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caffienekitty
caffienekitty
To post or not to post...
Thanks to a good friend I had the opportunity to watch the recent BBC Production of Hamlet. (No, I'm not doing a bloody scene-by-scene reaction post for Hamlet. Well, not a full one.)

Thoughts and observances upon watching David Tennant's Hamlet.


Best. Hamlet. Ever. Never mind the fangirl factor or the sheer subliminal crack of it being the Doctor vs a Machiavellian Captain Picard. Just the best.

I wish this version had been out when I was taking Shakespeare studies at college, because Tennant made Hamlet's lines sound like something a person is saying, rather than an actor reading lines, or worse yet, an actor revering the words as being Shakespeare and never truly touchable by mere mortals.

So many other versions, I think, fail in that they are trying to make the presentation of the play into Art, and true to a high sterile poetic ideal. This version is story and character. This is frigging Shakespeare.

Tennant's got it. The way Tennant's doing the role, these aren't lines some famous dead guy wrote; these are words that come from thoughts of a character in various deep emotional crisis states, and for the first time in... ooo... 26 years of knowing this play, I really get it. Without having to resort to retroactive analysis or the historical Shakespeare interpretation stuff to put the connotations of the words into perspective because the emotional backing the actor is connecting to the words is absent or wonky, and each line is being delivered like it's waiting for the next. And it's not just Tennant, most of the other actors have it too.

Best Hamlet ever. And seriously, I've seen a lot of freaking Hamlets. Prior to this one, the version that I found most useful in interpretation was "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," which isn't even fully Hamlet. And the less said about Mel Gibson the better.

I've never been a fan of modern stagings of Shakespeare. But this one works for me. I can see now the effect of having a modern staging. With a traditional staging there's the distraction of the costumes, and the tendencies for some actors to let their performance to be driven by or lost in a costume. That's not the case in a modern staging; the clothes are familiar and straight-forward, and the costuming and setting accents rather than distracts. (Even though Tennant's snap-on Lego hair in the early part was freaking me out a little, but it got better. And oh lord, that t-shirt. Also I'd forgotten Patrick Stewart was in this as well and made one of those involuntary dolphin noises when he first appeared, but that's beside the point.) I also never realised before watching this, just how much Hamlet needed security cameras. They push home the paranoid aspect of the court and the practical necessities of Hamlet's public behaviors in a way that's most effective and immediate.

Almost every single time I have studied Shakespeare, High school, college, etc. the prevailing wisdom being handed out wholesale was that there were two separate and distinct interpretations of Hamlet's actions. That he was actually insane, or that he was actually in full possession of his faculties and only feigning insanity. One or the other, never the twain shall meet. I absolutely hated that idea, because people are not that simple, and it's obvious that Shakespeare knew that from the writing. I love how Tennant's doing this role. One aspect feeding into the other feeding into the other in a roiling cascade of vengeful insanity.

I now also get what the hell was up with Hamlet and Ophelia. He was hoping to take her into confidence, but she had stopped talking to him because her dad told her to, and the whole stand and stare thing... he's taking her measure, but can't let her in on it. He was hoping for a person he loved he could tell the truth, and instead sees another courtier pandering to the new King and his court.

This happens again, in sounding out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Seeing them, that moment of hope that they might be two allies outside the court he can involve in his plan, people he can trust, trying to warn them of observers and that he can't speak plainly. But then finding that they are actually sent by the King and Queen, and the disappointment of an unexpected betrayal, and it's Ophelia all over again. I really cannot believe other filmed versions hadn't given me this same clear sense. "Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead" mostly went the 'Hamlet's a straight-up raging nutbag' route because Hamlet wasn't the main character in that, and that film gave me a clearer picture of their motivations and intent than any other Hamlet version before this. Here it's very clear they are courtiers looking for a future social advantage and willing to trade their long-time friendship to gain it.

Queen Gertrude in this version is also a far step above other interpretations I've seen. All through, she has more of a presence in the court and influence, just through unvoiced glances and motions. She and the King are both rulers of a kingdom, and neither of them are figureheads. Hamlet's confrontation with the Queen, makes it very clear that while she may have allowed herself to become blind to her husband's brother's true motivations in courting her, she is aware of exactly how screwed she is and what is really going on in her court. Hamlet's confrontation reminds her of who she is and was, and where she is now. At the final scene, her drinking of the poison being a deliberate, knowing act (rather than a small unknowing act of petulant defiance as I've most often seen) completes this Queen Gertrude as more of a person with her own thoughts and will than I have previously seen on film.

I mean, I knew all this, really. I did English Lit in High School I did Shakespeare studies in college and I first read Hamlet on my own by buying it from a used bookstore when I was maybe twelve. It's just not something that's come through successfully for me on any filmed interpretation I've seen. In most interpretations I've seen, Ophelia's treated as a silly brainless throwaway foil, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as disposable plot devices, and the Queen as a cipher either having no volition in her own actions or as lazily complicit in the plot. That's the way it's seemed to me at least.

