Sunday, May 2, 2010

Act I Scene 4 - BBC '80

Despite being studio-bound, the BBC/Jacobi version does a good job of making Denmark look freezing. By keeping the actors in a single position (instead of the walk-and-talk or pacing stagings previously seen), we get a better sense of them waiting for the Ghost to arrive. In a more dynamic staging, the Ghost seems to appear as soon as the players are in all in place, or at worse, done with their rants about the Danish reputation. Here, Horatio loses track of time because he doesn't know how long they've been there, and all three men are paranoid, turning around at every little noise, hoping or fearing that the Ghost has come. In that context, Hamlet's speech about his uncle's debauchery is just a way of filling up the time. And in that context, the lines do take on added meaning.

I am especially interested in Hamlet's thoughts on the nature of guilt. He says "As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty, Since nature cannot choose his origin--". If Hamlet indeed believes that a person cannot be truly guilty of his crimes because he was born to commit them, it helps explain his ambivalent relationship towards his revenge. The true fault lies with nature or fortune (with God?), not with Man. Compare with his apology to Laertes in which he blames his madness and not himself. Later in the scene, his "fate cries out", again giving fortune the largest responsibility for events. There is a contradiction at play here: If no one is truly guilty, then how can he blame the King's behavior for the bad reputation laid at Danish feet? How is responsibility handed out in this world? Above all, perhaps, Hamlet is a play about a man talking things through, thinking out loud, and debating himself. He forms opinions right in front of the viewer/reader. he may well contradict himself, but by play's end, we hope to find the more complete individual (and we do).

There is a telling moment in Jacobi's performance when they all stop for a noise, determine it is a false alarm, and he just continues on with his speech. On the surface, he appears to be keeping a brave face, but is this really his own nature-given defect? Intellectualizing, talking rather than acting, etc.? In this speech about corruption of character, he is showing us his own flaw.
Then, the Ghost arrives. An interesting gesture from Horatio here, with the hands clasped in prayer. A real change from the unbeliever of Scene 1, chuckling at these stories of ghosts. Of course, one of the few cuts from this version included Horatio's allusions to pagan Rome, so he more clearly painted as a Christian.
As for Hamlet, there is an interesting line reading in "I'll call thee Hamlet, King, father" at the end of which Jacobi adds a question mark. "I'll call thee Hamlet, King, father?" Who IS this Ghost? If he is "Hamlet", it plays on the idea of being his own madness and thus himself. If "King", then he will rule over Hamlet, regardless of whether is the Ghost of Hamlet Sr. returned or a goblin damned. If "Father", then as true Ghost. Jacobi does well to play on this ambiguity, also giving fodder for those who would call into question Hamlet's true genetic origins. (For the truly tragic ending has Hamlet kill his true father.)

No comments: