Saturday, October 11, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Olivier '48

In this staging, Claudius and Laertes have just worked out their murder plot, the camera moves away from them, pans up, and Hamlet and Horatio come into view, coming down stairs and stopping by a window. Cut from this conversation is Hamlet's sea voyage, since Rosencrantz & Guildenstern don't exist in the adaptation. We lose the "sea change" that would make Hamlet appear a changed man to Horatio, one able to take lethal action. It's replaced with the "passion' slave" exchange from Act III, commending Horatio's stability, but at this point perhaps also taking on those qualities, "wearing" them in his "heart of hearts". Hamlet himself will seem more at peace and "stable" than ever, while Horatio will be the one panicking and trying to delay the action. It does connect the line with recent events in which Hamlet forgot himself to Laertes, but that's a different type of passion than the one from the text.

Enter Osric. Olivier presents him as a clown, certainly not sinister or even overtly opportunistic. As soon as he arrives, Hamlet and Horatio start walking away, and they will keep walking, with this fop in tow. Osric fans himself constantly with his feathered hat, something that irritates Hamlet by its proximity, motivating the hot/cold on/off exchanges. Osric never does put the hat on his head, even if he accepts Hamlet's reality in principle, so Hamlet has to put it on him at some point. Cue slapstick walking around with the feather in Osric's face. The character will leave with a bow for every "yours" Hamlet utters, and fall down the stairs in a final act of buffoonery.

At the end of the sequence, Hamlet has walked right to the hall where the duel will be staged, and overlooks it. Again we're motivating the text. Hamlet finally tells Osric he'll be walking in this hall, essentially waiting for the duel to come to him. He stops Horatio from calling the whole thing off, and with a smile, comforts his friend with "the readiness is all". Olivier doesn't push on these lines as, say, Branagh does. They're really for Horatio's sake, telling him not to worry, and in "let be", simply telling his friend not to stop whatever gears have started turning already (as opposed to answering some crucial question in the previous few lines).

But Horatio couldn't have stopped it even if he had tried. Within seconds, the Royals arrive with Laertes and a host of trumpeters, and the trial is already under way. In the world of this film, there are barely 6 minutes between Claudius hatching his plan and setting them into motion. Osric was sent less than 2 minutes after his conversation with Laertes. This is more urgency than the play as written musters; Shakespeare put the Hamlet's arrival and Ophelia's death and funeral in between events.

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