Saturday, February 25, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Branagh '96

We enter the scene on a kiss between Claudius and Gertrude before the camera pans down to the stage even as a chandelier rises and the audience applauds. It doesn't applaud in the stage's direction, however, but in the royal couple's. What is actually the show, here? Even to the audience within the film, Hamlet's play is probably less important than the Courtly soap opera of the couple so quickly nuptialed after the death of the old King and the mad ravings of the Prince. Like Horatio, they'll be watching Claudius and Gertrude. In fact, Branagh cuts to Horatio and the gossiping Court often, reminding us of this public scrutiny. When Hamlet appears on stage, a spotlight is immediately lit. He is the country's beloved Prince - as Claudius mentions elsewhere in the context of not being able to easily dispose of him - and the audience laughs at all his jokes. At least until they become too cruel. Claudius' voice is strained when addressing Hamlet, while Gertrude is happy to see him in good spirits. It seems likely Claudius has not shared what he heard Hamlet say in the previous act. Ophelia, for her part, seems quietly sad, even embarrassed. She was no doubt the object of gossip even before this night, and Hamlet's public cruelties would make this a very difficult evening to bear. And then there's Polonius, who grits his teeth and takes Hamlet's humiliating him by dragging him on stage. Here, Branagh shows how showing the audience's reactions can influence our understanding of the play. The way people roll their eyes and smile when Polonius says he once played Julius Caesar resonates with them. The King's chief courtier playing an emperor? Perfect casting for someone the Court probably sees as a brown-nosing opportunist with too-elevated ambitions.

As Hamlet plonks himself down next to Ophelia, he mocks her and his mother openly, shouting his lines so that everyone can hear, letting his rising anger drive the scene. The Court actively ignores him, though he does set them to whispering. Hamlet even manages to make his mother blush at the shortness of her grieving period. Though Claudius may be guilty of murder, Gertrude is guilty of not loving her first husband enough, and she is just as caught in the "Mouse-Trap". Branagh continues to mix the play on stage and the play in the audience together, having these early mockeries end on applause. It sounds like they're applauding Hamlet's bit, but they're really cheering for the Players who have just come on stage. Eventually, Hamlet will be on stage too and it won't matter what's in or out of the play.

Hamlet's mischief gives way to the dumb show's, which is played so broadly and quickly that it doesn't give away the plot of the play. That's the advantage with doing the whole play - many versions will use the dumb show and nothing else to save time - as it allows for a more mysterious dumb show. Here, Ophelia doesn't seem stupid for asking whether the show contains the argument of the play, just as it's reasonable for Claudius not to see the image of his murder in the action as yet.
The Players' costumes set the play in the Middle Ages, contrasting well with the more Napoleonic look of the film's events while winking at the period in which Hamlet is actually set. The Players give an intimate and very emotional performance, in keeping with Hamlet's instructions and the First Player's qualities from his earlier monologue. It's powerful stuff that should connect with the Royals. But Hamlet is anxious because the King and Queen aren't always watching the play, instead feeding each other bits of Turkish Delight, kissing, or drinking (we're often reminded that it is Claudius' vice). Will Hamlet miss his chance to show the King's guilt? It helps explain why he later jumps on stage to draw their attention. When they do watch the play, they empathize with the wrong things. The love between the Player King and Player Queen, for example, makes Claudius and Gertrude get closer and publicly cuddle. Their reaction tells us they really are in love, no matter what has happened before. At the mention of the "second husband", however, the Court starts looking back at them. The play is suddenly quite scandalous, and the Royals' point of view heightens the paranoia.

