Ambition and desire: Gertrude as tragic hero in Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet (2006).
In this essay, I consider the result of building a Hamlet adaptation around Gertrude and evaluate how Wan's character revises this most filmically marginalized of Shakespeare's women. I argue that Feng places Little Wan as the emotional center of his film. Consequently, he changes all the fault lines of desire in Hamlet, invoking the long critical history and representational tradition interested in the Oedipal tensions between Gertrude and Hamlet. The Banquet features the relationship between Claudius (Emperor Li) and Gertrude, which exists primarily in the wings of Shakespeare's play. Promoting their intimacy to center stage invites the audience repeatedly into Gertrude's closet, making the private spaces of Wan and Li's court more crucial than the private regions ofWu Luan's mind. Meanwhile, Wu Luan is presented as passive in the extreme, soliloquy-less, friendless, and stripped of the verbal vigor traditionally ascribed to Hamlet. In addition, Feng preserves the Ophelia character in Qing, who is rendered all the more tragic by her unending devotion to an abusive and disinterested Wu Luan. Refocusing the plot on Little Wan's story of resistance to Wu Luan's story of loneliness, exhaustion, and sorrow, the film invites us to contemplate a Hamlet centered on an active, rather than passive or pensive, protagonist. Ambition and desire are Little Wan's weapons against Wu Luan's loneliness and Qing's pathetic devotion and are the characteristics that define her as the film's true tragic hero.
The Many Faces of Gertrude
Gertrude appears in only half of the twenty scenes that comprise Hamlet and speaks less than two hundred lines in the entire play. Despite, or perhaps because of, her relative silence, she has traditionally fascinated and confused readers, audiences, and scholars. A. C. Bradley claimed Gertrude was a "very dull and very shallow" character with "a soft animal nature," while Janet Adelman reads Gertrude as "a woman more muddled than actively wicked," one who is "less powerful as an independent character than as the site for fantasies larger than she is." (4) Yoshiko Ueno asserts that Gertrude's "reticence," which "does not allow her to disclose to us what she really thinks and feels," leads scholars and readers to presume she is a weak character. (5) Akiko Kusunoki calls her "the most controversial" of Shakespeare's female characters, noting, "since the text leaves crucial aspects of her motivation undefined, critics tend to treat her not as an individual but as a mirror reflecting other characters' inner states." (6) According to Rebecca Smith, Gertrude is one of Shakespeare's female icons that we've been rewriting---or misreading--for generations. Smith argues that film productions misrepresent Gertrude as "a sensual, deceitful woman," when in the play text she is actually presented as a "soft, obedient, dependent, unimaginative woman." (7) Richard Levin notes that accounts of Gertrude's sexuality in Hamlet are unreliable, as they are filtered through the perceptions and biases of her son and late husband: "Unfortunately for her, Gertrude is the victim of a bad press, not only on the stage and screen and in the critical arena, but also within Shakespeare's text, since she and her libido are constructed for us by the two men who have grievances against her and so must be considered hostile and therefore unreliable witnesses, while she herself is given no opportunity to testify on her own behalf." (8) Meanwhile, Maurice Hunt has recently argued that Gertrude "possesses a surprisingly complex interiority," largely located in her silences, and primarily fixated on what Hunt calls "a fantasy of family." (9) Gertrude has been read as a representation of male anxieties about "female intervention in patrilineal culture," as a figure for "the aging body" of Queen Elizabeth, and as "a strong-willed woman" whose remarriage is "a demonstration of female agency." (10)
Gertrude has been variously read as weak, simple, complex, manipulative, manipulated, and strong-willed. What happens to these contradictions as Gertrude becomes Little Wan in The Banquet?. Productions of Hamlet generally settle on a single interpretation of the Queen, so what is Feng's? According to Charles Ross, Little Wan is less an adaptation of Gertrude than an embodiment of one aspect of Ophelia: "Earlier films make Ophelia childish. Modern versions make her angry. Feng gives the childish persona to Qing Nii and saves anger for Wan. But his film is feminist in a larger sense because, arguably, the central figure is not Wu Luan, but Empress Wan. Her role is far greater than Gertrude's, while Wu Luan's is much less than Hamlet's." (11) Ross does not read Wan as a direct analogue for Gertrude, but as a coopting of Ophelia's anger and madness. Woodrow B. Hood sees a more immediate connection between Wan and Gertrude, commenting, "It] he film recenters the play by switching the locus of the protagonist from Shakespeare's titular character to the generally subordinate character of Gertrude." (12) According to Hood, the film presents a virgin/ whore binary in its two female leads, and Empress Wan is the whore in the equation. She is an incarnation of the "Dragon Lady" trope, an American characterization of Eastern strong women who are "domineering and manipulative," power-hungry and destructive: "[a] Dragon Lady is characterized typically by her beauty, seductive power, and evil nature, and she is always punished for overreaching." (13) Dragon Ladies are also always two-faced. Hood feels that the film falls back on this stereotypical assumption of female character, ultimately leading "down a gender regressive path" in which Wan is relegated to her clichdd fate: she is punished for overreaching. (14)
