Sunday, May 30, 2010

Act I Scene 1 - Tennant (2009)

The Gregory Doran-directed 2009 production of Hamlet uses a stylized contemporary/modern dress setting that defies dating. There are modern trappings, but daggers and swords as well. It is Shakespearean in a manner that today's audiences will understand. A heightened reality. Among those modern trappings is the use of CCTV footage at various points in the television presentation.The director wanted to create a sense of hyper surveillance that would heighten the play's paranoia (in the same way Branagh's hall of mirrors does). We never quite know WHO is conducting this surveillance, an ambiguity that can be frustrating. Sometimes, it could be Polonius, but he's not clued in enough about, for example, the stuff with the Ghost. A secret police then, which we the audience are a part of. Another reason to use the CCTV camera is to create the effect of an invisible Ghost. When the Ghost appears later in Scene 1, cutting to the CCTV reveals Horatio and the soldiers talking to thin air. Another effect, especially when you consider that the first shots of the telefilm are CCTV, is to create a postmodern Denmark that seems just as foggy and spooky as the more tradition Denmark of the play. The grainy gray tones gives off a sense of cold and dreariness without the elements having to cooperate.

For the first few lines of dialog, this version of the play gives us a new spin on the words, a spin that plays on the paranoia conveyed by the CCTV. Bernardo relieves the seemingly freaked out Francisco and asks him "Have you had... quiet... guard?" He chooses his words well, wondering if Francisco has seen the Ghost but not revealing his knowledge of this apparition. Who's in on the secret? Certainly not Francisco. Bernardo doesn't want to give it away. Though we know what's coming, Shakespeare had indicated suspense was required for this scene. He has the soldiers call the Ghost a "thing" so as not to give anything away, and when we cut to talk of politics and history, it's only to give us another "scare moment" when the Ghost reappears.
Peter De Jersey's Horatio is as good as they come in the role, and not the first black man to be cast in the role (the BBC also did it in 1980). I only mention it because I just now realized how this makes Horatio less of Dane and more of a stranger (Hamlet calls him a stranger in Scene 5) and explains why he doesn't know about Danish customs. He studies in Wittenberg, but isn't from the area, just as Laertes is off to France. This is, of course, at odds with the line "I am more an ancient Roman than a Dane." Does he mean to be a Dane by adoption? Cut from this scene are references to Roman history, and Horatio protects himself with a crucifix. This is a more Christian Horatio, more in line with the philosophies taught at Wittenberg. Again, this is at odds with the "ancient Roman" line.

The Ghost
When the Ghost first appears, we don't see it. The sequence is shown from the Ghost's point of view, with the soldiers and Horatio cowering in fear before him. Again, suspense is prolonged. Horatio then goes into his recent history of the realm and the Ghost appears, this time in camera, a long ways behind the men. On the next edit, it has creeped up very closely in the flash of an eye.
Patrick Stewart plays the dual role of the Ghost and Claudius in this version, which highlights the concept of mirroring in the play (also see The Stage Play, below). Hamlet Sr. and Claudius are two brothers, both fathers to Hamlet, likely to look alike, and never share scenes. The casting is not only possible, but laudable. The strange armor he wears, using modern materials but respecting the descriptions of it in the text, is an example of how this version exists in a non-temporal Shakespearean reality.

The Stage Play
The stage play of course did not have a CCTV element, but it used lighting and set dressing to achieve similar effects. The stage featured not only a large mirrored background, but a mirrored floor as well, all part of the aforementioned concept of mirroring. Though that idea does not truly put across the idea of hyper surveillance, it does create an unsettling space where actors can be seen from multiple angles at the same time. In that way, the audience sees more than it should, which is a shadow of the same idea. As in this filmed version, the soldiers used flashlights (I'm sorry, I should say "torches") to create the lighting themselves. Reflected in the mirrors, it proved at efficient way to create the chaos of the Ghost's appearances, hiding as much as it revealed.

The mirrored floor is also featured in the telefilm, as we'll see in Scene 2.


snell said...

The dual casting of Stewart also adds some insight to Hamlet's mindset--since we know the brothers were, to our eyes, nearly physically identical, it makes us doubt Hamlet's more outrageous comparisons (hyperion to a satyr, for example :-) or when he shows their pictures to his mother). "HA! Have you eyes?" suddenly sounds less convincing when our eyes have seen them both, and haven't seen the "Jove vs. a mildew'd ear" difference that Hamlet does.

So they casting makes us wonder--is the difference all in Hamlet's head, or does he just perceive things beneath the surface better than Gertrude and the audience?

Anonymous said...

"Does he mean to be a Dane by adoption?"

Or by marriage? ;)

I would say - re the double casting and physical similarity - that the difference is in Hamlet's head, but he's asking Gertrude to see it too. Perhaps he's reminding her that, despite physical similarities, Claudius and Hamlet Sr are different people, and you can't simply switch one out for the other (as, in Hamlet's eyes, she has).

Siskoid said...

You've just opened a new can of worms for me re:Horatio, Anon! We'll see what happens when it has a chance to percolate.