Sunday, July 21, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Tennant (2009)

Starting in front of the broken mirror, a metaphor now for Ophelia's broken mind, Gertrude's broken spirit, and Claudius' broken Denmark, we see tensions run high in Elsinore. Only Horatio's calming influence makes Gertrude agree to see Ophelia. Left alone for an instant, Gertrude speaks her only soliloquy in the play, laughing bitterly at the irony of it all, but keeping it brief as if unwilling to look (and speak) into that mirror for too long. When Ophelia walks in disheveled, it's like the Queen sees her for the first time and is suddenly worried for her (rather than the realm). It's made real. But for the audience, it takes a moment longer before we're shown Ophelia directly. We initially remark on her madness only as it plays on Gertrude's face. Is this an image of the Queen's greatest fear about herself? Is one of the reasons the Queen doesn't want to see Ophelia that she feels herself slipping into madness and can't bear one more "spill"?

Ophelia begins with a sad song, but as soon as either of the royals try to touch her - as Claudius walks in with papers that later prove to be news of Laertes' rebellion - she grows manic, screams "PRAY MARK" and starts whirling about the room. She's a dangerous creature to the realm and that sense is given by sudden moves, like her jumping at the Queen's hair, or ripping off the King's jacket. Director Greg Doran apparently rehearsed Ophelia separately from the other actors at first, so that their reactions would be truthful and the mad girl's antics all the more surprising. As she moves to the mirror and goes to touch a sharp shard of glass, they fear she might do a desperate outrage to herself (and she will, through something else that gives a reflection). Some of her madness is real, as in the moment where she looks vacantly into the distance reliving her father's burial, but sometimes she feigns madness to terrorize the royals. The story about the owl, for example, is accompanied by an epileptic fit to mime the transmogrification. This ties her more solidly with Hamlet. She's his mirror, but perhaps in more realistic psychological terms, her imitator. Note also the hilarious reading of the line "I hope all will be well" as a mockery of Patrick Stewart's mannerisms and voice. As such, it means Ophelia does not hope all will be well, and indeed wishes doom on this entire family at her brother's vengeful hands.

The production does not shy away from the more sexual aspects of the scene. In her manic state, Ophelia quickly removes her dress and slip during the tumbling song and refuses the Queen's attempts to drape a shawl over her nakedness. Although Ophelia still has underwear, Claudius looks away embarrassed, contradicting Hamlet's portrait of him as a lust-filled beast. She runs off, clothes in hand, when she suddenly finds herself vulnerable with the thoughts she'd been avoiding all along, those touching her father's death. But make no mistake, this was a coded attack on the royal family.

Claudius, ever the unctuous politician, seems all too calm about the situation, his priority to cajole the distance Gertrude into his frame of mind. His smooth tones betray his intentions, this is a spin job, and he makes sure to blame Hamlet for their problems, an accusation she shrugs off angrily, as if it's been his mantra now for a while and she's tired of hearing it. But he's not exactly wrong.


Anonymous said...

Wow. This is a fascinating blog and I encourage you to keep up the great work. Your analysis of all the different aspects of each version is always compelling.

I noticed, though, that you appear to have skpped over Act IV, Scene 4 in the Tennant version. It is abridged, but it is present in the film. Hamlet discusses Fortinbras's army talking into his video camera. In the Tennant version they just don't have Fortinbras come in at the end, so I can see why you have ignored the scene accidentally.

Other than that, great job all around! I eagerly look forward to more!

Siskoid said...

Probably because it's out of sequence(?). I'll do a post when I get to it chronologically in the film. Sometimes restructuring makes things a little more complex for me!