The Player King is so kind and loving - an idealized Hamlet Sr. - that he gives the Player Queen permission to wed again, but it's her that swears she won't. It is in moments like these that Hamlet seems more intent to show his mother as an unfaithful whore, than his stepfather as a murderer. Or perhaps it's a feint, letting the Court (and the King) think he's going after his mother, to hit them with a surprising revelation about Claudius. In the play, the Player Queen does not betray the Player King, she betrays HERSELF. Is this at cross-purposes with Hamlet's intent and opinion? Or is betraying oneself worse than betraying others? Let's not forget the theme of the play can be found in the line "To thine own self be true". Hamlet's true self is not a murderer-avenger, which is what delays the action of the play and causes the tragedy. Here, he accuses Gertrude of not being true to herself, or to the image he has of her (the wife of his father). During all this, Ophelia seems quite taken by the play. Again, Branagh makes a lot of inferences through reaction shots. Is Ophelia seeing there the image of the relationship she wishes she had with Hamlet? Does she idealize, perhaps, the unseen relationship between her father and dead mother? Polonius may well tell his stories of suffering much for love around the house. As the scene runs its course, Hamlet slowly creeps down to the stage...
He gets the Royals' reactions to the play and starts to play the chorus. In another cruel exchange with Ophelia, he plays on her "better/worse" remark, linking it to wedding vows (for better or for worse). Does Branagh's pronunciation create an additional layer of pun? The line is "So you must take your husbands", but I hear "So you mistake your husbands", a potential dig at his mother's swinging allegiances. Savage with his own potential wife and with his parents, Hamlet, by osmosis, is the same with the Player Murderer on stage, an image of his stepfather. The accusation is not so much in the play as it is in Hamlet staring up at Claudius from the stage. It is implicit, verging on explicit, and people start to squirm in their seats. Slow zoom on Hamlet and the King as the editor cuts in with scenes from Hamlet Sr.'s murder. Are we seeing Hamlet's imagination, or Claudius' memory? The edit seems to infer the latter. If the King is moved to stand, it is likely not because the play holds a mirror to his own actions, but rather that Hamlet seems to know what happened. Claudius shows restraint however. "Give me some light" and his bitter "Away" are said in a low, menacing voice that communicate that he has been insulted, but not that he's been rumbled.

The Court leaves in a hurry, probably fearing for their lives if the King catches them in the wrong expression. Will the events of this evening spread like wild fire and cause the almost-revolution during which the rabble at the gates proclaim Laertes king? Quite possibly. Gertrude's reaction is of interest as well. She keeps her eyes on Claudius all the way through... in anger? Outrage? Hard to say. Later, she'll blame Hamlet for offending the King, but in this moment, she wonders if it's all true, and if the man she loves today killed the man she loved the day before. Ophelia holds her head, ever closer to a breakdown. Ophelia's story is one of disillusionment, of a young girl who probably saw the best in everyone finding out reality is a much more cynical and corrupt place.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap

The next sequence contains both the play-within-the-play and the conversations held by the audience during its presentation. I wonder if it's a mirror of how audiences behaved in Elizabethan times, perhaps special presentations for the Court in particular. Hamlet's behavior is especially appalling and disrespectful to the Players. Are noisy audiences supposed to see themselves in this mirror? The staging may reveal each director's opinion on the subject. It is not their only challenge however. Though large parts of the play are often cut for time, it must still convincingly reveal the King's guilt. Directors and actors must juggle time and emotional impact, the Players' drama and Hamlet's cruel comedy, and Players and Audience to create an effective whole. No small order. Let's first look at the text itself (in italics) and see what resonates, staging unseen.


KING CLAUDIUS: How fares our cousin Hamlet?
HAMLET: Excellent, i' faith; of the chameleon's dish: I eat the air, promise-crammed: you cannot feed capons so.

Words well chosen. Hamlet eats of the chameleon's dish because he is in fact a chameleon, changing in this very scene from director to sincere friend to actor to madman before our very eyes.

KING CLAUDIUS: I have nothing with this answer, Hamlet; these words are not mine.
HAMLET: No, nor mine now.
[To POLONIUS] My lord, you played once i' the university, you say?
LORD POLONIUS: That did I, my lord; and was accounted a good actor.
HAMLET: What did you enact?
LORD POLONIUS: I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i' the Capitol; Brutus killed me.
HAMLET: It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there. Be the players ready?

