AKA R.H. Keys and Odessa, a Shakespearean from the Allentown area who has kindly consented to become a regular contributor to The Shakespearean Journal. You will find her, submissions as with other writers material, posted in The Shakespearean Journal verbatim.
She has provided us with this review of the recent PBS broadcast of The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet. This is in support of our upcoming "Hamlet Festival" which will be taking place at the end of the Summer in conjunction with the Southampton Free Library.
We will be showing
starring Mel Gibson
on June 12th,2010 with
Cinema Under the Stars
RSC’s Hamlet 2010, a review by Rachel
Director Gregory Doran and the cast did explore many linguistical nuances in ways I’ve never seen in a film or stage production of Hamlet before. While some aspects of the production may have lost a certain amount impact when moving from the stage to film, Doran attempted to use the film medium to its fullest being appropriately subtle with many portions of it, not trying to replicate or simply film a theatrical performance.
The use of cameras in the film even beyond the paranoia inducing surveillance cameras around the castle, but also in Hamlet’s own attempt to record events and through an introspective video diary style conversation during some moments of soliloquy, are unique. Visually, he explored images of mirrors and then their shattering throughout the play as various characters experience cracks in their sanity or perception of identity- reflecting the distortion that fills the play.
David Tennant’s Hamlet starts out as a depressed, overgrown schoolboy, more full of tears than fire. I think that it was an effective approach, he is already in a contemplative and melancholic place in the first moments of the play. Once bent on revenge he gains energy and his “antic disposition” seems less like an act and more like a true affliction of his own unraveling.
The castle of Elsinore is a contemporary setting with glassy floors, surveillance cameras and two way mirrors. Hamlet is playing a role, aware that he is seldom unwatched. Before the “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” speech he literally tears a camera off the wall and then utters, “Now I am alone.” Tennant’s “Get thee to a nunnery” scene is charged with more than just Hamlet’s play acting, but with true hurt and feelings of betrayal.
Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius is at times mildly comical with his pontification, seeming to be a man who often repeats his little words of wisdom- to the point where other characters are mildly irritated and very familiar with nearly every lengthy phrase that escapes his lips. Sam Alexander and Tom Davey play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play Hamlet’s school friend, and quite certainly, partners in debauchery. Patrick Stewart brings an understatement to Claudius, not playing him as a great villain, and showing believable affection for Gertrude as well as guilt over his brother’s murder. From the first time we see him, it is also easy to note that he and Hamlet have never gotten along. He also plays the Ghost.
The first appearance of the Ghost is only shown by the reaction of Horatio and the guards, my hope was that he wouldn’t be revealed until the meeting with Hamlet late in the first Unfortunately he was shown later in that scene to limited impact in my opinion Mariah Gale, as Ophelia was very curious. She starts out a little playful and with a sense of independence, a trait I’ve never seen in Ophelia. As the play continues, that small stubbornness in her proves to be more like childish bravado as she crumbles inside. Though, I wish she had shown more reaction to the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene when next she sees Hamlet. At the play-within-the-play, she hardly registers anything being wrong until Hamlet starts interrupting the performance and acting out. She was very subtle, sometimes too much so, but it did create a bold contrast to her mad scenes.
The infamous closet scene with Gertrude was where the play truly picks up momentum. Tennant and Penny Downie gave the scene incredible intensity without going in the uncomfortable and largely unwarranted incestuous direction that so many production go in thanks to Freud and Lawrence Olivier.
Right up until the end Tennant is able to find the humor Shakespeare wrote for the prince. His cutting turn of phrase and quick mind wasn’t abandoned or rushed over in anxious anticipation for the imminent duel.
Though not perfect, I feel it topped the Mel Gibson Hamlet and could be a great tool for studying the play in an academic setting, though enjoyable for pleasure watching as well.
The Witches of Macbeth
Mysterious figures lurk under the cloak of darkness in a damp Scottish forest. The Witches of Macbeth have crept along the edges of audiences’ and readers’ imaginations for hundreds of years. The ambiguity of the creatures has led to a plethora of interpretations by directors and scholars alike. Still, their relationship to the character of Macbeth is usually interpreted in one of three ways: as fate, as a manifestation of his insanity, or the pressures of society. What Shakespeare originally intended them to be is unknown, his vagueness allows them to be everything and nothing all at once, representing all that may contribute to a man’s downfall.
Can a man choose the path he takes? The question has been touched on by writers and philosophers nearly since time began. So is Macbeth only a link within a greater chain of destiny? The Witches could be manipulators, forwarding their own agenda. Their plotting, conjuring, and prophesying may all be to press their will upon the impressionable mortal. They send Macbeth on his ill-fated journey which disorders the kingdom into an unnatural, perverse state. By the end of his journey everything foretold has been fulfilled to the letter. The crowning of Malcolm in the play’s finale leaves the question: was that their intention all along; to make Malcolm a great king the people will follow? It is a haunting echo of “Hail, king of Scotland,” that sings out in the final moments of the play (Act 5, Scene 8). Within two hours the audience has seen three men hold that title.
As Macbeth’s kingdom unravels, so does his sanity. He and Banquo return, exhausted by the traumas of war. In this precarious state they see a vision which could be taken as a hallucination. Macbeth’s own wife informs us of how weak he is mentally. At one point she refers to him as “Infirm of purpose,” (Act 2, Scene 1). When Macbeth’s desperation increases and his behavior becomes more erratic, the Witches occur to him again. Every appearance is while he is in a weakened state. The audience knows Macbeth has the ability to see images that others cannot, such as when he imagines the ghost of Banquo haunting him. Modern adaptations of the piece will even show the encounters with the Witches as a drug induced dream-like state Macbeth enters.
Greed, arrogance, ambition; all forces that might bring someone to usurp a throne. These internal forces as well as external pressures of expectations and family press someone in Macbeth’s situation from all sides. The Witches may represent the pressure he feels, society’s expectations of what he must do as a man. He is plagued by fears and insecurity about his manhood and ability to produce an heir. He feels the need to prove himself, especially to his wife. These feelings may be the little Witch whispering in his ear and setting him on his journey.
The Witches are creatures of darkness. Joseph Campbell says that there are certain archetypal characters a hero may meet on his journey, one them is a character of shadow, representing the darker side of human nature. Whether they are the hands orchestrating fate, a manifestation of Macbeth’s insanity, or the pressures of society, the Witches originate in a place of hidden desire, fear, and primal tendencies.
For More information:
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
Michigan State University Online
“Interpretations of Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey” https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/pdf/JosephCampbellPathHero.pdf
RSC’s Macbeth 1978 on DVD directed by Trevor Nunn
Macbeth 2007 on DVD directed by Geoffrey Wright (note content)
R.H. Keys: Is a writer, director, and actor currently attending Cedar Crest College. As an actor she enjoys in historical reenactment and as a writer is currently working on her first novel. Recently she directed Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House. When she has time she enjoys PBS Programming, reading, film, hats, Harold Bloom, Renaissance Faires, and music. Sometimes she works under other names.