I’m always torn when reviewing a major piece of work, like Richard Burton’s Hamlet. On the one hand I want to watch it straight through, taking notes, and do one long and detailed review. But I watch it so piecemeal over time, spotting and then forgetting crucial moments I want to specifically call out, that I feel the need to put up a post every time I have an idea.
Right now I want to pursue that second idea. You know the scene where Horatio meets up with Hamlet, and they go through the whole “I saw him once”, “I think I saw him yesternight” exchange? Hamlet has a line where he says, simply, “Saw? who?” and Horatio answers “My lord the king your father.”
I’ve seen it done with confusion, as if Hamlet has no idea what Horatio’s talking about. I’ve seen it done more throwaway, like Hamlet’s only half paying attention to Horatio, too busy daydreaming about his father.
Burton’s version has this great long pause between “Saw” and “who” where the whole scene comes together, and I think it’s just wonderful. It’s like he starts the thought not really paying attention (not even looking at Horatio), “Saw….” and then as he says it, he realizes what Horatio means. And then the whole tone of the scene shifts because now he’s not sure he wants the answer. He turns to face Horatio, and the “Who?” is scared, defensive, like “I think I know what you’re about to tell me and I’m not sure I like it.” Which really makes sense, when you think about it. Someone doesn’t just tell you they saw the ghost of your dad and you just get all excited and say “Oh good I hope I get to see him too.”
The rest plays out like an interrogation, and I have to watch it again but I could swear that Hamlet in this instance isn’t too crazy about the idea of his father coming back, he’s terrified. There’s even a great moment where Hamlet, seated, is asking his questions – “Armed? Top to toe?” when he suddenly jumps up and *states*, as if he’s a lawyer trying to prove his case, “Then saw you not his face!” This was surely a Hamlet who would have been happy to discover that this was not, in fact, his father.
Anyway, I’m not too much farther into the movie so I can’t go deep, but I wanted to stop there with an idea. Can you spot another scene, preferably in a movie version so it’s captured on film, where there’s a moment *between the words*, one of those moments that’s entirely on the actor and not the words, that turns the scene for you? A facial expression, a physical posture, what have you. Something that, without any words, says everything? I looked for a YouTube version of this particular scene to embed, but I can’t find it. There are several other Burton clips online, so hopefully I can make use of those in later posts.