Of course this is all just my opinion. I may have not watched the other versions I've seen with the correct mind-set. But I love this version. All the acting and staging choices are brilliant and serve to illuminate more of the actual plot and character of Shakespeare's play than any interpretation I've seen before.


....aaaaand I just essentially wrote a thousand word essay on Shakespeare's Hamlet. On a long weekend. For fun. And you just read it. :-)

Isn't fandom awesome? \o/

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15 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
weesta From: weesta Date: May 24th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I only saw parts of the newest Hamlet...now I may have to go watch the whole thing.
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 24th, 2010 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a long one, but it's worth it, even if you have no prior experience or opinion of David Tennant.
irismay42 From: irismay42 Date: May 24th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was lucky enough to see the production in the flesh at Stratford TWICE thanks to my David Tennant obsessed friend and her love of eBay! I was so close to the man at one point that I could see he had a Band Aid on his finger! Also, it didn't come over brilliantly in the BBC version, but at one point he did a fantastic impersonation of Patrick Stewart, to which Patrick just cracked up laughing!

I agree, this was by far the best version of Hamlet I've seen too, and I agree the modern setting only enhanced the production.
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 24th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was lucky enough to see the production in the flesh at Stratford TWICE thanks to my David Tennant obsessed friend and her love of eBay!

Lucky lucky! :-D
ravenrants From: ravenrants Date: May 24th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I ADORE that set. I'm a set geek to begin with and that? Was bloody brilliant.

But the actress playing Ophelia bugged the crap out of me. I think because she read as too old and... normal for the most part that the going crazy bit seemed almost out-of-character.

But Tennant v. Stewart? Awesome. Absolutely awesome. And the confrontation scene with the Queen had me on the edge of my seat.
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 24th, 2010 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
But the actress playing Ophelia bugged the crap out of me. I think because she read as too old and... normal for the most part that the going crazy bit seemed almost out-of-character.

I think they had to play her older than the traditional Ophelia because Tennant's not exactly traditional Hamlet age.

But Tennant v. Stewart? Awesome. Absolutely awesome. And the confrontation scene with the Queen had me on the edge of my seat.

Oh totally. It's not like you don't know how the scene goes while you're watching, but the way it was all done was very immediate, like something happening rather than something being reiterated.
ciaranbochna From: ciaranbochna Date: May 24th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Everything you said... Tennant's mind is wired perfectly into all the nuances of the character, and you understand every word. THIS is how I picture Shakespeare, with the world falling away as you are absorbed into every phrase. Genius.
ciaranbochna From: ciaranbochna Date: May 24th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't say, but Stewart + Tennant=literary flail
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 25th, 2010 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)
They are a hell of a combo
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 25th, 2010 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Exactly.
samalander_dawn From: samalander_dawn Date: May 25th, 2010 06:56 am (UTC) (Link)
with you on loving this version :D pretty much the whole thing. I've liked the others I've seen more or less (even Mel Gibson's had a couple of redeeming features), but this version? Got it so, so right.

except Ophelia. just something that didn't mesh there.

(and I enjoyed reading your essay! fandom is indeed awesome :) )
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 25th, 2010 07:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Ophelia was a little off, but part of that was I think the necessary age difference in the casting. I thought she did well at going nuts though.

(and I enjoyed reading your essay! fandom is indeed awesome :) )

I had a moment of sheer bogglement at the end there as I was editing things together and fleshing out paragraphs. Fandom really does make a person do things they never thought they'd do for fun. :-)
samalander_dawn From: samalander_dawn Date: May 25th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ophelia's age - maybe yes? I'm not sure though - Helena Bonham Carter was older and she read right to me. Not sure what it was, I may just have to watch it again (oh. the horror. :D)

Thinking, it may be that I expect a certain amount of etherealness from Ophelia - sort of an external representation of her fairly fragile internal state. (Which, hey, is understandable :) )

Also the costuming for Ophelia did her no favours.
caffienekitty From: caffienekitty Date: May 26th, 2010 03:07 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a fine line, ethereal. Hard to do without seeming like the character isn't a total flake and destined to be a victim. It can be played differently than that, but it's a hard balance. I kind of like the stronger, more solid way she was played in this, because it makes her breakdown that much more jarring. I do see what you mean though. She's a bit too strong-seeming to snap the way she does later. Hm.

Also the costuming for Ophelia did her no favours.

Oh good lord, that dusty greenish dress thing she was wearing in court did not go with those shoulders. XD
samalander_dawn From: samalander_dawn Date: May 26th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
oh lordy ethereal, ya....there are very few who should even attempt it. Maybe just if we'd had a little more chance to see her starting to crumble, even if she put it back together, the complete breakdown wouldn't have seemed so jarring. (though I guess it is 'Hamlet', not 'Hamlet & Ophelia Go Wild!')

whoever dressed her should be fired and shunned. seriously. what is it with costumers who can't dress a woman taller than 5'2" with some muscle development?!

I wonder too - if she's mostly a stage actress rather than a tv actress then the short scenes with masses of repetition may have thrown her off too. It would be interesting to have seen how different it was on stage.... (hmmm....may have to check youtube ;) )
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