I disagree with both Ross's and Hood's analyses. Wan is more than an embodiment of Ophelia's anger and she is not "trapped" by a cinematic stereotype. I read Wan as a dynamic character, full of ambition and desire. While she does eventually fall, she falls less as a result of her ambition and more as a consequence of the roles she is forced to play by other characters and by our own interpretation of her. Neither Ross nor Hood fully considers Wafts significance as a revision of Gertrude. When considered as such, she clearly is more than a stereotypical, angry femme fatale. As I will show in this essay, she is also self-sacrificing, and ultimately, she is aware of how she has been commodified--both by the Emperor and by us, the audience-and she turns an accusing gaze on the camera, inviting us to reexamine our assumptions about Gertrude.
Hamlet as Martial Arts Period Piece
Despite her position in a wuxia, or "sword-fighting knight errant" tale, Wan is a very modern woman in some ways.15 She has to work hard to convey and maintain that modernity within the restrictions of the various genres the film incorporates. Alexander Huang analyzes Feng's film, noting its uniqueness in the way it blends several traditional genres: "Multiple slow-motion shots and fight sequences presented as stylized dance movements suggest a close affinity with other Chinese martial-arts films that have enjoyed popularity in the West but have been harshly criticized in the Chinese-speaking world. ... What distinguishes Feng's film from this group of films is its uses of masks as motifs and narrative devices." In the end, Feng's film is a mix of wuxia, martial arts, and masking, creating what Huang calls "a mask theater infused with the supernatural; a type of martial-arts performance that gives primacy to visual articulation." (16) And yet, even as it references and incorporates elements of these several genres, the film does not sit easily in any one category--even a specifically Chinese one. Huang explains that critical response debated the film's "dual identity," as "nearly all European judges found the film to be too Shakespearean in outlook to be a viable Chinese film to interest Western audiences. ... Yet according to most Chinese critics, the film was a disappointing, indulgent costume epic aimed at a 'completely non-Chinese audience.'" (17) Whether too Shakespearean or too Chinese--fascinatingly strange accusations to begin with--The Banquet does manage to wholly remake a familiar story into a foreign one, allowing the viewer to experience Hamlet again, for the first time.
The film is set in 907 AD China, on the verge of the Tang Dynasty's fall. Prince Wu Luan (Hamlet) has run away to study storytelling, music, and dance in order to console his broken heart because three years ago, his father married the woman Wu Luan loved, Little Wan (Gertrude). So, in this film, Gertrude is not Hamlet's mother, but rather Hamlet's ex-girlfriend. This romantic history affects the way Wan treats Wu Luan throughout the film, most obviously in her efforts to protect him from the ambition and violence of his uncle, Emperor Li (Claudius). Seeking to protect the Prince and ensure her own safety, Wan agrees to marry the Emperor, simultaneously sending messengers to warn the Prince of Li's assassination of his father and usurpation of the throne and beg him to return to court. As Wan attempts to protect Wu Luan from the Emperor, Li desperately tries to win her heart as well as her body, and thus Wan is torn between her desire for Wu Luan, Li's desire for her, and her own ambition for power.
At court, Wu Luan appears absent of desire, except as manifested in introspective, artistic endeavors. He mourns his father and half-heartedly reunites with Qing (Ophelia), his former betrothed who has remained devoted to him throughout his three-year absence. Wan and Wu Luan engage in tense conversations that verge on cruel as Wan criticizes Wu Luan for his inaction. At the same time, we witness the Emperor's persistent efforts to seduce Wan and to test her loyalty. More than once, Wan steps in to save Wu Luan from his uncle's plots against his life. She sends Yin Sun (Laertes) to save the Prince from assassins when Emperor Li sends him as an ambassador to live in a foreign land. She also steps in and disarms a soldier who was carrying a real sword when the Prince was practicing with wooden blades. Meanwhile, she taunts and punishes Qing for her continued devotion to the Prince, even going so far as to whip her for expressing a desire to accompany Wu Luan on his travels.
