Sunday, June 16, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Olivier '48

The scene starts with foreshadowing of Ophelia's suicide as we see her reflection in the famous brook, taking a flower floating upon the water. As she plucks it, her image is naturally distorted, a metaphor for her broken mind. She screams, we see her on the river bank, her hair undone and tangled with bits and pieces of plants. She runs off, over a long that acts as a bridge over the brook, to and through the castle, only stopping after she crosses Horatio and the Queen, walking the halls.
There is something defiant about Jean Simmons' performance as Ophelia that gives a rebellious edge to some of her lines (she is, after all, a rebel's sister). Her back is turned when she asks where the "beauteous majesty of Denmark", but she's already seen the Queen. Is this mark of disrespect intentional? She is clearly not feigning madness, as Hamlet was, but that madness has dispelled her native inhibitions and given her permission to be insolent. The line could be read to mean she does not see the the Queen as "majesty", and indeed, her exit asking for her coach and giving her farewells to invisible attendants could be a fantasy in which SHE is Queen. Like Hamlet, her ambition has been aborted by the Royals' meddling and ultimately, Claudius' fratricide. Ophelia's ambitions are those of a child, aspiring to marriage in a naive way, but she still knows she's lost something, not just a father and a husband, but the future she believed was hers.

More insolence: She won't endure the Queen's consoling. Every time Gertrude attempts it, Ophelia starts on a song (and Simmons has a beautiful singing voice), even moves away. This is even more true once Claudius happens on the scene. She won't let him touch her. There's a sense that, consciously or not, she knows who's responsible for all their sorrows. She moves between smiles and tears, silliness and wisdom, girl and woman, and though the dirtiest song isn't used, there is a moment of sexuality as yet unseen in the character when she lets Horatio help her up. She notices him as a young woman would a handsome gallant, flushed by his touch.

Gertrude flees Claudius' touch too, mind. Hamlet's parting words have had an effect on her, though she hides it in distracted sadness. Claudius, sensing she's slipping out of his control, embraces her from behind and visibly frustrated, lays a manipulative speech on her. He talks about OUR son and threats to OUR own person, physically showing they are, as Hamlet had said, "one flesh". In other words, "we're in this together, baby". If his regime falls, she falls with it, and better behave like the Queen he needs her to be, obedient at his side. It's not often discussed, but one of the great evils perpetrated by this corrupt Denmark is how it uses women for its own ends. It has broken Ophelia and will undo Gertrude, the puppet queen as well.

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