An inside joke, since Shakespeare himself has a play called Julius Caesar. It also presages Polonius' own stabbing. Hamlet jokes about Hamlet's "brute part", much he will later sincerely apologize to Laertes for killing his father, claiming that his madness was guilty, but he was not, divorcing the murderer from the part of himself that committed the murder.

ROSENCRANTZ: Ay, my lord; they stay upon your patience.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.
HAMLET: No, good mother, here's metal more attractive.
LORD POLONIUS: [To KING CLAUDIUS] O, ho! do you mark that?
HAMLET: Lady, shall I lie in your lap? [Lying down at OPHELIA's feet]
OPHELIA: No, my lord.
HAMLET: I mean, my head upon your lap?
OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?

My pocket edition, obviously meant for the classroom, omits this lascivious exchange.

OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
HAMLET: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
OPHELIA: What is, my lord?
HAMLET: Nothing.
OPHELIA: You are merry, my lord.
OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: O God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do but be merry? for, look you, how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died within these two hours.
OPHELIA: Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord.
HAMLET: So long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for I'll have a suit of sables. O heavens! die two months ago, and not forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's memory may outlive his life half a year: but, by'r lady, he must build churches, then; or else shall he suffer not thinking on, with the hobby-horse, whose epitaph is 'For, O, for, O,the hobby-horse is forgot.'

The "hobby-horse" was a traditional pantomime in which two men dressed as a horse danced to a tune, died a "magical death", and rose again when the music changed. As a metaphor for the revenant Hamlet Sr., it is appropriate, as it is for the context of the dumb-show we are about to see. The contraction of time ("out of joint" as it is) is a theme that repeats throughout the play.

Hautboys play. The dumb-show enters
Enter a King and a Queen very lovingly; the Queen embracing him, and he her. She kneels, and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and declines his head upon her neck: lays him down upon a bank of flowers: she, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon comes in a fellow, takes off his crown, kisses it, and pours poison in the King's ears, and exit. The Queen returns; finds the King dead, and makes passionate action. The Poisoner, with some two or three Mutes, comes in again, seeming to lament with her. The dead body is carried away. The Poisoner wooes the Queen with gifts: she seems loath and unwilling awhile, but in the end accepts his love

OPHELIA: What means this, my lord?
HAMLET: Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief.
OPHELIA: Belike this show imports the argument of the play.

We should wonder, if all the details of the murder are in the dumb-show, why Claudius doesn't react right then and there. Directors may stage the scene so that he isn't paying attention in this moment, but that's hardly satisfying. What the text seems to indicate is that the text of The Mouse-Trap is an important component in making Claudius relate the play's events to those of his own life, or else that his conscience is "caught" less by the play's incidents than by Hamlet's rather clear accusation at the end of it.

Enter Prologue
HAMLET: We shall know by this fellow: the players cannot keep counsel; they'll tell all.
OPHELIA: Will he tell us what this show meant?
HAMLET: Ay, or any show that you'll show him: be not you ashamed to show, he'll not shame to tell you what it means.
OPHELIA: You are naught, you are naught: I'll mark the play.

Here, Hamlet accuses Ophelia of herself putting on a show, that her love was false, etc. though at the same time intimating that she is a whore unashamed to expose herself. Her retort sounds like a pun on "naughty" and "naught" to me. She returns the insult of being "nothing" by signifying his words are meaningless (or that she refuses to acknowledge their meaning).

PROLOGUE: For us, and for our tragedy,
Here stooping to your clemency,
We beg your hearing patiently.

Whereas Shakespeare's worlds already take place in a heightened, poetic reality, he gives the play-within-the-play some extra height by making the verses rhyme.

