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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: *Hamlet*: Fiennes and More
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0404.  Saturday, 20 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 May 95 00:20:50 EST
        Subj:   [Fiennes *Hamlet*]
 
(2)     From:   Stephen C. Schultz <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 May 95  12:51:36 EDT
        Subj:   SHK 6.0399  Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
 
(3)     From:   Moray McConnachie <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 May 1995 10:30:16 +0100 (BST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0399 Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 19 May 95 00:20:50 EST
Subject:        [Fiennes *Hamlet*]
 
Herewith a somewhat belated reaction to Steven Urkowitz's blast at the Almeida
_Hamlet_--all the more surprising to me since our response to the
Gielgud-Burton was so similar.  The production is, indeed, a bleak one, and all
the features of it that Prof. Urkowitz takes exception to seem to me clearly
intended to contribute to that effect.  Ralph Fiennes' anguished Hamlet is less
mono-tone- ous than U. implies; initially, the arrival of friends--Horatio,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern--lifts him out of his gloom, and the players light
and sustain a release from his brooding that continues for quite a while (lots
of actors are happiest when they are practicing their craft).  But the friends'
actions, of course, willingly or unwillingly, add to his pain; Horatio takes
him to meet the Ghost, R & G (_echt_ corporate climbers) are soon revealed as
Claudius's creatures, and the players, by re-enacting the murder and confirming
his suspicions, thrust him deeper than ever into his dilemmas.
 
He is never dull, however; what he gives us is a passionate struggle to retain
balance on a teeter-totter world, a struggle that is expressed physically but
especially verbally--no Hamlet of my experience since Burton has caught so much
of the sheer verbal energy of the writing, the exhilarating shifts in register,
the surges of metaphor, the heady play with allusion and risky syntax. Indeed,
I think all the favorable criticisms of the production have commented on its
general drive and speed--established, to be sure, by fairly heavy cutting at
beginning and end.
 
The strange light on Gertrude in the final scene (not just the gels, I judge,
but pale makeup, too) is only the culmination of a pattern; from the beginning
the two women are frequently isolated in bright light (much more often than the
men), warm at the beginning but ever cooler and cooler (as are their costumes),
as though the conflicts between the men are sucking the life and color from
them.
 
The most intriguing of the devices U. complains of treats the Ghost as a satyr
to Hyperion--a coarse-faced, heavy-bodied thug, for all his splendid armor--a
Guido da Montefeltro, whose cultivated present depends on a violently amoral
past?  There's a familiar kind of father (husband, boss) whose alternating
abuse and embrace of his sons (wives, daughters, employees) leaves them
respectful, even possessively affectionate, but also full of suppressed rage.
Having to avenge such a father might well generate conflicted feelings.
 
Another interesting feature is the visual treatment of Claudius-- rufous vest,
short grey curly hair combed up and out from a pointed beard: very foxy.
 
Finally, commendation for the company's willingness to trust young actors;
Damian Lewis as Laertes, Tara FitzGerald as Ophelia, James Wallace as
Rosencrantz, Nicholas Rowe as Guildenstern, and Rupert Penry-Jones as
Fortinbras, are all persuasively in their early twenties.  By play's end, only
one of them survives, and he's altogether too beautiful to be true.  Almost as
much as _Romeo and Juliet_, the crimes and follies of the old folks destroy
their kids--something to think about as the millenium approaches.
 
Pensively,
Dave Evett
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Schultz <
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Date:           Friday, 19 May 95  12:51:36 EDT
Subject: Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
Comment:        SHK 6.0399  Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
 
Don Foster says that a daring director might produce *Hamlet* without the
soliloquies altogether. If I'm not mistaken, William Poel did so about eighty
years ago to demonstrate that the play is not simply a "star turn."
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moray McConnachie <
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Date:           Friday, 19 May 1995 10:30:16 +0100 (BST)
Subject: 6.0399 Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0399 Re: Still More *Hamlet*s
 
I have so far resisted the temptation to get involved in the row about the
production of Hamlet starring Fiennes. I saw it in preview, and I thought most
of it pretty dreadful (with the honourable exceptions of Fiennes and Rigby).
Textual and interpretative niggles aside (and there were many), and leaving
alone the pacing problems, let me single out Tara Fitzgerald, since she has so
recently been singled out for praise.
 
To shout and scream and be manic is not the same as the achievement of
hysteria. Hysteria has its moods and its different paces, its quiet and its
rage, both in practice and the way Shakespeare wrote it. Fitzgerald played an
accelerated Victorian Ophelia, going simply for noise and shock value, yet
retaining exactly that characterlessness.
 
I admit, I have rarely seen a decent Ophelia, and I note also that the
production may have changed considerably since I saw it.
 
With these reservations, and with the reservation also that Fiennes is actually
quite good, I may say that this is the worst of five or six productions that
I've seen in the last ten years.
 
Moray McConnachie
 

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