Saturday, November 29, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Classics Illustrated

The original
Classics Illustrated spends two thirds of a page on Hamlet telling the story (with the help of forward-moving captions) of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern getting their comeuppance. Uncommon for this comic book adaptation, the artist uses the staging to reveal something about Hamlet:
Shrouded in flames from our and Horatio's point of view, this is a hellish Hamlet who thinks nothing of sending former friends to their deaths, one who will become a devil to destroy a devil. What a king is this, indeed. The scripter isn't as kind to the Danish prince. In the scroll-shaped caption that replaces Osric's appearance entirely, he explains Hamlet's motivation in accepting to take part in a duel:
"Somewhat distressed by his quarrel with Laertes, [he] falls easily into the trap set for him". This is a new, and not particularly compelling interpretation, made possible by the removal of the "readiness is all" speech. This Hamlet may be more ruthless, but he is not at peace with his fate, merely unaware that it is to come.

The Berkley version

The more modern adaptation spends almost three pages on this sequence, even moving the action to a new venue (from graveyard to kitchen) mid-speech. While Hamlet tells Horatio about R&G, as is usual, he handles a knife and gets more animated (through the emphasis placed on certainly words in his speech balloon, not through any real moments of action) when he talks about the King. Artist Tom Mandrake gives us a preview of what Hamlet is planning for Claudius.
And then Osric shows up with a massive comedy hat. He stays for all of three panels, scarcely enough time to play up the comedy. The script cuts to chase quickly, with Osric getting mocked only for his response about Laertes' twin weapon, and from the art's standpoint, his general discomfort. As Horatio shares one last barb, Osric runs off and - this amuses me - seems to trip on the link between two word balloons. Accidental?
In the sequence's last panel, Horatio warns Hamlet, and the Prince defies augury, while practicing his moves. He does not, however, say the famous speech. Cutting to "has aught if what he leaves" makes his attitude even more fatalistic.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Tennant (2009)

The sequence is set in a cluttered storeroom where the broken mirror from Polonius' accidental murder is now housed. From a staging point of view, it allows the actors and the world to be reflected in a fractured way. The Hamlet now before Horatio is much changed from the one who left Denmark. Cutting out the details of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's deaths makes Hamlet's part in those deaths more ambiguous, and potentially more direct. Like Hamlet, Denmark itself is cracked. Why else would someone like Osric be considered for a role in the Court's inner circle? The storeroom in shambles speaks to a broken and messy country where the monarchy has lost the plot. On a literal level, Hamlet has gone back to the scene of the crime that sent him on this journey. His "readiness" was born here, and a murderer looks back at him from the glass.

Osric is played very amusing by Ryan Gage (who also played the Player Queen, make of that what you will), a boyish sycophant with a huge, forced smile. He's quick to respond to Hamlet's requests regarding his hat, but finds it harder and harder to keep concentration as Hamlet proceeds to insult and humiliate him at every turn. The Prince sits down and lounges on the floor in the middle of a sentence, openly mocks him while Horatio chuckles along, and makes rude gestures at him. They mock his effete delivery, his body language, and florid language. In response, Osric swallows hard, sweats bullets and looks pitiful. Part of the reason is that Hamlet dares him to be disrespectful to him, and so perhaps hang himself with his own words. This is how Tennant makes us understand the exchange in which Osric says Hamlet is not ignorant. It's a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don't. Osric can either talk down to the Prince and explain things that should be clear, or else continue to mystify the Prince and be termed opaque and tedious. It's clear in this version, thanks to the CCTV point of view and Osric eye-rolling glance at that camera at the very end, that he's being auditioned for a greater role at Court. If Hamlet were to say no, he would have failed his mission and that audition. So Hamlet makes a threat there. Ultimately, he's ready to face the consequences of his return, and accepts the fencing vest Osric offers.

Interestingly, Horatio expresses no dread at the prospect of Hamlet losing the duel. He doesn't foresee the King's treachery. At least, not until Hamlet expresses his own doubts. This is a less suspicious Horatio, one that truly deserves to be in Hamlet's heart of hearts perhaps, because he doesn't immediately see the bad in people. And following that argument, it means he doesn't see the bad in Hamlet and that's how he can remain a loyal friend to a famous self-loather.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Fodor (2007)

In Fodor's version of the play, Osric and his attendant Lord are figures of almost cartoony disposition, but with a definite sinister streak. As Hamlet and Horatio stand against a white wall - he, sorry for what he's done and she, disappointed - Osric and the Lord are intercut walking, taking the lift, etc. They even have a theme, Coming by Goldie, and "What were the chances?" sampled over their arrivals and departures, an ironic phrase since we know full well the King will put his plan into action now. Just as Horatio approaches Hamlet in comfort and forgiveness, the spell is broken by a comically fast Osric, handing the Prince his card. She is bemused as the Lord creates a set around them - a couch, a table, a plant - and this turns into the sort of interview one might have with an insurance salesman.

