Friday, July 26, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Classics Illustrated

The original
Probably because there was too much sexual subtext in the sequence, the original Classics Illustrated adaptation chose to explain Ophelia's madness in no uncertain terms in a caption (Claudius will repeat some of this information in verse in his short speech), and reduced the scene to two mostly harmless snatches of song (though "cockle" survived as a rude pun, as did "maid" which is implicitly sexual). In fact, it's all about Hamlet. Nothing about Polonius' death, despite what the caption might say. Note also Ophelia's flowers which will play a part in her next (and last) appearance.

Gotta love the royals' comic take in the first panel. They're also given a panel (not shown) in which to despair, again in mirroring poses that would suggest these versions of Claudius and Gertrude are still a solid couple. The adaptation sadly doesn't do a lot to flesh out the characters, so the underwritten Gertrude is more underwritten (underdrawn?) still, often just an ornament on Claudius' arm, placidly receiving dialog more than she ever doles it out. We can't really know what she thinks of the King, if anything.

The Berkley version
The Grant/Mandrake version has also been sanitized, cutting everything that relates to Hamlet, so Claudius is right to invoke her father's death as the reason for her madness. In this adaptation too the royal couple seems as solid as ever. Look at the staging: It's Gertrude who brings Ophelia to the King, placing the Queen in a servile position. As for the art, I wondered what those pill-like shapes on the edge of the first panel were and decided they were hinges. Unstuck from the second panel, they're an image of the "unhinged". A clever little piece. I've looked and it's not a recurring motif. A clue that Ophelia's madness is real, whereas Hamlet's was not?
Claudius gets to say his piece on the next page, and you'll note the bloody wash that frames the panel, the same kind of wash that framed Polonius' murder. It gives Claudius' speech about "murd'ring" an ironic bent, showing how selfish he is to moan about his woes when those of others are much greater (and indeed, stem from his own misdeeds). Ophelia in this panel becomes a dark figure, disappearing into the walls of Elsinore. She has become a truth-speaking ghost, not unlike Hamlet Sr. though less intelligible. Of course, the Ghost was an enigmatic figure until Hamlet came. This time, Hamlet will come too late to wring any meaning out of Elsinore's resident ghost.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Tennant (2009)

Starting in front of the broken mirror, a metaphor now for Ophelia's broken mind, Gertrude's broken spirit, and Claudius' broken Denmark, we see tensions run high in Elsinore. Only Horatio's calming influence makes Gertrude agree to see Ophelia. Left alone for an instant, Gertrude speaks her only soliloquy in the play, laughing bitterly at the irony of it all, but keeping it brief as if unwilling to look (and speak) into that mirror for too long. When Ophelia walks in disheveled, it's like the Queen sees her for the first time and is suddenly worried for her (rather than the realm). It's made real. But for the audience, it takes a moment longer before we're shown Ophelia directly. We initially remark on her madness only as it plays on Gertrude's face. Is this an image of the Queen's greatest fear about herself? Is one of the reasons the Queen doesn't want to see Ophelia that she feels herself slipping into madness and can't bear one more "spill"?

Ophelia begins with a sad song, but as soon as either of the royals try to touch her - as Claudius walks in with papers that later prove to be news of Laertes' rebellion - she grows manic, screams "PRAY MARK" and starts whirling about the room. She's a dangerous creature to the realm and that sense is given by sudden moves, like her jumping at the Queen's hair, or ripping off the King's jacket. Director Greg Doran apparently rehearsed Ophelia separately from the other actors at first, so that their reactions would be truthful and the mad girl's antics all the more surprising. As she moves to the mirror and goes to touch a sharp shard of glass, they fear she might do a desperate outrage to herself (and she will, through something else that gives a reflection). Some of her madness is real, as in the moment where she looks vacantly into the distance reliving her father's burial, but sometimes she feigns madness to terrorize the royals. The story about the owl, for example, is accompanied by an epileptic fit to mime the transmogrification. This ties her more solidly with Hamlet. She's his mirror, but perhaps in more realistic psychological terms, her imitator. Note also the hilarious reading of the line "I hope all will be well" as a mockery of Patrick Stewart's mannerisms and voice. As such, it means Ophelia does not hope all will be well, and indeed wishes doom on this entire family at her brother's vengeful hands.

The production does not shy away from the more sexual aspects of the scene. In her manic state, Ophelia quickly removes her dress and slip during the tumbling song and refuses the Queen's attempts to drape a shawl over her nakedness. Although Ophelia still has underwear, Claudius looks away embarrassed, contradicting Hamlet's portrait of him as a lust-filled beast. She runs off, clothes in hand, when she suddenly finds herself vulnerable with the thoughts she'd been avoiding all along, those touching her father's death. But make no mistake, this was a coded attack on the royal family.

