Sunday, March 8, 2015
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Tennant (2009)
And that's my segue to say Penny Downie as Gertrude is really the one to watch during this scene. She's always active, looking to one character or another, trying to understand what's going on, where the dangers lie, what's real and what isn't. After all, Laertes has just attacked Claudius and then Hamlet, but they're all smiling at each other and playing a "game" now. And knowing what she does of Hamlet's fragility, and his allegations about her husband, which she probably believes, something HAS to be up. And so on her face, often in the background, there are reactions that are crucial to understanding her character. She's surprised and perhaps relieved that Hamlet can throw off the shackles of madness. She tries to decipher whether Laertes means it when he accepts Hamlet's apology. And what of Claudius, all smiles and out of breath? She's in evident pain as she tries to pierce the web of lies around her. In that context, it makes perfect sense that when she realize the cup is poison (the staging is impeccable too, as Claudius, out of focus in the background, turns his head at the tray behind him and realizes which cup she's holding). She drinks deep, as if to save her son from this trap, but then offers him that cup, a suicide pact so that she, Hamlet, his father and Ophelia can all be reunited in the afterlife. At the moment of her death, still holding the cup, she pushes it once more towards Hamlet. A dark interpretation nonetheless consistent with Tragedy.
The duel presents three bouts that are more or less the same - we're not dealing with a big budget production here - but longer and more aggressive each time. Paranoid Laertes lets himself be riled by Hamlet's quips, or rather more by the assembly' laughter, and realizing he will lose, starts to cheat. He thrusts at Hamlet before the judge (Osric) allows it, so Hamlet fights without headgear, and still not scoring, slices the back of Hamlet's back when his back is turned. Hamlet drops his sword and jumps him, and once subdued, takes the poison sword, and in anger over its unblunted end, inflicts the same wound on his opponent. With the Queen dead and both duelists poisoned, Hamlet cries treachery and Claudius is still in a position to get away with it. But afraid Laertes will tell on him, he points to guards to get his co-conspirator out of the room, which is when Laertes decides to point fingers. The last of his family, Laertes doesn't care to die a traitor and stain his name, possibly. After all, would it be so hard for Claudius to brand him such posthumously? A man who just recently incited revolt and tried to kill him?