Sunday, June 30, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Zeffirelli '90

As usual, Zeffirelli plays fast and loose with the sequence of lines, but to good effect. Helena Bonham-Carter's waifish Ophelia is first seen sneaking around outside the castle, wet and dirty, but seemingly free to roam like Hamlet was. As Gertrude watches from the window, the girl approaches a guard at attention, rubs his face, his chest, and quite suggestively, his belt (reminiscent of Greek comedies and their leather phalli), singing the more sexual songs from her repertoire. The uncomfortable guard plays the role of a substitute Hamlet, the "true love she cannot know from another one". These songs she will repeat to herself at the end of the scene, confirming the main reason of her madness, loss of love (the reverse of Hamlet's condition). Someone soon comes to get her, but inside, she starts calling for the beauteous majesty of Denmark, Ophelia's actual entrance in the play, something that fills Gertrude with deep fear. Why is this madness more disturbing to her than her own son's? The truth of it may be that it isn't their first such meeting.

Here they meet on the giant steps, where Ophelia's songs are more about her father's death. They come off as accusations and always end dissonantly, prettiness turning to hardness as she comes upon the Queen. A chase ensues as Gertrude tries to escape the girl, but Ophelia is quicker and manages to catch up to her, fingers the crucifix the Queen was piously fingering earlier. In fact, she chases the Queen right into Claudius' arms. The baker's daughter comment is clearly leveled at Gertrude, a warning to the King that his wife may not be what she seems. Is Ophelia then siding the the murderous King? Why wouldn't she? Her father was slain in the company of the Queen and Hamlet. She seems to suspect Gertrude had a hand in it. Strictly speaking, she's wrong about that, but the warning should not have fallen on such deaf ears regardless. Without knowing it, Ophelia has warned Claudius that Gertrude's allegiance is now with Hamlet, though that remains in dispute. Gertrude running for Claudius' protection in this scene would seem to say she's too weak a person to reject her King. She may well land wherever her position is strongest. We don't know what she may be either.

Believe it or not, these are her moments of lucidity. Ophelia's words are interrupted by painful memories that bring her to the ground. Horatio and some sad guardsman surround her, ready to take her into custody. The sudden realization that her brother will know of it makes her smile and grow manic. This is a departure from other performances of the role we've looked at, but completely justified. Though the occasion is tragic, Laertes is all she has left and his return is to be celebrated. She kisses the Queen's hands, offers the King her own to kiss, and off she goes through the castle. With the dilated timeline (rebels are not at the gates), Elsinore is still full of people, there to witness Ophelia's madness. The "sweet ladies" actually exist, and some nuns do run off after her to help, along with Horatio who finds her wailing and clutching at a wall, and who takes her up in his arms. Gertrude walks off sobbing, leaving Claudius to his thoughts.

Time lapses still, with cutaways to Hamlet at sea (we'll return to this in due course), before Laertes' arrival at some later point.


Prof. Chronotis said...

As usual, an excellent discussion of the scene! This is far and away my favorite film version of the Ophelia mad scene (I especially love her choice of "flowers").

Siskoid said...

It was my first and remains one of the most memorable. It's certainly the most memorable element in the entire film.