Little Wan plans to poison the Emperor at a state banquet by pouring the venom of the black scorpion into his wine, but is thwarted when the Emperor offers Qing his cup of wine in a toast. She drinks, and then performs a song in memory of the reportedly deceased Wu Luan. In the middle of the performance, she collapses in the arms of one of the dancers, who unmasks to reveal that he is Wu Luan. Qing, clearly poisoned and bleeding from the mouth, dies in the Prince's arms. Wu Luan fights off palace guards and challenges the Emperor, but Li is so overcome with horror at the notion that Little Wan wanted to poison him, he voluntarily drinks the rest of the wine and dies at her feet. Wan then kneels before Wu Luan and calls him Emperor, begging him to decide her fate. He rejects the title, but intervenes just as Yin Sun, bearing a poisoned knife, rushes to kill Little Wan. Grabbing the blade, the Prince is cut and absorbs the poison. Wan reacts by instantly killing Yin Sun, then weeps over Wu Luan's body, and finally rises to the shouts acclaiming her as Emperor. Thus, in the climactic banquet scene, Feng's Ophelia dies Gertrude's death, Gertrude kills Laertes, Claudius commits suicide when he realizes he never had Gertrude's love, and Gertrude triumphs over all.
As the film closes, we see Little Wan alone in her chambers, at first nostalgically reminiscing over her past, and then maniacally embracing her present identity as Emperor. Just as she glories in "rising like a phoenix" from the flames of ambition and desire, she is stabbed in the back (literally). We never see who stabs her, and the film ends with her death.
A Silent Hamlet and a Scheming Gertrude
In making Little Wan its central character, The Banquet works many significant changes on Hamlet, Gertrude, and Ophelia. In the case of Hamlet, Feng's film strips Wu Luan of many of Hamlet's memorable attributes. First, this film contains no Horatio, Rosencrantz, or Guildenstern. Wu Luan, played by Daniel Wu, is essentially friendless in the court and has no one to talk to except Little Wan and Qing. Second, there is no ghost, and so Wu Luan never receives an order to seek vengeance for his father's death. Third, Wu Luan does not deliver a single soliloquy. That hallmark of Hamlet's compelling interior life is completely absent from this film and is replaced with various shots of Wu Luan reclining by a fountain in the palace or standing before his father's armor. Without Hamlet's verbal cogitation, Wu Luan becomes an excessively lonesome, silent figure, and his passivity functions to underscore Little Wan's activity.
In the context of modern film productions of Hamlet, the quiet loneliness of Daniel Wu's introspective, artistic Prince Wu Luan stands in stark contrast to Kenneth Branagh's 1996 performance (18)--littered as it was with winks and smirks that broke the fourth wall and directly addressed the audience. Unlike Branagh's Hamlet--unlike the Hamlet tradition in general Wu Luan is primarily silent and, at least initially, hidden from the audience. When Wu Luan is first introduced, the camera almost completely fails to differentiate him from his surroundings: he is one of several dozen costumed dancers and singers, all wearing the white robes and white masks of their trade. During the ensuing battle scene as Emperor Li's soldiers attempt to locate and kill the Prince, the viewer never knows where Wu Luan is. Only when the battle is finished do we learn that he has been hiding beneath a small bridge, presumably the whole time. This initial anonymity is wildly unusual for a Hamlet story, as the Prince traditionally enters productions in stark contrast to those around him--dressed to mourn his father even as the rest of the court is celebrating his mother's and uncle's nuptials. (19) Instead of a more traditional, highly visible Hamlet, Wu Luan is initially an obscured, hushed, and anonymous character. Wu Luan lacks ambition, and unlike Hamlet, he does not pause to admire the ambition and efficacy of a brash Fortinbras; instead, he is moved to action only by the sudden death of Qing. (20) But Wu Luan is still a figure of desire. He desires Wan but seems not to be willing to act on this desire; he desires vengeance for his father's death but seems similarly frozen in pursuing this; he desires an end to his loneliness but he only connects with Qing, whom he ultimately rapes. Though he does not talk through his conflict in Hamlet's soliloquies, he performs it in his leashed tension, sudden explosions of violence, and general confusion.
