Presentation on theme: "As you may already have noted, this interpretation of the “mousetrap” scene (the play within the play) from Hamlet has both Renaissance and Baroque characteristics:"— Presentation transcript:
As you may already have noted, this interpretation of the “mousetrap” scene (the play within the play) from Hamlet has both Renaissance and Baroque characteristics: one could make a pretty good case for placing the work in either era. (In fact, the painting was made by British artist Daniel Maclise in 1842.) Renaissance attributes of the painting include its overall strong symmetry and balance, the groupings of various figures into autonomous but related units (Renaissance “multiplicity”), and the fact that the figures seem to fit perfectly within the boundaries of the image. There’s also some planar organization of the figures, with a series of three (main) characters on each side paired with a counterpart on the other: each pair nearly represents a single plane in space. ON the left, we’ve got Horatio (standing), Ophelia, and Hamlet as we go back in space; on the right, we’ve got Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonius (standing, a bit stooped). On the Baroque side of the ledger we’ve got the brooding intensity of Hamlet’s pose, as he leans on his hand and stares (too obviously?) at Claudius. The king himself twists, in a very baroque manner, as far away from the enactment of The Murder of Gonzago as he can. We also have the dramatic lighting of the scene, with many subordinate figures enveloped in dark shadows. The choice of moment is calculated for maximum dramatic intensity, as we witness the actual moment of poisoning on stage as well as a moment when, judging from their respective facial expressions, Claudius seems to have just helped Hamlet make up his mind as to the trustworthiness of the ghost’s story.
I decided to play up (pardon the pun!) the Baroque aspects of Maclise’s painting. My first moves were to increase the contrast of the image, accentuating the shadows. I allowed some of the main characters to remain bright even as other parts got darker, thus drawing added attention to fewer focal points (areas of visual interest). Cropping the image allowed me to disrupt the symmetry of the painting (I cut more off of one side than to other), and also let me create a sense of what Heinrich Wolfflin called “open form”: a couple of figures on each side are cut off by the new boundaries, creating a sense that the painting can no longer quite contain the reality it is trying to show. I started to think it would be interesting to rework Hamlet and Ophelia into a Pieta pose. in itself, this decision doesn’t tend necessarily towards either Renaissance or Baroque, since Pietas (images of Jesus, after he was brought down from the crucifix, being held by his grieving mother Mary on her lap)( were painted in both time periods and in both styles. But I thought doing so would create an appropriate sense of foreshadowing of the future suffering of both these characters in the play, and would also draw attention to the religious themes of the play, which include purgatory and the fate of the human soul in various conditions. Placing Hamlet on Ophelia’s lap also relates to Hamlet’s request to Ophelia: “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?” And it places him, given the way figures are arranged in Maclise’s painting, closer to Horatio, which seems appropriate on at least one level, given the task of surveillance that Hamlet has assigned to his friend.
Eventually, I hit upon the idea of using the face of a figure from Raphael’s painting School of Athens in place of Maclise’s rendering of Ophelia. This figure has been variously identified as three different actual people: Hypatia, a very learned female philosopher of the neo-Platonist school, put to death by a Christian mob in late Antiquity: she is seen by many as a sort of martyr in the cause of learning, and is a figure both revered and mysterious, as Ophelia seems to have become since Shakespeare’s time; Francesco Maria I della Rovere, an Italian condottiere (mercenary) of the early 1500s; and Pico della Mirandola, a very important humanist of the Italian Renaissance. One of Pico’s most influential works was his Oration on the Dignity of Man: Ophelia’s speech describing Hamlet as the epitome of what a fine gentleman and prince should be (as he was before he started putting on his antic disposition) echoes Pico’s oration almost uncannily. Francesco Maria I della Rovere died from being poisoned, and some scholars think his murder may have been the original source for the Italian play The Murder of Gonazago which is being enacted in this “mousetrap” scene.
To heighten certain Baroque qualities even further in performance, I’d suggest that the play within a play be a projected film. This would be done so that the audience wouldn’t be aware of the fact of the projection right away: the audience would at first get the impression of a normal stage event, being “acted” out by live actors. But at some point, they’d begin to see the background of The Murder of Gonzago — imagine a garden scene behind the two brothers — diminish in size in relation to the human figures. The visual effect would be a strange apparent increase in the distance between the people in the scene and the background, as the garden would shrink while the men remained constant in size. The psychological effect is intended to be the foregrounding of the murder, and the audience is invited to imagine this exaggeration of importance as relating to Claudius’s state of mind: his guilty conscience. The film effect involved is known as a Hitchcock zoom (aka a dolly zoom), so-called by its significant use by film director Alfred Hitchcock in a couple of his suspense movies. Most notably, he used it in Vertigo to share with the audience a visceral sense of his hero’s disorienting and disabling fear of heights. It would be possible to create the visual effect of a Hitchcock zoom on stage by having the garden scene rear projected behind two actors (Claudius and King Hamlet), with the garden scene having been shot using a slow zoom (out: using a longer focal length as the shot progresses). But, as suggested above, one could also shoot the entire scene with the actual Hitchcock zoom technique, as follows: the camera slowly dollies in towards the scene, but as it does so, the camera’s lens is being zoomed out. In order to convey a sense of the visual effect involved, I’ve inserted a short segment involving one of the Hitchcock zooms in Vertigo in the next slide. If it doesn’t work, try clicking on the link to an m4v file, clearly labeled as being from this film, on the Resources page.