Sunday, February 17, 2013

Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Kline '90

Scene 1
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".
Scene 2
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.
Scene 3
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.

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