Sunday, August 12, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - Olivier '48

As usual, Olivier tells us more with his staging than he does with his actors' performances, which makes up for his large cuts to Shakespeare's lines. Obviously, the largest cut where this sequence is concerned is the elimination of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, but their scene here is easy to excise. Instead, Polonius runs to Claudius directly with his plan. He has to seek him out because the King has been sitting alone in darkness since the Mouse-Trap, and strangely for him, crownless. As we discover him, his face is completely in darkness, an image of his sin, yes, but also of a man devoured by guilt. He does not face us out of shame. This Claudius seems more repentant than others, in tears, kneeling without his words prompting him to do so. The camera focuses on his hand for a long time, another clue that it is very much the Ghost's eye-view in this adaptation. A Ghost fixating on the hand that murdered it in life.

Hamlet stumbles upon this scene, walking behind Claudius and only barely noticing him there. His speech is in voice-over to avoid the theatricality of words spoken and unheard. In many adaptations, Hamlet's presence in this room feels deliberate. A crime of opportunity to be sure, but it ties into his last speech. He is ready to do anything, and welcomes this chance (until he thinks about it some more). In the way Olivier stages it, Hamlet is taken by surprise by this opportunity, and feels a sudden rush to avenge his father, but it's all going too fast. It makes his decision not to go through with it more realistic, where a slow or thoughtful approach would infer more time to think about acting to counter the time to think about NOT acting.
The statue of Jesus in this scene is no casual set dressing. Olivier uses it in his staging to give Hamlet pause. It's in seeing it that Hamlet makes the realization that Claudius should not be killed a-praying, and Jesus becomes a character in the room, silently looking at the characters, his eye line able to meet theirs, and a voiceless conversation does occur! In this praying scene, prayers are answered, not by some divine mechanic, but by characters hearing themselves speak and reacting to it (Shakespeare's great gift to literary characters, according to critic Harold Bloom). Divine inspiration and wisdom coming from inside the characters. As Claudius' words "don't rise up", the imagery and this more secular reading tell us different, and that - a double irony - Christ does forgive him, but he cannot forgive himself. The last line sees the camera drop down, obscuring Jesus' face and moving down a dark slab towards a sobbing Claudius.

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