HAMLET: Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?
OPHELIA: 'Tis brief, my lord.
HAMLET: As woman's love.

Enter two Players, King and Queen

PLAYER KING: Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart gone round
Neptune's salt wash and Tellus' orbed ground,
And thirty dozen moons with borrow'd sheen
About the world have times twelve thirties been,
Since love our hearts and Hymen did our hands
Unite commutual in most sacred bands.
PLAYER QUEEN: So many journeys may the sun and moon
Make us again count o'er ere love be done!
But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must:
For women's fear and love holds quantity;
In neither aught, or in extremity.
Now, what my love is, proof hath made you know;
And as my love is sized, my fear is so:
Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.
PLAYER KING: 'Faith, I must leave thee, love, and shortly too;
My operant powers their functions leave to do:
And thou shalt live in this fair world behind,
Honour'd, beloved; and haply one as kind
For husband shalt thou--

Whether or not this is part of Hamlet's addition to "The Murder of Gonzago" (and the Player Queen's lines that follow almost assuredly are), it draws an idealized picture of his parents' marriage and of the country of Denmark ("this fair world"). In the play, the family and national environments are the same, and we get a glimpse of how things were before Hamlet Sr.'s murder, if from a biased point of view.

PLAYER QUEEN: O, confound the rest!
Such love must needs be treason in my breast:
In second husband let me be accurst!
None wed the second but who kill'd the first.
HAMLET: [Aside] Wormwood, wormwood.

"Wormwood" has a double meaning we can almost certainly be sure is exploited by Shakespeare. On the one hand, it is a plant with emetic properties, and he is trying to use the words to force Claudius to vomit up his guilt. Wormwood is also the name of a star from the Book of Revelations related to the Apocalypse, which Hamlet might invoke (as a pun, his frequent idiom) as a metaphor for the end of his journey, the end of Claudius' kingship, the coming end of all their lives. Either way, it supports the notion that these lines in particular were inserted by the Prince.

PLAYER QUEEN: The instances that second marriage move
Are base respects of thrift, but none of love:
A second time I kill my husband dead,
When second husband kisses me in bed.
PLAYER KING: I do believe you think what now you speak;
But what we do determine oft we break.

Compare to Claudius' "wick or snuff" when he tries to ascertain if Laertes really has it in him to kill Hamlet even once he's cooled off.

Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth, but poor validity;
Which now, like fruit unripe, sticks on the tree;
But fall, unshaken, when they mellow be.
Most necessary 'tis that we forget
To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt:
What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures with themselves destroy:
Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament;
Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.
This world is not for aye, nor 'tis not strange
That even our loves should with our fortunes change;
For 'tis a question left us yet to prove,
Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.

Note how several stylistic figures create mirror effects in the play's text. "Grief joys, joy grieves" and "Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love", for example. Thematically, these support the idea that the play itself is a mirror of the Court. The rhyming scheme may also be part of the effect.

The great man down, you mark his favourite flies;
The poor advanced makes friends of enemies.
And hitherto doth love on fortune tend;
For who not needs shall never lack a friend,
And who in want a hollow friend doth try,
Directly seasons him his enemy.
But, orderly to end where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own:
So think thou wilt no second husband wed;
But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead.
PLAYER QUEEN: Nor earth to me give food, nor heaven light!
Sport and repose lock from me day and night!
To desperation turn my trust and hope!
An anchor's cheer in prison be my scope!
Each opposite that blanks the face of joy
Meet what I would have well and it destroy!
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife,
If, once a widow, ever I be wife!
HAMLET: If she should break it now!
PLAYER KING:'Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here awhile;
My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile
The tedious day with sleep.
PLAYER QUEEN: Sleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain!
HAMLET: Madam, how like you this play?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: The lady protests too much, methinks.

In other words, Gertrude did not protest as much and sees the performance as a flawed mirror of her own life. Consequently, her own guilt (for betraying a dead husband) is NOT revealed. She does not see herself in this. The promise made by the Player Queen is the fruit of Hamlet's imagination and Gertrude was never bound by it.

