Sunday, October 28, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene - Olivier '48

Although I think Eileen Herlie does a wonderful job with Gertrude in this scene, she is still playing a weaker version of the character than Julie Christie's. As the scene begins, Polonius is very stern with her, treating her like he does Ophelia, despite the difference in rank. This, more than anything, weakens her, though how quiet she is with Hamlet at first, more sad and exasperated than angry (making her "wicked tongue" an odd accusation to make), does too. While we might question her power as Queen, it does strengthen her connection to Ophelia, likewise a victim of all these men. Even Polonius exercises power over her, though to be fair, he's never been as much a representative of the King as he is here. Even the arras behind which he hides has the picture of a King, and it's King's death he suffers. Though this interpretation of Polonius seems rather benign, a more overtly ambitious Polonius is entirely possible, living - and dying - vicariously through the King.

As Hamlet comes in, he holds his sword threateningly, and quite close to his mother's throat too, but her question isn't as fearful as other performances have made it. She's calm enough to try and convince her son not to do something rash. Which he does by stabbing the arras, joyful and happy at the idea that he might just have killed the King, Olivier taking just enough of a beat to make the murder deliberate rather than an act of pure passion, though surely, he must realize he just left Claudius downstairs in the chapel. The staging is rather great, with Gertrude in the foreground (we'll come back to this), and Hamlet letting the sword stick in the arras, keeping its victim upright, for the longest time. It makes sense thematically. Though he's killed Polonius, the text has him only notice a few lines later as he first discusses the Queen's alleged sins. He literally "puts a pin in it", and creates tension while we wait for the inevitable reveal that he has killed the wrong man.
Now the Queen gets afraid and angry, but Hamlet responds with a strange disconnectedness to his own words. His verbal attacks are made with the hint of a smile, and his cool accusations contrast heavily with his mother's tears. He's almost having fun and does not engage emotionally with her. Lack of empathy as madness? Where he IS engaged emotionally is with his father. When he compares Gertrude's husbands, we see they both have lockets, Hamlet's containing Hamlet Sr.'s, and Gertrude's, Claudius'. As he describes his father, Gertrude looks at HIM, not the picture, seeing Senior's features in Junior. Here the adaptation starts to flirt with Oedipal themes, and seem to justify a couple of kisses between them later, one chaste, the other a little more passionate (I'll have cause to discuss Freud's influence on the play at a later date, using a more overtly Freudian adaptation to do so). Perhaps because of movie standards of the time, Olivier, while presenting a hint of incest in this scene, did cut or change lines that had a son discuss his mother's sexual activities. For example, her "enseamed bed" becomes the cleaner "lascivious bed". The film maker thus puts some distance between a potential perversion in the plot, and perverse language, leaving the relationship in cleaner, but just as ambiguous, waters.
As an angry Hamlet starts to choke the life out of his mother, the Ghost intervenes. Drum beats signal its presence, distracts Hamlet and makes him swoon. We only see it in one shot, as a slightly glowing shadow in the doorway, something Gertrude does not herself see. Otherwise, we're squarely in the Ghost's point of view, as Hamlet looks straight into the camera and points at us, the audience. This certainly reinforces the idea that the camera in the film is so often motivated by the Ghost's gaze. In the early part of the scene, the camera is, in fact, more often close to Gertrude than it is to Hamlet, and the Ghost loves HER. It is her plight, more than Hamlet's tardiness, that calls the Ghost to action (after all, Hamlet's been goofing around for a long time by now). Not seeing the Ghost doesn't make it less creepy. Olivier makes his own performance do that work, squirming on his side as he does when the Ghost leaves. After it's left, we hear church bells chiming, a possible call-back to the Ghost's first departure at the cock's crow. Is it morning already? Has "witching hour" ended and sent the poor soul back to Hell? Or was this all an artifact of Hamlet's madness brought on by the cognitive dissonance surely inherent to (almost) murdering a loved one?

