Saturday, May 8, 2010

Act I Scene 4 - Zeffirelli '90

The King's rouse is played rather differently in Zeffirelli's heavily cut adaptation in that it acts as the wedding banquet (Claudius even lets out the "cannon to the heavens" line). As such, it makes it all the harder to understand what Hamlet's problem is with this tradition. One even has to wonder why one of the guards is given Horatio's line asking about the custom. It looks like any banquet, and even Ophelia attends. Zeffirelli, ever efficient, uses the scene to give several characters meaningful glances at each other - the royal couple is happy, Polonius makes ingratiating smiles at them, and Ophelia timidly responds to Gertrude's toast. While we shouldn't be surprised at Hamlet's refusal to attend (he's against the marriage itself), it is odd that these simple revels would turn the Danish nation into a laughing stock.
Most of the lines from this section are cut, but he notably ends the speech as a soliloquy. All his companions ever hear is the idea that Danes are clepped drunkards based on the custom. Everything else (cut down to its essentials, of course) is said in a private moment as Hamlet watches the party from a grate. Where other Hamlets perhaps give sermons, this one has a personal realization about the nature of a man's flaws. It plays not unlike Jacobi's, but doesn't include any others. Horatio continues to be sidelined in this version, as Hamlet doesn't let him into his innermost thoughts.
Finally, the Ghost appears. First as a face in the dark, then from afar. The viewer may not at first spot him. Though there is no doubt Horatio and the guards see something, the murky lighting and Hamlet's constant shifting between manic elation and fear support the idea of an imaginary Ghost, one that lives only in Hamlet's mind. In this version, we have no proof that Horatio and the others ever saw it. No scene presents it. And yet, this thought is not pursued by the director. Horatio remains in the background, and the Ghost's reality is not questioned.

Another change is that the Ghost is not wearing armor (and all descriptions of such have been cut). This Hamlet Sr. is not a warrior and there are no Pollack Wars mentioned as a context. He seems old and dressed as a monk. Instead of an absent but glorified father, we have a man who might not have been able to properly service his too-young wife, and whose piety and morals are espoused by his son. It changes the whole dynamic of the Hamlet family. As written, Hamlet cannot really know how good his father was, making the Ghost's ambiguity Hamlet Sr.'s as well. Hamlet becomes a scholar and doesn't follow in his father's footsteps. There is a rebellion there that is continued in the mistrust he shows the Ghost, and that may have generated guilt that informs his grief. Claudius would have swooped in while his brother was away. Here, there is no real sense that Senior was absent (the Gravedigger's mention of the wars has no lasting resonance) from his son's life, only his wife's (sexually, whether because of age or morality). Hamlet is using his father as more of a moral compass, explaining his own prudish ideas, but also making the Ghost more sympathetic (as we'll see in the next scene), a victim to be pitied. Claudius and Gertrude are more brazen in their affair.

The scene ends with Hamlet breathlessly following the Ghost through the bowels of the castle, his sword always in front of him as the others lose sight of both.

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