Sunday, December 14, 2014

Listening to Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, William Walton, 1948)

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet and Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother Gertrude in the most moving performance of the film.
In celebration of the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare.

I have been listening to soundtracks and scores of films lately, including that of William Walton to Laurence Olivier's profoundly melancholy film interpretation of Hamlet. I do not like Olivier's Hamlet performance, but it is interestingly original and unique. He is like a spoiled brat, with a smug and snobbish habitus. At 40 years, Olivier was too old to play Hamlet convincingly on screen. Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother Gertrude was 11 years younger. Olivier must have had an electrifying voltage in live performances on the stage. On screen he was often too big, over-projecting, overbearing, a ham actor, although he was conscious of this, and for instance in Hamlet did much to tone his presence down. The famous monologues became whispered interior monologues. But somehow he still feels like a slithery tomcat who has just had his fill of fresh cream and also his other appetites satisfied. Olivier could be great in performances in films such as Carrie, The Entertainer, and The Merchant of Venice. His grandeur is evident in the fact that he was always developing and curious to learn something new.

I played Hamlet just to listen to William Walton's magnificent score but could not help being deeply moved by Shakespeare's dialogue. To native English speakers it must be a special experience to hear so many beloved idioms, bons mots, and winged words that here appeared for the first time.

Act I

This above all — to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
- Polonius, scene iii

But to my mind, — though I am native here
And to the manner born, — it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
- Hamlet, scene iv

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet, scene v

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
- Hamlet, scene v

Act II

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
- Polonius, scene ii.

More matter with less art.
- Gertrude, scene ii.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
- Hamlet, from a letter read by Polonius, scene ii

Polonius: Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. — Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
Hamlet: Into my grave.
- scene ii

The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play 's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
- Hamlet, scene ii


To die, to sleep; —
To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
- Hamlet, scene i

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
- Ophelia, scene i

I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
- Hamlet, scene iv

Act IV

Laertes: This nothing’s more than matter.
Ophelia: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thought.
Laertes: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.
- scene v

Act V

The rest is silence.
- Hamlet, scene ii

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
- Horatio, scene ii

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