From there, he grows kinder to his mother (inappropriately so, you might say), but what's really interesting about the end of the scene is the way Hamlet talks about having to leave for England. As so often happens in Shakespeare, there are so many words that some will often go by unnoticed, until a slightly different emphasis in a performance somehow makes it shine. Here it's "This man [Polonius] shall set me packing". Though the trip to England is "concluded on", Polonius' murder makes the exile unavoidable now. And Hamlet, who does not trust his travel companions, may realize that he's actually being sent to his death (thus his quick action to turn the trick back on his fellows). But turnabout is fair play, as Hamlet has ALSO sent Polonius on a one-way trip, to the undiscovered country from the "To be or not to be" speech. This is where Shakespeare's traveler metaphor achieves its apogee (though a travel metaphor continues to be used in later scenes, like the one through the guts of a beggar).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene - Branagh '96

Surprisingly for a production that features a lot of mirrors (in the hall, but at least two in the Queen's closet), Branagh does not use them on the "set you up a glass" line, completing an image from the Nunnery Scene and linking Ophelia's potential whoredom with Gertrude's proven one (all in Hamlet's mind, of course). The scene doesn't suffer as a result, however, since the line itself does some of the work. The backdrop surrounding the room is of particular interest, a painting of people and the occasional dog sitting on steps and balconies, like a makeshift audience. This is judgment day for the Queen, and all of Denmark metaphorically looks on, trying to force shame on her. The scene begins with some energy, as Polonius rushes in and Gertrude, ever impatient with him, pushes him behind a curtain. Hamlet's own entrance rides that momentum, motivated as he is by a mixture of elation from the success of his play, and anger at not having been able too kill Claudius. He goes for the Queen's throat, and she naturally cries "murder", though one might imagine he was merely looking for some locket with the King's picture in it... except that while other productions use such a prop, this one has bigger bedside framed pictures.

The accidental murder of Polonius is well-choreographed, as he falls wrapped in the thick curtain, keeping his identity hidden from Hamlet for the time it takes the prince to inquire if it's the King. Polonius' highly redundant "I am slain" is retained, making the character's last words completely unnecessary verbiage, the perfect epitaph for the character. Branagh makes it clear this changes Hamlet as a person, though it may take a few moments to truly sink in. He is now a murderer, the same sin he holds against Claudius, and worse, he has killed a father. His voice breaks when he gives Polonius his farewell,  and he drops the dagger in disgust. He gets back on track as soon as he sees his mother wringing her hands, however, as if she has no right to this shock when her own hands are stained with his own father's blood.
He throws her on the bed where much of the scene takes place, but thankfully, Branagh does not go down the Freudian route, at least not explicitly. He lets the words do the work of presenting a sexually immature Hamlet who, like a child in this part of the scene, is repulsed by the idea of his parents having sex. If the audience wants to read an Oedipal complex in the inappropriate way he talks about his mother's sexuality, they are free to do so, but the idea is not expressed in the staging. Violence and impertinence, yes, but the characters are not sexually inappropriate with one another. As the scene progresses, the life is sucked out of Gertrude by her son's revelations and/or reproaches. Shame or tiredness? Her expressions are ambiguous. It is perhaps important that Gertrude looks only at her former husband's picture and not Claudius', but again, it is ambiguous whether the memories evoked are good or bad, and whether she's evaluating the brothers against Hamlet's praise and slander.
The Ghost reappears, this time as a veritable "king of shreds and patches", kinder and sadder than his angry, armored self. The Queen's point-of-view omits him, leaving the audience to wonder if he is real and in control of who can see him, or if is he completely imaginary and as the Queen fears, an artifact of Hamlet's madness. Hamlet is, in fact, desperate for his mother to also see the Ghost, actively questioning his own sanity when she does not. The speech that follows about his sanity is in that sense as much for himself as it is for her. The Ghost, potentially a devil in the earlier scene, has a very different attitude, obviously tempered by his obvious love of Gertrude and his wish that no harm come to her. It's almost as if he regrets the fury with which he gave his earlier command, and wishes not only to sharpen his son's "blunted purpose", but to make up for the consequences his dread command incurred. It's all gone off the rails, as they say, and it's ultimately his fault. If Hamlet was impetuous before, in front of his father he is truly a child, and he cries like one.

