Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 3. Monday, 4 January 1993.
Date: Monday, 4 Jan 1993 11:59:07 -0600 (CST)
Subject: RE: Jacobi's Hamlet
I just got back into town after a fortnight of parent-visiting (two
sets), so the discussion of Jacobi's _Hamlet_ is still new to me. I'm
surprised to see the very favorable response, because I absolutely
LOATHED the BBC/film version. On the other hand, I was lucky enough
to have seen Jacobi do the role at the Old Vic a couple of years earlier
(for about $2.00 American, 10th row stalls, center -- the joys of student
rush!), and adored it. The line I'll always remember is "Words,
words, words." -- I'd seen that scene a dozen times or so, and never
before had I heard a Hamlet actually answer Polonius's question! I
still talk about that single moment (my students might say ad nauseum) in
both my acting and directing classes as an example of what theatre can
So why didn't I like the BBC version? I'd suggest two reasons: first,
I'd already seen the stage version, and no film can possibly recreate
the presence of the live actor, at least not in a vehicle designed for
that presence. In the stage version, I could feel the immediacy much
more palpably . . . and I could look at what I wanted to look at,
although my attention was very skillfully directed to certain things:
I like that freedom as an audience member. I suppose it's inevitable
to make more direct contrasts when comparing two _Hamlets_ with the
same leading actor.
Secondly, the two versions had different Ophelias (I'm sure there were
lots of other changes, too, but that's the one I noticed most). On
stage, the Ophelia (and I'm sorry to say I've forgotten her name) was
dynamic, passionate and just a little dangerous: in her scenes with
Hamlet, sparks flew, because she could . . . almost . . . match his
energy. Her destruction, then, becomes electric and devastating: an
emblem of the down side of Hamlet's monomania. In the film version,
the Ophelia (and here I've happily forgotten her name) was a simpering
little wimp . . . I almost couldn't wait to see her gone. Thus, the
confrontation scenes showed Hamlet as a big bully, the demise of
Ophelia was much less tragic, and the whole nature of *Hamlet's*
character changed from flawed hero to abusive egotist. I wouldn't
have used this terminology at the time I first saw the BBC version,
but the gender implications are manifold here: one is tempted to
wonder whether the producing organization (Pioneer Theatre Company vs.
BBC) had much to do with the portrayal of Ophelia.
I'd be interested in seeing more about this, especially from those who
liked the Jacobi film.