Saturday, December 21, 2013

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Zeffirelli '90

As with Olivier's adaptation, Zeffirelli moves this scene (or what's left of it) to after Ophelia's funeral and Hamlet's return. The lines cut have the usual effect of weakening Laertes and making him a simple tool for Claudius to use. Here he seems almost gleeful at the thought of killing Hamlet, despite returning from his sister's funeral. He doesn't need to be favorably compared to a Normand horseman, or incensed with talk of his snuffable whick, or even to hear what Claudius has planned. In fact, we cut away before the King reveals it, removing Laertes' part in poisoning the blade. We cut to Osric inviting Hamlet to the bout, and will be shown the scheme as it unfolds, but one would come off thinking it was ALL Claudius' idea. After Hamlet's line "we defy augury", we cut BACK to the conspirators, and here Laertes pulls out his poisonous idea. In other words, the duel was already called for, and the poison was a later addition.

For all my railing at the black hat portrayal of Claudius in this film, the performance here does have some humanity. Because he speaks to camera, his back to Laertes, when he talks of his love for Gertrude (ironically slipping away at this point), it is sincere, not a manipulation or facile excuse. Rather, it's a moment tinged in shame and he laughs at his own folly, an echo of Polonius telling us he once suffered maddening love himself. Perhaps he thinks of Hamlet and how everyone but him thought love was the cause of his malaise. Love's denier caught in a moment of self-realization that he himself has done the irrational for love's sake.

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