There is no hush or obscurity when it comes to Feng's vision of Gertrude. Little Wan enters the screen in as dramatic a fashion imaginable, which I will discuss below. Like Wu Luan, she is also largely friendless in the film. She sees Qing as a rival for Wu Luan's affections and thus is antagonistic toward her. While we see Wan consent to marry Emperor Li, we are also aware from the beginning that her decision is not based on affection--although affection arguably grows between them--and that she is constantly scheming to thwart his efforts to eliminate Wu Luan. Therefore, Feng's Gertrude does not have the comfort of either a friendship with Ophelia or a happy marriage to Claudius. We do not see her seeking the counsel or support of a wise Polonius or an estranged son; instead, she is a figure of frustrated desire-desire for power and desire for Wu Luan.
In expunging Horatio, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern; in making Gertrude and Ophelia rivals rather than friends; and in depicting a Gertrude who is always struggling against and manipulating Claudius, The Banquet focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. This focus is embodied in the extended, two-part rendition of the closet scene, as well as the various intercut scenes of Wu Luan and Little Wan acting independently.
After the opening sequence showing Wu Luan in the Yue province, the camera turns to the palace and focuses on Little Wan. We enter the court in a long tracking shot, following behind Little Wan as she approaches the chamber where her dead husband's suit of armor is on display. Wan is dressed in elaborate white robes with a stunning, cathedral-length train. The camera tracks her steady progress through an immense set--the single biggest stage ever constructed for use in a Chinese period film (21)--and to the Western eye evokes a bride slowly walking down the aisle on her wedding day. The color white is traditionally associated with death and mourning in China, and so she is dressed to mourn at her husband's monument. But the more Western suggestion of a bridal gown is not entirely out of place, because Little Wan encounters Emperor Li and his marriage proposal in front of the armor. White also carries the symbolic suggestion of innocence and it ties Wafts initial appearance to Wu Luan's, as both are clad all in white. But this sympathy of costume does not last.
Feng makes the interesting choice to stage Little Wan's decision to marry Emperor Li. This is a continuing crux for readers and scholars of Hamlet. why does Gertrude marry Claudius? Is it lust? Weakness? Meekness? Complicity in his nefarious usurpation? For Little Wan, the decision to marry Li at first seems to fulfill all of our most critical readings of Gertrude: she chooses position and power, climbing the ladder to maintain the social station she has grown used to. But as the film unfolds, it becomes clear that she also intends to use her position to watch over and protect Wu Luan.
Approaching the suit of armor, Wan discovers that Li has put the helmet on his own head and tells him, "The helmet does not sit well on you." He scolds her:
EMPEROR LI. To call your Emperor "you" is not appropriate. The correct address is "Your Majesty."
LITTLE WAN. It is hard for me to adapt so quickly, brother-in-law.
Wan's refusal to call him by his title is saucy, and her reminder of his actual relation to her--that he is her brother-in-law--attempts to put him firmly in his place. Wan undermines Li's campaign by pointing out the speed of his usurpation, simultaneously referring to him in familial terms that neither suggest nor encourage romance. This fails, as he exits the room announcing, "The kingdom will not wait," suggesting that he and Wan have been locked in debate about marriage prior to this scene. Just as the door is about to close, he places his hand through the opening, calling to his "sister-in-law." The camera focuses on his upturned palm, and we see Little Wan place her hand in his, saying, "The correct address is 'Empress.'" The scene is short, but richly dramatic. Their verbal sparring about proper forms of address shows each character's ambition and eagerness to claim what they see as their "right" position in the court. This anxiety over title and address returns again in the first part of the film's closet scene, in the climactic banquet scene, and in the film's denouement. It echoes similar anxieties in Hamlet, expressed in Hamlet's addressing Gertrude as "good-mother"--which means "step-mother"--on several occasions (1.2.77, 3.2.106, 3.4.26), and his angry "You are the Queen, your husband's brother's wife, / But--would it were not so--you are my mother" (3.4.14-15). This quibbling about title highlights the sort of conflict Gertrude may have experienced as she debated her position as Dowager Queen or Queen consort, and encourages the audience to admire Wafts cleverness as she negotiates how to maintain her position in the palace.
