Friday, November 30, 2012
One of the points of view in the scene is a security monitor watched by the Ghost, who looks bored and distant, cold. This is an odd conceit, but as the scene develops, one used to create an image of the land of the dead. When the Ghost appears to Hamlet, there's a flicker that makes the normal image desaturate and distort, as if we were suddenly looking through the monitor. The effect heralds the Ghost's presence and is not sustained throughout the visitation, though Hamlet's POV is blown out, irridescent, whereas his mother's is normal. It's not just the sense of the supernatural that's conveyed here, but perhaps that he's having some kind of psychotic episode, hallucinating. And indeed, it's the Ghost that nods pointedly in the mirrored closet's direction from where Polonia watches. Real or not, it's the proverbial voice telling Hamlet to kill. And it makes sense that this Ghost would want Polonia dead, as she appears to have been a co-conspirator in his murder, or he may just want to push Hamlet over the edge to turn him into the weapon he needs him to be. If the Ghost is NOT real, the Hamlet is merely picking up on his mother's early reference to seeing black and grained spots as she looks right into the mirrored door, a silent cue to warn him they're being watched, something his psychotic break makes him subconsciously realize. Because we so often see the Ghost from an omniscient, third person POV, we must surely accept the Ghost is real, however, though it may be we are as mad as Hamlet.
The way the lines are stacked (and performed) in this adaptation, Hamlet is less of an accuser and more of a convincer. That's because Gertrude is already well on her way to rejecting Claudius, who she knows is already being unfaithful to her (with Polonia). As her son begins to speak, flashbacks to such indiscretions cross-fade through the screen. These same words and if somehow shared, images, bring a smile to closet queen Polonia's face. There is no real violence between mother and son, even once Hamlet pulls out a gun, and after Polonia's death, Gertrude easily promises not to let Claudius tempt her to bed, nodding emphatically, comforting him, completely sincere. Once again we must contend with parts of her dialog being delivered in German, which isn't so baffling in the context of royal pairings. Gertrude might well have been another country's alliance with Denmark, a rare pearl from another realm that two brothers fought over, though that's not very relevant to this modern staging.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Hamlet walks into her apartment and immediately moves to the bedroom, which is a bit suspect, but makes sense if he thinks to find Claudius there, or plans to accuse his mother of adultery in full sight of the bed (which seems a bit calculated for this particular Hamlet, but is still possible). He angers her and gets slapped, hard, at which points he actually uses the closet door to "set [her] up a glass", literally showing her her own sin. When Polonius starts shouting, it's not a dagger Hamlet pulls out, but a pistol, and he shoots through the mirror, breaking its reflection and, in effect, his family's status quo. Polonius walks out, having been shot through the eye, before collapsing.
The end of the scene is cut with a silent sequence in which Hamlet drags Polonius' enshrouded body through corridors, and near the building's laundry, he calls Gertrude on a payphone to have "one more word". Structurally, the purpose this serves is to put the "neighbour room" well away from her apartment, a requirement the way this "Elsinore" is represented. It might also have been used as a reveal that Claudius is sitting in on the phone call, but that doesn't happen. Gertrude does not betray Hamlet. His "good night, mother", after the phone has been hung up, because more symbolic than literal, as if he's closing a chapter on his life. He's soon off to England and does not speak to her again before he leaves (and hardly after, in the play), but more importantly, his thoughts of taking revenge on her have been quelled. It's good night to that part of his plans.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Polonius goes out behind the arras earlier than in the text, at "I'll silence me, even here", which stressed this way, is rather like a suicide note. He'll come out again for one last line and bit of comic business before Gertrude asks him to withdraw. Dana Ivey as Gertrude is the one to watch here. Before Hamlet walks in, she's pacing, nervous, but once he enters, she becomes poised and regal, demanding answers as a Queen would. She puts on this character in part out of habit, and in part because it should work on a grown son who acts like a child. Queen/Mother, Country/Son - these concepts are connected, and when Hamlet asks her not to make things worse, he uses the rank weeds metaphor that we linked to Denmark as unweeded garden way back in Act I. From that angle, Hamlet is the rebellious country unhappy with its leaders' decisions, or rather that country's vocal discontents, as Laertes will actually lead the violent revolution. Should we then see Gertrude's mix of chiding and kindness as part of that allegory? A patronized Danish people who can get out of hand because of weakness at the top?
The scene plays out as more of a conversation than most adaptations allow. Gertrude genuinely wants answers and Hamlet is trying hard to convince her of the error of her ways. As the emotions reach a crescendo, the volume does go up, until Gertrude is screaming, through some very real anguish, for her son to stop. By showing her her two husbands, he seems to trigger her guilt and grief, but Gertrude always gets more agitated when he demands she stop sleeping with Claudius (and she gets a number of opportunities, he just won't let it go). Is the King violent? Does she fear political reprisal? Does she use sex as a weapon, and was planning to undo Hamlet's exile this very night with her feminine wiles? Does she truly love Claudius? Is she traumatized by the revelation that Claudius killed Hamlet Sr.? Any of these are possible and could make for interesting staging, though here it remains ambiguous.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
There's certainly something going on under the surface in the text. Hamlet's obsession with his mother's sexuality is proof of that. In a sense, his father's Ghost possesses him, and he takes on the wronged husband's jealousy. He does not want to kill his father per se (though one could imagine a disturbing staging where a psychopathic Hamlet had killed Hamlet Sr. himself and was lying to various spies - us? - throughout the play), but he wants to kill a false father figure. This scene is particularly important to Freudians because in it, Hamlet kills a father (Ophelia's) and then confronts his mother about her infidelity. Has she betrayed her first husband, or her son? Zeffirelli goes the "fashionable" route by taking things a bit too far, in my opinion. When Hamlet is his rage, he starts humping his mother in a kind of mock rape. That's certainly not unique to this adaptation, but he then has Gertrude stop Hamlet's mouth with a deep kiss, and it then seems like it would have gone further had the Ghost not walked in on them. Where we might believe Hamlet's Oedipal complex from textual evidence, there's really nothing that should push Gertrude into an incestuous compulsion. It out-ironies irony that a confrontation about technical incest (she marries her husband's brother) turns to actual incest. Going this far undermines the entire play because it infers a precedent to this inappropriate contact. We're suddenly wondering Hamlet is jealous of Claudius because he used to share his mother's bed, and if so, why defend his father's memory so adamantly? In fact, why isn't the Ghost angrier to catch his son making out with his mother?
