Saturday, June 14, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Classics Illustrated

The original
In this ever-thrifty adaptation, the conversation between Hamlet and the Gravedigger is lost, and we go from Hamlet mentioning the skull "jowled" to the ground (which actually sticks to the Gravedigger's spade most unnaturally) to being handed Yorick's skull. In visual terms, it looks like the the two skulls are one and the same, and only the caption tells us different. And it's too bad, because that would have made a good contraction. As is, it feels like the Gravedigger recognizes Hamlet as someone who might know Yorick because he has no motivation for his little show-and-tell. In the last panel, a cadaverous-looking Hamlet remembers his old jester, and the art has a rare flourish, Yorick's head and wand floating above the curved frame. But the scene ends here, content with giving us the jist and making sure it includes its most famous line. Is this enough to render Hamlet's existential questioning of life and death?

The Berkley version

An odd juxtaposition of images occurs in the more modern adaptation, with the previous sequence ending in the cemetery as Laertes hears of his sister's death, and without provocation, this one starting by her graveside, the Gravedigger singing while he digs. The contraction the original Classics Illustrated fails to make above, the Grant/Mandrake team manage expertly:
Now it becomes a kind of justification for the disrespect shown these earthly remains. A jester isn't very high in the social hierarchy, and this one caused the Gravedigger some grief. By removing the other skulls hurled around the grave, the contraction makes this particular "jowling" more personal, to both the First Clown and Hamlet.
Smelling the skull, Hamlet throws it down into the grave again in disgust, and the mention of Alexander in that exchange stands in for all the talk of great men returning to dust that normally comes later. This is a more efficient way of contracting the story than the original adaptation managed, using a short line to evoke Hamlet's concerns as they relate to his own abbreviated greatness, though perhaps the intended audience would have been ill-prepared to understand it.

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