The Banquet depicts a Gertrude struggling with the notion of marrying Claudius. In a subsequent scene, the film elaborates its depiction of Li and Little Wafts relationship during a conversation at her vanity. She is presumably preparing for bed while he leers at and gropes her and she seeks to gain information about Wu Luan's safety, revealing her secondary motivation for marrying Li:
LITTLE WAN. Your brother should not have trusted you. EMPEROR LI. The death of the late Emperor had nothing to do with me. LITTLE WAN. IS the crown prince still alive? EMPEROR LI. Sister-in-law seems very concerned. LITTLE WAN. I am his step-mother, after all. EMVEROR LI. He is four years older than you are. LITTLE WAN. Brother-in-law is familiar with the way I remove my makeup. EMPEROR LI. Not just your makeup, but also the way you enter your bath.
(At this point, the Ernperar grapes inside the frant af Wan's dress. She grabs his hand to stop him.)
LITTLE WAN. Will brother-in-law let the Prince go free? EMPEROR LI. Will you let my hand go free?
At the beginning of the conversation, Wan is clearly suspicious of Li and attempting to gain information. However, Li remains entirely focused on fetishizing her bedtime ritual, ogling her, and groping her body. The scene implies that Li has been voyeuristically lusting after Wan for some time, as he is familiar both with her makeup removal and her bathing habits, and in an interview, Feng states that Li's motivation to kill his brother was his lust for Wan. (22) The tension is palpable and even the playful repetition of "brother-in-law" and "sister-in-law" cannot dispel it. At the scene's close, the camera provides a close-up of Wan releasing Li's hand with an expression of stony acceptance, not titillation or ambition, and we are led to believe that this is one in a series of sacrifices she makes as she constantly negotiates to protect Wu Luan and ensure he is not harmed. Rebecca Chapman claims, "Through the figure of Wan, the film offers an image of a woman who must continually renegotiate her role in a world where power and desire are continually at odds." (23) This Gertrude, then, cannot be accused of an excess of lust leading her to quickly remarry after her husband's death.
The film's interest in Little Wan and Li's relationship continues as it documents them interacting with the court's ministers, playing polo, supervising torture, and in bed together. Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan comments that all of these scenes exist in Hamlet, but that they are offstage: "Hamlet refers to the kind of passion that's driving this relationship, particularly in the closet scene ... We only see a suggestion of it and here that's really brought to the front of the stage." (24) But it is not simply made visible; this passion is characterized in a unique way. We see in the film a Claudius overwhelmed by passion and not a Gertrude overwhelmed. Hamlet's Gertrude succumbs to her lust or to Claudius's manipulations; in The Banquet, it is Claudius who succumbs to his lust and to Gertrude's manipulations, and it is Claudius who suffers for the weakness. It is crucial to my analysis of this film to acknowledge that this Claudius is weakened by his lust. Feng's depiction of the slavering, desperate, eager Li shows an Emperor completely subject to the sexual favors of his Empress.
The focus on Li and Wafts sexual partnership is completely different from Hamlet, in which, as Levin notes, the private conversations between Claudius and Gertrude are "utterly sexless." (25) For example, early in the film, we see Li and Wan in bed together, presumably post-coital, and Li is massaging Wafts back. (26) As he does so, he questions her about how he compares to his deceased brother in terms of virility, demonstrating an anxiety about his own performance and an intense desire to please Wan. The conversation then turns to the struggle between love and power, which Li claims "has tormented past emperors for centuries." He further comments that "Before tonight, everything was simple. I cared only for my kingdom. But after tonight, when there is you, Sister-in-law ... what need do I have of a kingdom?" (Later in the film, when Wan is showing off her elaborate coronation robes to him, Li comments similarly, "Who cares about losing a kingdom when in the presence of such rare beauty?") This cavalier attitude toward his kingdom and lavish praise for the Empress's beauty is of course an overstatement, because when Wan suggests that Li give away his kingdom and retire to the woods with her, he is displeased. Just like Shakespeare's Claudius, Li refuses to sacrifice "My crown, mine own ambition and my Queen" (3.3.55). But rather than having the Emperor make this confession alone, while attempting to pray, Feng stages Li confessing this ambition and passion directly to Wan. Even more startling, shots ofWu Luan returning to the palace and confronting his father's armor are interpolated with the heady, passionate conversation between Li and Wan. These shots stand in for Hamlet's conversation with the ghost of his father. Thus, the iconic scene from Hamlet is here subordinated to a scene absent from Shakespeare's play: Claudius and Gertrude in bed together. While the interpolation of the two scenes raises elements of the Freudian, sexual complexity of the play, it primarily points out this film's unique perspective on the story. In this film, the sexual tension of Hamlet's closet scene is relocated to Gertrude's bedroom encounters with Claudius. Charles Ross calls this a thematic shift "from uncertain ghost to uncertain women." (27) This time, we are behind the scenes with Gertrude, rather than outside the palace gates with Hamlet.
