Saturday, October 18, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - BBC '80

Robert Swann's Horatio is often invisible, but his wet, empathic eyes give this scene an extra injection of pathos. We're with him as Hamlet recounts his murder of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern with some relish. The prince licks his lips, and all his friend can do is ask questions in the hope that the answers will absolve him of any guilt. But he can't punch a hole into this story, and there's the sense that "What a king is this" could be about Horatio's own liege lord, Hamlet, and not Claudius. Faced with this all-new, rash Hamlet, Horatio becomes the thinker of the duo, and is the one who makes Hamlet realize England will soon get word of this to Denmark. Hamlet HASN'T thought this through. His reaction doesn't comfort Horatio, who sees his friend's death wish for the first time.

Enter Osric. Peter Gale is quite funny in the role, pushed to the limits of his courteousness to the point where he delivers his lines through subtly gritted teeth. Hamlet mostly ignores him, speaking his lines to Horatio, or turning his back to force him to go around the table, or rising when Osric would sit down and sitting when he gets back up again. As in Olivier's vision, he waves his hat about because he's sweating bullets. Whether that's the temperature or his nerves is up to debate. When Hamlet and Horatio hear Laertes' name mentioned, they share a meaningful look. Right then and there, they know this is a trap. They give Osric more attention then on, but mostly to mock him. Where Osric pronounces "continent" à la French - as much to elevate his language as to wink at Laertes' Frenchification - Hamlet starts pronouncing every work shared by English and French the same way. Horatio's "Is't not possible to understand in another tongue?" becomes a nice punchline. The way Hamlet interrupts Osric consistently makes him hit his lines harder, giving more resonance to "to know a man well, were to know himself", as indeed, the mirroring of Hamlet and Laertes has been very consistent throughout the play.

As Orsic leaves, with his own shame and odd hits, the two other men grow wistful, Horatio especially. He has sympathy for Osric, just as he perhaps had sympathy for R&G and Hamlet's other victims. And perhaps his pity extends to Hamlet, or the Hamlet lost, the one that was sent off to England and apparently never came back.

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