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Home :: Archive :: 1992 :: December ::
Assorted Comments on *Hamlet*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 390. Thursday, 17 December 1992.
 
(1)     From:   Tad Davis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 92 09:00:01 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 3.0388  Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
(2)     From:   Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGA@OUACCVMB>
        Date:   Thursday, 17 December 92, 09:03:50 EST
        Subj:   [Acting Shakespeare on the Screen]
 
(3)     From:   Gus Sponberg <ASPONBERG@VALPO>
        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1992 10:19 CST
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Voice/Zeffirelli's Hamlet
 
(1)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 92 09:00:01 -0500
Subject: 3.0388  Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 3.0388  Rs: Mel Gibson as Hamlet
 
Zefferelli's "Hamlet" film has many flaws. But as a piece of narrative art,
the "Z-Hamlet" lays it all over Olivier's version.
 
But then I've never been a big fan of Olivier's anyway. As a director of
himself, he's far too egocentric; and his performances often seem to rely
on some external "trick" of posture or accent or hairstyle. His facility
for capturing externals is astonishing, but I personally never get a sense
that there's anything under it. His presence is Olympian only in the sense
that he makes it seem like an exercise in athletic precision.
 
Watching Olivier's "Hamlet" is, to me, a duty to be endured. (But then no
one would ever accuse me of being a man who could not make up his mind.)
 
Tad Davis

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(2)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGA@OUACCVMB>
Date:           Thursday, 17 December 92, 09:03:50 EST
Subject:        [Acting Shakespeare on the Screen]
 
Mel Gibson, and others acting Shakespeare on the screen:
 
Olivier was right about the acting of Shakespeare vivifying his words on
the page--even if Olivier might have been wrong to re-add Colley
Cibber's words to {Richard III} or accept Ernest Jones's portrait of a
languid and indecisive Hamlet who "could not make up his mind."  I first
got excited about Shakespeare at fifteen when I saw {Richard III} on
television.  Today I can laugh with the Python's at Olivier as Richard
in the "London School for Over-acting," but that doesn't take away from
the first effect of the movie.  Try reading the 1940s plot summary of
{Hamlet} in the current {Oxford Companion to English Literature} as
compared with Margaret Drabble's very recent {Companion} and you can see
how tastes change, understanding changes.
 
If Zefferelli had learned nothing from his {Romeo and Juliet}, which was
exciting in places, had gorgeous costumes, showed beautiful young people
in the leads, but was locked into Sixties hippiedom when Romeo swung
from branches to demonstrate how much he loved Juliet, then I would be
down on the {Hamlet} as well.  But Mel Gibson was athletic, exuberant,
if not too cerebral; he did not speak the lines as badly as did Richard
Chamberlain; and he and Zefferelli added touches to the character that
might help a Mel-worshiper to like Shakespeare as well.  I don't think
the effort was reprehensible.
 
Roy Flannagan
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gus Sponberg <ASPONBERG@VALPO>
Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1992 10:19 CST
Subject:        Shakespeare's Voice/Zeffirelli's Hamlet
 
May I suggest that persons interested in the above topic read a new
article by Michael Goldman of Princeton entitled "Hamlet: Entering
the Text" in the December 1992 issue of THEATRE JOURNAL, pp. 449-60.
 
Rather than try to summarize, let me quote a couple of passages:
"But though it would be interesting to trace further these configurings of
improvisation and scriptedness in HAMLET, what I want more particularly
to stress in this essay is the way the play explores their necessary
>relation<. I'm concerned, as I think the play is, with what's involved
in >entering into< a script. One might say that Prince Hamlet learns a
lesson every actor must learn: that at the moment of performance, one must
improvise. The instant of commitment to the text of a play necessitates
a vertiginous departure from it."  (452-3; emphasis Goldman's)
 
". . . the Hamlet we meet at the beginning of the play is deeply
suspicious of anything that smacks of theatricality . . . [quotes
"Seems, Madam . . . suits of woe"] All of life is suspect because it
looks like theater. All expression, and all interpretation, are tainted,
untrustworthy, indeed untrue, because they are something that a man might
>play<. In this sense, the play charts Hamlet's journey from depression
to involvement to actdion and death as a coming to terms with the theatrical-
ity of life. Hamlet not only uses literally theatrical means to reveal
Claudius' crime, the antic disposition and the play withing the play, but his
career seems to acknowledge that in order to act significantly in a complex
world one must be ready to play-act. "This above all," says Polonius, "to
think own self be true," but the play suggests that truth to oneself requires
complex performance.
 
"In HAMLET we are made sharply aware of how human action itself, like the
performance of an actor, is an >intervention<, an entry into something
very like a script, a text of interwoven actions, an entry that, though it
raises central qeustions of human choice and responsibility, can never be
made in full knowledge or confidence about the ultimate result of that choice.
In order to be, rather than not be, we just commit ourselves to action and
act, but we can never grasp what Hamlet calls "th'invisible event"
[IV, iv, 50], the unknowable results that eventuate from our act." (456-7,
emphasis Goldman's)
 
The chief unknowable result, according to Goldman, is that "Hamlet's efforts to
revenge his father's murder end by putting young Fortinabras, the son of his
father's greatest enemy, on Denmark's throne."  I thought this point
interesting in view of disapproval of Zeffirelli's cutting of Fortinbras from
his movie. Goldman's reading of the play supports the view that the cut does
great violence to the play's integrity.
 
On the other hand, Goldman pays Zeffirelli a compliment in the
course of exploring the undecidability of a playwright's "true voice".
The play within the play teaches us the futility of trying to decide.
"To begin with, who is the author? At least two people, somebody and
Hamlet. For somewhere in what we are watching is the speech of some twelve
or sixteen lines Hamlet has inserted. We never learn what it is - and
after 390 years we can really stop looking for it . . . As each actor
speaks, we may think >these may be Hamlet's words<, and so each speech
in turn takes on a new possible spin for us, a new performance possibility.
. . . The Court of Denmark thinks it is watching one unitary event, a
play called >The Murder of Gonzago<, but this performance is in fact many
things. It includes Hamlet's intention in adding the speech, the various
intentions of the performers - which presumably include fidelity to aesthetic
principles similar to, but perhaps not the same as those Hamlet has described
in his speech to the players . . . Of course, the players are also motivated
by a desire to please their audience, but which audience? We are aware that
they have been forced to change audiences; until recently, they performed for
the pennies of the anonymous urban multitude, but now they are dependent
on a royal patron . . .
 
"We're certainly aware of one big change as the performance progresses.
This cannot be the kind of gig our actors had in mind when they turned up at
Claudius' castle. One point brought out very well by the recent Zeffirelli
movie is the actors' bewilderment and apprehension as they discover that their
performance seems to be creating an unforeseen script of scandal and
subversion. To put on a play that throws your sovereign into a rage is not
a good career move, and they know it." (458; emphasis Goldman's)
 
There are other pleasures in this essay as well. Perhaps it might prompt
some comment among us.
 
Gus Sponberg
Valparaiso University
 

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