Friday, May 15, 2009

Blog Response: Hamlet Soliloquy, "To be or not to be"

Hamlet’s soliloquy in act 3, scene 1 remains a testament to his dwindling state of mind, which as the play progresses, reveals his becoming more and more manic. The soliloquy epitomizes Hamlet’s despair, as he contemplates the possibility of suicide. It becomes apparent that Hamlet’s brooding, isolation, and anguish, highly developed through the course of the soliloquy, are more effectively conveyed by Alexander Fodor’s interpretation. Through unique camera effects, a simple setting, and measured delivery of the lines, Fodder creates an image of Hamlet that parallels that in the play- a man undergoing great psychological torment.

Alex Fodor’s scene opens with a shot of a very advanced looking voice recorder and then pulls away to reveal a close-up of part of Fodor’s face, particularly his eyes. Fodor’s eyes are frequently zoomed in on, to convey the sense of reflection during the soliloquy. As Fodor says, “To grunt and sweat under a weary life/But that the dread of something after death…” for example, the camera slowly begins zooming in on his right eye. Thus as Fodor contemplates which is a worse fate- continuous struggle during life or the possibility of worse after death, the shot of his eye and the increased emphasis on the eye convey the psychological aspect of the soliloquy. Hamlet’s growing despair is also developed at length through camera shots in Fodor’s interpretation. The director chose to disperse shots of Hamlet’s dead father sporadically throughout the scene, to provide a basis for his desolation. These shots, which presented a younger Hamlet and Queen Gertrude kissing the dead king, appear sinister as the characters are saturated in a sickly green color. The inclusion of these memories not only serve to justify Hamlet’s current desolate mindset, but through the greenish color especially, suggest foul-play, perhaps murder.

The setting, however, simple in Fodor’s interpretation was utilized especially to convey Hamlet’s growing sense of isolation. Through the course of the scene, Hamlet is situated in a bare white room, with only a voice recorder in front of him. The physical bareness of his surroundings, bordered by no one and nothing, parallel his mental and emotional isolation. The room appears cold and sterile and even the scenes in Hamlet’s memories are similarly vacant. Even the inclusion of the voice recorder, to justify Hamlet’s speaking aloud to himself, seems to convey an emptiness and a coldness. Rather than releasing his emotions by simply speaking the lines aloud, Hamlet had to plan prior to speak into the voice recorder. The soliloquy was premeditated, which conveys a greater sense of a manic distress as he was mulling over the thoughts rather than an explosively releasing his emotions.

Overwhelmingly however, it was Fodor’s minimalist delivery of the lines that truly reflected Hamlet’s state of mind. His voice was at once measured, soft, and his expression, eyes wide, hardly changed through the course of the soliloquy. Rather than being prone to bursts of emotion, Fodor’s tone and expression remained the same, even after dredging up memories of his father’s death. Hamlet’s disconnection from his emotions suggests deep psychological suffering especially if memories of his father’s death did not move him. As Fodor says, “and by a sleep to say we end/ The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks” (60-61), his eyes are wide and unfocused, appearing to contemplate the possibility, the temptation even of suicide. His voice remains slow and drawling throughout the soliloquy, however, gains speed as he says, “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,/ Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,/ The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,/ The insolence of office, and the spurns/ That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes” (69-73). As Hamlet lists off the negatives in living, he appears to gain more confidence in choosing suicide. However no sooner does he concede this, that Fodor’s voice grows slow once more and his eyes look off from the camera as he says “But that the dread of something after death,” appearing to consider once more either the implication of committing suicide (which religious doctrine believes is hell) or simply the implication of no longer living. This shift from a slow cadence to a quick cadence back to a slow cadence as he contemplates the possibility of suicide also suggests Hamlet’s indecisiveness through the course of the soliloquy. He concludes much the same way he began, with deliberate and drawling speech, however, concludes with a hint of anger as he concedes that “enterprises of great pitch/ and moment/ With this regard their currents turn awry,/ And lose the name of action,” (85-87).

In light of Fodor’s performance, the interpretations of Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh pale in comparison. Their use of more overt emotions and displaying the daggers that could be used in the potential suicide detracted from the psychological aspect of Hamlet’s state of mind. While he clearly was beset by emotions such as anguish and even perhaps anger at the intemperate nature of women, Fodor’s portrayal de-emphasized the obvious emotions and thus made him appear more manic, as Shakespeare hoped to convey.

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