Saturday, March 24, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Kline '90

In Kline's adaptation, the Royals sit on the stage, facing the audience, and the Players perform their play midway between the Royals and the audience, using profiles to play to both. This is an ingenious use of stage space that in the theater, would allow the real audience (us) to see both The Mouse-Trap and the characters' reactions. While Hamlet doesn't sit on stage, he and Ophelia are off to the side, still facing us in ¾ view. This staging also works thematically, enhancing the mirror effect between the Royals and the Players.

Ironically, though Hamlet has dramatized his parents, both by rewriting the play and placing them on the stage for all to observe, he's the star of the show. As the Court enters, he is draped in a red curtain, Christ-like. He initiates applause that an already impatient Claudius stops with a look and a gesture. He falls off the stage as if it were a cliff, making his voice recede, an echo of the fate Horatio feared he would meet by following the Ghost some days prior. Indeed, while we'll soon find out the Ghost wasn't lying about the murder, the play is the moment that truly embarks him on his doom. It will lead to Polonius' murder, his exile, subsequent return, and "all we mourn for". His falling off a cliff here makes that point. Kline also makes good use of his mime skills by sitting next to his mother on an invisible chair, as absent as their relationship.
Hamlet also makes Polonius squirm by letting him go on about his university days, a brilliant comic delivery from Josef Sommer as Polonius, adding information haltingly to cover the lack of reaction. The crowd does laugh at Hamlet's punchline, as it does at some of his early cracks at Ophelia. Her humiliation feels all the more public, and her quick look at her father when Hamlet makes an obscene remark may indicate she's hiding a sexual relationship (older-looking Ophelias, and those from more modern settings, give this impression rather easily). And of course, Hamlet flings accusatory comments in his parents' direction, which displease, but do not seem to embarrass.

Claudius is a character to watch in this sequence, and not just because Hamlet has asked us to observe him. Brian Murray plays him fresh off the Nunnery scene, wary of what might happen, rather than, as it is sometimes played, seeing a turn for the better in Hamlet's passion for the theater. As the play begins, rather suddenly and without Prologue or dumb show (and yes, that means the brevity of woman's love isn't mentioned), Claudius gets somewhat lost in the story. The visual mirror makes Gertrude see herself in the Queen, of course, but mistakenly see Claudius in the King. In the background, she tenderly pets her husband, not seeing her forgotten former lord. Claudius is no less affectionate, though he does look in Hamlet's direction whenever the prince blurts out a line, trying to figure him out.

His other hand is on a drink, one we see him refill during the sequence (as Hamlet mentions poison, another visual irony). Playing on Claudius' weakness for alcohol goes a long way in showing how such a practiced politician could give himself away during this scene. He's had too much too drink and loses control. It's also interesting to see him puzzled at the title of the play, for indeed, why is it called that unless it ends with a Player Prince catching the murderer? Claudius might even think Hamlet has made changes to the play, and a clue exists in Lucianus switching from dagger to poison as he enters. One of the changes Hamlet has made? As the veiled accusation is UNveiled, Claudius drops his glass and stands, a gesture that shocks the assembly. Here, Kline creates a motivation for the otherwise redundant line "The King rises". The audience must be prompted to stand (as they must) because they've forgotten their manners in the wake of this incident. Chaos ensues as Claudius disentangles himself from Gertrude's kind ministrations, as she is part and parcel of the guilt he's suddenly experiencing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Zeffirelli '90

Despite his adaptation's many cuts, Zeffirelli acknowledges this scene's importance by not only showing a good part of the play-within-a-play as written, but by collapsing parts of various other scenes into it. For example, Polonius is here part of the show, gives a cue to the musicians and introduces the players on stage with the "pastoral-historical" speech from Act II Scene 2. He makes a meal of it too, enjoying the laughter he gets from the audience, sincere in his praise but also over-egging the pudding to get a reaction. Hamlet then has good reason to ask about Polonius' university days, coming around with a cup of wine and an inebriated step. Claudius, already in high spirits, laughs at Hamlet's Brutus pun (which is ironic given that like Julius Caesar, he's to be murdered by an adopted son - I'm surprised I never saw the connection before), but is puzzled by the "promise-crammed" comment. He's still trying to figure Hamlet out.