HAMLET: O, but she'll keep her word.
KING CLAUDIUS: Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in 't?
HAMLET: No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i' the world.
KING CLAUDIUS: What do you call the play?
HAMLET: The Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna: Gonzago is the duke's name; his wife, Baptista: you shall see anon; 'tis a knavish piece of work: but what o'that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.

Hamlet seems to give the game away here, basically telling Claudius to confess if his soul be not free, or rather, NOT to confess if he doesn't want to get caught. Note also that the murder on stage is the image of a real murder in Vienna. Hamlet is skirting the truth. The play is actually based on two true stories.

[Enter LUCIANUS] This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king.
OPHELIA: You are as good as a chorus, my lord.
HAMLET: I could interpret between you and your love, if I could see the puppets dallying.
OPHELIA: You are keen, my lord, you are keen.
HAMLET: It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.

Another pair of lines censored in my pocket edition. The violent image of Hamlet's erection as a sword may prove fodder for other critics than I when we get to the sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes.

OPHELIA: Still better, and worse.
HAMLET: So you must take your husbands. Begin, murderer; pox, leave thy damnable faces, and begin. Come: 'the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.'
LUCIANUS: Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing;
Confederate season, else no creature seeing;
Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate's ban thrice blasted, thrice infected,
Thy natural magic and dire property,
On wholesome life usurp immediately. [Pours the poison into the sleeper's ears]
HAMLET: He poisons him i' the garden for's estate. His name's Gonzago: the story is extant, and writ in choice Italian: you shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife.
OPHELIA: The king rises.
HAMLET: What, frighted with false fire!
QUEEN GERTRUDE: How fares my lord?
LORD POLONIUS: Give o'er the play.
KING CLAUDIUS: Give me some light: away!
ALL: Lights, lights, lights!

Exeunt all but HAMLET and HORATIO

The play is interrupted by the King's exclamation, but it's up to each director and actor to decide what makes him rise, ask for light and leave. Is it his conscience playing a trick on him despite Hamlet's obvious goading? The light is for the darkness in his soul. Certainly, he would be surprised that Hamlet knew such specific details as the ear poison (a distinctive way to administer poison, surely). Or he might be outraged at the inferred accusation in open Court and want to remove himself from Hamlet's scandalous spectacle. The interpretation may differ from adaptation to adaptation, as we'll see in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

III.ii. Instructing the Players - Classics Illustrated

The original
The bottom of page 15 shows how the comic restructured the sequence leading up to the play:First, Hamlet thinks up his Mouse-Trap plan. The very next panel shows Hamlet seeking out Horatio to ask for his help. It's all very brisk, and not surprisingly for the pacey comic, omits the instructions to the Players. In a way, we have the off-stage scene, often inferred in performances, in which Hamlet first reveals his plans to Horatio. As often played, Hamlet seems to be reminding Horatio of the plan, with the only new information being what role Horatio will play in it. The artist has drawn them out of the way (Elsinore is in the background), creating a more conspiratorial feel, though the harsh, bright white does work against this. The bottom panel goes back one scene to reveal, in a caption, that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern have been unsuccessful, though it seems like they didn't work very hard at it because we haven't seen them AT ALL since they bowed their heads in front of the King and said they'd give it the old Wittenberg try. Though the caption back tracks, the image pushes us forward to the play, with the audience already in their seats (or sitting on the floor, or standing). Hamlet is most definitely NOT in Ophelia's lap, lounging on the ground with Horatio, neither particular well placed to catch Claudius' expression. Polonius and R&G are left standing, servile.

