Tuesday, April 26, 2011

II.ii. The Players

Though Polonius announcing the Players, their arrival and Hamlet's request to the First Player are usually retained, it is rarer for the First Player to get to do his long speech. This is understandable, since the play is already very long, and the sequence is very much a digression. That said, it exists for a reason, not only as a trigger for Hamlet's next soliloquy, but as a mirror or lesson related to Hamlet's situation. By discussing the text here, and in the next posts, looking at what was kept of it, it is my hope that light will be shed on certain aspects of the play. As usual, Shakespeare's words are in italics.


LORD POLONIUS: Well be with you, gentlemen!
HAMLET: Hark you, Guildenstern; and you too: at each ear a hearer: that great baby you see there is not yet out of his swaddling-clouts.
ROSENCRANTZ: Happily he's the second time come to them; for they say an old man is twice a child.

This banter harks back to and inverts Hamlet's slanders and the idea that the old man would grow younger if, like a crab, he could go backwards. Whether old or young, Polonius is ineffectual. Also in play is the concept of the life cycle from youth to old age and back to youth again, any interruption of which is shown to be unnatural. Consider the murder of Hamlet's father (or indeed, of many of the characters) and Ophelia's madness (in which she returns to childhood before even becoming an adult). Life cycles are often discussed in play, whether it's the king making its way through the guts of a beggar via a worm, or great Alexander returning to the earth. Denmark too is undergoing a cycle from King to King to Fortinbras, albeit a diverted (unnatural) one that replaced Hamlet Jr. with Claudius.

HAMLET: I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players; mark it. You say right, sir: o' Monday morning; 'twas so indeed.
LORD POLONIUS: My lord, I have news to tell you.
HAMLET: My lord, I have news to tell you.
When Roscius was an actor in Rome,--
LORD POLONIUS: The actors are come hither, my lord.
HAMLET: Buz, buz!
LORD POLONIUS: Upon mine honour,--
HAMLET: Then came each actor on his ass,--
LORD POLONIUS: The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited: Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.

A choice should be made by the director and actor here as to whether Polonius is reading from the Players' promotional materials or if it's his own opinion. Either way, he shows his tediousness by listing all those genres and genre combos.

HAMLET: O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!
LORD POLONIUS: What a treasure had he, my lord?
'One fair daughter and no more,
The which he loved passing well.'
LORD POLONIUS: [Aside] Still on my daughter.
HAMLET: Am I not i' the right, old Jephthah?
LORD POLONIUS: If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well.
HAMLET: Nay, that follows not.
LORD POLONIUS: What follows, then, my lord?
HAMLET: Why, 'As by lot, God wot,' and then, you know, 'It came to pass, as most like it was,'-- the first row of the pious chanson will show you more; for look, where my abridgement comes.

Jephthah is a Biblical character (in the book of Judges) who rashly vowed to sacrifice the first person to come to his door if God allows him to advance his lot in life (becoming chieftain) if he defeats the Ammonites. He does so, but it's his daughter who comes to the door. Unlike Abraham, his hand is not stayed and his daughter is burnt as an offering. Polonius doesn't get the reference, but Hamlet surely does. There is an indication here that Polonius is using Ophelia as a pawn in order to advance (or retain) his position in the eyes of the King. He either knows he's been set up to meet Ophelia later, or refers to Polonius forbidding Ophelia to see the prince (what would the King and Queen THINK?). In any case, Shakespeare makes this little speech a prophetic one, as Ophelia is indeed sacrificed in the course of the play.

Enter four or five Players

You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. I am glad to see thee well. Welcome, good friends. O, my old friend! thy face is valenced since I saw thee last: comest thou to beard me in Denmark? What, my young lady and mistress! By'r lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God, your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, be not cracked within the ring. Masters, you are all welcome. We'll e'en to't like French falconers, fly at any thing we see: we'll have a speech straight: come, give us a taste of your quality; come, a passionate speech.

References to the lady's voice cracking point to the Elizabethan rule that no women could be on the stage. Women were thus often played by teenage boys before puberty made their voices change. Hamlet asking for a speech right away is somewhat ironic given his own delayed actions.

