Friday, March 27, 2015

V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Classics Illustrated

The original
Obviously, "Hamlet's Own Boy Adventure" is going to give a sword battle its due. To keep it as concise as it needs to be, expository narration does a lot of the work, and the artist's limited expressions replace what would normally be an actor's nuanced portrayal with basic goodness or villainy. Case in point:
Couldn't this panel be right out of a dream sequence in an Archie comic? I'm actually surprised that there isn't MORE swordplay. We don't even see the "touch" of the second bout. The adaptation at least recognizes that the important part of that sub-sequence is the Queen drinking the poison cup. Here, while the King's expression is minimal, Gertrude's is that of an offended coquette.
In the previous panel, the comic sends us to a footnote to translate "fat and scant of breath" as "in poor condition", which put an interesting spotlight on the line. One never really thinks of Hamlet as "fat" or that he should be breathing hard at the end of these exchanges, but that's what the lines say (and from a character sympathetic to him, in response to the King's contention that he shall win). The Queen does NOT believe he'll win the wager, and carouses not to his skill, but to his FORTUNE.

Chaos ensues, and the artwork follows suit, with dueling in the foreground, and people milling about, queens dying, etc. in the background. Everyone is killed, with some small cuts here and there (the whole wager with the pearl is absent, so too is the King's double poisoning at the end, and Horatio's suicidal intentions), and the comic ends on Horatio's prayer, no Ambassadors or Norwegian Princes. The last panel has very strange perspectives, which puts us in mind of a Medieval painting.
For the uninitiated, before the "invention" of perspective, art would routinely give characters and objects the size they deserved, rather than their naturalistic size as perceived by the human eye. So Kings would be bigger than soldiers, and so on. The artist here may have accidentally or willingly created the same effect, hard to say, but note how small the King, Queen and Laertes look in the tableau, shrunken next to the now immortal Hamlet who resonates with power even in death.

The Berkley version
The Grant/Mandrake adaptation gives one more page to the sequence than the original did (5 instead of 4), and includes, as usual, much more of the Shakespeare's dialog. But it's also more violent, with swords piercing the flesh, and thin sprays of blood (nothing TOO gory, but standards have definitely changed between 1943 and 1990). Mandrake also uses speed lines in the background to give the action more energy.

Things get a little confused during the second bout. The "touch" Laertes confesses to looks like it goes through his shoulder, which makes the reader realize there's no question either of the swords are unbaited, no question this duel will end with the participants bleeding. The poison is the only treachery here, and Hamlet gets his hand on the poison blade by accident, not to give Laertes a taste of his own medicine. Likewise, the staging of the Queen's poisoning leaves something to be desired. She states her intent to "carouse" in one panel, then grabs the cup from the King in another, which is awkward and makes the King look like he's got a weak grip.

Much of the action that follows is bracketed by shocked expressions from onlookers, but the Queen's strange word-to-action pacing problem continues through to the end of the book. Hamlet will say "Venom, to thy work" in one panel where its meaning isn't clear, then in the next, scratch the King. Sometimes it even seems like panels are missing, though the disconnect between "Drink off this potion! Is thy union here?" and the panel in which it is featured, which just shows Hamlet impaling the King with his sword, does have a certain poetry to it. The "potion" is merely the poison, "drunk" from the blade, but it's still a little clunky.
Though the action settles down at the end, Mandrake still puts speed lines on one key panel, where the dying Hamlet hears cannon fire outside. This gives the moment the feel of someone getting shot, and sure enough, with Hamlet's death so too does his Denmark (his royal line) die. This is the shot we hear. As he dies, the colors darken, Fortinbras and the English Ambassador come in for their lines, and Hamlet is carried out by soldiers into the fog of Mandrake's watercolors...

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