Sunday, December 13, 2009

I.ii. Ghost Stories - Zeffirelli '90

As with Olivier's interpretation, Zeffirelli's places Scene 3 before this part of Scene 2, further elongating (or muddling) the timeline. And as with Olivier, this allows him to cut straight to the night of Hamlet's encounter with the Ghost when this scene ends.In this version, Hamlet seems to have been waiting for Horatio. Though he welcomes him to Elsinore, he shows no surprise. "I do forget myself" is almost more of a friendly form of address. In Zeffirelli's elastic timeline, Horatio may have been there for some time, and only now gets an audience with the prince, who has, it must be said, kept largely to himself in dark rooms. We do know that the Ghost appeared to him only "yesternight", so this may place his appearance at well after the incestuous wedding. Hard to say.

It's our first look at Horatio, played by Stephen Dillane (who recently played Jefferson in John Adams). He doesn't look quite as posh as other Horatios do, but the film's medieval stylings makes almost everyone look more like men-at-arms than scholars. Speaking of soldiers, three accompany Horatio rather than two. Is this a misreading of the play that would include Francisco in that party (the actor is credited as such)? Strange given that all three are relegated to bit parts. I'm thinking that Scene 1 was filmed but wound up on the cutting room floor. Their presence gives Hamlet pause. Why are they following him so closely? What are they doing there in company of his fellow student? He momentarily mistrusts the situation, and yet he speaks on.

Among the snips and cuts made to the scene is Hamlet's "In my mind's eye", but it's clear where Hamlet actually sees his father. I still grieve for the figure of speech. The line is no doubt cut because the Ghost has not yet appeared in the story, nor even been revealed. Horatio's question "Where?" would have seemed bizarre without our foreknowledge of its existence. Horatio's role may have been cut down to size, but Dillane still makes him the doubter of the excised Scene 1 by showing embarrassment about what he must tell Hamlet.
"Look, I know what I'm going to say will sound mad, but bear with me." Perfectly piched between two students of the same skeptical school. However, it is my belief that the staging of the telling of the tale works against its actual intent. Through another change of venue, Horatio and his merry men lead Hamlet to a more secluded spot. He takes him by the arm and he tells the story while walking. If there was ever a Hamlet where Horatio was set up as the evil mastermind, this is how you would do it. Though I'm sure it was done to keep things energetic, the image is that of the prince being taken for a ride.
Remember: In this version, we the audience haven't seen the Ghost as yet. Horatio could be fabricating the whole thing, and Hamlet may just be unstable enough to hallucinate the Ghost later (we'll explore that in the staging of the later scenes). As soon as there's talk of his father's spirit, Hamlet seems completely taken in, overwhelmed by emotion (which Gibson usually plays as being about to throw up). The biggest cut in this scene is the "test". This Hamlet does not doubt, nor does he question (which is at cross-purposes with his earlier mistrust). If Horatio IS trying to bring him down, you have to show it (visually, since the lines don't support it). Zeffirelli does not, and so the impression we get from this scene must be considered a flaw in his staging.

Another change brought on by cutting the test, and perhaps the reason why it was actually cut, is the removal of any mention of the Ghost's armor. When we finally see the Ghost, he is in fact not dressed in armor, but in black robes. In losing Scene 1 and the Norway plot from Scene 2, we've already lost any mention of Denmark ever being at war. That, in turn, removes the ambiguity of Hamlet Sr.'s relationship with Gertrude. If he was not gone to the wars, it may indicate there was no room for an affair nor any overlap between the two brothers. We'll have to stay sharp when looking a future lines regarding this subject.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I.ii. Ghost Stories - BBC '80

I admit it, I have trouble sizing up Derek Jacobi's Hamlet sometimes. He always gives wonderful line readings, but I'm not always sure how they fit together from moment to moment. His Hamlet is incredibly mercurial, perhaps unstable from the first. Is his Hamlet truly mad? And since when has he been so?In this case, Hamlet does embrace a hesitant Horatio. This Hamlet is cut off from other characters ("poorly attended") and latches on to the first friendly, or should I say neutral, face he sees. From Horatio's awkwardness, one can imagine Hamlet making him a closer friend than he really is, letting him into a secret and personal world he would not have been privy to outside of this crisis. The same goes for Marcellus to a lesser extent. He REALLY doesn't know Bernardo, Jacobi throwing in a moment of non-recognition beautifully. Throughout the scene, the soldiers will stay back, accentuating the hierarchical class structure we discussed in previous articles. Farther from Hamlet in class than Horatio is, they stand at a remove from him even on their lines.

As in Olivier's staging, Horatio does a double-take when he hears that Hamlet sees his father. Jacobi's Hamlet responds differently though. He's hurt, as if Horatio is joking and/or being insensitive. This may spur a quick change in Hamlet's mood, as he becomes rather argumentative after this point. Perhaps it's Horatio's fault in trying to get back into Hamlet's good graces after this faux pas, but Hamlet is troubled by his friend seeming to tell him what he wants to hear (compare to the fawning Rozencrantz and Guildenstern). Is this yet another false friend?
The questions about the Ghost have very much the bent of a test. Hamlet hardly lets him answer before he asks another question, keeping him unbalanced and holding a distrustful expression.

If Hamlet and Horatio are mirrors of a kind, then we can also interpret Hamlet's reaction as that of a skeptic. He doesn't wholly believe the story of a ghost, just as Horatio didn't. Even once he accepts their story, he remains sarcastic with them, even in his show of love. When he then talks about foul play, does he fear a hoax? Usually, the line is about some foul deed that has led to a revenant leaving its grave, but here may refer to the revenant's validity. Is it that he thinks his father SHOULD NOT be in armor if he does walk the earth? Say he wasn't buried in his armor, for example, in which case, that hoax may be from hell itself (a spirit, but not his father's).