Thursday, April 26, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - A Midwinter's Dream

It's likely this version of Hamlet, if actually staged, would be exhausting to both audience and actors. Because it is presented as a quick-paced montage, its energy level is consequently very high. It drives the montage well however. Maloney's Hamlet is always moving around with a barely contained fury. Every line is an attack that justifies a more defensive tone from the Royals.

This short sequence takes us from "Madam, how like you this play" to "The Mouse-Trap", the latter spoken in the direction of the audience, played as an important reveal. In the montage, it plays the role of "the play's the thing" and tells us how those early scenes with the players could be removed from a particular staging, hiding from the audience Hamlet's true purpose until Act 3 Scene 2.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Slings & Arrows

The very brief part of this scene used in Slings & Arrows amounts to Hamlet's opening insults to Ophelia, but there are still lessons to be gleaned from it. On staging, you'll note that Ophelia and Hamlet are sitting/crouching near the ground, which fits the low-brow humor of the "country matters" line. Hamlet is in full madcap mode, rubbing his hands with devilish glee as Ophelia is continually hurt.

Hamlet turns to the audience to say "That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs" and gets a laugh without need for Ophelia's questioning retort. The audience gets it because the punchline precedes the joke. In the text, the fact that Ophelia asks for the joke to be explained isn't strictly necessary, though it does inform her traumatized character and works within the rhythm of the scene. By making Hamlet's line an aside, Ophelia does not have to react to it and comes off as even more wounded, unable to properly interact. An aside at this point, and once that elicits a laugh at that, makes the audience share in Hamlet's cruelty. Because he shares his lewd thought with us, we empathize with him, which makes us his accomplices. Subtle, but subversive stuff.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - The Banquet

Set in China, The Banquet of course presents the play-within-a-play as Chinese opera. The full court is in attendance, but the Royals are quite far from the stage. It's all dumb show, with masked acrobats, but interestingly, the Hamlet character is sitting on the stage, masked, facing his parents and keeping the beat on a drum. A ghost clad in white (the color of death) comes to kill a ref-faced king and already, even before a puff of scorpion venom is blown into the figure's ear, the King recognizes something. As the opera makes its points, close-ups of the King and Queen reveal unease, while those of Hamlet rather show a cold fury, thought it's difficult to divine the expression behind the mask. These are intercut with close-ups of the previous King's armor, shedding tears of blood. In this way, this version of the play includes the Ghost.
In fact, the Ghost is quite prominent, not only in the cuts to the armor that has come to represent it, but in the garb of the people on stage. There are two white figures, including Hamlet whose facelessness turns him into a ghost himself. This osmosis presents characters doing the Ghost's bidding, as if he were the one putting on the play and observing well the guilty party.

At the end of the dumb show, the murdered Player King keels over, a shot that is played over and over again, lending it psychological weight. The Royals gets up from their thrones and walk over to the stage where the King examines the dead body. Cool and collected, smiling even, he starts a slow clap filled with sarcasm, though the court doesn't take any chances and starts to applaud as well. In this mockery, he hides his own guilt. He then turns to confront the Prince in what seems a mirror of the Prince's first scene of the play. "Hamlet" is asked to remove his mask (i.e put an end to his mourning) and in seeming madness, doesn't want to be touched by the King lest the black scorpion venom get on him. In response, the King sends him on a mission to the North because it is time he resume his service to the country. This combines the ideas of Hamlet's first scene and the exile forced on him after he has killed Polonius, making the Mouse-Trap reason enough for the Prince's exile, one during which he will suffer an assassination attempt.

This being a Chinese martial arts epic, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern will however be replaced by snow-tunneling ninjas...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Tennant (2009)

Tennant's Hamlet is a petulant and mischievious child in this scene. The audience's entrance is scored with the Danish national anthem, as a barefoot Hamlet insolently whistles along. They ignore him, and we get the sense that his parents are already tired of his shenanigans. They do not appear to be particularly excited at the prospect of a night at the theater with him, and indeed, the audience is rather small. This is an intimate affair, not the public one other versions have created. We are definitely in the wake of Hamlet's attack on Ophelia. She comes in with her head down. Her father looks ever so puzzled. No one trusts Hamlet's mood. As if to give them reason, his giddy idleness is immediately disrespectful, throwing in an army salute with the chameleon's dish line, mocking the normal obedience one should show a father and a king.

