Saturday, February 8, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Branagh '96

Laertes already isn't the most voluble of characters, but learning of his sister's suicide has him react with a simple "oh", an example of Shakespeare showing he wasn't paid by the word, but actually fit word to emotion. What would you say in that situation? What is there to say? Michael Maloney's Laertes is stunned, can't process the information, and by the time Gertrude finishes her account, is still on "she's drowned". Did he even hear the story, need she have told it? Once he's cried, the woman will be out, not just his "female" nature, but he'll have exorcised Ophelia from his life as well. We might compare this image of grief to Hamlet's refusal to exorcise his dead father.

Julie Christie's performance as Gertrude has a lot to fawn over as well. The pace at which she tells the story tells us it's not a prepared speech, she's feeling herself through it, either reliving the experience herself (Branagh's take) or fabricating it out of whole cloth (a cynical take in which the truth might have Ophelia escaping her cell, getting pursued and falling accidentally into the brook). Either way, she couches her words to bring Laertes comfort, making it sound like Ophelia never suffered, her death a lyrical event filled with flowers and prettiness. Christie's hesitation is precisely what highlights Gertrude's word choice.

And if she means to console Laertes, Claudius' angry reaction is even more of a bad move. It shows his motives were self-interested, while hers were genuinely altruistic. She refuses to follow him when asked, and he realizes he's said the wrong thing, and that their relationship is no longer what it was. In effect, she not only refuses his protection, but condemns him for offering it.

Before moving on, we're given a single shot of Ophelia's face a watery surface. And then it's off to meet the clowns. Shakespeare's ironic editing.

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