Sunday, February 23, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - BBC '80

The staging here is fairly standard, with the scene playing on a stunned Gertrude, no flashbacks, etc. Interesting things about the performance include her looking straight at Claudius when opening on "woes" (though there's no sign of ironic intent from her), and a breathless delivery, as if she was fighting the urge to pass out.

David Robb's Laertes is slightly over the top at times, but he makes some interesting choices too. His "Oh", a line that can come off as risible, plays as a sigh as he sits down, the wind taken out of his sails. And at the end, he positively shouts the tears out of his eyes, his voice blazing with anger, giving Claudius' reproach to Gertrude the carp of truth. Since Laertes does look angry, Claudius could be setting up Hamlet's death in the duel. He did his best to calm the boy down, but in the end, that's why the duel went wrong. Laertes as willing patsy.

Second Quarto vs. Folio
The Folio, usually used as master text, has Ophelia singing snatches of old tunes. The BBC adaptation uses the Second Quarto's "snatches of old lauds" instead. "Lauds" in this context are hymns praising God, while "tunes" is a more generic term that would easily include the bawdy snippets heard earlier from Ophelia. Critics have been divided on the word choice, some finding contradiction in the sexual nature of the songs we do hear and Ophelia's Christian values in her final moments. Is there though? Her last lines on stage were a prayer for mercy for all Christian souls, and it's in that frame of mind that she went to her watery grave. Her fury, sexual/marital frustration and grief all spent, a calmer, more nihilistic madness came over her in the end. It's possible Gertrude is fudging the details to comfort Laertes, but her expression makes this unlikely.

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