Friday, August 27, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Classics Illustrated

The originalThat is all. It's actually surprising that the return of the Ghost isn't included given this adaptations fascination with that supernatural element. There is no conflict between the men that requires ghostly intervention, although the narration is almost oxymoronic. "I won't tell you anything, but I'll swear you to secrecy." And that's the interesting bit, I suppose. Summed up that way, it seems a little absurd, but we do have a scene here in which characters are forced to swear to reveal nothing while also being told nothing. While that's not strictly true, it's not entirely false either.

The Berkley version
The sequence gets the better part of a page, with Hamlet immediately asking his companions to swear. There is no room here for madcap zaniness, and Hamlet seems to remain his same old dour self through the entire first Act. We do not see him change, though he does tell Horatio that he'll affect a madness. In other words, this Hamlet isn't mad or even distraught. His actions will be well planned (presumably). The Ghost appears one last time:
Instead of other the earth, he's above ground. The relevant lines are of course cut. Strangely, though Hamlet proposes the oath, we do not hear the men swear to it. There is a disjointed quality to the comic book form, with things (especially speech) occurring in a single sustained moment within the same panel, and actions and words possibly lost in the space between panels. Sequences can read as a montage in which things must be inferred (mostly movement). As readers of Hamlet, we know the men swear even if that is not depicted here. This is an artifact of the medium (and the difficulties of adaptation) rather than a conscious disjointedness.
At the end, Hamlet and friends go back to Elsinore. As usual, artist Tom Mandrake gives us moody images, though I'm not always sure if they thematically match their scenes. This panel gives the impression of three heroes going boldly into the night. As we know, Hamlet really goes it alone from this point. We have the darkness and uncertainty, but where is Hamlet's isolation and doubt? Again, something may be lost in the frozen moment.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Tennant '09

The camera work in this sequence is handheld, giddy, drunk and mad. The floor seems to tip like the deck of a ship. Hamlet comes towards his friends and walks away from them like the tide itself. This is an incredibly visual way to represent his state of mind. It pulsates with Hamlet's own sanity and with his alternating paranoia/trust with Horatio. There's good reason to believe Tennant's Hamlet has gone mad even beyond the way it is staged and shot. His characterization is very different from the grieving boy of the earlier scenes. He has just cut his hand, turning his oath into an even more serious affair. Is he asking the same from his friends? They never shed blood for their oaths, but they might well have thought Hamlet was going to require it of them. Even when he gets the idea of putting an antic disposition on, it doesn't look like he has far to go.
A good case could be made that this Hamlet is mad, but smart enough to know it. He justifies his present and future actions by turning uncontrollable behaviour into a conscious affectation. PR in Elsinore.

Insane or not, it's not all in his head. The Ghost returns, shaking the ground violently, bells ringing. In the stage play, they used sound effects to shake the seats, and mechanical effects to disturb chandeliers and lanterns. In the film version, simple use of shaky cam accomplishes the same trick, though it's not quite as visceral for the audience. Either way, it is quite clear that the director means for us to believe in the Ghost's reality. This is not anyone's point of view but our own. The two men accompanying Hamlet certainly believe in it and terrified, scream out their oath. Hamlet, for his part, is high on energy of the moment. He would hope Horatio could see things like he does and uses the more inclusive "our philosophy", but the sequence otherwise does little to bring Hamlet and Horatio closer together. They have contrasting attitudes, Hamlet's an alienating one. And once they've sworn, the men run out as Hamlet stays behind to say his final couplet to camera. The very last line is omitted. It would certainly have cemented Hamlet's madness for the audience.

A note on "There are more things..." from the director in the audio commentary: He rightly reminds us that this line also stands as an invitation to the audience to accept the weirdness of the play. There are politics and there is family drama, but there is also the supernatural and the more we dig into the play, problems and ambiguities. Shakespeare tells us, through this line, to trust him and go along with him on the journey. I accepted a long time ago.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Fodor '07

In this version, Hamlet encounters the Ghost is a sort of waking dream. Horatio (the only one on guard duty with him) startles him out of it. He is confused and paranoid, as people sometimes are when awakened from an intense dream. The actor even fluffs his lines a little. It's important to remember that though she seems to accept the fact that the Ghost was communicating with Hamlet there, she didn't see it. So she really doesn't understand why he's so panicked, nor why he suddenly doesn't trust her to keep his secrets. In turn, this lack of understanding from his best friend makes him angry.

