Sunday, August 31, 2014

V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Tennant (2009)

Hamlet, skull still in hand, hides in the bushes as the funeral procession proceeds to give (slim) rites to Ophelia in the shadow of (presumably) Elsinore, a strange corner outside a building. It is clear from his body language that Horatio knows what this is and has failed to tell his princely friend. He keeps a comforting hand on Hamlet, never takes his eyes off his friend to look at the burial party... He just didn't know how to tell him.

The burial itself is observed mostly from Hamlet point-of-view. Laertes usually has his back to us, even when he has lines to deliver. By necessity of the location, perhaps. You could also say we're seeing it from his point of view, hypersensitive to how others react to his sister's death. The priest's disdain. The gravedigger in the background checking his watch. Gertrude is the kindest, so is in close-up, but Laertes only focuses on her because she dares suggest a marriage between his sister and his most hated foe, Hamlet. It leads him to try and hold Ophelia in his arms once more, her arms flopping about in a sickeningly macabre embrace. For Hamlet, this is unbearable, and he shows himself, his sadness turning to outrage and anger. Defiance even.

Hamlet tries to warn Laertes that he is dangerous and that he shouldn't try his patience, he can hardly finish a sentence before Laertes jumps him. There's a scuffle, as a skull looks on from the mound of mud. Foreshadowing. Creepier still is Claudius looking on, a cruel smile creeping on his lips. This is exactly what he wants, to keep Laertes in the right frame of mind so he can kill Hamlet for him. When he says "He's mad", it's to fuel Laertes' fire and stain Hamlet's reputation with any onlookers.
Hamlet's vitriolic "eat a crocodile" speech takes a tone of mockery, exposing the futility of Laertes' grief (and thus his own) and yet admitting he would go to the same lengths (give the first four acts, this is debatable). He humiliates Laertes and calls him a whiner, even as he further incenses him by holding himself over his sister's grave in a parody of sexual posture. Then he's in shock. He doesn't understand Laertes' anger, looks at the grave as if trying to still process its meaning, and disrespectfully bumps into Claudius as he leaves. He completely ignores his mother, the sinner, who is left whirling in her own confused state.

Tennant's performance is, as usual, energetic, but also violently destructive. No one is spared, though some weather it better than others. Having indirectly caused Ophelia's death, he lashes out at everyone and insures the duel that will be his undoing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Fodor (2007)

Sad music plays over a series of expedient shots separated by fades to black: The burial party approaching, a blue-lipped enshrouded Ophelia in the ground, Hamlet hiding behind a tree. When we pull out and start the scene, the grave is absurdly shallow, which seems a production necessity though does facilitate Laertes' interaction with his sister's corpse. This may be Jason Wing's finest moment as Laertes, who brings more dimension to the character in this scene than in any other. His Laertes is such a psychotic thug, one hardly understands how Hamlet can say "I loved you ever", but here he sustains a believable state of grief balanced with rage. He's a very threatening man, and no one wants to irk him further, which is why he has to repeat his first question twice. The Priest (played by Fodor himself) gives an appropriately nervous performance as the man who must still give the answers.

In a "shocking" production like this one, you'd expect the leap into the grave to be include some objectionable element, but Fodor surprises by letting Laertes show actual kindness. It's not a full-on, incestuous embrace, but the stroke of a cheek, the covering of her face with the shroud, and notably, the taking of a red scarf, the only real color in the scene. It's the color of blood, a symbol of his revenge perhaps. And then Hamlet reveals himself and Laertes goes limp. Not literally, but his performance does. They've built him up as a thuggish monster too much for this confrontation to be so tepid. A couple of men hold him, but they probably shouldn't even have been able to pry him off Hamlet's throat. Horatio, a member of the burial party, is immediately at Hamlet's side (missing the black eye Laertes gave her, oops!), but he doesn't need much holding. Gertrude is so shocked she reverts to her native German. Claudius flies into action, giving orders and shuffling the characters about. He gives the words urgency and power, but when you think about it, he merely sends everyone where they would naturally have gone. Gertrude and Horatio with Hamlet, Laertes with him. It's like telling a cat to do something it's about to do and calling it trained. Such is his power in Denmark.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Hamlet 2000

All told from Hamlet's point of view, we can barely hear Gertrude's and Laertes' lines as he and Horatio come up the hill and see the (closed casket) funeral. He witnesses a drunk Laertes jump into the grave, but doesn't follow him in. He might even have walked away - Horatio certainly tries to pull him in the opposite direction - but Laertes' shouts make him hard to ignore. And yet, the film avoids melodrama. Hamlet simply offers Laertes his hand and the other man takes it. His curse is quiet and bitter. Laertes walks away and it's Hamlet who hounds him, who keeps going after him trying to make him realize the futility of their grief. Hamlet shames him, competes with him, but still, Laertes walks away, and it's not until Hamlet blocks his way that the two come to blows (or rather, pushing and choking). Bodyguards converge on them, but too late, they're tumbling down a hill and wrestling until their energy is spent. The music is sad, bringing out the pathetic futility of the scene, and the way the rest of the family looks at them from the top of the hill recreates the idea of them both in a grave, or in hell. Hamlet eventually leaves Laertes weeping there, on the ground, the victor, but when we see him behind Horatio on the motorcycle, he's letting his emotions out as well. If he has won anything, it's to express his grief away from prying eyes.

