Sunday, September 29, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Tennant (2009)

One motive for the Queen defending Claudius in this scene despite what Hamlet told her about him we haven't discussed is one of the motives attributed to her marrying him in the first place. While it may or may not apply to this version of the play, something in Penny Downie's performance - Gertrude's mixture of protectiveness and doubt - made me think of it. If a Queen cannot rule alone in this society, then it's in her best interest to keep the King alive, especially given the unknown fate of her son, and how this mutiny would not, in fact, end with Hamlet taking the throne. She married swiftly to keep her country stable and now can't let it slip (further) into chaos.

And the danger is very real here. Laertes comes in brandishing a handgun, pushes the Queen down to the ground, and waves the pistol in Claudius' face. It could go off at any time, without much effort, if he thinks he's being juggled with. Claudius is completely calm throughout, and by keeping the Gentleman who comes in with the news of the rebellion in the room, a nice contrast is created between two sorts of men. At one point, Laertes waves the gun in HIS face and the Gentleman falls down in terror, trying to squirm away from imagined bullets. He's the common man, Claudius is something else - a King protected by divine favor. He can even afford to walk towards the gun.
Enter Ophelia, her arms full of branches. Though she turns to bitterness occasionally, Mariah Gale is perhaps the saddest of all the Ophelias, overwhelmed by her grief, her voice often breaking and tears flowing. For that reason, she's among the most touching. One of the few breaks in that sadness is when she slings fennel and columbines at the King, her tone contemptuous. Rue's nickname makes her laugh sadly, and Gertrude tries to comfort her with a similar smile. The daisy is noncommittally thrown at the Gentleman. Its folk meaning, innocence, is something Ophelia just throws away. Her line about her father making a good end seems a small comfort to her, but a comfort nonetheless. Then comes the long funereal song as she kneels down and lays her "flowers" on an imaginary grave before leaving, a blank look in her eyes, completely emptied. Her character's arc done, she goes to throw herself in the river.

Usually, Claudius then crassly approaches the stunned Laertes and continues his appeal as if nothing happened. In this case, Laertes takes his gun out again, giving the King a lot more justification for the continued appeal. I love to watch Downie's performance here. Gertrude is riveted by Claudius' speech, and I can't decide if it's because she's fascinated by his charisma, impressed/alarmed that he would give up everything if found wanting by Laertes, or in the final seconds of the scene, shocked at how Claudius just threw Hamlet under a bus.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Fodor (2007)

Fodor's Laertes is a psychotic brute, never more apparent than in his return from France. Instead of leading a rebellion directly to the King and Queen, he first makes a move on Hamlet's friends, Horatio and Francisco, knocking the latter out and viciously beating the former to some heavy metal music. It appears as if he's about to rape Horatio, but Laertes actually takes his belt off to choke her with it, dragging her to the beach as a hostage when he meets Claudius and Gertrude. Though the disturbing inference is there, I'm relieved the film didn't go there, as it would have been a paltry misuse of Horatio's feminization.

At the beach, this Laertes proves too gross in nature to keep to the Shakespeare's lines, dropping a number of F-bombs into his speech that emphasizes his beastliness. Of course, the text was going to suffer a lot of changes anyway, since he's not asking after his father's death, but his sister's, Polonia being this adaptation's other feminized character. The sexual politics that come into play actually give Claudius a better motive for Polonia's death, and Laertes more justification to come after the King. After all, Polonia had been Claudius' lover, so both Royals would have had reason to want her killed. Their discussion becomes a shouting match, which is perhaps the only way one can communicate with this brutish Laertes. While present, Horatio of course has no lines during this scene, but that can easily be attributed to a bruised throat. Gertrude is also largely taken out of it as the King's pleas for her to let Laertes ("Let him go, Getrude") become "Let her go, Laertes", in reference to the captive Horatio.
Then a strange moment that foreshadows Ophelia's death. Laertes hears a noise, turns around, the sound drops out in favor of eerie music, and Ophelia stands there, flowers in hand, in saturated whites and blues. She's a ghost, already dead as far as fate goes. She comes forward and kisses him passionately, something Laertes has the surprising decency to find disturbing. If there's something this whole sequence proves is that while painted as a coarse monster, Fodor's Laertes isn't sexual, only violent. He would probably be intolerable if he were both.

The the sound drops back in, the colors return to normal, and the scene regains a sense of normalcy (such as it is) as the girl frenetically looks through her brother's pockets, likely looking for heroin, though she finds nothing. Remember, Polonia was supplying her with it, and a large part of Ophelia's breakdown in this version is attributed to withdrawal. Angry and bitter, and holding back tears, she then proceeds to distributing her flowers before walking off, her final words completely cut as we move back to Claudius' seduction of Laertes. She does tweak some the lines she IS afforded to interesting effect, in particular "You must sing a-down a-down, / An you call him a-down-a" pronounced "a-down-er", a clue to the drugs that are on her mind, as well as a less-than-stellar appreciation for her cruel, manipulative sister.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Hamlet 2000

Seconds after Ophelia is carried off by security, Laertes comes out of nowhere to confront Claudius (well, security IS distracted...). It's a quick, furious scene on a balcony overlooking a pit. It screams danger just like the Danish rabble at Laertes' heels might have. Claudius quickly moves to an adjacent room, his fear more about the public relations aspect of Laertes' rebellion than about his physical safety, though the younger man soon has his hand around the elder's throat, and image that is reversed by sequence's end when Claudius does the same, but in a kind of bond-creating embrace. In this version, the Queen is portrayed as being just as decadent as her husband, so she gets a good portion of Laertes' abuse. He screams at her to drown out her protests. He tells HER he dares damnation. In a sense, she's the King's only bodyguard in this scene, his only enforcer.