There is a nasty cut from "'faith heartily" to "this is wondrous strange", making it about his behavior rather than the Ghost. At which Hamlet lashes out. He snaps at her, using "YOUR philosophy" as an accusation. He's drawn a line in the sand and pushed her to the other side. Making Horatio a woman allows for a certain additional mirroring with Ophelia, which he also pushes away at the start of the next Act. What follows is an awkward moment. He visibly regrets what he's said, and she is hurt by the comment. There is definitely a certain degree of romantic tension between the two of them (which I won't claim ISN'T there when the characters are both male).
We then move on to the swearing, which he proposes as a sort of apology. He means to draw his friend back into his confidence, but gives his conditions, not just to show how important it is, but because he knows her. This is the first time I've gotten the sense that the description of "ambiguous giving out" refers specifically to Horatio (and Marcellus, if present). If Hamlet knows these men (and this woman, in this version) as well as it seems, wouldn't he use their own tics in that description? Horatio's characterization as a mistress of irony and sarcasm in this film could well come from these lines. Hamlet not only tells her not to cross her arms and shaking her head, he catches her doing it! The turns of phrase he forbids her may well be the ones she tends to use. This Horatio is so noncommittal, Hamlet must earnestly force her to commit.

At the end of the scene (which omits the rhyming couplet), the voice of the Ghost tells her to swear, she reacts, and we fade to black on that spooky moment. The ambiguity of the Ghost's reality is restored.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Hamlet 2000

Hamlet 2000 moves lines around frequently, and in this case, prefaces this section with its actual end lines. The rhyming couplet is spoken over a video montage (presumably one of Hamlet's art films) of people and the city, resolving into the "real" world of the play, the Denmark corporation logo (above). The Ghost is still present, out on a nearby balcony, smoking a cigarette.
As you can see, it's nowhere near morning, so the line about time being out of joint is used here as a preface to that strangeness. Hamlet's friends walk in and see the Ghost there, witnessing not Hamlet's madness, but the Ghost itself. This is an important cut. Hamlet does not appear mad, nor does he warn his friends that he might start acting strangely (at least, not yet). There is no swearing, possibly as his friends are unlikely to tattle on him, and the Ghost does not ask them to. Most of the sequence is thus cut and Horatio jumps right to "this is wondrous strange". Hamlet tells him to "give HIM welcome", a notable change (from "it") showing that he is more accepting of the Ghost's identity. This is his father and not some evil spirit. The character's tangibility goes in the same direction.

Speaking of single words, this Hamlet uses the more inclusive "our philosophy", being just as mystified as Horatio is that the supernatural is real. The cumulative effect of this scene is to create a world where the younger characters are loyal to each other without needing to swear oaths. It is an accepted principle that they won't be talking to Hamlet's parents, the adults who have sold themselves out for money and power. These are two distinct and never overlapping worlds. It will make the betrayal of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz all the more unforgivable.

With couplet come and gone, Hamlet ends the Act on another voice-over line, this one pulled from earlier in the scene (and in the previous sequence from the perspective of these articles): "My fate cries out." Instead of referring to the impulse to follow the Ghost, it now refers to his call to arms against his uncle. It works, as indeed, the original use of the line ultimately invokes that same mission, though Hamlet does not know it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Kline '90

Kline's version is staged like a play, but that sometimes puts its staging closer to the theatre. At the end of the previous sequence, it is customary for Hamlet to collapse. Kline goes up on structures and lets himself fall back into the void... and into the arms of Horatio and the soldiers (yes, here too, both soldiers appear). A common drama class trust exercise used to good effect as Hamlet falls from the supernatural world of the Ghost and into the embrace of the living world.Kline gives an unironic reading to the word "wonderful" when Horatio asks what news. I'd never really thought about Hamlet's answer, perhaps because it was always thrown glibly and quickly as part of the prince's mad speeches. Here, Hamlet wakes up as if from a dream and answers more honestly. We know the news is pretty far from wonderful, unless he means "filled with wonder", which would be warranted from a brush with the afterlife. We might wonder ourselves if Hamlet actually sees the prospect of getting to kill his uncle as something positive, or if this emotional inversion is an early clue to his madness. In the early part of this sequence, Hamlet does indeed seem mad. His moods change, he sweats profusely and seems deranged. There's even a sense that his friends don't hear the Ghost's voice at first, though there is a reaction the next time it does.