Otherwise, Zeffirelli's staging is often predicated by what dialog he's cut from the play. For example, Polonius starts this scene without a plan to spy on Hamlet and Gertrude from behind an arras. He seems to notice the tapestry as he's about to go out and decides to slink behind it. This Polonius is definitely more benign than the text would have him, and certainly less of a schemer. His end is tragic, but less warranted this way. As written, he thinks himself crafty and plans his spycraft well in advance, so there's a sense of satisfaction when he's hoisted by his own petard. His death here feels much more accidental. And does Hamlet see him there well before he starts to shout for help? He slides behind the arras just as Hamlet arrives, and it looks like the Prince notices the arras moving, at the very least, or even a dark shape behind it. It's a problem. Are we then to believe what he says to his mother is for the spy's benefit? Is that why he's so cocky, why he mocks his mother's anger? Possibly. There is a moment when he forgets himself, when she slaps him and he lets out an inhuman bellow, which might make this idea work. From then on, as he pushes his mother back at sword's point, he may have completely forgotten about the spy lurking behind the arras. When he "rediscovers" the spy, he doesn't have time to process the impossibility of it being the King whom he left in the chapel moments before, to which his victorious gesture testifies. The regret that follows may be motivated by not having killed the King, or for the consequences sure to follow for the death of Polonius, but as Gertrude starts to step away, he drops his sword and through his body language, tries to make her feel safe.
Where many Gertrude's vacillate between sadness and anger through these moments, Glenn Close's performance is heightened by abject fear. Her son is clearly mad and dangerous, and after that animalistic scream and on through their kiss, it's fear that motivates her. And it may not just be fear of her son. Fear of being discovered, perhaps? Her question "I mean what act?" seems to indicate a distinction between deeds and thoughts (a theme throughout the play, look back to the things Hamlet accuses himself of in the Nunnery scene). So... did she know about the King's murder? Was she in on it? Did she, at the very least, look the other way? The burial scene at the start of the film showed there was already a connection between her and Claudius, so could she be feeling guilty that their brewing affair resulted in the murder? The necklaces with pendants picturing her two husbands are once again used, violently so, as Hamlet almost chokes her with hers. It's Claudius' evil made manifest, a way for Hamlet to emphasize the blight her represents.
After the Ghost's appearance - or perhaps after the kiss - Hamlet grows kinder. There is no panic at seeing a spectral figure, but rather reverence. A calm falls upon him that contrasts with her own distress. He pleads with her to understand that he is not mad, never moving to coldness or anger as other, more mercurial Hamlet have sometimes done. He gives her his necklace as a reminder of her former husband and to show they're now on the same side (hopefully). It's interesting that this happens after she says her heart has been cleft in twain, because she was already a creature of two halves. Trapped between two husbands, or more likely between a son and a husband. That it is now cleft merely means she's been asked to choose between her two loves. The "purer" half is the motherly one, which Zeffirelli unfortunately compromised with his Oedipal stylings.
Hamlet's kindness extends to his taking Polonius' body out of doors, putting him upright before dragging him, less "guts" and more a person with a certain dignity. He even leans into his ear when he talks to him, through tears as things start to spiral out of control. Gertrude is left to look at the pendant her son has given him. What choice will she really make?
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Anguish is on his face as he commits the blind murder, rather than anger, Jacobi truly making this about Hamlet killing the more ethical part of himself, and finally giving in to the revenge he's denied for so long. Contrast with his counsel to the Queen that she should throw away the worst part of her heart. He has done the opposite. Uniquely, Polonius takes some time to die after he's fallen, extending a hand towards his killer, much as Hamlet Sr. must have done towards Claudius, making the scene even more unbearable for Hamlet. After he's dead, Hamlet shouts his warning of danger at the corpse, as if trying to reach him in the afterlife, and bringing up the question of what happens to the soul after death, central to his early delay of action and his father's true fate (indeed, does the Ghost's appearance in this scene have any relationship to Polonius' sudden entry into Hell?). The emphasis on the line also makes us think of the Ghost as a "busy" schemer, whose machinations will bring on more danger.
Polonius' eulogy fits this same pattern. Hamlet is able to choke back a sob by the end (but is he crying for Polonius, for Ophelia, or for his own soul?), and yet still make a Bondian death pun. Notably, he puts the murder weapon on Polonius' body, in a parody of a soldier's funeral, as if to represent machinations "fall'n on the inventors' heads". This is part of Hamlet's denial of action, justifying the accidental murder by blaming the victim. As the scene ends, we're treated to a staging that reveals Hamlet Prince of Denmark as a black comedy, Hamlet dragging a dead body while cheerily wishing his mother good night.