Friday, May 14, 2010

Act I Scene 4 - Kline '90

The more I move forward with this project, the less worthy Kevin Kline's performance as Hamlet becomes. I never really liked his take on it, but in comparison to the others, it's pretty ghastly. When I'm more interested in every other character, something is wrong. Worse still, I actively disagree with the director's decisions (which is also Kline). The trend continues in Scene 4, which has a major cut, taking out the speech that comes after "more in the breach than the observance". The scene loses a lot in the process. Hamlet now only tepidly disagrees with the Danish tradition and doesn't lay very much of it at Claudius' feet. Obviously, it cuts out any deeper meaning to the rouse, since Hamlet doesn't expound on it.

Horatio has an interesting line reading in this section, responding to Hamlet's claims that "The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold." with the usual "It is a nipping and an eager air." But he makes it sound like he's disagreeing with Hamlet. Not aggressively, but in a "really? you think? maybe you could say that" kind of way. Hamlet's air bites, but Horatio's only nips. "Eager air" is likewise a much more positive outlook on the situation. Two points of view are presented, one much more negative than the other. I hadn't noticed it before.

It's in this scene that the Ghost appears for the first time in this version.
He comes out of the shadows/mists and waves Hamlet forward. Not much to it. Kline's Hamlet behaves strangely however. He seems enraptured, smiling throughout the sequence. He has no fear, no apprehension (despite his lines underscoring the risk of a hellish Ghost), and doesn't hear his friends' warnings. And when he breaks away from them, he has no weapon, so "I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!" is a threat he cannot make good on. And yet they let him go. This is another of those staging problems I have with this version.

Kline's Hamlet, in my mind, is an ineffectual one. He doesn't retard the action because he overthinks, or can't decide, or is in love with his own character, but because resolving the action is beyond his abilities. This is a lame duck Hamlet. Look at this scene again through that filter. This Hamlet doesn't convince us that Claudius is corrupt based on the rouse. Horatio questions the simplest claim that it is bitterly cold outside. He lets down his guard completely when faced with the Ghost. He has no means to carry out his threat to turn Horatio and the soldiers into ghosts. And they let him go, as if he can't do any harm anyway. Everything is played to weaken Hamlet, a terrible idea, but still a legitimate one. If done on purpose, of course.

The trade-off
I find that when the performances aren't really there, I tend to listen to the text more, and for the first time, I hear clever little things Shakespeare's done. For example, in "Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd", the Bard plays on the how "health" and "hell" sound the same. Hamlet calls the Ghost a "questionable shape", and follows the specter to question it. There are puns upon puns in Shakespeare's work. At least Kline allows me to discover them.

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