Saturday, August 4, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - Branagh '96

There's some small shuffling of scenes in this section, as the first part of the scene - Claudius and his various sycophants - is placed before Hamlet's short soliloquy technically part of the previous scene, before resuming with the Claudius' confession, an edit that creates more tension by putting Hamlet's "I'm ready" speech right up close to his opportunity to show he is. In the sequence preceding, Claudius is seething from Hamlet's affront at the play, and is putting into motion Hamlet's exile to England. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are also assigned to this voyage, which immediately makes them worry that they're sharing in the punishment. This is the scene where they try to understand if they've fallen out of favor or not. At least, that's how it's played in this adaptation. As Claudius ignores the two gnats, R&G give each other looks and try to glean some kind of response from the King. There's a sense that they realize they are a "noyance", but can't get out of this conversation. When Claudius, lost in murderous thought, snaps back to reality, it's like they never said a thing. He's back on the question of the exile. Had he listened, he might have heard a warning about the relationship between King and State, his Denmark about to fall because he has. That general groan is merely delayed, the King and corrupted State's days prolonged while Hamlet and Fortinbras are made to wait in the wings a bit longer.

When Polonius walks in, Claudius is activated. He rises, enters a secret door, and walks to the chapel, his adviser in tow. This is where Polonius gave his advice to Laertes, a possible source of irony since Claudius is to himself true (unrepentant) which ultimately dooms him. It's also fiercely ironic that a dishonest plan to spy on Hamlet and his mother is laid out on the way to a church. The rapid fire sequence makes it seem like Claudius is getting all his sins out of the way before he goes to confession.
Jacobi's Claudius is clearly haunted by his fratricide, which is what makes him more sympathetic. While he cannot repent, he does feel guilty, and he doesn't ask the angels to forgive him, only for the strength to make amends and do what he must so he can be forgiven. He asks for a conscience. Repentance is a process with many steps, and in Hamlet's world, it seems much easier to go to Hell than it is to Heaven. Something to think about when we get to the ending. Time seems a great enemy in the play. Not only is it fluid and "out of joint", but it's a corrupting influence. The more Hamlet delays, the more death he causes. In Claudius' prayer, he asks to be given the supple knees of a new born babe, an image of innocence that translates not just to the physical. He wishes to return to a time when there was no taint on his soul. Alas, age breeds corruption as sins accumulate. The speech also highlights a certain futility in the plot. Claudius WILL be punished, and the punishment will fit the crime. He knows he's headed for Hell, which is "just" because that is the fate that greeted his victim. So the question is, does Hamlet have to kill him? God will sort it out, and in a sense, that's what Hamlet's delay tells us. Killing Claudius is just another regicide, one that may doom Hamlet's own soul. In Hamlet's highly religious world view, however, Claudius must be killed before he can be forgiven for his sins through confession or final rites. Of course, the fact that Claudius doesn't believe he can be forgiven means only the audience is aware of revenge's innate futility here.
Once Claudius takes on a praying position, Hamlet appears on the priest's side of the confessional, in a position to forgive or to dole out punishment. He dictates morality in the play. He slides his dagger through the window, his words heard in voice-over as to make the scene less theatrical, and the blade goes right into Claudius' ear, shockingly. It's a fantasy. The next shot shows the blade not quite there yet as Hamlet hesitates. We're on Hamlet's eyes, thinking, realizing, and remembering. Quick flashbacks take us to various points in the film where Claudius was a-sinning, which includes a shot of the King and Polonius getting behind an arras. A clue that Hamlet very much knew that they were behind the mirror during "To be or not to be"? Or an imagined moment based on what he later learned? Choosing to wait for a better moment, the blade passes before Hamlet's eyes and he is gone. Claudius' ironic last line is also in voice-over. A strange feeling comes over him and he looks to the priest's side, but there's no one there. I wonder, could there be a staging where Hamlet isn't there at all, but is instead Claudius' imagined Hamlet, first punishing him, then not, then resolving to do so at a different moment, fueling Claudius' paranoia and justifying the exile? Hamlet as guilt manifest.

No comments: