Sunday, February 3, 2013
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - BBC '80
Watch how masterful a politician Patrick Stewart's (first take as) Claudius is. In Scene 1, he's obviously angry at his wife and wants her to stop crying long enough to get the answers he needs from her. And he's visibly shaken when he investigates the site of Polonius' death by the sight of blood on his hands. This relates to his previous scene, the blood on his hands reminding him of his own murder. Indeed, we're reminded here that Polonius' death is ultimately his fault as well, since the old man wouldn't be skulking around Elsinore if he hadn't tasked him to, nor would Hamlet be so dangerous had his father not been killed. There's a dramatic reason why Hamlet Sr. was poisoned - it's a poison that courses through their entire family tree and the whole of Denmark. A murder that SPREADS. He wipes the blood off in a panic, as if trying to hide his own sins from the world, which is exactly what he will do politically. He's seen his way out of the situation and it's as a politician that he next addresses Gertrude. He'll exile Hamlet in such a way that even his mother can't argue. He makes a case that they're both in this together (no one is safe) and further that she shares in the blame for loving Hamlet too much and letting the situation get out of hand. She tries to argue Hamlet's case, but it won't work this time. Claudius is on more solid ground. But when he tells her to come away with him, she stays behind, the staging telling us their relationship has been split asunder.
Catching up to Hamlet, we find him "safely stowed" and not running, speaking to camera as he does, in the dark, waiting to be discovered. When he is, by Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's posse, he still doesn't run, but rather continues to undermine their authority over him as he did in the previous Act. However, Rosencrantz is done playing games, and sensing that he and his partner now have the King's favor over Hamlet, becomes very cold towards his former friend. He refuses to acknowledge any meaning in Hamlet's words. Derek Jacobi, as usual, puts enough of a spin on each and every line that *I* can't possibly take R&G's lead. He makes me want to find meaning in his mad dialog, and new meaning at that. For example, I'm now trying to read "The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body" with the "King" relating to Hamlet Sr. rather than Claudius. Certainly, the Ghost could be a "thing of nothing", but I still get lost in the verbal alchemy.
The text has Claudius "attended" in this third scene, but it's often staged with him starting on his speech alone. What a difference it makes when he's giving orders to Courtiers. Here we have the politician once again, explaining the situation, his plan, and most crucially, that "we're all in this together". By implying that the peasants love Hamlet, he threatens rebellion if they don't agree with his plan, making them all accomplices. Hamlet comes in, sits on the desk, inspects the sealed letters casually, and everything in the staging reveals the power shifting in Elsinore. Hamlet is sitting higher than the King, is far less anxious (does Claudius fear the Prince will expose him in front of everyone?), and having now killed, he is at least the "actor" Claudius is. The King must retake control of the situation and does, standing and once again playing the politician. The way he tells Hamlet of his exile, it's like he's helping him escape a worse fate. Again, it's a case of "being in this together", this time, as a family. It doesn't really work on Hamlet, but there are other people in the room. Hamlet actually leads them out, as if the trip was his idea, pointing at the attendants to fire them into action. We're left believing Hamlet won the scene. He leaves head held high, while Claudius, with tired sighs, asks England to do his dirty work for him.