Sunday, May 4, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - BBC '80

Tim Wylton is a more overtly clownish Gravedigger, but one with no less personality. He is a self-important sort, whose jokes are geared to exalting his profession above that of others, and proving his superiority to his associate and to the two noblemen who stop by his grave. He is also a common sort, crass and gross, sleeping on a mound of freshly excavated earth and human remains, eating and drinking there as if unaware of how macabre it is. Because it isn't for him, and in the decaying Denmark metaphor, there is nowhere one can eat and rest that isn't a grave. Interesting staging on the suicide discussion: The Gravedigger uses a pail and a thigh bone to represent water and man. Even more interesting reading: The way he pronounces "will he, nill he", with the proper emphasis on the "h" sounds where many modern readings use "willy-nilly", recalls the original meaning of the expression - whether one wants to or not, as opposed to today's in haphazard fashion - but it also a sort of pun. The suicide wills their own annihilation; Ophelia "nilled" herself.

When Hamlet approaches, he seems tired and bitter. In the skulls flying from the grave, he sees a truth: That everyone, himself included, returns to that state. Everyone is the same in the end, even the noblest is on even terms with the lowest in society. And the Gravedigger represents this. He acts like he's the master of his realm, though others might consider him the lowest of the low, the unclean who touches the dead. Sleeping and eating at the grave, and later kissing Yorick's skull, his world is death and decay, and this is normal. Death and life are equated further in the way he tells Hamlet water is a "sore decayer of your whoreson dead body" as if it were a threat. It evokes the idea of Hamlet thinking of himself as a "whore's son", and that in dramatic (tragical) terms, he is already dead. And hasn't he just been to sea? Water is also associated with Ophelia and her death, which makes the comment even more twisted.
For Jacobi's Hamlet, Yorick's skull is truly repulsive and he does gag at it. He can't even bring himself to stroke it directly, but keeps his fingers at a short distance. His realization that we all return to dust goes from a tired melancholy, to anxious disgust, finally to accepting mockery. His thoughts on Alexander and Caesar see the black humor in it. When he smells his fingers at the very end, is it Yorick's deathly stench that stings his nostrils, or his own?

Through all this, Horatio seems sad and a little spooked by the scene. There certainly isn't the sense of camaraderie evident in Branagh's Hamlet, where the two fellow students team up to chuckle at the Clown. It feels like Horatio can sense what is about to happen and where the Prince's fatalistic dialog will take him. Everything he hears confirms this and he dare not give Hamlet his blessing. Not the most exciting performance, but the minimalism isn't out of character.

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