Sunday, December 1, 2013

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Branagh '96

It's always exciting when lines glossed over in the text are made more interesting and given more power when performed. This happens a couple times in Branagh's well-executed adaptation, featuring an intense but slightly dense Laertes and a devious, always thinking Claudius. They've met over drinks, a sign of their coming together, but also an echo of the poison drink Claudius will offer Hamlet. This whole conversation is also poisonous, meant to poison Laertes' mind, infect it with an idea he would not have thought up himself. In practical terms, the fact Claudius has a drink in hand serves as inspiration for this particular back-up plan. The way Branagh stages the opening part of the scene, Claudius keeps his distance while giving excuses, watching for Laertes' dangerous anger, gauging when best to approach. Laertes' weakness is Ophelia, and it's when he grieves for his sister that the King dares approach, even squeezing Laertes' shoulder in comfort. That's his opening gambit, the rest is all rhetoric to convince Laertes to help him murder Hamlet (by poison, of course, that's his modus operandi).

One line Jacobi gives a nice reading to is "for youth no less becomes / The light and careless livery that it wears / Than settled age his sables and his weeds, / Importing health and graveness." This contrasts, in Claudius' mind, youth and maturity, an opinion that partly explains why his plan will fail. A young man (Hamlet, but more accurately Laertes) is careless and carefree, while an older man is prosperous (a winner) and dignified. Thinking of Hamlet as a youth is a mistake (and part of the play's ambiguity about this 40-year-old "student"), one that underestimates him thoroughly.

The fannish enthusiasm for the Normand Lamond also attracts attention. I was previously unsure of the character's role in the drama except as a way to awe and recruit Laertes, but the description of his as a sort of beast-man, half-man, half-horse, is part of the accumulation of imagery that contrasts Hamlet's behavior with that of men of action. The way he's described, Lamond is all instinct, all action, and apparently something Hamlet aspired to at one point (and in a way, still does). The flattering comparison Claudius makes seduces Laertes, who is much closer to Lamond's instincts already, into becoming such a "beast", as only soulless animals would commit violent murder in a church.

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