Sunday, January 19, 2014

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Tennant (2009)

This whole section is one of the biggest structural changes director Gregory Doran made to the play. By moving the "My thoughts be bloody" speech where Horatio usually receives the letters, and cutting the messengers entirely, he a jump cuts from Hamlet's bloody thoughts to Laertes' own. The young man is sitting in the straircase we associate with the Polonius household and Ophelia, playing with a sharp object. Claudius walks in and immediately asks if his father was dear to him, everything before - and a lot of what comes after - is cut. There's an interesting repurposing of the line "Hamlet comes back". Instead of acting as a premise for the next question, it's a statement of fact, an announcement as Claudius holds up the prince's letter. A change of venue brings the two of them to Claudius' domain, the dark throne room.

It's obvious Laertes has been told, off-stage, about Hamlet's participation in his father's murder, and he's already thinking about getting his revenge. He's quick to answer when the King tells him about his plan, though one should wonder, as Doran does on the commentary track, why Laertes already has the poison. What would this have been for? He came back to Denmark sword in hand, so it wasn't for the King. For himself, perhaps? For a sort of honorable suicide after committing regicide? Or is he just the kind of person who buys such things in case he ever needs it, and thus quite dishonorable? It's not clear. But though he has his own ideas about how to kill Hamlet, the cuts make the scene play out as less of a seduction. Claudius brings fewer arguments to bear, even assumes Laertes will participate and do what he's told. Laertes is eager. As usual, these cuts weaken Laertes' character, reducing him to a pawn. In his wrathful state, he doesn't even question the King's laugh as he thinks of his back-up plan.

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