In the early part of the scene, everything is more intimate. Hamlet asks Polonius about his acting days in private conversation, and only Polonius laughs at the prince's pun. It's interesting however to see Polonius so confounded by the fact he had to be killed in the play, a precursor to his actual senseless death in THIS play. Hamlet runs off with Ophelia, grabbing her out of her seat and to a position from where he can better observe the Royals. At this, Polonius breaks the fourth wall to ask us if we "mark that". Again, the scene's intimacy prevents him from being more public about his thoughts. Hamlet drags Ophelia down to the floor and wraps her arms around himself, mockingly bites her arm. It is a parody of a normal romantic relationship, and in a sense, perhaps a disguise. Sitting across from his parents, he appears to be getting back together with his girlfriend, but his cruel, unheard words tell another story. Tennant underlines the dirty pun in "country matters" (cunt-ry matters) to make it harsh indeed. And yet, his "as woman's love" later is a private statement, sounding more sorry than mean.

These private moments contrast with the moment when Hamlet actually flings an accusation his parents' way, as he shows more and more difficulty reigning himself in. At the jig-maker line, he gets up and dances humorously on the rug that will serve as a stage, making his mother laugh, which is the moment he chooses to begin his open cruelties. His very bitter delivery of "die two months ago, and not forgotten yet" gives it a strong ironic bent. For Hamlet, two months is no more appropriate than two hours, recalling the Hamlet from earlier in the play who was told to stop his grieving.
The dumb show is a most depraved affair meant to shock perhaps more than amuse. A tiny king with giant ears comes out of bald, fat queen's skirts and speaks unintelligibly (I was reminded of Pingu) until he is poisoned by a glam murderer with a heart over his crotch which, when removed, reveals an uncoiled slinky. The dead king's shroud becomes a ghostly sheet that runs off to let them have sex. Through this ridiculous piece of bawdry, Claudius laughs not at all, holding his temper in check. We do see his reaction to he mock poisoning, which makes this Claudius quite aware of the insinuation from early on. He stews in his own guilt longer as a result. As the dumb show starts, Hamlet takes out his camera and starts filming it, or really, the Royals' reactions to it. In this way, the film keeps the energy up by layering in Hamlet's point of view. When does he look at the characters and at what gestures or words do he focus in on his mother or stepfather?
The play itself features rather extreme Elizabethan costumes, and a staging that mirrors that of the Royals (king-left, queen-right). Gertrude is bitter and impatient at the text. She knows very well what she is being accused of and finds it insulting. With great poise, she questions whether the Player Queen protests too much, and gets a laugh from the audience. It's a show of power against Hamlet, and the audience seems to be on the Queen's side in this. As for Claudius, the cracks start to show. Silent up to this point, he asks if there's offense in it, in fact proposing there is, at which Polonius makes an odd gesture as if to stop him from speaking out. Have they decided prior to the play to let Hamlet have his fun and show no reaction? Reacting, even with a smaller audience, is dangerous at this point because Hamlet is filming them. The (Mouse-)trap is theirs to get caught in.

After mouthing many of the lines himself, it's time for the murder, and Hamlet can't help but get up and spoil the ending, just to force the reaction he's looking for, triumphant even has he ruins his own device. Does he succeed? The king rises, but walks calmly to a stagehand and requests light. He then brings the lantern over and shines it on Hamlet, as if revealing the prince's madness for all to see. He shakes his head as if to say "You won't get me so easily". To the assembly, this may instead mean that he pities and softly chides Hamlet, but we know better, and the slightest of smiles from Patrick Stewart speaks volumes. That Hamlet thinks he's found a chink in the King's armor may be wishful thinking on his part however.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Fodor (2007)

The Mouse-Trap is translated into a German experimental film in Fodor's vision. It was made very quickly, although the play does allow for temporal anomalies like this, as we've often discussed. In the film, we first see a hammer and a screwdriver, the murder weapons, as it turns out. Then the murderer, thinking, plotting. The Queen getting her picture taken, an image of the people's adulation. At this point, we cut to Hamlet in the audience, nodding along. Even in the text as written, the Queen hammers her point a bit stridently - Gertrude's evaluation is not far off - so this might indicate that her dialog was manipulated by Hamlet. A similar idea is used here to "get" Gertrude as well as Claudius. In the text, it makes her a betrayer of her word. In this version's film, she is a co-conspirator whose motivation seems to be greater fame and power.