One note about the room: It somehow doesn't appear to be on the same floor as the balcony it seemed adjacent to. The street outside makes this no more than the second or third floor, while the balcony was high indeed. It gives the sense that the reception hall is a pit dug into the ground, a funnel into hell itself.
Ophelia comes in with Polaroids of flowers instead of the flowers themselves, which makes sense for the photographer she is in this adaptation. In great distress, Ophelia barely recognizes her brother and appears to be in a constant state of swooning, going weak at the knees and cross-eyed. Is she on drugs, medicine, or is this just how her madness manifests? Notably, many of her lines are cut and she does not make any reference to prayer. She's merely helped out of the room by her brother. This is because Christian notions have largely been weeded out of the text to better represent young people of Hamlet's and Ophelia's social class circa the year 2000.

"Where the offense is let the great axe fall" is now part of the next scene, not spoken to Laertes, but to Claudius himself, in the broken mirror up in his bedroom, just before he manipulates Laertes into helping him kill Hamlet. It takes on another meaning. Rather than trying to sound sincere for Laertes, he's rather psyching himself up for the task of "turning" an antagonistic "Laertes". The moment may imply that Claudius is ready to take his lumps if he can't work his magic, and that success in this instance is a sign from above that he shall prevail against Hamlet as well. The things we tell ourselves in the mirror to convince ourselves we're on the correct course.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Kline '90

Laertes' arrival in the Kevin Kline-directed version of Hamlet is pretty standard. While there's no rabble at his heels, the pseudo-military clothes give the feeling of mutiny, and Laertes' strong physical presence is threatening to the older, shorter Claudius, despite his cocksure smile. He's on guard. Laertes himself vacillates between anger and shock, as if he harbors a fear that he's misjudged the King, betrayed his country, and put his life and honor in danger. But before we can fully explore this, his mad sister enters.

In a white dress with a long train, Ophelia looks like she's come from her own demented wedding, and perhaps she has. She hold a paper flower made of what might very well be Hamlet's letters to her, unraveling them like the life she believed she would lead, and letting them fall on the floor, parallel to her tears. It takes a beat before she recognizes her brother and embraces him, though in her confusion, she almost kisses him full on the mouth, hiccuping her line about remembrance to stop herself. That's Hamlet represented. As for her father, she speaks her lines about him ("he made a good end" and so on) in a tone that parodies the platitudes one might hear at a loved one's funeral. Like Hamlet before her, she keeps changing character. Mocking and sincere, impish - stuffing a paper petal down Gertrude's cleavage, for example - and overwhelmed with grief. At the end of the sequence, she struggles with her brother and positively screams her prayers for God to have mercy on them all, finally collapsing in his grip, spent. And she'll walk out the same way she walked in, confused and deaf to the world.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

IV.v. Laertes Returns - Zeffirelli '90

Laertes rides into Elsinore, a man alone, shouting at the castle and running in to look for the King. There's no rebellion here except his own, as Zeffirelli has isolated his version of Elsinore from politics at large. We get no Fortinbras, we get no Danish rabble. Not to say the characters of the play are the only ones in this world, because Claudius is surrounded by men when Laertes catches up to him, and it's these soldiers the King warns off instead of Gertrude. She's up on a balcony, watching from behind a pillar. This makes her estrangement from Claudius more obvious, though it does beg the question as to why Laertes isn't killed as soon as he pulls a sword on the King. A sign of weakness on the realm's part? Could be, and though we never think about it, it's true of the play as written. Laertes and peasant rabble overcome trained palace guards to get into the royals' inner sanctum. Or is it a more personal affair? Claudius showed a certain preference for Laertes over Hamlet in Act I, and by disarming him rather than killing him, he seems to show such affection again. Claudius isn't arrogant when he waves his guards off. He looks at the sword, gauging the danger and what words to use next. By the time he brushes the sword point off, meeting fleeting resistance at first, he prevails because he detects doubt in Laertes.
Cries and sobs then distract Laertes, who follows them to the throne room where Ophelia is playing with dead things, twigs and bones playing the parts of flowers, on the Queen's throne (her homologue in the previous generation). Wet and impish, she distributes her wares, talking more to the King than to her brother, and walks out after reassuring Laertes that their father "made a good end". Stunned, he still gets the final line of the scene (about "a maid's wits"). Zeffirelli then cuts to Ophelia's suicide immediately, robbing Ophelia of her very last moments, her last song, her sudden nihilistic resolve, and her religious goodbyes. The director never lets her move away from the state of madness we found her in at the start of Act IV.