Once the Ghost has left, he attempts to prove his sanity, a difficult feat given that he starts by pushing his mother onto a bench after she's seen him hallucinate. But this visitation, and the blood now on his hands, have changed him, even possibly awoken him from madness. He'll be far more in control of his words and actions from here on out. Moving away from the childish outrage of mere moments ago, he takes on a paternal attitude towards Gertrude, instructing her calmly on what to do about her situation. The fact that he's now a sinner too has leveled the playing field. He asks her to repent, but repents his own actions as well, as an equal partner should. He's gone too far and knows it, and if his assumed madness became real, he now reigns it in, turning it back into craft. As Hamlet takes responsibility for what he's done and for what he must do, he becomes a darker, even more fatalistic Hamlet. The resigned way he takes care of Polonius' body, calling it "guts" (previous speeches have been concerned with the state of the soul after death, but from here on out, the dead are decaying objects), is proof of that.
The final image of the scene, with a reflective puddle of blood dominating the foreground as Gertrude paces anxiously and tries to make a decision about who to trust, is symbolic of her part in Hamlet Sr.'s murder (she was its inspiration) AND of her son's madness which caused Polonius' death. She is torn between the two, and given how under-written Gertrude is, it will take some time to clear up just which side she takes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

III.iv. The Closet Scene

The Closet Scene is one of the play's most famous, discussed and pivotal. Hamlet confronts his mother about her betrayal of his father, kills a spying Polonius, has another encounter with the Ghost, and reveals Claudius' crime to Gertrude. It's a true turning point, as Hamlet must finally face consequences for one of his actions, Gertrude must now make a choice, and of course, the play loses its first character. In killing Polonius, Hamlet becomes Claudius, a father's killer, turning Ophelia into another version of Hamlet, one whose madness will overwhelm her. And for actors, directors and even audiences, there are some important choices to be made in this scene. What is the nature of the Ghost? Hamlet sees him, but Gertrude doesn't (unlike Horatio and the soldiers who vouched for its existence). Was it real then and is imaginary now? Can it simply choose who can see it? And if so, why not show itself to the Queen and confirm Hamlet's story? We can also ask whether Gertrude knew about her husband's murder already, or whether she cares? On whose side is she? How does her attitude towards Claudius change after this scene? as the most underwritten character in the play, this ambiguity rests on the actress' performance and the choices made in this scene. Before getting into the examined films, etc.'s specific choices, let's look at Shakespeare's text (in italics) to look for clues as to the answers.


LORD POLONIUS: He will come straight. Look you lay home to him:
Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with,
And that your grace hath screen'd and stood between
Much heat and him. I'll sconce me even here.
Pray you, be round with him.
HAMLET: [Within] Mother, mother, mother!
QUEEN GERTRUDE: I'll warrant you,
Fear me not: withdraw, I hear him coming.

POLONIUS hides behind the arras

HAMLET: Now, mother, what's the matter?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
HAMLET: Mother, you have my father much offended.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
HAMLET: Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Why, how now, Hamlet!
HAMLET: What's the matter now?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Have you forgot me?
HAMLET: No, by the rood, not so:
You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife;
And--would it were not so!--you are my mother.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Nay, then, I'll set those to you that can speak.
HAMLET: Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: What wilt thou do? thou wilt not murder me?
Help, help, ho!

While there are no stage directions, it is obvious here that Hamlet should be violent or threatening in his actions. That violence is not in the words, except poetically, where Gertrude is afraid of being killed by her own reflection. In these lines, an actress might justify a certain measure of sublimated shame for what Gertrude has done (posthumous infidelity if not collusion in murder).

LORD POLONIUS: [Behind] What, ho! help, help, help!
HAMLET: [Drawing] How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!

Makes a pass through the arras

LORD POLONIUS: [Behind] O, I am slain!

Falls and dies

QUEEN GERTRUDE: O me, what hast thou done?
HAMLET: Nay, I know not:
Is it the king?

Important to note here that Hamlet thought this might be the King spying on him. In other words, he WOULD have gone through with it earlier if the circumstances had been right (caught a-spying rather than a-praying), or we could say that the passionate hate he shows towards his mother is what drives him to lash out and kill, but without that catalyst of rage, he could not have done it.

QUEEN GERTRUDE: O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
HAMLET: A bloody deed! almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: As kill a king!

Choice: Is the Queen surprised that a king was killed (and if so, which king, does she fear for the absent Claudius?), or that Hamlet knows about a murder she's already aware of? Note also Hamlet's accusation here. He says Gertrude did BOTH the marrying AND the killing. A case of "man and wife is one flesh"? Or an intrusion of madness, putting all crimes on his mother's shoulders?

HAMLET: Ay, lady, 'twas my word.