The film continues... The Queen is having dinner and flirting (insincerely) with the King. In the audience, there are uncomfortable shots of Claudius and Polonia - in this version, his new mistress. Does she see herself onscreen? Is she actually the Queen character who seduces the King to slip him poison? We assume it's the Player Queen, because that's what it is in the text. Fodor's gender-switching game may give a different interpretation where the character is both women. On screen, drinks are brought to the table, and in the audience, it sparks Ophelia's "You are merry", but as with most of the dialog that should intercut the Mouse-Trap, it is done in voice-over, making it very ambiguous as to when these words were actually spoken. Usually, we can assume they were said before the start of the film. In others, such as Getrude's "The lady doth protest too much", that wouldn't make sense. Are these words just the imaginings of Hamlet, taking the place of memories? Or since we never see her "protest", are we hearing something said in an earlier part of the projection?

Back in the film, the King drinks and topples over (Polonia and Claudius share a look, and again we wonder if she's the woman). Horribly, the poison is just a knock-out drug and the murderer must stab the King in the ear, driving the screwdriver down with his hammer. At the first stab, we hear a horse neighing, perhaps an image imposed by Hamlet to represent his noble father.
Claudius starts getting hot under the collar, and at the murder, Fodor flash cuts to every character's reaction. Shock is registered on almost all faces, even on Rosencrantz/Guildenstern's, though he soon starts to laugh at how cool the violence is like the sociopath he is. Children's laughter is heard on the soundtrack at this point. The King rises and distraught, goes to stand before everyone, the movie projection flickering on his face. He's lost it completely and he stands revealed, the projection putting the murder on him, like blood on his hands. Everyone then leaves behind him, and only a judgmental Gertrude stays a moment to give her son a stern look (setting up the next scene), before leaving Hamlet and smiling Horatio alone in the dark to enjoy their victory.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Hamlet 2000

Hamlet 2000 features some important cuts, including the entirety of the play within the play, replaced by a dialogless art film of Hamlet's creation. While it serves the same function as the play, by showing images designed to perturb the King and Queen, it does mean a lot of commentary on the play had to be cut as well ("'Tis brief", "doth protest too much" and "is there no offense", for example). Still, staging the scene in a movie theater does have its uses. There's a depth to such a room that allows the entire audience to be seen at different levels in the same shot, and the director keeps the Royals in the background kissing until Claudius finally pulls focus by speaking. Hamlet's words are for Ophelia alone, keeping up the barrage of insulting words started in their previous scene together, playful but highly sardonic. What comes across is that Ophelia really doesn't understand him. Everything she says in this section is wrong, either a misunderstanding or really Hamlet switching things on her. Hamlet seems angry with her for not understanding him, though it's also his fault for behaving differently.

Only at the end of his diatribe about people forgetting his father does he raise his voice enough for Claudius to notice him and ask "How fairs my cousin Hamlet?" The answer is cut down to a simple "excellent" after a pregnant pause that dismisses the King and let's it be known he really has nothing to say to his stepfather. Polonius, meanwhile, is absent from this scene entirely, and after all, there's no reason for him to have the Brutus lines seeing as there are no Players or talk of acting.
The film starts with white on red title cards that plays on Hamlet (the play)'s own title: "The Mouse-Trap, a Tragedy by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark", a visual reminder, perhaps of his aborted rise to the throne. The images shown include time-lapse photography, clips from old movies and Monty-Python-style animation. In order, we see a flower opening, clips of a happy childhood with a father and his son, the world turning, a bottle of poison, animation showing the poison going into the ear, scenes of murder and death, athletes falling like dominoes, the flower wilting, a child comes down the stairs, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra (a reference to another adulterous relationship in Shakespeare), some pornographic material, a crowd applauding and a king crowning himself before the mirror.
At the sight of the poison, Claudius starts to sweat, catching the obvious accusation. For Gertrude, the difficult part of the film is the pornography, and given her innate lasciviousness, it must be because she gets the inference. She is the pornographic Cleopatra on the screen, and it's her son (there are no other authors of this drama, no "Murder of Gonzago" template) who has represented her this way. Claudius will walk out of the theater at the end, fighting with his demons, while Gertrude attempts to follow, speechless as she turns towards her son.

By virtue of the many cuts, this Hamlet is less active than the text's, but he needs to prod the King and Queen much less because he made the film, whereas in the text, The Mouse-Trap is meant to be a play he ordered from the Players' repertoire. The message is more direct, and Hamlet need not jump on stage to make his own intent clear.