Sunday, September 1, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Zeffirelli '90

Laertes rides into Elsinore, a man alone, shouting at the castle and running in to look for the King. There's no rebellion here except his own, as Zeffirelli has isolated his version of Elsinore from politics at large. We get no Fortinbras, we get no Danish rabble. Not to say the characters of the play are the only ones in this world, because Claudius is surrounded by men when Laertes catches up to him, and it's these soldiers the King warns off instead of Gertrude. She's up on a balcony, watching from behind a pillar. This makes her estrangement from Claudius more obvious, though it does beg the question as to why Laertes isn't killed as soon as he pulls a sword on the King. A sign of weakness on the realm's part? Could be, and though we never think about it, it's true of the play as written. Laertes and peasant rabble overcome trained palace guards to get into the royals' inner sanctum. Or is it a more personal affair? Claudius showed a certain preference for Laertes over Hamlet in Act I, and by disarming him rather than killing him, he seems to show such affection again. Claudius isn't arrogant when he waves his guards off. He looks at the sword, gauging the danger and what words to use next. By the time he brushes the sword point off, meeting fleeting resistance at first, he prevails because he detects doubt in Laertes.
Cries and sobs then distract Laertes, who follows them to the throne room where Ophelia is playing with dead things, twigs and bones playing the parts of flowers, on the Queen's throne (her homologue in the previous generation). Wet and impish, she distributes her wares, talking more to the King than to her brother, and walks out after reassuring Laertes that their father "made a good end". Stunned, he still gets the final line of the scene (about "a maid's wits"). Zeffirelli then cuts to Ophelia's suicide immediately, robbing Ophelia of her very last moments, her last song, her sudden nihilistic resolve, and her religious goodbyes. The director never lets her move away from the state of madness we found her in at the start of Act IV.

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