Lifts up the array and discovers POLONIUS

Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune;
Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger.
Leave wringing of your hands: peace! sit you down,
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damned custom have not brass'd it so
That it is proof and bulwark against sense.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: What have I done, that thou darest wag thy tongue
In noise so rude against me?
HAMLET: Such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vows
As false as dicers' oaths: O, such a deed
As from the body of contraction plucks
The very soul, and sweet religion makes
A rhapsody of words: heaven's face doth glow:
Yea, this solidity and compound mass,
With tristful visage, as against the doom,
Is thought-sick at the act.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Ay me, what act,
That roars so loud, and thunders in the index?
HAMLET: Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:

Hamlet's idealized description of his father uses, as Horatio would, pagan gods even though Hamlet's idiom is more often fiercely Puritanical. Is there a reason for this? Has the fact that his father has been denied Heaven forced Hamlet to look outside his faith for proper comparisons? The mention of Mars, the god of war, is unsurprising given Hamlet Sr.'s military background, but is there not also the notion that the former king can be idealized because, like these gods from myth, he was remote, unknowable, untouchable? Again and again, the play suggests Hamlet wasn't close to his father and basically admired him from afar.

This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,

The reference to an ear is not lost on this reader.

Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment

Hamlet, like most children, would rather not think of his parents as sexual beings. His dismissal of his mother's passion and libido is his mistake, and explains in part why he can't understand or accept his mother's relationship to his uncle. The line is also at odds with a reality in which Gertrude does NOT love Claudius, and would have married him for political reasons (as was addressed back in Act I). If the marriage was under those terms, made through "judgement" rather than "blood", why can't Hamlet see it? He has little objectivity on the matter. As we'll see in various stagings, the casting of Gertrude adds another layer here. Is she in fact an older woman, a younger one, one with sex appeal or not?

Would step from this to this? Sense, sure, you have,
Else could you not have motion; but sure, that sense
Is apoplex'd; for madness would not err,
Nor sense to ecstasy was ne'er so thrall'd
But it reserved some quantity of choice,
To serve in such a difference. What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?

We are back to a Christian idiom, but a hellish, not heavenly, one. The irony is that his father's Ghost is now one such devil. Whether the Ghost told the truth or not (and it seems it did) does not mean it's not trying to draw more souls into sin (already, Hell has won Polonius' soul).

Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,

More ears.

Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.
O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn
And reason panders will.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: O Hamlet, speak no more:
Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul;
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.
HAMLET: Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty,--
QUEEN GERTRUDE: O, speak to me no more;
These words, like daggers, enter in mine ears;

A murder weapon in the ear. It's like a mantra used to invoke the murder and summon up the victim.

No more, sweet Hamlet!
HAMLET: A murderer and a villain;
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord; a vice of kings;
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!
HAMLET: A king of shreds and patches,--

Enter Ghost

It has been common to show the Ghost dressed in "shreds and patches" when it appears (as opposed to the war armor it wears in previous scenes), so as to heighten the irony and/or complete the invocation. The present state of the former king is in fact closer to Hamlet's description of Claudius in this scene than to that of the idealized father figure. The images of putrefaction, for example, or likening him to a moor, a marsh-land that is closer to Hell than the otherwise described (Heavenly) mountain.

Save me, and hover o'er me with your wings,
You heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Alas, he's mad!
HAMLET: Do you not come your tardy son to chide,
That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by
The important acting of your dread command? O, say!
GHOST: Do not forget: this visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:
O, step between her and her fighting soul:
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:
Speak to her, Hamlet.
HAMLET: How is it with you, lady?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Alas, how is't with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy
And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,
Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
Starts up, and stands on end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?
HAMLET: On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares!
His form and cause conjoin'd, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable. Do not look upon me;
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects: then what I have to do
Will want true colour; tears perchance for blood.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: To whom do you speak this?
HAMLET: Do you see nothing there?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Nothing at all; yet all that is I see.
HAMLET: Nor did you nothing hear?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: No, nothing but ourselves.
HAMLET: Why, look you there! look, how it steals away!
My father, in his habit as he lived!
Look, where he goes, even now, out at the portal!

Exit Ghost

QUEEN GERTRUDE: This the very coinage of your brain:
This bodiless creation ecstasy
Is very cunning in.
HAMLET: Ecstasy!
My pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time,

This is not a trustworthy image, since time has been co-opted and distorted in the play, A clue that Hamlet's madness is very real indeed?