Hamlet as aggressor is the innovation here. A hurt Laertes tries to ignore him, tries in fact to respect the plan he and Claudius concocted. Now is not the time. But Hamlet keeps pressing him. Why? Well, in this context, the lines take the bent of a suicide hotline, tough love perhaps, but love. Laertes just asked the gravediggers to bury him with his sister, and Hamlet, passed master at grieving, aims to shock Laertes back into life. His list of great feats do not have a competitive intent, but are rather used to show Laertes there is nothing he can do, however extreme, that will bring his sister back. He's trying to make him move on more quickly than he was able to (never able to). "Why do you use me thus? I loved you ever" becomes more immediate, a reference to what he was trying to do just before Laertes' hands wrapped themselves around his throat.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Kline '90

Kevin Kline does something very interesting in this scene, using Ophelia's body a character in its own right. Seconds into revealing himself, he's weeping and using that strange melodramatic voice he sometimes falls into over the course of the play; that's standard for him. Hamlet's emotion is strong enough, especially in comparison to the more steady (or perhaps less able to put things into words) Laertes, who is stunned by it. But then in a mirror of the other boy's interaction with Ophelia's corpse, Hamlet kneels down, caresses and even kisses the dead Ophelia. It's an intimate moment in which he tells her that the dog will have his day, a comforting promise. Deliciously ironic, because he killed her father and drove her to desperation, so he's also the dog that will be put down (a promise that is carried out). The moment comes right after he lets go of his anger and sadness at Laertes' own. There's a mental break there. And all the while, the other characters just let him go, just as they did when Ophelia made her mad speeches (I'm also reminded of Queen Margaret in Richard III; this is a Shakespearean tradition). In the throes of this madness, he then simply gets up and walks away without looking back.

Kline's adaptation is played as if on stage, and the planks are visible in this scene. There is no grave to put Ophelia or leap into. The sequence is played as a rest from the walk to the cemetery, and made to work. Claudius then has the rest of the short trek to remind a still shocked Laertes of their plans. Perhaps he senses the boy's reticence. This is not a particularly angry Laertes, and nothing, except Hamlet's presence, really inflames him. The priest is kind to him, answering his surprise at the slim rites kindly. His request to take Ophelia in his arms once more is dramatic, but shown by Hamlet's ranting to be somewhat insincere, like something he think he ought to do, not something he profoundly feels. Confronted by true emotion, he's no sure what to do. And perhaps are sewn the seeds of doubt, an empathy with the Prince.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Zeffirelli '90

Zeffirelli cuts so many lines from this sequence as to cut its INTENT. The funeral is no secret burial, attended by dozens, singing hymns in broad daylight. Naturally, the priest's part is cut, his exchange with Laertes contradicting all of this. In this version then, Ophelia is not suspected of suicide, or if she is, the director has sapped the Christian mores of the past out of the play. There is no casket, Ophelia is naked (so to speak) to the sky, on a stretcher. Gertrude goes to her, kisses her, and sheds a tear, her words private. So when Laertes takes her in his arms, there is no melodramatic leap in her grave, no hellish irony. He merely does what the Queen just did, Ophelia is on the ground, not in a pit, and his words are soft and kind, not spectacle for the assembled grievers.

Hamlet walks into the scene with as little fanfare. He doesn't announce himself, and the dialog is cut to shreds, his list of Herculean tasks gone. What we're left with his Laertes trying to strangle him, both men standing tall, not much of a brawl; the Queen going to Hamlet to kiss and calm him down, as if her were a wild beast whose emotions needed constant managing; and the Prince allowed to walk away after he kisses flowers and puts them on Ophelia's body. The lines that remain give Hamlet a sense of futility, which isn't quite the same as fatalism, but may run in parallel. "What wilt thou do for her?" is sad, more than angry, because there is nothing more to be done (I echo here the priest's cut lines). "Dog will have his day", not slung at the King or anyone else, but that same understanding that what will be, will be, and that Ophelia's corpse is somewhat the manifestation of that idea.

As Hamlet leaves, Claudius shares a long look with his Queen, trying to share a smile or smirk with her, but narrowing his eyes. Has he stopped trusting her, or is he realizing he can't openly condemn Hamlet because she loves her son too much. We know he's plotting something, because in the restructuring of the play, only THEN does he approach Laertes to seduce him into killing his stepson (just like in the Olivier version).