Perhaps we should look at the concept of the Royal Body as an explanation. The King is dead and Denmark grows cold. The new King has broken rightful succession, which relates to time being out of joint and the temporal strangeness of the play. But if Hamlet is the rightful, bypassed, King, should he not also relate to the State? The solution to the problem of the Ghost and Hamlet's madness (is there a Ghost or is he mad?) may be that Hamlet's grief and madness are spreading a new reality in the land. He misses his father so strongly, that his grief manifests as an apparition others can see. In this scene as played, it's like this imposed reality (born of the King-State connection) catches up to the group slightly late. Hamlet imagines it and so it becomes real. But that's as maybe.

An interesting touch from Kline is to include the soldiers at least as much as Horatio. He speaks his lines to one, then the others, keeping up with the giddy energy of the scene. The swearing is done without a sword, upon the ground from which the voice sprang, invoking how the stage play should feel.
As the voice moves, they shift their ground to that place and swear again. On the stage, the audience would be aware of that movement under the floorboards and be caught up in the chase. This is lost on television, but stage directors should do well to remember to play this out if they can. As the oaths proceed, Hamlet gets more and more stable, though the men with him seem amply worried. When he breaks with them to speak his rhyming couplet, as if coming to a sudden and almost cosmic awareness of the state of reality, they hear it all and don't know how to respond. Sometimes he's with them, and sometimes he isn't, and perhaps it's fitting that he would specify they should go in together. In his current state, just being present does not always mean he is "with" them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Zeffirelli '90

Zeffirelli continues to frustrate with important cuts to the lines, which makes it at times difficult to glean some new understanding of the play from his version. As in the Olivier version, there are three men accompanying Hamlet on this journey into the supernatural, and the prince seems ready to tell them what's going on. The bird call seems an earnest invitation to learn the secret. Hamlet quickly changes his mind, fearing they will reveal it, though Gibson doesn't really play the next lines as obfuscation. He's matter of fact when he talks about the errant knave and it's only Horatio's frustration that turns it into a dodge. Hamlet makes sense to himself, but his words don't carry any meaning to his friends who are out of the loop.
Regarding the swearing, the Ghost's voice comes from above, as per its location in the previous sequence, motivating the cut of any line to the contrary. As day breaks, there's no reason it couldn't have returned to the ground, but in this version, the Ghost of woefully unambiguous. There is never any real indication that it might be an evil tempter or in any way dangerous. Making the voice from above makes it heavenly rather than hellish, and removing Hamlet's subsequent mockeries insures a son's respect. They run off to swear on more removed ground, leaving the walls of Elsinore and going outside where it is now light.
Hamlet is exhilarated by this point. The staging makes this new morning an entry into a new world, although one of light rather than darkness. It does not portentously foretell the tragedy to come. I'd call it ironic if it wasn't so wet and overcast. As is, the director's intent isn't clear. Horatio drops to his knees in fear, and the giddy Hamlet has cause to chide him about his philosophy ("your" is used). Gibson doesn't let us in on when he decided to act crazy, which is a shame. There's just not enough insanity in the sequence to warrant his getting the idea from his own behavior. The idea comes out of nowhere.

I feel the next cut most strongly. In this version, Hamlet ends the Act with the rhyming couplet, but does not preface or follow it with an invitation to go in. There's almost a sense that he speaks the couplet to the camera and that we are in a soliloquy-type space at that moment, but that's uncertain. I suppose Horatio and the soldiers hear him, though again, they have little context to make sense of it. By not looking to draw his friends back in - and perhaps he didn't ostracize them enough to warrant such a gesture, which is a problem in and of itself - he makes them unimportant. The cumulative effect of Act I's cuts is to turn these characters into ciphers. Zeffirelli might as well have cut them entirely from the film for all the importance they seem to have for Hamlet. Perhaps someone should stage a Hamlet where Horatio and Marcellus are ghosts themselves. Cut Scene I and it's rather doable. And then you have the whole of hell scheming against the prince of Denmark.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - BBC '80

Jacobi's Hamlet puts that "antic disposition" on very early in the play, and one could easily say that this is a mad Hamlet, not a pretending Hamlet. However, Hamlet is self-aware enough to know that he is touched with insanity (or has consciously given in to it in order to rebuild himself for his mission), so he can say he'll act mad, knowing full well he IS mad. Characters who lie to each other breed ambiguity.

