Sunday, June 23, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - BBC '80

In this version, Gertrude clearly feels helpless to help Ophelia, which makes the girl's angry defiance even more shocking. Lalla Ward's Ophelia is angry at the Queen, her songs are vicious attacks, her eyes drill right through Gertrude. It's an Ophelia in the Olivier mold, but more extreme. It would seem she blames the Queen in some way, speaks of HER as the "baker's daughter", not what she seems, and is sarcastic when she wishes God at her table. There are several ways to justify such a performance. First, there's the fact that Polonius died in the Queen's closet, making Gertrude partly responsible. The second transfers Hamlet's guilt to the mother that bore him. Without Gertrude, there is no Hamlet (doubly so, as without her sin, there is no mad Hamlet). The overall effect creates a strange mirror of Hamlet's early attitude towards his mother, but even more unreasonable.

Enter Claudius, and here Ophelia's attitude is much different, taking the Queen's role by caressing his beard, singing the Valentine's Day song seductively, and grinding the uncomfortable King. Again, there's emotional transference at work, with Claudius becoming Hamlet for those few seconds. A past Hamlet, when the lovers were together. A future Hamlet who would have become King. Ophelia is trapped in a jealous love triangle from a projected (and now aborted) future. The identities of Claudius as Hamlet, and the Queen as rival are delusions just like the invisible coach and ladies. When Ophelia breaks from this fantasy, it's to weep, or to rage. "My brother shall know of it" is particularly fierce and a violent announcement of what is to come.

In Claudius' ensuing speech, he explains why Gertrude should fear just as he does, a deft manipulation to make her hold on to him harder. We know not what she may be, this baker's daughter, true to her husband, or true to her son? Like Ophelia, her changeability is tied to the men who dominate her.

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