Thursday, March 27, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Classics Illustrated

Both comic book adaptations teach us about rushing through the play and its effects, though on stage, we would hardly get the same kind of superimposition caused by placing speech bubbles in the same panel/space.

The original
Gertrude is rather thrifty when it comes to telling Laertes his sister has drowned, the words coming out of her mouth even as she rushes through the door. Again, this is due to the way comics work, but keeping everything in the same speech bubble keeps pauses and hesitations out of the Queen's "voice". Her account of Ophelia's death is more detailed, taking up an entire page:
Pitched at a younger audience, Ophelia's death appears to be entirely accidental, albeit as result of her madness. In her poor judgment, she climbs up on a very slim branch, which breaks under her weight. An important lesson about safety, perhaps, but not a suicide. In the end, even her garlands desert her as she sinks to the bottom of the brook.

The Berkley version

The Grant/Mandrake adaptation is even more rushed, though it includes more dialog. Laertes is told not while he's kneeling (or did he just fall to his knees upon hearing the news?) in the cemetery. It's likely that is his father's grave. The next panel looks beautiful, though there seems to be some confusion as to who's crying eyes those are. The speech bubble pointing to the face means them to be the Queen's, but they rather look more like Laertes'. Regardless, the one shot of Ophelia is evocative of John Everett Millais' famous painting of Ophelia.
The cemetery setting underscores Laertes' loss of all family. Notably, his crying despite his announced restraint is cut, so this Laertes manages to hold it together. See also how Claudius' last lines, because they are included in a panel in which Laertes has not yet exited, plays like an aside. Does this Claudius actually fear Laertes' rage against HIM will start up again, or is it an unnecessary confusion resulting from the medium?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Tennant (2009)

Penny Downie is a most vulnerable Gertrude, running in covered in a black shroud, with no make-up, as if having just been awakened with this news. She's actually caught out by Laertes' simple question "where?", hesitating as if she wasn't expecting him to ask. She reaches for the details, possibly inventing them based on the rough outline she's been given, perhaps hoping it actually happened as she tells it, and at times, regretting her choice of words. For example, she seems disturbed by her realization that long purples are also called dead men's fingers. The emphasis brings to the fore the idea that Ophelia is in a way in her dead father's grip, the flowery metaphor turning macabre and dragging her down to her death, in an echo of Hamlet Sr.'s ghostly manifestations. Ophelia, the female (and thus socially powerless) Hamlet, isn't visited by the specter of her father, except in this image.

Claudius seems stunned by the whole affair. Not just Gertrude's story, but Laertes' weepy reaction as well. It's true that he surprisingly lets them speak without ever interjecting, even though Ophelia's death may affect his plans. At most, he seems tired. When Gertrude reaches out for comfort, he fails to notice her gesture and instead rebukes her for what Laertes might now do. She's shaken by how little he cares about her or Ophelia, and how much he cares for his own safety.

One last note, about the director and cinematographer's intent. While Gertrude speaks, the camera moves to a slightly overhead angle so the black polished floor can take on the properties of a murky reflective pool, bringing the muddy brook into the room. It's a neat piece of staging, but not as obvious as the production would have liked it, I think. Still, an element to steal and realize better in future adaptations.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Fodor (2007)

The Ophelia in this adaptation is a junkie, now in withdrawal after her sister Polonia's death, as she was her "medicator". When she finds a syringe and tries to shoot up, she dies from an overdose. Her death is intercut with the previous sequence, increasing the tension, but also drawing a link between the talk of the poison and the girl accidentally poisoning herself. Because events are so different from the ones related by Gertrude, the Queen isn't needed here and does not appear. It's a small mercy, because the actress' handle on the English language is limited. It's not clear that she would have given the speech what it needed.

In contrast to Claudius and Laertes discussing Hamlet in a dark room, Ophelia's sequences are blown-out, a pure white bleaching the color out of the film. The sound design is just as extreme. We may be hearing and seeing her madness and her ecstasy, or we may be experiencing the scenes from the Ghost's limbo. He watches as Ophelia "drowns" in her narcotic bliss, chokes, convulses and finally stops moving. Suddenly, her body is on the beach in the same position. Were we there all along? Has the Ghost moved her? The latter is suggested. He continues to watch as Claudius and Laertes run to her silent (as per the sound design) and apparently unbidden.