FIRST PLAYER: What speech, my lord?
I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted; or, if it was, not above once;

It's almost like Shakespeare is talking to modern directors, knowing this part of the play will, more often than not, be cut for time.

for the play, I remember, pleased not the million; 'twas caviare to the general: but it was--as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine--an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation; but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine. One speech in it I chiefly loved: 'twas Aeneas' tale to Dido; and thereabout of it especially, where he speaks of Priam's slaughter: if it live in your memory, begin at this line: let me see, let me see--
'The rugged Pyrrhus, like the Hyrcanian beast,'--
it is not so:--it begins with Pyrrhus:--
'The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smear'd
With heraldry more dismal; head to foot
Now is he total gules; horridly trick'd
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord's murder: roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.'
So, proceed you.

It seems Hamlet's "thoughts be bloody" long before he utters that particular phrase. In this tale from Virgil's Aeneid, he finds allusion to his own situation, i.e. the murder of his lord, though the citizenry is far more outraged at the turn of events than Denmark's. As we'll see, this is not the last idealization of the situation contained in the speech.

LORD POLONIUS: 'Fore God, my lord, well spoken, with good accent and good discretion.
FIRST PLAYER: 'Anon he finds him
Striking too short at Greeks; his antique sword,
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,
Repugnant to command: unequal match'd,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives; in rage strikes wide;
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top
Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear: for, lo! his sword,
Which was declining on the milky head
Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick:
So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,
And like a neutral to his will and matter,
Did nothing.

The question here is whether Hamlet is "with" Priam the victim-king, or with Pyrrhus the avenger. Like Pyrrhus, Hamlet is stuck in a moment in time, unable to act, though for him, being "painted" takes almost the whole of the play. If Pyrrhus is Claudius however, it becomes completely appropriate to give the usurper ("painted tyrant" has a double-meaning of falsehood) a moment of doubt when reenacting the murder (if such a thing is shown in flashback). Despite this hesitation, Pyrrhus then savagely strikes down Priam, again a mix of Hamlet's own idealized revenge and Claudius' unnaturally violent fratricide. Therein may lie Hamlet's dilemma: Can he do what he accuses Claudius of having done (a violent regicide).

But, as we often see, against some storm,
A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
The bold winds speechless and the orb below
As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
Doth rend the region, so, after Pyrrhus' pause,
Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work;
And never did the Cyclops' hammers fall
On Mars's armour forged for proof eterne
With less remorse than Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.
Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,

This is the second mention of Fortune specifically as a strumpet, which should be a clue to the audience that Hamlet's situation is linked to this speech. Though the content is largely about murder (note Priam's defenselessness), there is the idea of a tragic destiny as well ringing through both plays (Hamlet itself and this "rarely performed" Aeneic play).

In general synod 'take away her power;
Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
As low as to the fiends!'
LORD POLONIUS: This is too long.
HAMLET: It shall to the barber's, with your beard. Prithee, say on: he's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps: say on: come to Hecuba.

Shakespeare seems to know his problem play's problems and seeks to detract critics by acknowledging them in the text. Polonius says here what many in the audience must have thought. What is this digression and why is it taking so long. This pause gives comic relief to the sequence, and manages to poke fun at the author while at the same time brooking no criticism. Hamlet's reply puts Polonius, and those audience members, in their place.

FIRST PLAYER: 'But who, O, who had seen the mobled queen--'
HAMLET: 'The mobled queen?'
LORD POLONIUS: That's good; 'mobled queen' is good.
FIRST PLAYER: 'Run barefoot up and down, threatening the flames
With bisson rheum; a clout upon that head
Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe,
About her lank and all o'er-teemed loins,
A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up;
Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep'd,
'Gainst Fortune's state would treason have pronounced:
But if the gods themselves did see her then
When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport
In mincing with his sword her husband's limbs,
The instant burst of clamour that she made,
Unless things mortal move them not at all,
Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven,
And passion in the gods.'

Hamlet's link to Hecuba is, as with the rest, two-fold. On the one hand, he sees himself in her, the grieving family member whose passion would defy the fates. On the other, she is an idealized version of his own mother, what his mother SHOULD have been like upon his father's death.

LORD POLONIUS: Look, whether he has not turned his colour and has tears in's eyes. Pray you, no more.
HAMLET: 'Tis well: I'll have thee speak out the rest soon. Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time: after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.
LORD POLONIUS: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
HAMLET: God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.

Hamlet's heartfelt rebuke is in stark opposition to his mission, and may hold a clue as to the reason for his delayed revenge. Though Claudius, Gertrude and other conspirators deserve very little, he has vowed to, so to speak, whip them. This line may belie his true nature, which is rather more gentle than it needs to be to carry out the Ghost's vengeance. Hamlet is damned either way.

