Saturday, May 31, 2014
Laughing is very much his thing, and it's obvious that as fools go, he's a voluntary one. No dimwit here, he knows his dumb answers are jokes and that he's playing with Hamlet. In most stagings of the play, the Prince stops at the grave, curious to see who is to be buried in it, and stays because of the fool's wit. In this case, Hamlet might have gone right past and it's the skulls thrown in his way that make him stop. Or as one might see it, the inevitability of death. Yorick's skull is never thrown, but has been set aside reverently on the edge of the grave since the very beginning. The Gravedigger has a history with its owner, and that fondness seems to extend to his remains. Of course, there's also a real world reason for it: This is Tchaikovsky's skull, bequeathed to the Royal Shakespeare Company after the great composer's death, so rather precious. Whether the audience registers it or not, for the actors, there's a difference. Not only is it a real human skull, but one that used to be a great man's, lending weight to the lines about Caesar and Alexander.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
If he's hitting the 2nd Clown in the beginning, it's for not having found the answer to his riddle. But that's not really where the black comedy comes from because these lines are mostly cut. Instead, there's the matter of the grave being dug in a minefield - surely a comment on a rotting Denmark and the wars Hamlet's father fought - with the addle-brained Clown fiddling around with a found mine (a pun on whose grave it is? "Mine, sir"?), and having both feet in his grave, exploding. The other men are pelted with dirt, the Priest picks up his arm and delivers his original joke's punchline "the gallows may do well to thee". The adaptation has a nasty, horror vibe, but this scene is nasty in another way, and doesn't quite fit. It gets worse.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
And yes, that means we don't get any interpretation of "Alas, poor Yorick", a brave thing when it's likely the most iconic image of the play. The modern trappings killed it. It would have been difficult to explain why a modern-day Gravedigger would have been throwing skulls out of a mass grave, or whether "king's jester" has enough of an equivalent to make any measure of sense in the context of the year 2000. We simply move directly to Ophelia's funeral and Hamlet's confrontation with Laertes.
ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
Only the first couple lines are heard, but the next has a reference to digging the earth, and to the businessmen who stand in as the play's nobility in the film. The verse is an equalizer, just like Hamlet's description of death, with neither businessmen (later, princes) nor plowmen knowing what's going on. Life treated as a joke is Hamlet's thing, so he can be the joker, or this may be a reference to Yorick. And by the end, we have two riders, Hamlet and Horatio, approaching and heralding something furious, a wildcat or howling wind. Though the song isn't about Hamlet, its lyrics do seem to fit a lot of the play's (and film's) details, and makes an interesting choice, even if it isn't featured in the movie enough to make those who don't already know it (and who recognize it from what little we hear) see how its words resonate with Shakespeare's.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
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.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
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.
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.