Ophelia is at once impatient and hurt by Hamlet's words and actions, rolling wet eyes at the ceiling. It's a small moment, but one of Bonham-Carter's best. Before the play, we're offered acrobats, clowns and jugglers, during which time Hamlet and Ophelia have part of the Nunnery scene (as already described in a previous article; Zeffirelli is also a juggler, of scenes). It's their one private moment in the scene, as otherwise, Hamlet lets the King and Queen overhear things just to make them squirm, treating them as if they weren't there. In fact, during the play, Ophelia is mostly forgotten and some of her lines are given to others. The Queen says of the Prologue "T'is brief, my son" so Hamlet an direct his barb straight at her. Later, Claudius gets "You are as good as a chorus, cousin" as the director wants this to be a duel between the two men.
After the Prologue, rather big and clownish because Hamlet never instructs the Players in this version, the play starts without the dumb show and cut down to essential lines. The important lines are intact, but this collapse does hammer the point home aggressively, giving Gertrude, all forced smiles and gritted teeth, reason to opine that the lady doth protest too much. The Royals immediately feel targeted, and a satisfied Hamlet, grins eagerly at their reaction. His plan is working and he can't help but participate by mouthing words he apparently wrote, or talking out of turn, mischievously pushing a patron back so he can slip the King a comment or two. Claudius can't be sure Hamlet knows the truth and the way he pitches his question about whether or not he knows the argument, you can tell he finds it strange Hamlet already knows the story. By this point, Claudius is avoiding Hamlet's eyes, sweating, gulping down wine nervously. This Hamlet may be hyperactive, but he doesn't shout his less-than-veiled accusations at the whole assembly, he takes the Royals into his confidence, in a hushed voice, manically pulling at threads on his clothes as the story and Claudius' composure unravel. He doesn't tell "Gonzago" what to do, though that player does lose his lines and simply enacts the murder (an echo of the dumb show). We instead focus (as Hamlet does) on Claudius' reaction.
At first he leans in, then rises, holds his head in pain and drops his cup. On stage, the Player King has dropped down hard enough to dislodge his crown, a nice piece of stagecraft and mirror to Claudius' own loss of control. Hamlet steps all over the audience to follow the advancing Claudius, fixed on his expression. Claudius points at the murderer who looks positively dumbstruck, then begins to laugh insanely, turning towards the audience. No one seems to know how to take this, least of all the Players, and he runs out of the castle to get some air, chaos in his wake. The verdict definitely points to Guilty.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - BBC '80

Hamlet begins the scene in a cloak and skull mask which makes Claudius laugh and Gertrude smile. The staging, in which Claudius immediately recognizes Hamlet under the mask is ironic. What Claudius actually recognizes is that Hamlet will be the death of him. In fact, everyone who interacts with Hamlet-as-Death will be dead by the end of the play.

Hamlet's initial interaction with Ophelia shocks and grieves her, so he corrects his intent and puts the shame on her, acting disgusted that she thought of "country matters". To him - because of her recent betrayal, or possibly simply because of her gender - she is a whore and a deviant. He reiterates the idea when he says woman's love is brief, pointing it at her rather than his mother. Is there a difference in his mind, or does he paint all women with the same brush?
The play is well-realized through stagecraft that creates an optical illusion of depth in the set, and a lot of time is spent on the mime show. As it plays out, the clown versions of the King, Queen and murderer make the real King, Queen and murderer laugh. Hamlet acts like he's evaluating the events the play is based on for the first time, but also seems disturbed at how much fun Claudius is having with it. The King doesn't clue in that the murder is an image of the one he committed, and roars with laughter. The mime show ends with the murderer quelling the Player Queen's grief with a rich gift of jewels. She's essentially being bought, another reference to her being a whore in Hamlet's eyes.

The play itself appears in slightly abridged form, but nothing major is lost and it moves along quite nicely. It's only at "wormwood" that Hamlet finally attracts the attention of the Royals - all previous accusations were made in Ophelia's confidence alone - and it is perhaps only then that the King and Queen realize the play might be about them. Up to that point, they were fresh teenagers on a date, but now there are more silence and squirming. After the first scene, Gertrude is so caught up in her own thoughts, she almost forgets to applaud, and does only awkwardly, with too much enthusiasm. She's the one who "protests too much". Hamlet puts the accent on "her" in "She'll keep HER word", a veiled accusation, and by this point, though Claudius is far less easy to read, he's lost all of his cheer.

