Sunday, January 26, 2014

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Classics Illustrated

The original
One of the side-effects of converting Hamlet to a "boys' adventure" comic is that while many scenes are reduced to a single panel or even caption, the ones that feature ghosts or swordplay are expanded. This is how this scene, despite extensive cuts in the dialog, comes out to almost four pages. This is achieved by having the plotters both flash back to moments prior to the play or imagine their plot coming to fruition. So for example, the story of Lamond (though note the alternative spelling) is recounted and seen:
As gratuitous a panel as they come, though it presents the Normand's prowess on horseback without actually mentioning it. The next panel has Hamlet sparring with him and admitting his jealousy of Laertes, clumsily re-purposing Claudius' line into "I wish and beg Laertes sudden coming o'er to play with him." We then see Laertes' successfully getting his revenge; we're into fantasy.
And strangely, after Laertes gets his poison out, a caption tells us the King has his own poison, not making it clear Laertes is told this.
As a staging idea, it's interesting. The King could speak those lines as an aside and let Laertes believe he is indeed the best swordsman in the land instead of impugning his abilities with his back-up plan.

The Berkley version
Taking the opposite tack, the more modern adaptation doesn't use the scene at all, which may turn out to be a mistake. In a film, moments and expression can make clear that props have been poisoned, that the plotters are working together, and so forth. In a comic, it is much more difficult given the space available. Meaningful cuts to a face, a weapon, a cup, may not come across the same way. We'll see.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Tennant (2009)

This whole section is one of the biggest structural changes director Gregory Doran made to the play. By moving the "My thoughts be bloody" speech where Horatio usually receives the letters, and cutting the messengers entirely, he a jump cuts from Hamlet's bloody thoughts to Laertes' own. The young man is sitting in the straircase we associate with the Polonius household and Ophelia, playing with a sharp object. Claudius walks in and immediately asks if his father was dear to him, everything before - and a lot of what comes after - is cut. There's an interesting repurposing of the line "Hamlet comes back". Instead of acting as a premise for the next question, it's a statement of fact, an announcement as Claudius holds up the prince's letter. A change of venue brings the two of them to Claudius' domain, the dark throne room.

It's obvious Laertes has been told, off-stage, about Hamlet's participation in his father's murder, and he's already thinking about getting his revenge. He's quick to answer when the King tells him about his plan, though one should wonder, as Doran does on the commentary track, why Laertes already has the poison. What would this have been for? He came back to Denmark sword in hand, so it wasn't for the King. For himself, perhaps? For a sort of honorable suicide after committing regicide? Or is he just the kind of person who buys such things in case he ever needs it, and thus quite dishonorable? It's not clear. But though he has his own ideas about how to kill Hamlet, the cuts make the scene play out as less of a seduction. Claudius brings fewer arguments to bear, even assumes Laertes will participate and do what he's told. Laertes is eager. As usual, these cuts weaken Laertes' character, reducing him to a pawn. In his wrathful state, he doesn't even question the King's laugh as he thinks of his back-up plan.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Fodor (2007)

Fodor actually intercuts this scene with Ophelia going to her death, making the two moments more overtly simultaneous and giving Fortune justification for killing a young girl. As Laertes plots against Hamlet for the loss of one sister (the feminized Polonia, so Claudius "loving" Laertes' sister has extra meaning), another is taken from him as payment for his sin. Ophelia's death we will discuss at a later date, but the editing does give the Claudius-Laertes scene more forward momentum and contrasts talk of death with death actually happening. This is largely the function of the darkness in this candle-lit scene, contrasting with the whiteness of Ophelia's ecstatic world (and this "Denmark" in general), though of course, it fits the mood of the conspiracy.

Notably, Laertes initially refuses a glass of wine from Claudius, which is how we might track the seduction (not that this psychotic Laertes needs much prodding, he must only be convinced of the specific plan). The idea of the rapier duel is made acceptable in a modern setting by the inclusion of the oft-cut Lamond, introducing Laertes' reputation for fencing into an era that would normally not feature swords, but Laertes grimaces at first. He'll do it, but it needs something more. He adds poison to the mix (meanwhile, Ophelia is poisoning herself with drugs), and cold, unblinking Claudius puts some in a wine cup as his plan B. Only then does Laertes accept a glass, and they drink together, not realizing this wine is poisoned too. Sealing this deal, they've put into motion the mechanism of their own deaths. They might as well have drunk the venom directly.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Hamlet 2000

Though it does suffer some important cuts, the scene is well-played and well-staged, and features some interesting innovations. For example, there's a bodyguard in the room, which makes sense after Laertes tried to kill Claudius. They can't be left alone together. It also means Claudius has soldiers loyal to him - his power is still real - or else he wouldn't conspire to kill the Prince in front of a third party. The other interesting idea is to stage the scene so Gertrude is in the next room. Low voices, furtive glances, the tension is raised considerably and the conspirators made more conspiratorial as a result.

Laertes accepts Claudius' excuses and is shown the gun Hamlet used in an evidence bag, but his expression is clear. The Royal Family survives while his own pays the price. The State screws the People over (though obviously, the Polonius family wasn't exactly middle-class). He is otherwise cold towards the King, his mind elsewhere perhaps, as he fiddles with Ophelia's hair comb, but that gives a nice spin on the line about warming the sickness of his heart, which in turn highlights Claudius' own about an "ulcer". The only emotion Laertes will allow himself to have is that sickness, a need for revenge, a hate beyond all hate.

Among the many cuts, we of course find the Normand material, which doesn't fit the setting, but also the details of the assassination scheme. In fact, what the characters fear throughout actually happens and Gertrude walks in on them, earlier than in the play. She cuts them off just as Laertes was about to answer Claudius' question about what he would do to show himself his father's son.

A final note: The fax machine used to deliver Hamlet's message turns this "modern-day" version into a period piece after all.