The sequence starts with Hamlet's "Hillo, ho, ho, boy! come, bird, come" played as an actual bird call, immediately setting the tone for the "wild and whirling" nature of his discourse through the rest of the scene. As usual for Jacobi, the character is mercurial and can change tone on a dime, making something different of each line. Though mostly manic through the scene, he comes close to tears when he invokes his "businesses and desires". His grief comes in waves (as I can confirm such things do), usually upon any reminder of his father's death. The Ghost's voice coming from the earth is another such moment. Though the words are mocking ("old mole", "truepenny", and all that), Hamlet is on the verge of breaking down while uttering them. This Hamlet has adopted a "mad speech", but some of his emotions cannot be hidden.

Though he seems lost in his own world, Hamlet shows he is nonetheless alert when he overhears Horatio's "This is wondrous strange" from afar. He says "in your philosophy" in this version, but there's enough tenderness between the two of them that we don't necessarily feel that Hamlet is ostracizing Horatio. Instead, the old school friend seems to be the only person Hamlet is close to (he makes an effort to include Marcellus in "scholars and soldiers", so Horation must already be included). Horatio is so astonished by his friend's turn that he may feel like a complete outsider. He is indeed a stranger to this, where Hamlet is not, and so there is a divide between the characters, though not one Hamlet consciously creates. There is a certain obliviousness to Hamlet in Jacobi's performance that makes us believe he really has gone crazy.
In the Act's final moments, Jacobi throws in an unscripted moment to motivate the "let's go together" repetition. After his rhyming couplet, and as the other men are walking away from him, they stop and look back, as if doubting his sanity. Hamlet looks to them then makes like he sees the Ghost again. They look in that direction and there is nothing, and Hamlet giggles wickedly at them, like a child who has just pranked his friends. "Nay" here becomes a "no, no, I'm just joking". He has shown them what he means by putting an antic disposition on, but has he convinced them that it IS a put-on? This Hamlet is so wild that Horatio and Marcellus may be more motivated by fear than trust.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Olivier '48

There are a number of strange choices made here in the Olivier version, including cutting most of the Ghost's part under the floorboards. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, you'll note that Hamlet must force three men to swear, not just two. Horatio and Marcellus and joined by Bernardo who was, after all, present when they went to tell the Prince about the Ghost. Since Bernardo wasn't as trusted a confidant as the others (as infered from the text of Scene 2 itself), it means this Hamlet is even more careful about what he tells them. Olivier makes it very clear that Hamlet was about to tell them the whole story when he caught himself and went for "but he's an errant knave"). There's a long pause of realization there. Though he is distracted and evasive, I wouldn't go so far as to say Olivier's Hamlet becomes manic. The madness is definitely underplayed, leaving the crafting of an "antic disposition" for later. Which makes other choices a bit bizarre.

As the conversation progresses, the characters keep going down from platform to platform, a fine opportunity to signal a descent into madness. That Hamlet doesn't quite give in to it seems a missed opportunity. The move might also have helped motivate the Ghost's voice coming from the ground. Hamlet is initially too high up to do the whole "worthy mole" speech. However, in this version, the Ghost does not manifest itself before the incredulous men, so all of that is cut out. In this version, Horatio "this is wondrous strange" doesn't apply to the Ghost, but to Hamlet's insistence that they swear a second time. If reacting to Hamlet's madness, we're again left to wonder if Hamlet is acting strangely enough to warrant that reaction.
Only when they lay their hands on the sword does the Ghost let out the whisper of a "Swear!!!", accompanied by the trademark heartbeat sound effect. No reaction shot from the three men is edited in, so it might all be in Hamlet's head. If the trio hadn't seen the Ghost in Scenes 1 and 4, there would be no evidence of the spirit's reality and we'd have a completely mad Hamlet. We may still, and though a spirit walked the halls of Elsinore, perhaps their conversation was a fiction. And yet, Olivier is entirely too subtle about Hamlet's madness if indeed he suffers from it.

