Saturday, May 10, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Zeffirelli '90

Hamlet and Horatio on horseback, coming down a winding road. They come upon the graveyard, where singing can be heard, and Hamlet stops to ask whose grave they're digging. "They" because the second gravedigger is present, even though his exchange with the first is cut from the film. It seems he wasn't even ask to fetch some liquor, and just stands witness to the Prince's conversation with his elder. Horatio has the same role to play - all his lines are cut - though we at least cut to his reactions. Horatio perhaps enjoys himself more than Hamlet does in this sequence. While both men get a kick out of the Gravedigger's wit, possibly the reason they dismount and talk to him a while longer, Hamlet eventually stops smiling, faced as he is with an open grave which might as well be his own.
Hamlet's reaction to Yorick's skill is really quite sweet, a good take for Gibson's rawer emotional Hamlet. Though he manages to show some repulsion, he seems transported to the past, to the laughs and the better times. There's affection, tenderness and melancholy in his eyes and speech as he shares his memories of the court jester. In the staging of it, Hamlet uncharacteristically sets the skull on a mound where he would usually hold it in one hand. That may be to give Yorick more autonomy as a character, make him "come alive" if you will, or more likely allows for a steadier close-up on Hamlet's face. Regardless, because the sequence ends with this instead of Hamlet's meditation on History's dead emperors, Yorick necessarily becomes our link to Hamlet's mortality and doom.

And that's an interesting image to focus on. Though Hamlet's death is presaged in that of Caesar and Alexander - great men returning to the earth - our "identification figure" in the realm of the rotting dead is Yorick, a simple clown unceremoniously buried in a common grave. The mirroring between First Clown (gravedigger) and Yorick, and between Yorick and Hamlet (who has taken the mantle of the fool) is unavoidable. Hamlet is looking at himself in the past (in happier times, but also in his guise as a madman) and the future (dust to dust), and this is more relevant than the more grandiose comparisons to powerful men in History, something Hamlet might have aspired to, but which was always denied him.

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