Sunday, September 29, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Tennant (2009)

One motive for the Queen defending Claudius in this scene despite what Hamlet told her about him we haven't discussed is one of the motives attributed to her marrying him in the first place. While it may or may not apply to this version of the play, something in Penny Downie's performance - Gertrude's mixture of protectiveness and doubt - made me think of it. If a Queen cannot rule alone in this society, then it's in her best interest to keep the King alive, especially given the unknown fate of her son, and how this mutiny would not, in fact, end with Hamlet taking the throne. She married swiftly to keep her country stable and now can't let it slip (further) into chaos.

And the danger is very real here. Laertes comes in brandishing a handgun, pushes the Queen down to the ground, and waves the pistol in Claudius' face. It could go off at any time, without much effort, if he thinks he's being juggled with. Claudius is completely calm throughout, and by keeping the Gentleman who comes in with the news of the rebellion in the room, a nice contrast is created between two sorts of men. At one point, Laertes waves the gun in HIS face and the Gentleman falls down in terror, trying to squirm away from imagined bullets. He's the common man, Claudius is something else - a King protected by divine favor. He can even afford to walk towards the gun.
Enter Ophelia, her arms full of branches. Though she turns to bitterness occasionally, Mariah Gale is perhaps the saddest of all the Ophelias, overwhelmed by her grief, her voice often breaking and tears flowing. For that reason, she's among the most touching. One of the few breaks in that sadness is when she slings fennel and columbines at the King, her tone contemptuous. Rue's nickname makes her laugh sadly, and Gertrude tries to comfort her with a similar smile. The daisy is noncommittally thrown at the Gentleman. Its folk meaning, innocence, is something Ophelia just throws away. Her line about her father making a good end seems a small comfort to her, but a comfort nonetheless. Then comes the long funereal song as she kneels down and lays her "flowers" on an imaginary grave before leaving, a blank look in her eyes, completely emptied. Her character's arc done, she goes to throw herself in the river.

Usually, Claudius then crassly approaches the stunned Laertes and continues his appeal as if nothing happened. In this case, Laertes takes his gun out again, giving the King a lot more justification for the continued appeal. I love to watch Downie's performance here. Gertrude is riveted by Claudius' speech, and I can't decide if it's because she's fascinated by his charisma, impressed/alarmed that he would give up everything if found wanting by Laertes, or in the final seconds of the scene, shocked at how Claudius just threw Hamlet under a bus.

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