Friday, July 26, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Classics Illustrated

The original
Probably because there was too much sexual subtext in the sequence, the original Classics Illustrated adaptation chose to explain Ophelia's madness in no uncertain terms in a caption (Claudius will repeat some of this information in verse in his short speech), and reduced the scene to two mostly harmless snatches of song (though "cockle" survived as a rude pun, as did "maid" which is implicitly sexual). In fact, it's all about Hamlet. Nothing about Polonius' death, despite what the caption might say. Note also Ophelia's flowers which will play a part in her next (and last) appearance.

Gotta love the royals' comic take in the first panel. They're also given a panel (not shown) in which to despair, again in mirroring poses that would suggest these versions of Claudius and Gertrude are still a solid couple. The adaptation sadly doesn't do a lot to flesh out the characters, so the underwritten Gertrude is more underwritten (underdrawn?) still, often just an ornament on Claudius' arm, placidly receiving dialog more than she ever doles it out. We can't really know what she thinks of the King, if anything.

The Berkley version
The Grant/Mandrake version has also been sanitized, cutting everything that relates to Hamlet, so Claudius is right to invoke her father's death as the reason for her madness. In this adaptation too the royal couple seems as solid as ever. Look at the staging: It's Gertrude who brings Ophelia to the King, placing the Queen in a servile position. As for the art, I wondered what those pill-like shapes on the edge of the first panel were and decided they were hinges. Unstuck from the second panel, they're an image of the "unhinged". A clever little piece. I've looked and it's not a recurring motif. A clue that Ophelia's madness is real, whereas Hamlet's was not?
Claudius gets to say his piece on the next page, and you'll note the bloody wash that frames the panel, the same kind of wash that framed Polonius' murder. It gives Claudius' speech about "murd'ring" an ironic bent, showing how selfish he is to moan about his woes when those of others are much greater (and indeed, stem from his own misdeeds). Ophelia in this panel becomes a dark figure, disappearing into the walls of Elsinore. She has become a truth-speaking ghost, not unlike Hamlet Sr. though less intelligible. Of course, the Ghost was an enigmatic figure until Hamlet came. This time, Hamlet will come too late to wring any meaning out of Elsinore's resident ghost.

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