamlet. We might wonder why he wasn't attended in the first part of the scene to avoid the location change, but it does create a more urgent rhythm as Elsinore wakes up and attempts to find the Prince and his victim. In fact, Scene 2 is reduced to a single shot of R&G and some guards with torches shouting out Hamlet's name.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Watch how masterful a politician Patrick Stewart's (first take as) Claudius is. In Scene 1, he's obviously angry at his wife and wants her to stop crying long enough to get the answers he needs from her. And he's visibly shaken when he investigates the site of Polonius' death by the sight of blood on his hands. This relates to his previous scene, the blood on his hands reminding him of his own murder. Indeed, we're reminded here that Polonius' death is ultimately his fault as well, since the old man wouldn't be skulking around Elsinore if he hadn't tasked him to, nor would Hamlet be so dangerous had his father not been killed. There's a dramatic reason why Hamlet Sr. was poisoned - it's a poison that courses through their entire family tree and the whole of Denmark. A murder that SPREADS. He wipes the blood off in a panic, as if trying to hide his own sins from the world, which is exactly what he will do politically. He's seen his way out of the situation and it's as a politician that he next addresses Gertrude. He'll exile Hamlet in such a way that even his mother can't argue. He makes a case that they're both in this together (no one is safe) and further that she shares in the blame for loving Hamlet too much and letting the situation get out of hand. She tries to argue Hamlet's case, but it won't work this time. Claudius is on more solid ground. But when he tells her to come away with him, she stays behind, the staging telling us their relationship has been split asunder.
Catching up to Hamlet, we find him "safely stowed" and not running, speaking to camera as he does, in the dark, waiting to be discovered. When he is, by Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's posse, he still doesn't run, but rather continues to undermine their authority over him as he did in the previous Act. However, Rosencrantz is done playing games, and sensing that he and his partner now have the King's favor over Hamlet, becomes very cold towards his former friend. He refuses to acknowledge any meaning in Hamlet's words. Derek Jacobi, as usual, puts enough of a spin on each and every line that *I* can't possibly take R&G's lead. He makes me want to find meaning in his mad dialog, and new meaning at that. For example, I'm now trying to read "The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body" with the "King" relating to Hamlet Sr. rather than Claudius. Certainly, the Ghost could be a "thing of nothing", but I still get lost in the verbal alchemy.
The text has Claudius "attended" in this third scene, but it's often staged with him starting on his speech alone. What a difference it makes when he's giving orders to Courtiers. Here we have the politician once again, explaining the situation, his plan, and most crucially, that "we're all in this together". By implying that the peasants love Hamlet, he threatens rebellion if they don't agree with his plan, making them all accomplices. Hamlet comes in, sits on the desk, inspects the sealed letters casually, and everything in the staging reveals the power shifting in Elsinore. Hamlet is sitting higher than the King, is far less anxious (does Claudius fear the Prince will expose him in front of everyone?), and having now killed, he is at least the "actor" Claudius is. The King must retake control of the situation and does, standing and once again playing the politician. The way he tells Hamlet of his exile, it's like he's helping him escape a worse fate. Again, it's a case of "being in this together", this time, as a family. It doesn't really work on Hamlet, but there are other people in the room. Hamlet actually leads them out, as if the trip was his idea, pointing at the attendants to fire them into action. We're left believing Hamlet won the scene. He leaves head held high, while Claudius, with tired sighs, asks England to do his dirty work for him.