Friday, June 27, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Alas, Poor Yorick!

"Alas, poor Yorick" is, along with "To be or not to be?", easily one of Hamlet's most famous lines, and is perhaps the most used as a pop culture icon. And not just the line, but the image of Hamlet holding up a skull while saying that line (or sometimes, erroneously saying "To be or not to be?" in that position). As we wrap things up on this sequence, I thought it might be a fun change of pace if we looked at different ways pop culture has translated this moment. There are hundreds of examples, and I could have trawled the Internet for days on end to collect them all, but I will show five of my favorites, as a sample.

Hamlet is plainly nuts:

Cartoons like this one are abundant. Most are political or topical. This one is just universally goofy:

The motivation poster and LOLcats team up to bring us this:

Everything is awesome:

And a cartoonist who knows my particular pain:
Hope you enjoyed these. Feel free to link to your own favorites in the comments.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - French Rock Opera

Johnny Hallyday's interpretation of the scene is just as tonal a shift musically as it is in the play. Le cimetière (The Cemetery) is a silly rock ditty that creates the gallows humor image of gravediggers bowling with skulls. And while Yorick doesn't specifically figure, Hamlet seeing the whole of humanity in an unknown skull does, irreverent rhymes evoking kings, priests, courtiers, poets, singers, politicians and more, even managing to wring some pathos out of the song near the end. Here is the text in the original French, then a fairly literal English translation (certainly not meant to compete with the original in terms of poetics).

Le cimetière
Les fossoyeurs jouent au bowling
Têtes de turcs, têtes de kings
«Vous avez fait d’assez vieux os, place aux jeunes »
Crient les morts nouveaux

Crâne roule et tourneboule
Qui es-tu revenant de terre ?
Tes yeux vides sont pleins de mystère
Avant la pelle, avant la pioche
A quoi ressemblais-tu caboche ?
Crâne qui roule et tourneboule
Quel chapeau te couvrait la tête
Une calotte ?
Une casquette ?
Que vendais-tu à la sauvette
Du Jésus ou de la courbette ?

Crâne qui roule et tourneboule
Quand tu avais, de ton vivant
Une langue derrière tes dents
Etais-tu poète ou menteur
Politiqueur ou bien chanteur
Qui es-tu revenant de terre
Tes yeux vides sont pleins de mystère
Quand ils pouvaient rire ou pleurer
As-tu aimé ?
As-tu aimé ?

The Cemetery
The gravediggers are bowling
Whipping boys, kingpins
"Enough with your old bones, leave room for the kids"
Shout the newly dead

Skull rolls and whirls
Who are you, revenant from the earth
Your empty eyes are full of mystery
Before the shovel, before the pickaxe
What did you look like, noggin?
Skull that rolls and whirls
What hat was on your head?
A cap?
A cap?
What did you sell in haste?
Some Jesus or low bows?

Skull that rolls and whirls
When you had, during your life
A tongue behind those teeth
Were you poet or liar
Politician or singer
Who are you, revenant from the earth
Your empty eyes are full of mystery
When they could laugh or cry
Did you love?
Did you love?

First, a few notes on the translation because it doesn't do justice to Hallyday's word play. "Têtes de turcs, têtes de kings" would have literally been "Heads of Turks, heads of kings", but in the first part, I translated it to what that expression means, and in the second, offered a bowling pun that matches the songwriter's intent. The word "tourneboule" ("whirls") sounds literally like "turn-ball" which is also part of the bowling image. Finally, "calotte" and "casquette" are both "caps" in English, resisting efforts to translate them differently. A translation meant to be sung and recorded would doubtless substitute one of them for a different hat, if one ending in "-ap" were found.

Though this peppy number is filled with black comedy, it does have its poignant moments. The newly dead shouting for the older generation to make way for the younger is both an image of the cemetery as clearing house for the living, and a reminder that skulls are being thrown about to make room for the youthful Ophelia. And with the final question, the Hamlet of the song takes a step away from the Hamlet of the play, giving an emotional context to the cadavers around him. Did they love? Did HE? And in Hallyday's opinion, is that the better mark of a life well lived? Hamlet-as-written cannot succeed until he takes his revenge, but Hallyday's Hamlet cannot win unless he knows love. And Ophelia's death may mean he's already lost.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Classics Illustrated

The original
In this ever-thrifty adaptation, the conversation between Hamlet and the Gravedigger is lost, and we go from Hamlet mentioning the skull "jowled" to the ground (which actually sticks to the Gravedigger's spade most unnaturally) to being handed Yorick's skull. In visual terms, it looks like the the two skulls are one and the same, and only the caption tells us different. And it's too bad, because that would have made a good contraction. As is, it feels like the Gravedigger recognizes Hamlet as someone who might know Yorick because he has no motivation for his little show-and-tell. In the last panel, a cadaverous-looking Hamlet remembers his old jester, and the art has a rare flourish, Yorick's head and wand floating above the curved frame. But the scene ends here, content with giving us the jist and making sure it includes its most famous line. Is this enough to render Hamlet's existential questioning of life and death?

The Berkley version

An odd juxtaposition of images occurs in the more modern adaptation, with the previous sequence ending in the cemetery as Laertes hears of his sister's death, and without provocation, this one starting by her graveside, the Gravedigger singing while he digs. The contraction the original Classics Illustrated fails to make above, the Grant/Mandrake team manage expertly:
Now it becomes a kind of justification for the disrespect shown these earthly remains. A jester isn't very high in the social hierarchy, and this one caused the Gravedigger some grief. By removing the other skulls hurled around the grave, the contraction makes this particular "jowling" more personal, to both the First Clown and Hamlet.
Smelling the skull, Hamlet throws it down into the grave again in disgust, and the mention of Alexander in that exchange stands in for all the talk of great men returning to dust that normally comes later. This is a more efficient way of contracting the story than the original adaptation managed, using a short line to evoke Hamlet's concerns as they relate to his own abbreviated greatness, though perhaps the intended audience would have been ill-prepared to understand it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Slings & Arrows

There's a bit in Slings & Arrows in which Oliver, the director's dead mentor/antagonist/haunter has asked for his skull to be part of the production, but this detail is forgotten until the last minute, so Geoffrey is forced to run to his office, where he keeps the skull as a mint dispenser, during the Gravedigger Scene to get it. It's black comedy, just as the scene on stage is. Most the scene is heard on the P.A. system, and we rejoin the world of the stage just as Oliver's skull makes it to the grave. In the staging of the play inside the show, it's lucky that Yorick's skull doesn't make an appearance until Hamlet picks it up. It stays in the pit until needed. Would this have an effect on the play? In such a version, Ophelia might have lain next to Yorick, her open grave a symbolic doorway to Hell, an infinite space that can contain multitudes. As Hamlet picks it up, we see there are still mints clenched in its jaw. The shot occurs on the line "excellent fancy", which is perfect.

The real world of the actors performing the play, as ever, informs the play itself in Slings & Arrows. In this case, Hamlet is played by Jack Crew, a Hollywood movie star cast by Olivier, dead director turned hack. When Jack holds Oliver's skull in his hands, he holds that of a surrogate father, just like Hamlet does, one he barely knows. He takes his true direction from Geoffrey, a former Hamlet, and so, for Jack, the Ghost of Hamlet Sr. But Jack wouldn't be there without Oliver, tapping into the questions of paternity that animate the play itself.