The Berkley version
Tom Mandrake's adaptation also omits the instructions to the Players, but does set the Hamlet-Horatio scene backstage, with the players getting ready. In a reversal of the expected staging, Hamlet finds Horatio there, rather than the opposite. So it's not possible to imagine a time skip that would have allowed Scene ii to have occurred between panels. It's fairly understandable for both comics adaptations to do away with the sequence, and not just for space reasons. Comics cannot do sound or movement in traditional terms, which would make directions as to voice and gesture difficult to gauge later when the play begins. Concentrating on Horatio then:
Mandrake has cut into the compliments section of the speech, but retains the longer text of Horatio's mission. He also sets the scene in among the Players, and keeps it confidential through the tried and true method of a dotted line around the speech bubble (as well as slightly smaller lettering). As the Royal party appears, they are in shadow, a darkness Hamlet means to dispel with his play, one that ends when Claudius will shout for light.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

III.ii. Instructing the Players - Tennant (2009)

One of the things David Tennant is very good at as Hamlet is making his lines sound fresh and unrehearsed. Somehow, when his Hamlet speaks, it's like neither he nor you have ever heard the words before. Where other Hamlets seem to give the Players instructions with a prepared speech (or at least holding a discourse he's had before, say with his school chums), Tennant's is entirely motivated by his plans against the King. He hesitates, searches for words, and is less "on text" than in any other scene, and in a sense, he must be at his most naturalistic in this speech about "holding a mirror up to nature". While asking actors to play true, he (Tennant/Hamlet) must be at his most human. And it's a reactive performance too. His notes to the Players are motivated by their actions. One mouths, one saws, and when a clown seems to be fooling around, Hamlet entreats the First Player to keep him under control - it's a confidential aside, not a public accusation. In this directorial request, Hamlet's obsession with proving Claudius' guilt shows through. Outrage and impatience at the idea that his trap might not work because of some "villainous" distraction. And Hamlet is funny too. He tells seasoned professionals how to do their jobs - though they keep silent respect, it shows that they're being condescended to - and then realizes what he's doing and apologizes with his "Be not too tame neither." Not a further command, but a concession that though he's going a little crazy with anxiety just before the show, he does trust their judgment.

We've seen how there's much mirroring in the play as written, but Gregory Doran's direction amplifies this element. On stage, there was a mirrored wall, and on film, there's a mirrored floor, to remind you of the theme. When Hamlet here talks about holding a mirror up to nature, he does so with a mirror in hand, shining reflected light on each Player in the company. (On stage, he aimed the mirror at the audience instead.) It's a strong, even poignant punctuation to the scene, giving each Player their little moment, either smiling, ignoring him, or in the case of the Player King, wincing. That last reaction foreshadows Claudius' guilt being exposed by the human mirrors that are the Players. Doran's other trope is hyper-surveillance, and it shows up at the very top of the scene when Hamlet films one of the players with a hand-held film camera. Since this is the point in the play where Hamlet takes control, it makes sense for him to symbolically take ownership of the thing that has been plaguing him, the ever watchful eyes of the Court. It's the film within a film that mirrors the play within a play concept.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are still trying to ingratiate themselves to Hamlet, to some hilarity. They show up with a punchy "ta-tannn!" and some champagne - party boys to the last - and immediately get dismissed as common servants (an irony when you remember their introduction). Hamlet's complete disinterest in them in a highlight. They leave to "hasten" the Players, Hamlet sits on the throne, his stepfather's seat. Trying to imagine Claudius' point of view? A reminder of the broken Danish succession? More mirrors? Horatio rushes in, late, fixing his tuxedo and gets the usual sincere compliments, but hyperactive Hamlet is quick to change the subject (minor cuts help him get to the point). The way Horatio plays it, he wasn't aware of the Mouse-Trap plan before this moment. Again, the 2009 Hamlet moves away from rehearsed formal speech (Hamlet telling Horatio what he knows for the audience's benefit) to a more naturalistic place (Hamlet delivers new information to his friend). Tennant's energy carries through to the next part of the scene as the trumpets sound and it's almost panic that sets him into action.