Sunday, April 27, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Olivier '48

Olivier mercilessly cuts lines, but he also adds to the play through visuals. He dissolves straight from Ophelia's watery grave to her earthly one. We here singing (just as she was singing). A shovel comes into view. The Gravedigger is hard at work, the top of the scene with the Second Clown is missing. He finds a skull, smiles at it in fond remembrance; this is Yorick. He sets it outside the grave for Hamlet to find. And it's this skull that's in the perfect position to give Hamlet's shadow the terrifying face of a Grim Reaper. Hamlet has returned and he is Death, but he is also already dead, as far as Fortune is concerned.

Stanley Holloway makes a good Gravedigger, a simple man who straddles the line between truthsayer and knave. He is sometimes too literal, sometimes pokes fun and sometimes is serious, but in a way that seems consistent. For example, when he delivers the line about the grave being for one that WAS a woman, he goes from the teasing the gentlemen to earnestness. This is what he really believes, that after death, a person ceases to be one and becomes an object. This is the philosophical distance he puts between himself and the beneficiaries of his work. And yet, he can fondly remember them in life, as he does with Yorick, catching the skull's absent nose with affection more than mockery. It can also be seen as sign of how perverse the Ghost is, how contrary it is to the laws of nature better represented by the literally grounded Gravedigger.
Hamlet may say he's repulsed by his late jester's chopless skull, and a touch of macabre realism is inserted when earth spills out of it at one point, but a smile never leaves his lips. He even animates the skull, bringing it close and reenacting a scene from his childhood by whispering in its missing ear. Again, we're seeing a Hamlet who is so close to death, he is already interacting with the dead. And perhaps, this has been so from the very beginning, and the reason the Ghost could speak to him. Metaphorically, Hamlet died the day his father did (they do have the same name, as revealed in this very scene).

A word on Horatio: He shares some of Hamlet's lines in this, so he too can tease the Gravedigger, and Hamlet gives him a sidelong look through most of the scene as if to make sure he doesn't give away the game and blurt out who Hamlet really is. Otherwise, he's the usual sounding board, though Hamlet has less to say in this version. The funeral party interrupts the scene and Hamlet never talks of Caesar or Alexander. But perhaps the visuals achieve the same effect.

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