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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Re: The Mousetrap
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0064.  Thursday, 16 January 1997.

(1)     From:   John Mills <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 09:27:14 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   The Mousetrap

(2)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 11:46 ET
        Subj:   SHK 8.0047  Re: The Mousetrap

(3)     From:   Framji Minwalla <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 12:09:38 -0500
        Subj:   Mousetrap

(4)     From:   Scott Shepherd <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 16:47:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0047  Re: The Mousetrap


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Mills <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 09:27:14 -0700 (MST)
Subject:        The Mousetrap

Andy White writes that Claudius "admits his guilt."  How?  By "blamching."
Really?  Would you like to be convicted and executed on such "evidence"--or see
anyone else so treated in a civilized society?  Whatever this or that actor
decides to have Claudius do here by way of reaction, there can be no claim for
"proof" in any moral or legal sense.  His reaction "proves" nothing.  As
someone pointed out years ago--Wilson perhaps in What Happens in
Hamlet--Claudius, as King, would find the play highly objectional simply
because it depicts the killing of a king.  Cf. Elizabeth's objection to the
deposition in RII.  Such "seditious" representations were banned in the
monarchies of Europe as late as the mid 19th Cent.  Is this important?  Indeed
it is.  It is the heart of the matter.  In that Claudius is guilty of his
father's murder; he goes to his death not knowing.  John Mills

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 11:46 ET
Subject: Re: The Mousetrap
Comment:        SHK 8.0047  Re: The Mousetrap

I'm  a little surprised that Andy White, theater man, supposes that a little
movement of the eyes will do to apprise Hamlet and Horatio of Claudius' guilt;
it might work in life, or in a film, where cutting to a closeup of C's face
would force the gesture on the audience.  But in the theater, in a scene as
large and complex as this one, where Hamlet keeps drawing focus _away_ from
Claudius--how do directors and Claudii deal with that fact?--there's no way I
can think of to insure that such a modest signal will be read by the whole
house.

With a wink,
Dave Evett

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Framji Minwalla <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 12:09:38 -0500
Subject:        Mousetrap

Much has been said of whether Claudius is guilty or not, whether and when he
admits his guilt, where the attention of the spectator should be, what the
meaning of the scene is, all without taking much account of how the scene can
be staged, and what meanings mught derive from this.

Imagine an Elizabethan outdoor stage--thrust with audience on three sides.  The
flexibility of this arrangement--no focal point, no power center from which to
manage the action--suggests why Shakespeare's dramaturgy always allows two or
more points of attention, each weighing against the other.  During The
Mousetrap, we have four (perhaps five) places to watch--Hamlet, Horatio, the
Players, and Claudius and Gertrude (and Ophelia and Polonius).

If you place the play upstage center, with Claudius and Gertrude downstage
facing them, and Hamlet and Horatio upstage left and right watching Claudius,
you lose one of the focal points--Claudius.  If you place the Players on one or
another of the sides of the stage, and put Gertrude and Claudius on the other
side, you lose the space in which Hamlet and Horatio can play to the audience.
If you place the Players center stage, with Claudius and Gertrude upstage
watcing, and Hamlet and Horatio all the way downstage (with access to the
audience), and have the Mousetrap performed in the round, you have possibly an
ideal arrangement.

You get to watch Claudius as he formulates a response to Hamlet after
recognizing (during the dumb show) that Hamlet's accusing him of murdering old
Hamlet.  You get to watch Hamlet's shennanigans, his clumsy but passionate
plotting, his almost childish attempt to get at his usurping uncle (and you get
to watch and compare this against both Horatio's more sedate and Claudius's
more scheming and manipulative behavior).  And you get to watch the players,
with archaic plodding lines, and stilted performances, make Shakespeare's play
seem all the more 'real' (and yet we have the paradox of both Claudius and
Hamlet dissimulating).

What a marvelous scene.

Putting it on film destroys this set of carefully established relationships
because the spectator focuses where the camera does, and not on the convergence
of all three stage events.  While there's obviously things to be gained by
filming what was originally written for the stage, the filming must reimagine
for film all the congruences Shakespeare set-up.  Branagh's film just doesn't
manage this.

     Framji Minwalla

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Shepherd <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 16:47:17 -0500
Subject: 8.0047  Re: The Mousetrap
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0047  Re: The Mousetrap

        I'll observe his looks,
        I'll tent him to the quick
        ...
        Give him heedful note
        For I mine eyes will rivet to his face

The formula for suspense is:  make the audience expect something and then spend
a long time not fulfilling it.  This as it turns out makes for a pretty good
summary of *Hamlet*, and it also describes what's going on in the mousetrap
scene.

At the end of act two we've been given something to wait for, viz some
guilt-unkenneling reaction from the king, and we're going to wait about 430
lines for it.  We're going to wait through a whole other scene where the king
figures out Hamlet instead of the other way around (but we get the guilt
confessed right away, so apparently THAT's not what we're waiting for...).
We're going to wait through the long lecture to the actors and the praising of
Horatio, and then, as if to recap for those joining us late, we're going to get
the whole setup explained to us again ("There is a play tonight before the
king, one scene of it," etc)!

And THEN, and most importantly as far as suspense is concerned, we have to wait
through half the show before we get any reaction out of the king at all!  We
have to see the whole crime acted out, quite accurately, right there in front
of the criminal, whom we're scrutinizing minutely and anxiously, and the
criminal doesn't blench!

The necessity of this, or at least the egregious dramatic mistake of having the
king give himself away at the first indication, after so long and thorough a
buildup, seems obvious to me.  You don't need some crackpot theory about him
not understanding the dumbshow or not paying attention while it's playing.
It's simply that in the face of something explicitly and cunningly designed to
make him lose his cool, he keeps his cool. For a while.
 

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