One of Fodor's key ideas is keeping the Ghost in the play all the way through as an unseen observer, although here it is suggested he takes an active hand in Ophelia's death. She finds the heroin under mysterious and fortuitous (in a sense) circumstances, in a room filled with his signature white light. He moves her body where she might be found by the people upon whom he wants revenge. Or since this will arguably push Hamlet over the edge, perhaps he's engineering events so that his son finally kills Claudius like he promised. The more his tardy son waits, the more blood will be shed. Fodor's Ghost is a figure from horror stories whose agency is more direct.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Hamlet 2000

Because Gertrude's speech refers to things absent in the modern adaptation - the brook, the flowers, Ophelia's dress - it is completely cut from the play, as is Laertes' scripted reaction. Nothing after the multiple utterances of "drowned" can be heard from either of them, and the film instead opts for an image that contains information one would have gleaned from the text.

In Hamlet 2000, Ophelia is frequently seen flirting with the idea of drowning. She throws herself in a VIP pool with her clothes on, she walks the edge of a fountain in the lobby. It's in that fountain that she is found, drowned in barely a foot of water, and though these things happen, it is just askew enough an image to underline the madness of it. Ophelia simply let herself die. A security guard runs in to try and rescue her but is too late, which answers the question of whether Gertrude was witness to the events or not. Of course, she might have seen it happen from one of the lobby's high balconies and been unable to do anything about it, just as in an Elizabethan or Medieval setting, the Queen might have seen it all from a tower window. The shot ends on her box of letters from Hamlet, floating by her body in the fountain, telling us more definitively that her suicide was driven by lost love, though the letters are also a symbol of the tug of war between her father and her lover - the letter revealed to the Royals, the tokens returned to Hamlet as an excuse to spy on him, and so on - so does double duty.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Kline '90

As this production recreates the play as Kline crafted it on stage, the scene does not allow a flashback to the events Gertrude describes. It does, however, make sense of how wary Laertes is. His reaction to the news is to mistrust it, and his initial question (where?) drips with disbelief. Though he's just been "turned" by Claudius, the King has also shown him how devious and underhanded he could be (the convoluted murder conspiracy). Could Ophelia have been the victim of a similar plot, lest her madness reveal some hidden truths at Court? Because we don't see her suicide, we're allowed to be suspicious as well. Gertrude is certainly sincere, but did she actually witness those events (and thus is guilty of letting them happen), or was she told? And if told, how reliable was the witness? The problem with such an interpretation is that Claudius shouldn't be upset about this death affecting his plans for Hamlet (except with himself, but that's not the performance here).

Dana Ivey stresses the words "cold maid", which is an illuminating choice, as Ophelia is indeed the coldest of maids now. It's doubly interesting because this adaptation's Ophelia, Diane Venora, seems a little old for the part. Was she really a "maid", or is that part of Gertrude's tale to cushion the blow as much as the prettiness of the picture she paints?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Zeffirelli '90

In Zeffirelli's restructuring of the play, Ophelia's last scene is immediately succeeded by her suicide. We see her outside Elsinore, skipping towards the brook while, in voice-over, Gertrude tells the tale. Before cutting to the Queen and the reactions of the court, we get a close-up of Ophelia on the small bridge staring into the water, obviously disturbed. There is no doubt here that this was a suicide and far from the lyrical portrait painted by Gertrude. One simply cannot imagine this Ophelia being "incapable of her own distress"; her pain is too raw.

Is Gertrude painting a pretty picture for Laertes' benefit? She may be. From all the wide shots, including one at the very end with the girl's body floating away, no one seems to have witnessed her death. Gertrude may be enacting a sort of reconstruction based on Ophelia's old habits, the state she was found in, and her own wishful imagination. Glenn Close's performance supports that idea, tearfully smiling through most of it (except for the "muddy death" line) even though women in black are grieving behind her. She's chosen to remember the girl's prettiness, not the ugly side of her madness, and she smiles as one might at a eulogy, in fond remembrance. Laertes is simply shocked, and his "drowned" lines cut back to the scene of Ophelia's death, the camera panning away from her. He can't bear to imagine it.

Now, there are some cuts here, mostly because Gertrude didn't interrupt a conspiracy. Laertes and Claudius will only discuss Hamlet's murder after the Prince's return and Ophelia's funeral. Laertes doesn't get to forbid his tears, nor can Claudius be angry at Gertrude for disturbing his plan.