LORD POLONIUS: Come, sirs.
HAMLET: Follow him, friends: we'll hear a play to-morrow.

Exit POLONIUS with all the Players but the First

Dost thou hear me, old friend; can you play the Murder of Gonzago?
FIRST PLAYER: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: We'll ha't to-morrow night. You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in't, could you not?
FIRST PLAYER: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: Very well. Follow that lord; and look you mock him not.

Exit First Player

My good friends, I'll leave you till night: you are welcome to Elsinore.

ROSENCRANTZ: Good my lord!
HAMLET: Ay, so, God be wi' ye;


While this sequence is often cut short, some elements need to remain in order to trigger the "What a rogue and peasant slave" speech that follows it. In the next series of articles, we'll see how various directors handled this difficult passage that threatens to make the audience impatient.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - French Rock Opera

R&G's failed interrogation of Hamlet is best represented by the song Quel mal te bouffe? (What's Eating You?), a short ditty (excerpt via Amazon) sung by the choir (Hallyday only sings Hamlet's parts) which is inappropriately (or for R&G, quite appropriately) ridiculous-sounding. The French lyrics, followed by my quick and dirty translation:

Quel mal te bouffe?
Quel mal te bouffe?
Quel mal te ronge?
Quel mal te ronge?
Quel mal te bouffe?

Quel mal te bouffe?
Quel mal te ronge?
Dis-nous, dis-nous, dis-nous, dis-nous...
Des anges! Des anges! Des anges! Des anges!

(Répétez tout)

What's Eating You?
What's eating you?
What's gnawing at you?
What's gnawing at you?
What's eating you?

What's eating you?
What's gnawing at you?
Tell us, tell us, tell us, tell us...
Angels! Angels! Angels! Angels!

(Repeat all)

The familiar vocabulary used is in line with R&G's usual depiction as people who do not connect with Hamlet's deep emotions. "What's eating you?" reduces Hamlet's mal d'âme to a mild irritant. Hallyday glosses over the "What a piece of work is a man" speech in the last line when Hamlet reveals (ambiguously, because it's still not his voice) he is "bugged" by angels. A bizarre response in the context of the song, but those who know the play can see a connection between this answer and the line "How like an angel". As sung by R&G, it's almost like they're claiming some kind of innocence in all this, again tying into the irony of Hamlet's speech.

Monday, April 18, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Classics Illustrated

The original
The original Classics Illustrated omits this entire sequence, though R&G ARE characters in the comic. They are introduced at the Scene's proper start and are not seen again until after the play within a play. This allows the comic to avoid the ribald pleasantries as well as the theatrical gossip which were no doubt considered either inappropriate or irrelevant to the target audience.

The Berkley version
While the sequence does appear in artist Tom Mandrake's vision, it is cut for brevity. The effect is akin to jump cuts, moving the exchange along almost too quickly. The foppish R&G are discovered almost right away, Hamlet moving from dropping his book in joy to accusations in the space of a single panel. He then heads into his speech, still without R&G reacting. Note the visual link to "I have an eye of you" in the following panel.Though not shown at that point, it underscores the point of the page/sequence: Hamlet's piercing gaze uncovering the duo's duplicity. R&G don't even get to snicker at "man delights not me" in this version, Hamlet volunteering "nor woman neither" without being prompted. The action is rather strangely staged:
What is Hamlet doing? With the interaction gone, he seems to have a violent fit motivated by self-loathing, but perhaps also hatred for his parents (man and woman). The line is turned into an attack of the unfaithful couple, into hatred that we know is at least partly transferred to his other relationships (Ophelia, R&G).

Hamlet once again changes his mood when he hears of the Players (a change that seems more extreme by virtue of the above panel's intensity) and though the gossip is cut, the admission of partial madness is retained. R&G's lines suffer so many cuts that Hamlet is almost in soliloquy mode through most of the sequence, and since he has an audience, the soliloquy might better be called a rant.

Friday, April 15, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Tennant (2009)

Though some R&G pairings emphasize the betrayal, acting as somewhat sinister agents of the Royals, the 2009 R&G emphasize just how much they've grown apart from Hamlet. While he is an adult struggling with adult things, they are immature boys giggling at all the wrong bits and staring at their feet when things get serious. It's an extremely funny performance, even as the tension and discomfort mount. R&G are helped immensely by the editing, giving them reaction shots for many of Hamlet's lines. Instead of having the prince rattle on an uninterrupted speech, there's the sense that R&D do indeed have lines, albeit silent ones. Pauses, stares, the putting of hands in pockets, hard swallows... this is where they live - in between the lines (funny, then, that it's where Hamlet "reads" them).