With the Player King confused by Hamlet's interruption and attempt to spoil the play's ending, the prince waves the murderer onto stage. Jacobi shows Hamlet's impatience quite well here, losing his temper when the player doesn't immediately start speaking the lines. And finally, Hamlet loses it altogether, in a rush to see Claudius' reaction, interjecting just as the Player King is poisoned and wracked with pain. He makes sure to mention the garden, so that no detail of the accusation is lost. He over-eggs the pudding. This adaptation makes us realize that though the play is designed to catch the conscience of the King, Hamlet never lets it do that. He wants to rumble Claudius himself. Does he succeed? From the staging, it's really not clear he does. It's not even clear he's guilty of the crime he's accused of.
Though he accuses Claudius of being "frighted", the King's reaction is really to stand and approach Hamlet, bringing a torch too close to his eyes. It's a stand-off. He asked for light not because he struggled with his own darkness, but because he wants to expose Hamlet's. Violence almost breaks out before the King catches himself. Hamlet starts to giggle insanely, giving Claudius the chance he needs to turn around and smile at the assembly. He sends everyone home and it's understood that this evening's diversion has been just another of mad Hamlet's shenanigans. We're left wondering if anyone really did catch the King's conscience or even if there was anything to catch in the first place.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Olivier '48

Trumpets sound, everyone enters, Hamlet in darkness in the center. First, courtiers and players, showing deference, and only then do the Royals come down the stairs. Hamlet goes up to help his mother come down. Is he lulling her into a false sense of security? That would be coherent with the whole idea of putting on a show (the play and his high spirits). His first shot at her, choosing to sit by Ophelia instead of her, seems even more mercurial from her point of view, and calculated cruelty from ours. The courtiers gasp at this slight. The idea that this sequence scandalously upends Denmark's hierarchy is something today's audiences might not at first get. Not that Ophelia is kindly treated. Hamlet grabs her by the wrist and pushes her down into a chair. Though this is a violent gesture, her father Polonius is rather pleased that it seems to confirm his still-held theory. The poor man is completely oblivious in this version, the only one to laugh when Hamlet publicly humiliates him. Ophelia's own humiliation in this scene is more private. Gertrude and Claudius don't even hear Hamlet's loud accusations before the play starts, so as if we were watching it as a play, the actors are projecting their voices, but intimacy is nevertheless retained. This Ophelia is an innocent, naive girl, so the references to her lap do shock her.
Of The Mouse-Trap, only the Prologue and mime show are in the film. The Prologue seems almost embarrassed at how short the text is, though he may just be intimidated by the royal audience. Did Hamlet write this? Since there's no dialog, where are the lines he inserted? If he did write the prologue, we might believe he set himself up for his "As woman's love" line. The "mischief" is definitely Hamlet's. On stage, the orchard is represented by a sickly-looking cactus-like tree and the camera stays mobile as if to show a shared point of view. With no words spoken, we're allowed to focus on the audience's reactions. Ophelia catches Hamlet looking at the King. Horatio is also looking in that direction. And there's something to look at. Even Polonius notices the King having difficulty, though he assumed Claudius to have taken ill. The play continues regardless, with the Player Queen finding her dead husband and being comforted by the murderer. There's a lot of gossip in the crowd, but it looks strange without Hamlet's more public accusations, as is the fact the King is moved in such a fashion.
Though he melodramatically asks for light, he acts as if blinded by the images in his mind. Hamlet brings a torch much too close to his face and he flinches and runs off. Olivier follows this up with utter chaos. The Queen looks at Hamlet with a "what have you done" kind of look, while everyone else runs in every possible direction, as in a scene from a monster movie. The natural order has been completely destroyed. As the King loses all control, so does the populace, and though Olivier doesn't explore every aspect of that idea, in the text it does thematically lead to, first, the peasants proclaiming Laertes potential king, and second, the invasion of Denmark by Norway. In a sense, Olivier covers the cut of those plot elements with this scene which does something similar through visuals.