Each interaction between Li and Wan overflows with tension. Li continually tests and challenges Wafts loyalty, and Wan continually makes sacrifices to protect Wu Luan. Later in the film, we see her presiding over the torture and death of an innocent man in an attempt to prove her loyalty to Li; feigning disinterest when Wu Luan is nearly killed; and scolding the Prince for failing to bow to his uncle. But the bile she may be choking on as she accedes to Li's every wish is released with unfortunate cruelty on Qing. Many scholars have noted a friendship and tenderness between Gertrude and Ophelia. (28) But in Feng's film, there is no such tenderness, and certainly Wan never looks out for Qing. Instead, she seizes every opportunity to taunt and torment her young rival. Her interactions with the poor young woman echo the manipulation Li visits upon her.
When we first meet Qing, she is running into the palace, having been summoned to the Empress's chambers, wondering ifWu Luan has come home. The shot of the running Qing is a dramatic contrast to the earlier introductory shot of Little Wan's stately, sedate progress through the rows of soldiers to her husband's armor. This contrast immediately establishes an impetuous, youthful eagerness in Qing, which in turn highlights Little Wan's crafty reserve. When Qing arrives before Little Wan, she kneels and addresses her with respect. Their drastically different characters are again reinforced visually: this time, it is in the contrast between Qing's white and cream costume and Little Wan's rich black gown embroidered in gold. Initially, Wan doesn't address Qing, instead instructing her maids to hang up a bolt of red fabric she had requested for inspection. As Wan pulls on the bolt of fabric, sending folds of bright red cascading across the screen, she says, "This material was originally intended for your wedding to the Prince. However, it is now used in my coronation." It is a rude dig at Qing, and is followed by Wan questioning why the younger girl ran all the way to the court, adding censure to the previous barb. In what follows, Qing describes how she and Wu Luan communicate "through dreams," claiming that, while he never writes to her, she dreams of him each night and they speak to one another in dreams. When asked what Wu Luan had told her the previous night, she says, "He told me not to eat too many sweets. But then he also said, 'Young girls tend to like sweet things. It is not really a bad habit.'" The words she claims Wu Luan spoke to her highlight her youth and innocence, and Little Wan smiles to hear them, looking almost jealous. Finally, the Empress responds, "I used to like sweet things." This comment both brings the two women closer together and distances them: Little Wan identifies with Qing's youth but also suggests she has moved on from it, claiming a maturity she does not see in her young courtier.
The initial interaction between Wan and Qing sets the mode for the remainder of the film: Wan is cruel and dismissive of the young woman, while Qing is hopeful and childlike. Wan sees Qing as an unworthy rival for Wu Luan's affections and simultaneously envies the young girl for her innocence. Their interactions escalate to violence, as Wan has Qing whipped because the younger girl expresses a desire to follow Wu Luan to the Khitan province. After the whipping, which occurs off-screen, Empress Wan pays an unexpected visit and finds a calm Qing lying on her side, her face turned away from the Empress and her abused back exposed for Wan's examination. Cruelly, Wan sits next to her and runs her fingernails along the cuts as she taunts the young girl, asking, "Does it hurt?" The extreme close-up of Wan stroking and scratching Qing's back evokes a threatening, sadistic sensuality that escalates when Wan pushes her onto her back, caressing her face and leaning over her. Despite the fact that the actress playing Qing is actually three years older than Zhang Ziyi (Wan), the costuming and position make Qing appear younger and passive. She is reclining on a chaise, wearing a loose night robe that exposes her arms and most of her back. Her hair is down and her face bare. Wan appears in a rich gold gown and heavy, embroidered black robe. Her hair is elaborately coiffed and she is decked out in an impressive array of gold jewels. The sexually charged sensuality in this scene promotes Wafts manipulations from the realm of childlike petulance to mature mischief. As she leaves the room, she orders Qing branded and exiled--an order that is never carried out, and yet it demonstrates her terrifying power.