And the discomfort is felt by Hamlet too. He's happy to see them, but before he can ever feel their betrayal, he visibly feels that they are no longer on the same page. Guildenstern's giggling during the Fortune banter makes Hamlet uncomfortably stammer through the next line, desperate to change the subject. He's humoring them, but doesn't share in their mirth. (It's also one of the few "Doctorish" bits in the film. Tennant reigns in a lot of his Doctor Who mannerisms in this performance, but they sometimes slip by. It happens again at the end of the sequence when he starts acting crazy again, adopting a cockney accent and making clicking noises when he delivers the "hawk from a handsaw" line, which you can easily compare to the "you've had some cowboys up in here" stuff of his Doctor.)
R&G are naturally dumbfounded at the "depression" speech, once again, reverses allowing the characters to be active witnesses. Tennant delivers the speech with obvious sarcasm. His voice breaking at the end makes R&G's giggles more inappropriate than ever. Rosencrantz actually lets out a little "a-ha!" there, indicating that he thinks he's understood a meaning (finally), perhaps that this was all a long joke about liking women, but he's of course wrong.

One problem with the problem play is figuring out when Hamlet concocted his plan to stage a play that would catch the King's conscience. The speech in which he reveals it comes at the end of the Act, but there are various point before then where Hamlet seems to be acting in accordance to this plan already. Tennant hits on this idea quite early. His expression when he hears about the Players makes it clear he's already thinking about it, motivating the line "He that plays the king shall be welcome". We'll see later if and how Tennant picks up the threads of this idea later. At that moment, it gives him a boost of mad energy and he starts acting the loon again. He strangely picks through Guildenstern's pockets, crosses his arms before shaking R&G's hands and takes on accents.

Trims and Cuts
There are few trims to the text in this section. The entire rhetoric of shadows' shadows, for example, is not delivered. Hamlet also doesn't reveal that he is "most dreadfully attended". None of these have any great effect on the play. The only outright cut is the usual decision to remove the theatrical gossip. Again, this is not a huge loss, though in this case it does make "It is not very strange; for mine uncle is king of Denmark..." something of a non-sequitur, albeit one of many R&G have to react to.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Fodor (2007)

A weak Hamlet
Fodor's Hamlet - not to say William Bedchambers' - is weaker than in any other version of the play, and this sequence shows how the director has undermined the character in a number of ways. First, of course, is in how R&G - the play's notoriously weak characters - interact with him. Instead of fearful sycophants, we instead have short-tempered, bored louts. Hamlet is suspicious of them and antagonistic (he just caught them talking to the conspirators), but gets no real reaction from them except even more disdain and ire. When accused, they meet outrage with outrage and shame Hamlet for being "poor in thanks". The overall effect is that R&G are stronger characters than Hamlet. They win this skirmish.
There's also the matter of Horatio, who is at Hamlet's side throughout this sequence. She not only has her emotions under more control than Hamlet, sizing up R&G with, by turns, a steady gaze and the same kind of dismissive boredom, but she also borrows some of Hamlet's lines ("Then is doomsday near" and later, the question as to why the Players are on the road). Hamlet is not a whole man in Fodor's vision, he needs to be completed by Horatio. Where R&G are usual the "two who are one" and still don't measure up to one Hamlet, here Hamlet must meet two with two, and still loses the argument.

Whether you agree with this idea or not, there are interesting things about the way Fodor stages the sequence. Until an accusation is actually made, each duo is never in the same shot as the other. They are separate and, in R&G's case, refuse to engage. Both groups look into camera, involving the audience in an unsettling way (very much what Fodor is going for throughout the film, which also justifies his emasculation of the lead) and playing with the mirror effects inherent in the text. Reference to Denmark being a prison shifts our point of view to the Ghost, listening and turning his head. An intriguing piece of editing, as it links the idea with that of Hamlet's father being trapped in a hellish state. Denmark is a prison to Hamlet, but it represents much worse to the Ghost. Hamlet is also haunted by his child-self, another ghostly character lurking about, though much happier, laughing behind potted plants - a counterpoint to the prince's depressing vision of Denmark.

