Hamlet the melancholy tale of the Prince of Denmark has some of the most difficult characters to portray on stage. Caught in the machinations of a scheming Claudius and a betraying mother, the dilemmas of Hamlet’s character are the result of his reflective nature rendering him susceptible to shifting moods (Shakespeare, 1982). Thus he may appear indecisive at times while rash and impulsive at others. Yet the key driver of the plot is the intrigues of Claudius the main antagonist who has acquired the throne of Denmark after death of his elder brother.
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Claudius has another lust that for Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and very shrewdly exploits her weak character. The scheming of Claudius is central to this theme and Act I, Scene II is most elucidative in this respect. The Scene will connect with Act I, Scene I, where Hamlet’s friends have seen the ghost of his father looming in the darkness. Thus the lighting will have to denote a dark background initially increasing gradually as Claudius makes his entry into the court.
Claudius is to be shown in a garrulous mood, indicating his triumph of claiming the throne as well as the hand of the Queen, Gertrude. His dress, demeanor and outlook will be positive and endearing to the audience. Gertrude on the other hand though dressed in regal clothes will denote a melancholy strain in her overall attire, voice and will be shown seeking reassurance in Claudius. Hamlet is still in mourning and his mood will be reflected in the dress to make it very obvious to the audience. The speech by Claudius to the courtiers will connect him with the audience.
Thus all lights will have to be focused on him sitting on the throne which will be raised on a pedestal. Gertrude sitting beside him will be at a lower level and a third level will be made for Hamlet. The courtiers will be seated on each side in two to three rows leaving the central space for entry and exit. As Claudius explains to the courtiers the background of his decision to be crowned and marriage to Gertrude, the stage will be brightly lit and lights will on him and Gertrude, shifting focus based on emphasis of his speech.
A huge pictorial of the kingdom of Denmark will be in the background, which will be computer simulated towards which the King will gesticulate while explaining his rationale of saving the country. Appropriate lighting from the rear will denote gloom as Claudius explains his reason and brightness after his ascending the throne. Hamlet will enter late in the Scene, slouching to his seat making his mood absolutely evident to the King as well as his mother. This will also set the stage for Claudius’s dialogue explaining his position.
His proposal for celebrations and the King’s Rouse will be denoted through background sounds of festivity. As the King and Queen leave the stage, the lighting will be subtly subdued to represent the gloom in Hamlet’s mind. Against this low lights and sounds of celebrations in distance, the sorrow pervading Hamlet’s mind can be effectively portrayed. As Horatio enters, slowly Hamlet will return to reality and prospects of meeting his father’s soul will drive away his gloom.
Here again the effects of lighting and sound will be used to accentuate the variation in disposition brought about after Horatio’s declaration of having seen the ghost. As Horatio explains this on the side wings, movement of a ghost will be shown with Hamlet attempting to contact it, thereby showing his attachment to his father’s spirit as well as a sign of hope. At this time the stage will be fully lit while the sound of celebrations in the distance will also increase to indicate that now Hamlet was also full of hope. Coming after this is Scene III which introduces, Hamlet’s love Ophelia.
This is ideally situated by Shakespeare, creating anxiety in the audience and increasing hope in Hamlet before the play moves on to Scene IV where Hamlet actually goes in search of the spirit with Horatio. The impatience of the scheming Claudius, the failings of Gertrude and the dilemma of Hamlet in Act I Scene II, sets the stage for unfolding of the plot ahead. The portrayal has to denote transformation from the dark moments of the ghost of King Hamlet in Act I Scene I and the cheery atmosphere portrayed by Claudius leading to the King’s Rouse.
To a modern audience, witness to breakdown of the institution of marriage, Claudius’s wedding to Gertrude so soon after the death of her previous husband may not appear as incredulous as it had been to the courtiers of Denmark. However still the depiction will have to be provided necessary back up through background sound, lights and skillful use of backdrop.
Reference: 1. Shakespeare, William. (1982). Four Great Tragedies. Revised Edition. New York: Signet Classics.