And makes as healthful music: it is not madness
That I have utter'd: bring me to the test,
And I the matter will re-word; which madness
Would gambol from. Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that mattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass, but my madness speaks:
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue;
For in the fatness of these pursy times
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

A clue that Gertrude is in love with Claudius? While the image is that of a broken heart, it's one that is broken in two pieces, one for her son and one for her husband. Is one piece bigger than the other? Hamlet urges her to get rid of the one that holds Claudius:

HAMLET: O, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half.
Good night: but go not to mine uncle's bed;
Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either reign the devil, or throw him out

Hamlet's recipe for using habit to get rid of a certain behavior is enlightening. The suggestion is that if you assume a virtue (or, by extension, a fault), custom and repetition will make it become "true". This may be a way to understand Hamlet's madness. He starts out playing mad, which makes him mad. Only after taking a break from that madness (during his upcoming exile) does he become more reasonable and ready to commit to action.

With wondrous potency. Once more, good night:
And when you are desirous to be bless'd,
I'll blessing beg of you. For this same lord,

Pointing to POLONIUS

I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.

A villainous justification for wrong-doing, and possibly how Claudius justified his own actions. In a staging where Claudius is more sympathetic, we might imagine him wrestling the crown from a corrupt Hamlet Sr. (whose going to Hell is not an injustice) constantly plunging Denmark in war, and/or kills for love of Hamlet Sr.'s neglected Queen. That Claudius might have explained his actions as a question of destiny, as Hamlet does here.

I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel, only to be kind:
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
One word more, good lady.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: What shall I do?
HAMLET: Not this, by no means, that I bid you do:
Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed;
Pinch wanton on your cheek; call you his mouse;
And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses,
Or paddling in your neck with his damn'd fingers,
Make you to ravel all this matter out,
That I essentially am not in madness,
But mad in craft. 'Twere good you let him know;
For who, that's but a queen, fair, sober, wise,
Would from a paddock, from a bat, a gib,
Such dear concernings hide? who would do so?
No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
Unpeg the basket on the house's top.
Let the birds fly, and, like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
And break your own neck down.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Be thou assured, if words be made of breath,
And breath of life, I have no life to breathe
What thou hast said to me.

Foreshadows her own death.

HAMLET: I must to England; you know that?
I had forgot: 'tis so concluded on.
HAMLET: There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way,
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For 'tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petard: and 't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines,
And blow them at the moon: O, 'tis most sweet,

His father's son, as Hamlet gets closer to his goal (i.e. the Ghost's), he starts to use military metaphors. We'll see if it holds or if it's a temporary affect caused by the Ghost's visitation, but Hamlet is soon to meet an entire army on his way to exile.

When in one line two crafts directly meet.
This man shall set me packing:
I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room.
Mother, good night. Indeed this counsellor
Is now most still, most secret and most grave,

Note the pun.

Who was in life a foolish prating knave.
Come, sir, to draw toward an end with you.
Good night, mother.

Exeunt severally; HAMLET dragging in POLONIUS

In the coming weeks, we'll see how various films, comics, songs, etc. have dealt with this complex and difficult scene.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - Spider-Hamlet

Comic Book Resources collected various comics art crossovers with the works of the Bard this week, and I wanted to show the Hamlet-inspired ones before we move on to the next scene.
Artist Sean McFarland offers a Spider-Man incapable of killing his uncle's murderer due to Marvel Comics angst, making that murderer Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin), though Osborn killed Gwen (Ophelia), not Uncle Ben. McFarland still manages to hit a few metaphorical cords, with Harry as Laertes being the son of Claudius/Norman, which is how the King initially treats Laertes (giving him leave to go first, and only later calling out to Hamlet). The Goblin of course never married Aunt May/Gertrude, though Doctor Octopus once did, but he probably wouldn't have worked as well in relation to the other characters depicted. Where's Flash Thompson as Rosencrantz or Guildenstern?

From a later scene, John Trumbull shows this piece featuring Spider-Ham (the funny animal version of Spider-Man):
Strangely enough with Mysterio as Horatio. The joke is in like-sounding names, but having a master of special effects and illusion as Hamlet's best friend does play on the idea that Horatio is causing the play to happen, and in this case, that he would have been responsible for the appearance of the Ghost (a projection, no doubt). Could Horatio be working for Fortinbras, which is why he's left to tell the tale at the end? It's really a debriefing?