Claudius, ever the unctuous politician, seems all too calm about the situation, his priority to cajole the distance Gertrude into his frame of mind. His smooth tones betray his intentions, this is a spin job, and he makes sure to blame Hamlet for their problems, an accusation she shrugs off angrily, as if it's been his mantra now for a while and she's tired of hearing it. But he's not exactly wrong.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Fodor (2007)

The more extreme relationships in this version of the play transform the meaning of almost every line in the scene (at least, those that survived the edit). It occurs under a quay on a muddy beach where Ophelia is brought to the Queen by Horatio and the Gentleman, where they exchange sarcastic barbs. It's a reversal. Instead of the Queen trying to avoid the mad young girl, she instead has the disruptive Ophelia brought to her for a scolding, either on her orders or by Horatio's initiative. Why is Gertrude so aloof? We have to remember that in this version, the slain Polonia was Ophelia's SISTER, a sister having an affair with Claudius. The Queen may be transferring resentment to the mistress' sister. The scene also suggests a similar adulterous relationship between Claudius and Ophelia, as the songs (here just shouted rhymes) about "tumbling" are thrown the King's way. And he seems particularly empathetic, though again, this may be transference as she was his lover's sister. Either way, the mistrust in the Queen's eyes is what creates the ambiguity.

Oddly, the songs are not gender-translated like the rest of the play. "He is dead and gone" can now only mean Hamlet, because Ophelia has lost no father. Hamlet isn't dead, though they might have said that to comfort her. She might be talking about Hamlet Sr., as she is one of the people who seems able to see the Ghost when she's high on heroin. Fodor had a perfect excuse for Ophelia's madness even in his modern context, but he doesn't seem to use it here and the scene is the weaker for it. Polonia was Ophelia's pusher, and the girl could have been crashing hard at this point. However, the performance has none of that, and the way Ophelia recites the songs by rote, without inflection or inner discourse, doesn't work either as withdrawal OR madness.

Fodor suggests a number of dark happenings in both past and present, but they don't come together satisfyingly in this scene.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Hamlet 2000

Hamlet 2000 uses heavy cuts to ramp the scene's momentum up, focusing on Ophelia's disruptive influence at "court". The scene is set on an interior balcony overlooking a central atrium. On several levels, there appears to be a company function going on, some cocktail party attended by shareholders perhaps. Ophelia seeks the Queen, going round and round the concentric balconies, an image of her own mind spinning out of control. She finds Gertrude laughing, drink in hand, and seemingly untouched by the feeling expressed by her speech, done in voice-over. This is the face she shows the shareholders, a brave front to keep confidence in the company up, which makes Ophelia's intervention all the more destructive. She stumbles into guests and Gertrude naturally tries to smile over the incident and lead the girl away. With this more sinister Queen, it becomes possible for the song "How should I your true love know / From another one?" to be directed at her, the mother-in-law who has apparently spurned her and spurned her own son. One of Ophelia's transgressions is to question the love Gertrude bears her son (which she let the King exile), and her loyalty to Polonius' family (who died while theoretically under the Queen's protection).

The King walks in with a bodyguard in tow and Ophelia gets more and more agitated. Not feeling like they're listening to her, she screams "Pray mark". Gertrude turns to the King for help, her smiles still trying to cover for the girl's antics. "When they ask you what it means", she tells the royals to convey not the original song, but an incredible scream that startles the guests (pictured above). The film translates her trauma differently than the play does, cutting out most of the "nonsense songs", replacing them with moments such as this, which we might call "nonsense sounds". What we lose in poetry we gain in visceral immediacy.

The rest of Ophelia's performance, including the warning about her brother, is given while being dragged away by the bodyguard, again keeping things moving. The scene's rather surprising punchline is that Laertes comes out of nowhere before the King can utter more than one line of the final speech, grabbing him by the throat. Ophelia's appearance was but the first volley in this "rebellion", played rather more personally in this version of the play, as we'll discuss when we tackle the next scene.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Kline '90

Diane Venora has such a deep voice, it's hard to see her as anything but an adult version of Ophelia, but perhaps that's why her descent into madness as a kind of intermittent return to childhood, works. She's a woman acting like a little girl, dancing, clapping, singing and giggling in her night gown. It's a complex, mercurial, if sometimes over the top performance, with some interesting elements of mise en scène. First and foremost is her lack of animosity towards the royals. By removing the early sequence in which Gertrude doesn't want to see her, Kline makes the Queen more sympathetic, and Ophelia runs to her arms as if a mother. She puts on a brave face when the King arrives, but won't have anyone speak of her father's death. If there is a dark side to their relationship, it may be apprehended during the song about the two lovers. She plays director to the story, puts the King's hand into the Queen's and indicates how he's the boy in the story, and she the girl. Is she inferring something about the royal couple? That perhaps they'd been having an affair before Hamlet Sr.'s death? Or is it more likely she's throwing up a mirror for a future Hamlet & Ophelia that will now never come to pass?

Venora really presents two Ophelias. The child who dreams of being Queen, who sees imaginary ladies-in-waiting (in lines which, on the stage, might well be directed at audience members), sings and dances and passes notes (what is the significance of the crumpled piece of paper she gives Gertrude? An old love letter? Is this a corruption of the scene in which Polonius reads on to the royals?). The other Ophelia is the traumatized, grieving daughter who scratches at the floorboards (where the audience knows ghosts live), rhymes rather than sings, moans and beats her chest. They don't co-exist. When she moves from orphan to child at one point, she realizes her face is wet with tears and starts wiping it, as puzzled as she is ashamed. Ophelia is out of joint.