Sunday, August 25, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - BBC '80

The conflict between Claudius and Laertes works by contrast. David Robb gives us one of the angriest Laertes examined in this series of articles, red-faced and able to interrupt a King when he speaks. Patrick Stewart's Claudius is, in complete opposition, calm, dispassionate, even cold, but also commanding and frank. The aforementioned interruption is meaningful. Laertes won't be "juggled with". He knows of Claudius' reputation as a deft manipulator, but doesn't see that Claudius is giving him exactly what he will most respond to: a no-nonsense attitude which doesn't appeal to emotion. When Claudius eventually shouts a line, it's not out of wrath, it's to press a point home. He's winning an argument.
Enter Ophelia, with flowers in her hands. She goes to Laertes and kisses him as she would a lover. She showed such disturbing sexual behavior in the previous sequence (towards the King), and it has two effects. One is to reestablish Laertes as a mirror image of Hamlet. The other is to put Ophelia in an alternate universe, a hallucination. It's not her brother she sees there, as she proceeds to bring flowers to an invisible grave. She's reliving (or imagining, if it never actually happened in her presence) her father's burial. She tries to get the royals to dance, sings to the ground, and when her brother tries to touch her, perhaps snap her out of it, she bats him away. When she isn't by the grave, she's clutching at the wall painting of the Hades that played background to Hamlet's "undiscovered country", prettiness in Hell. And she's fairly nasty to Claudius, throwing one of the flowers she gives him on the ground, for example, and barking her prayers at him, sarcastically invoking his Christian soul before leaving with a sweet smile.

Notably, Ophelia's scene doesn't completely deflate Laertes' anger. As Claudius finishes his speech to him, Laertes is overwhelmed with emotion. Still red-faced, he's now visibly shaking, almost like he's about to go mad himself. And that's proper given how Ophelia just treated the King. If he's guiltless, why would his sister be so disrespectful to him?

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