The cut from confession directly into "What a piece of work is a man", omitting further description of Denmark's putrid skies, turns the line's irony to straight sarcasm and becomes the accusation that finally rouses R&G from their torpor. As often happens with cuts, it reveals an intent that is more ambiguous when lines are distanced from one another. It may thus be true to say that Hamlet always meant this speech to refer to R&D, two friends who have deeply disappointed him. Not that Fodor in any way paints them as friends.

Monday, April 11, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Hamlet 2000

R&G board Hamlet in a club chronologically after the "To be or not to be" speech. They are played by Steve Zahn (as Rosencrantz) and Dechen Thurman (brother of Uma, as Guildenstern). Hamlet embraces these two wild and crazy friends, initiating a long booze-up. Their idiosyncratic performances soon reveal them to be two different kinds of creep. Rosencrantz is manic, spinning on stools, making karate moves and shouting through the music in a way that Hamlet simply does not. Meanwhile, Guildenstern is on the other end of the scale, listlessly resting his head on Hamlet's shoulder, his sexuality as relaxed as the rest of him. They come off as immature party lads, unable to grasp Hamlet's true nature.

The film retains the banter, spreading it across the night through time cuts, but cuts everything after it. Hamlet does not force these men to confess their allegiance to his parents. There is no "what a piece of work is a man" speech at this point, nor is there discussion of the Players. Indeed, the film does away with the Players and replaces them with actors on film. They are not characters in their own right. From this scene, we immediately move to R&D reporting to the Royals (by phone), a result of this sequence, brought forward editorially for comic effect. That sequence makes it clear he says some of the things he does in the play, if only off-screen. The other effect is to keep 2000's Hamlet a more internal character who might know R&G are spies, but does not tell them he knows.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Kline '90

In Kline's version, we likewise only meet R&G at this point. They are played by Philip Goodwin (a nerdy Rosencrantz) and Reg. E. Cathey (a cool Guildenstern). Though the latter's casting gives the part some pizazz (Cathey could never be anything but cool), and despite the obvious differences in the two characters, we find they are still twinned. I had not noticed before how often they use the pronoun "we", even when stating opinion. "We think not so," says one, instinctively knowing what the other thinks as well. It's an example of how the text innocuously supports the ideas of the play. Another is Hamlet's "To speak like an honest man," which prods us into questioning his words. Is he not honest the rest of the time? Even in that moment, he speaks LIKE an honest man, not AS an honest man. Should we trust him even here?

Sincere or not, Hamlet seems genuinely happy to see his friends here, at least, until he senses their betrayal. Kline is especially strong in this section, internalizing that betrayal before going into a manic state (for their benefit?). He clasps them to his breast in an awkward position, violence and love mixed. He lets out his anger at them in the guise of madcap love, in a sense ACTING like an honest, sincere man, but not AS an one. We might remember, at this point, how Hamlet questioned whether wearing the trappings of grief was in any way equivalent to feeling grief profoundly and truly. The same could be said of the trappings of friendship and love, and the play continually toys with the theme of "representation" both on stage in in our lives.
There's a nice bit of staging for the "What a piece of work is a man" speech, as Hamlet forces R&G to join him on the floor to look at the ceiling/sky. They are upside down, and indeed the speech itself is an inversion of the natural order.

At the end of the sequence, the Players are announced, but the gossip (as usual) excised. As Hamlet confesses his partial madness, he pickpockets his book back from Rosencrantz's jacket pocket, even though the viewer probably didn't notice him putting it there. It's an interesting symbol for Hamlet picking their brains, or even of having put words/thoughts in their mouths/minds (the reversed confession). Again we have acts of violence (theft is a form of outrage) cast as love and friendship. Teasing, but meaning to do more than tease.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Zeffirelli '90

Zefirelli, in addition to many cuts, disrupts the usual order of the play at this point. From the fishmonger scene, he moves to Hamlet's arranged meeting with Ophelia, then to "To be or not to be", before finally moving us outside Elsinore for our first encounter with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. Hamlet takes a horse ride and lays down on a carpet of greenery, all very idyllic, perhaps as an ironic counterpoint to his contention that Denmark is a pestilent prison. The director is keen to keep things as visual as possible, making many cuts in the dialog, which I personally find annoying because the visuals definitely don't replace the nuances of the text, nor do they always bring anything to the film except a change of pace for the audience's eyes. For example, this sequence will move from this secluded spot to an open cabin facing the beach where the friends can have lunch. This does not perceptibly illuminate the nature of their relationship, and the way it is staged, even confuses it.
R&G are played by Michael Maloney (Laertes under Branagh, and Hamlet in Midwinter's Dream) and Sean Murray, respectively. They come upon Hamlet where he reclines, almost Christ-like, and in a change from the play, they are escorted by Horatio and (young) Marcellus. So what does this suggest? Have they been to Elsinore, had their meeting with the Royals, and have gone to look for Hamlet? Or does Horatio have a privileged relationship with R&G? The former seems more probable. Without any lines, Horatio is basically there to look at Hamlet with sadness as his friend either bares his soul or lies to common friends (again, ambiguous), or to receive pregnant looks from Hamlet (as in the "What a piece of work is a man" speech; where the prince either acknowledges his friend's compassion or means to pass on the message that he is putting on a show for R&G).

