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Home :: Archive :: 1992 :: December ::
More Rs: Mel Gibson *H
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 368. Friday, 11 December 1992.
 
(1)     From:   Nikki Parker <N_PARKER%
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 92 23:11 EDT
        Subj:   RE: SHK 3.0364  Q: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
 
(2)     From:   Tad Davis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 92 23:11:01 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 3.0364  Q: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
 
(3)     From:   John Enriquez <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Dec 1992 10:11 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 3.0365  Rs: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
 
 
(1)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nikki Parker <N_PARKER%
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 92 23:11 EDT
Subject: 3.0364  Q: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
Comment:        RE: SHK 3.0364  Q: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
 
Re: Gary Davis
 
As with most movies, they probably didn't have enough time...although,
Kenneth Branaugh's "Henry V" included much, if not all of the original scenes.
 
I actually prefered Olivier's Hamlet....
 
                        -Nikki Parker
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 92 23:11:01 -0500
Subject: 3.0364  Q: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
Comment:        RE: SHK 3.0364  Q: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
 
I think it's often justifiable to omit scenes or parts of scenes: I have
never seen a production that didn't, except for the BBC series and the
Caedmon recordings, and I slept through at least some of both. (He's for a
jig or a tale of bawdry or... the proverb is something musty.) Simply in
the interests of time and the attention span of the audience, it may be
necessary to do some cutting, even drastic cutting. "Take him whole or take
him not at all" is not a way to draw more people into the magic circle.
 
An earlier discussion on this list, regarding Branagh's "Henry V," shed
quite a bit of light, for me, on the way this kind of cutting can change
the meaning of a scene by reducing its moral complexity. If you missed that
discussion, it might be useful to dig it up.
 
More interesting to me than the cuts, in this version, are the
rearrangements. For example, Zefferelli seems to have put the "nunnery"
scene and the "play" scene through a blender. The result is jarring if you
know the play, but I've never heard anyone unfamiliar with the text
complain about it. The Tony Richardson version, if I remember correctly,
also rearranged some of the scenes, though the parts within themselves
remained relatively intact.
 
There are many microscopic cuts. Zefferelli, like many other people who
have "done" this play, elected to show the ghost without armor. This led to
some interesting cutting and hedging of lines: no longer does the ghost
wear his beaver up, or carry a truncheon. At least Z. recognized the
problem: one director whose production I saw seemed to think "beaver" was a
reference to a kind of beaver-skin cap. The drawback is that the actors
seem often to be on the verge of uttering the dropped portions of lines,
and holding themselves back with effort. But maybe this is just my
imagination. I'm not sure why Z. left the armor out.
 
As with any other translation, the question is not necessarily how faithful
is it to the original text, but how well does it reproduce the effect aimed
at in the original text, in a different "language"? I don't know how you
can do that without making guesses at the author's intent, and I wouldn't
dare.
 
Maybe one justification for doing the cuts and rearrangements is that the
play can now speak, on at least some level, with some degree of success, to
people like my nine-year-old daughter, who's watched it with me twice.
("Hamlet was BAD!" she exclaimed after the first time. "Look at all the
people he killed!") No, those people aren't going to be able to read the
latest critical commentary on the play, based on that contact with it; but
most of them wouldn't anyway. (I don't mean to sound condescending: I can't
comprehend most critical commentary on Shakespeare either.) At least
they've had a brush with the original, and some of them will go on to the
original with more enthusiasm than they would have otherwise.
 
My biggest problem with the movie isn't the cutting or rearranging but Mel
Gibson's performance. Much of his blank verse comes out sing-song, with
emphasis in strange places, often working against the emotion in the
speech. (For some reason, the way he says "I do not set my life at a PIN'S
FEEEE" grates on me terribly.) I expected better. Mad Max and Lethal Weapon
notwithstanding, Mel Gibson is a good actor. Before he got into that other
stuff, he did "Gallipoli."
 
Tad Davis

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Enriquez <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Dec 1992 10:11 EST
Subject: 3.0365  Rs: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
Comment:        Re: SHK 3.0365  Rs: Mel Gibson *Hamlet*
 
Robert O'Connor's remarks about his "horror" at Zefferelli's
rearrangement of *Hamlet* rev up an old debate.  Do directors have
the "right" to change the text?
 
Well, of course they do, for two reasons.  First of all, directors
are no more or less qualified to make judgments about texts than
those of us academics who argue over whether WS wrote "solid" or
"sullied."  There is sufficient leeway about the text that directors
of necessity have to make choices, just as editors do.
 
Second, and more importantly, directors have a responsibility for
the production that forces them to make overall artistic judgments,
which often requires revisions of the text.  One of the choices
facing every director of a Shakespeare play is whether to perform
the "whole" text.  The usual argument for doing this is that most
plays last three and a half to four hours under present conditions.
Most performances today do not last as long and are not intended
to be used as were 16th century shows.  Consequently, if the
director decides to shorten the performance in accordance with
present standards, she has to cut, rewrite, and revise, usually
fairly substantially.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; I saw
a production of *Romeo and Juliet* a couple of years ago that had
been cut pretty brutally, and it was one of the best R&Js I'd
ever seen.
 
What this does do is force us to consider these different productions
on their particular merits.  You can't say that Zeffirelli's *Hamlet*
has a better story than, say, Gielgud's *Hamlet*.  But you can say that
both directors have something different to say about *Hamlet*.  If
you like, they are both retelling a familiar story in their own
particular way, and they can be compared on that basis.
 
I remember a class discussion on the movie version of _The Color
Purple_, in which many of the students trashed the movie, saying
it didn't hold a candle to the novel.  My argument, then and now,
is that they are necessarily different works.  The tools of movie-
making and the tools of novel-making are so different that the
experiences are so different that they cannot be directly compared.
This holds for Shakespeare, too; he isn't writing anything new, but
his work is so rich that people are always finding something new in
it.  These interpretations help to make Shakesperiana vital and
fascinating.
 
Jon Enriquez
The Graduate School
Georgetown University
ENRIQUEZJ@guvax      (Bitnet)

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