So when Osric tells Hamlet he's hot, it's like a test. Do YOU think it's hot? Oh you think it's cold? Okay, let's write that down. And so on. Osric has this fake laugh to indicate he doesn't really understand what the Prince is telling him, or perhaps to disarm him. Meanwhile, Fodor cuts frequently to the over-expressive Lord, just standing there making kooky expressions, or licking his chops lasciviously. The comedy is grotesque so as not to jar too much with the horror of the piece. Belchambers runs through Hamlet's lines in quick, mumbling fashion, but the character's almost incidental after a while. The camera only likes the other three. Horatio is very much amused by Osric and his big wager calculator until a words resonates with her: hangers. It's an executioner's pun. A bell sounds. And from then on, Horatio loses her good spirits and watches Osric carefully. And he looks back at her. They're the two people in the room who understand what's really happening, and Hamlet seems completely oblivious. Osric's face in slow motion as he waits for an answer, like a predator in a nature documentary.

After he leaves, Horatio's warnings make her sound like the wise one, and Hamlet seems naive. Belchambers doesn't give the famous lines from this sequence any kind of gravitas, murders it in fact. No readiness from him, literally and perhaps even on the actor's part. But "let be" and fade to black.

Friday, November 7, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Hamlet 2000

The sequence is set in Hamlet's apartment where Marcella is sleeping, with the Ghost at her bedside. I hadn't realized it before, but she and Horatio are Hamlet's roommates. Why is the Ghost here? This version of Hamlet Sr. haunts this building and has been seen more regularly than the play would have it. His vigil, and Marcella's resemblance to Ophelia, creates an image of grief building on grief, a reminder of two dead characters. As this is a scene about Hamlet's doom and about his allowing the tragedy to run its course, such imagery supports that sinking feeling of dread which is required of it. The Ghost will hear the boys come in and make himself scarce, but will reappear at the very end, and Hamlet seem to look straight at him, an acceptance of his own death to come. "I will join you soon," he seems to say. Hamlet and Horatio keep their voices low so as not to wake Marcella up, but Hamlet's temper will get the better of him when Horatio's questions paint him as not as on board with Hamlet's actions as the Prince would have liked. She soon wanders into the scene.

Hamlet's tale is seen in flashback and features an amusingly awkward modernization of the events recounted in the play. It's set on a plane, instead of a ship (the word "cabin" still fits, in a way), with the comedy relief Rosencrantz & Guildenstern fast asleep, one of them with a night mask. But that's not the awkward part. Hamlet goes into the overhead compartment and pulls out a laptop. And on that laptop, he finds a Word document from Claudius to England, which he edits easily. He hands Horatio a diskette with the original message on it. Now, there WAS an Internet in the year 2000, but I think we can accept that Claudius would not want to create a "paper trail" by sending his hitmen an email. But having an electronic copy of the message, with no way to authenticate it to boot, creates its own problems. Why can't the message be on a piece of paper?

Much better, but in the same vein, is Osric being replaced by a fax machine. The message from the King comes into the apartment via fax and Horatio simply reads the relevant lines. Hamlet's reactions, "How if I answer no?" etc. are thus said in private conversation with his friends, rhetorical or explicitly honest reactions to the message. He's not playing the scene to anyone who might report back to the King. The "readiness is all" speech, he rattles off very quickly, speaking to its inevitability. After a quick cutaway to Claudius poisoning a drink (testing it?), we return to Hamlet's preparations. He removes all the pictures he had on his wall - elements of his collages, pics of Ophelia - and turns off the lights after Horatio gives him a meaningful look that can only say "it's time", leaving a blank wall in a darkened room. Everything speaks to Hamlet's impending doom. He puts his affairs in order, destroys the evidence of his life before allowing the tragedy to destroy that life entire.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Kline '90

Kline keeps most of the sequence intact, give or take a line here and there (the mocking if Osric listing Laertes' twin weapons, for example, may be due to the duel's staging). As his Hamlet tells Horatio about his sea voyage, he seems steadier and far less weepy than before, and holds Horatio by the wrist as if he fears his friend would recoil hearing how their two school chums were murdered. He is shocked, but not too much, though Kline's performance did make me ponder if the scene could be staged where this speech is a veiled threat to Horatio's life. Cross me, and this is what happens. As it ends with Hamlet equating a man's life to a snap of the fingers, it could be quite effective and show a much changed Hamlet.

A line reading of interest: Hamlet stops on "cozenage", which means fraud (Claudius' specifically), and draws attention to its innate pun - it sounds like "cousinage", fusing this fraud with the false kinship the King has shown him, acting as false father, just as he was, in other ways, false brother to Hamlet Sr.

Osric then enters. He's played by Leo Burmester with an Irish accent, perhaps to show a rurality opposed to the other characters' noble births. He's a comic figure for Hamlet to toy with, but not particularly extreme compared to other performances. We see him searching for words as Hamlet gets off-script, and the Prince isn't particularly cruel to him. Once Hamlet has made his point about Claudius' yes men, he walks away. Several lines are cut, and one gets a sense that Osric is too tedious for Hamlet to bother with any longer. There is a strange, lingering moment on "yours, yours", which gives Osric pause. He has just basically send his services are at Hamlet's command, and though "yours" essentially means "thanks" in this context, it also reverses the order of things. Hamlet is at OSRIC's command, since he will be participating in a duel fated to end in tragedy at his behest. In a broken Denmark, a Prince might as well follow the orders of a powerless minion. They are as good as an illegitimate king's.

With the final speech, Hamlet once again grabs Horatio's wrist, this time to stop him from fussing. His defiance of augury is a grander pronouncement, as if spoken to Fortune herself, and Horatio looks spooked. And yet, Hamlet ends it with a resigned smile. Just behind him, a banner with a cross. Everything points to an ending in blood and sacrifice. Cue alarums...