Time to bring Horatio closer as a confident. The twin lines about leaving the stage are used here to send the soldiers off first. Hamlet then has his asides in front of Horatio. He's including him more than the others into his secret (this despite earlier using "your philosophy", which distances him from Hamlet). When the final line says "let's go together" a second time, it's now for the loitering Horatio. Splitting the group off, though flying ignoring Shakespeare's stage directions, is well motivated by the text itself. Hamlet is last to leave, taking a look back at the tower where he met the Ghost, perhaps nostalgically looking back at the life he leaves behind.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Branagh '96

As soon as Horatio and Marcellus come running up, Hamlet goes from quiet to completely hysterical, voice almost comically breaking. Does this mean he's already feigning madness? Well, yes and no. Based on the performance alone, you might think so. Hamlet has just learned about a terrible betrayal from his uncle and mother. It's turned his world upside down, and in the opening moments of this sequence, would not know if he can trust his old friends anymore. Certainly, even if they're not working against him, he wonders if he can trust them with his secrets. The story is so extraordinary that it would be hard for almost anyone not to want to tell it. And so he tries to dismiss them by appearing a little crazy (Horatio did bring it up earlier as a possible effect of talking to the Ghost) and evading their questions. On the commentary track, Branagh describes Hamlet's state of mind as hysteria. He is trying to process the new information and just can't talk about it now. They can't know it's that much of a shocker, so they push him. So Hamlet's mind is rushing (with swirling camera shots of trees to help his POV come across) and he's acting crazy, genuinely, but it's not meant to be taken as if he's falling into madness.

Horatio is soon impatient with him. In their friendship, there's no call for such evasions. Again, he does not realize how big the revelation was. Hamlet's not trying to destroy his friendships, he just needs more time. Once he realizes that they won't let him off without an explanation, he does start giving hints that things aren't right, but as I noted in the last article, he does not reveal anything about the murder here. Horatio is in the know later, so we must assume he had the conversation offstage. At this point, he's trying desperately not to include them, both to make sure they don't blow his secret and to spare them the weight of it. When Horatio mentions offense, he can't hold it in anymore. He sincerely doesn't want to offend Horatio, but is also incredibly offended himself by what the Ghost has told him.

The cat's out of the bag. He doesn't tell all, but will (we just don't need another expository scene at this point). That's why we have the swearing. And neither Horatio nor Marcellus realize how serious it is (quickly sick of this swearing business) until the Ghost once more intervenes with its big, bellowy "SWEAR!", the earth cracking and exploding with smoke, fire and shaking trees. They get a little touch of hell, and if loyalty doesn't keep them silent, fear will.
Hamlet calms down when the Ghost finally leaves. Is there a link between the spirit's presence and Hamlet's mania? Is the swearing cathartic in some way? Is there comfort in the sharing of the secret or the knowledge that one is not mad because the vision has been shared? Or is it simply that once they've sworn, he can show his true face, with no added ambiguity?

Though Horatio planted the seed of feigning madness in Hamlet's mind in the previous scene, the plan to put on an "antic disposition" is probably born even as the prince says those very words. He has seen his friends' reaction to his temporary bout of mania and seen that he could use such behavior as a smokescreen for his revenge activities. Though he proposes to con all of Elsinore, he will have two allies who know the truth (one of which is not seen again). In the closing moments of the Act, Hamlet repairs his friendships with them. "Let's go together" evokes a partnership between the three holders of the secret. Note also the inclusiveness of Hamlet's "in OUR philosophy" where versions of the play use "in YOUR philosophy". In this adaptation, Hamlet and Horatio have a very tight bond, and in this line choice, are made closer still. They have the same kind of education, the same opinions and thought process. Hamlet chooses not to exclude his friends, and the most cynical of us could say he's trying to ensure loyalty, manipulating them. In this version of the play, at least, Hamlet genuinely cares for them and keeps them close without ulterior motives.