Sunday, December 15, 2013

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - BBC '80

Though lines were not cut from the top of this version, the direction still makes it seem like we're catching a conversation in progress. Claudius has been telling Laertes the story of Hamlet's madness and of Polonius' murder. But it hasn't made the best impression. Laertes is still bitter and the performances sell the idea that while the younger man does not think the King is responsible, he still has a lot to answer for in the way he dealt with the aftermath. So it's up to Claudius to disarm Laertes, which he never really manages to do. Showing himself vulnerable, laughing at Laertes' (earnest) "jests", complimenting him on his skills, asking for his counsel... Claudius tries it all. What seems to resonate best is mirroring his bitterness, accusing him of being less than dutiful and such. But Laertes never lets down his guard, never smiles or gets excited. He's a dead man walking.

How much of Claudius' dialogue is sincere is difficult to gauge. It's a safe bet that asking Laertes for advice is a ploy, because Polonius' son is a rather dense character. (As with Olivier's version, Laertes recognizing Lamond is cut from the script, which reinforces his lack of wit.) Patrick Stewart's performance while Laertes explains his plot to poison his sword adds a new wrinkle as well. Given that being the instrument of Hamlet's death and this poison sword business are both Laertes' contributions and not Claudius', it makes sense for the King to see them as wild cards. Though Laertes' scheme is meant to ensure Hamlet's death, it's specifically what makes Claudius start spinning back-up plans. Why? Unless he doesn't really think Laertes' skills are up to the job? He may believe they are initially, but if Laertes himself was confident, he wouldn't need to use poison and lay his hopes on a mere scratch. So if Laertes only hopes for a scratch, then maybe the King would do well not to expect even that. Their failure is all laid in ahead of time here.

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