Friday, October 5, 2012

III.iii. The Confessional - French Rock Opera

With Tue-le/Kill Him, Johnny Hallyday does away with the King's confession to the audience and his plight in facing his maker, incapable of remorse. It only deals with Hamlet's own feelings coming upon Claudius a-praying, and uses the chorus as a kind of angel/devil on his shoulder, pushing him to kill with whispers and full-on opera, but also warning him that to do so now could result in Claudius going to Heaven. Here are the lyrics and my usual doggerel translation.

Tue-le ! Tue-le ! Tue-le !

Quand des sept capitaux
Il choisit un péché
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Quand il manque une marche
Qu’il jure le « nom de Dieu »
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Tue-le ! Tue-le ! Tue-le !

Quand ces doigts sont crochus
Qu’il recompte ses sous
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Quand il se fait plaisir
En rêvant de seins doux
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Mais ne le tue pas quand il prie
Avec Dieu on ne sait jamais
Ne l’envoie pas au paradis

Tue-le ! Tue-le ! Tue-le !

Quand pour tourner la page
Il compte sur le vent
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Quand il boit comm’un trou
Et qu’il pisse à côté
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Tue-le ! Tue-le ! Tue-le !

Quand sa tête est gonflé
Quand il se prend pour un Dieu
Quand il a un pied en enfer

Quand des sept capitaux
Il envie les péchés
Quand il a les pieds en enfer

Mais ne le tue pas quand il prie
Avec Dieu on ne sait jamais
Ne l’envoie pas au paradis

Mais ne le tue pas quand il prie
Avec Dieu on ne sait jamais
Ne l’envoie pas au paradis

Tue-le !

Kill Him
Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!

When of the seven deadly
He chooses a sin
When he has a foot in hell

When he misses a step
When he curses "My God"
When he has a foot in hell

Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!

When his fingers are crooked
When he counts his money again
When he has a foot in hell

When he pleases himself
By dreaming of soft breasts
When he has a foot in hell

But don't kill him while he prays
With God we never know
Don't send him to paradise

Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!

When, to turn the page
He counts on the wind
When he has a foot in hell

When he drinks like a hole
And he pisses on the side
When he has a foot in hell

Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!

When his head is swollen
When he thinks he's God
When he has a foot in hell

When of the seven deadly
He envies the sins
When he has a foot in hell

But don't kill him while he prays
With God we never know
Don't send him to paradise

But don't kill him while he prays
With God we never know
Don't send him to paradise

Kill him!

As you can see, while his impulses (to kill or not to kill) are handled by voices sung in his ear, his own lyrics are all to do with planning the better moment to murder Claudius. Just like in the play, the Prince lists the various occasions when Claudius already as "a foot in hell", and would thus be easy to "trip up". Hallyday's song creates its own imagery, including a rather subtle image of combined lazyness and vindictiveness (When, to turn the page / He counts on the wind), which is also a play on the word "count" used in the image of greed. The Seven Deadly Sins are in fact all represented, the most ironic being Pride, a line which creates the image of God in Hell. The last lyric sung by Hamlet is a strange one about the King envying one of the deadly sins, which I'm still not sure how to interpret, though it seems to me it could be the only element of Claudius' dilemma left in this highly edited version of the play. His sin is so great, that he envies the other sins their relative unimportance. But that's a reading based on knowing what's been omitted quite well, and in the structure of this adaptation, it is probably just an image of sin plucking on sin.

Also of interest, at least if we understand the chorus to stem from Hamlet as much as his own words, is "With God we never know", which makes God a less trustworthy agent than He is in the play. It's a valid interpretation, seeing as Fortune's evils are often invoked, and Hamlet Sr.'s fate is (presumably) an unfair one. God is as uncertain as the "undiscovered country" that lies beyond death. In other words, the song makes it plain that Hamlet can't be sure killing Claudius at this point will result in a heavenly ascension, but he's taking no chances, or it's just another excuse to delay the action. The image of a mistrusted God highlights the fact that though Hamlet has a strict morally Christian world view, he is not an agent of the Divine. Indeed, his mission was given him by a creature from Hell.