Hamlet's entire attitude towards R&G gets away from the usual idea of describing melancholy or depression. He is quickly angry at them for withholding their true intentions, something they admit to only after a show of violence when he kicks a stool from under Rosencrantz. His delivery of key speeches is rather more venal than other Hamlets', as if to say "I'm not happy and there's nothing you can do about it, gents". He doesn't put on any particular show of madness (and the line about being mad north-north-west is cut in any case), but states his point-of-view matter-of-factly. And since most of the speech is spoken to Horatio, back to the others, it can't even be said that he shows a moment of vulnerability to R&G. This follows an introduction in which Hamlet hardly seems to remember their names.

As I said, there are many cuts made to this sequence. Most of the playful banter between the friends is gone. Hamlet no longer welcomes them to Elsinore. He doesn't let slip any remark about his uncle. And of course, the theatrical gossip has been excised. Now the grubby players show up in a large wagon, and Rosencrantz points at them. Zeffirelli then gets back to his visuals, with a long sequence showing the troupe enter Elsinore.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - BBC '80

As is sometimes done to Horatio in Act I, Hamlet gives his greetings to R&G before he even recognizes them. When he does, Rosencrantz, the jokester of the two, lets out a little "pa-dum" that puts us in the frame of mind of a "beaten friendship". Hamlet immediately subverts that however by mistaking Rosencrantz for Guildenstern, spinning both names at the same character to fix his mistake and getting an annoyed smirk from him. The friendship presented here has apparently been misgauged by the Queen. Hamlet is dismissive and distrustful of his so-called friends, and often plays the scene as an attack. He is in complete control and foils them at every turn. He tries to get sympathy from them, but doesn't get it, such attempts feeling like tests R&G fail to pass.

Jacobi's Hamlet is mercurial as ever, moving through various emotions in order to give each line its own portent. There is a belly laugh at the Fortune joke, immediately followed by a quiet moment when he calls her a strumpet, allowing the viewer time to see a connection to Hamlet's mother. He is wholly sarcastic when he says he's "poor in thanks", giving no quarter to his false friends. "Nay speak", when he draws a confession out of them, is explicitly to prevent them from colluding. No asides for you, R&G! And the emphasis placed on "thinking makes it so" takes a more literal turn when he says there's a confession in their looks. There really isn't... UNTIL he says there is, and then they break down. He has imposed his will on them. His thought has become reality.

The emphasis on that line also makes it important for the whole of the play, which is, indeed, about a man trying to convince himself to exact revenge. Hamlet must first think of himself as an avenger/murderer before it can become a reality. That movement from thought to deed is what creates tension in the play. We'll note later how Hamlet accuses himself of violent thoughts, thoughts that only later are transposed into deeds. Hamlet is a true Shakespearean character: He overhears himself (as Bloom would put it) and is transformed by his own words. Thinking things make them so.

But back to the scene... Hamlet then goes on to anticipate their questions in the way Jacobi delivers "But wherefore I know not". He doesn't just know they were sent for, he knows WHY they were.
The "what a piece of work is a man" is read in his book (which is only a book of slanders if you believe Hamet was making up the earlier words to suit Polonius), a departure from most stagings. Here, they are not his words. He could never think of Man in those terms. While it robs Hamlet of a poetic élan, it makes sense in the framework of his depression. The decaying view of the world is all his, spoken in reaction to what he's just read. "Man delights not me", right at the end, has his holding back tears in earnest. Which of course is exactly where Rosencrantz gets the giggles, all part of R&G's inability to gauge Hamlet or a situation. It's a well done moment, and sends us careening into the theatrical gossip segment and back into R&G's comfort zone. The sequence ends with them believing they are welcome in Elsinore despite Hamlet's earlier attacks.