A Closet Divided
The Banquet offers a protracted exploration of Gertrude's mysterious sexuality. I have discussed how the film portrays Wan and Li and Wan and Qing, but what of Hamlet's iconic closet scene? Where, in Feng's film, do we see the sexual tension between Wan and Wu Luan? A two-part rendition of the closet scene provides the answer, but before examining it, it is useful to recall production traditions surrounding this scene. Traditionally, productions of Hamlet stage a physically dominant prince looming over Gertrude in the closet scene, brandishing portraits and a sword, and flinging Gertrude onto the bed or a chair, until the second visitation from the Ghost chides him. As June Schlueter and James E Lusardi note, "Traditionally, in production, Hamlet is rough, even brutal with his mother, pushing her down and restricting her movements with force." (29) Schlueter and Lusardi back this claim up with a detailed reading of the way Olivier manipulated the camera in his 1948 film to show "the progressive violence of Hamlet's demeanor and his quick seizure, by force and terror, of the dominant position in the scene." (30) Similarly, in the Zeffirelli Hamlet (1990), Mel Gibson's Hamlet throws Glenn Close's Gertrude on the bed and violently holds her down, miming intercourse and shouting abuse at his mother, who ends his tirade with a passionate kiss. Edward Eaton has read in this production a Gertrude who enjoys the activity: "When Gertrude cries 'Oh, Hamlet, speak no more!' she is not asking him to be still; rather, she is begging him to concentrate on the task at hand." (31) In Branagh's 1996 version, Hamlet storms around the bedroom, shouting at Gertrude as she sits on the bed, and nearly strangling her when attempting to show her the two portraits.
In total contrast, The Banquet depicts a submissive Wu Luan in both incarnations of the closet scene, and it is Wan who maintains physical dominance. Where Hamlet draws his sword to slay the unseen Polonius, Wan draws Wu Luan's blade to challenge him to a playful fight. Where Polonius spies on Gertrude and Hamlet, Li overhears Wan and Wu Luan--and his eavesdropping is unplanned. Wan doesn't require the unseen support of an advisor; she encounters Wu Luan alone, in her bathrobe, fearlessly. Instead of the presence of Polonius's dead body--visual evidence of Hamlet's physical dominance and potential for violence--Feng's film features the paper cutting and the mask that Wu Luan brought with him from his studies in the Yue province, both symbols of his art, and both marked by blood from his experience of the initial attack--a battle in which he did not fight. And despite their relative sizes--Zhang Ziyi is quite diminutive in contrast with Daniel Wu--Wan remains physically dominant in each scene. She out-duels him in the first incarnation of the closet scene, at various points standing before him as he kneels and slapping him across the face in frustration. In the second incarnation, she stands over him as he reclines at the fountain and combs his hair in a maternal gesture, ultimately storming out and leaving him lying there, unmoving, impotent.
The first of the two separate "closet" scenes occurs a scant twenty-five minutes into the film, a full hour before the closet scene's appearance even in Zeffirelli's drastically shortened film version, and certainly far earlier than the confrontation in the play. It contains elements of both Hamlet 1.2 and 3.4 as Wan attempts to persuade Wu Luan to leave his studies ("Go not to Wittenberg"), and addresses the Prince's implications that his father was murdered. In Hamlet, the closet scene features Hamlet's famous description of (and disgust with) Claudius and Gertrude's sexual relationship. Feng's film does not ever overtly raise this question, even though Wan has just come from the Emperor's bed. Wu Luan asks about his father's death, but for the remainder of the scene, he answers questions about his own ambitions and desires. Unlike Olivier's film, in which "the dramatic symbol for Gertrude is a luxurious canopied bed," in The Banquet, no beds are visible and Wan and Wu Luan are dwarfed by the cavernous spaces of Feng's dramatic interiors. (32)
Jockeying for command of the space, the Empress and the Prince return to the trope of playing with forms of address: Wu Luan calls Little Wan "Empress Mother" and "Your Majesty," and is scolded by Little Wan who orders him to call her "Stepmother." In making this request, she appeals to their prior relationship, when she was simply his stepmother, and not also his step-aunt; she also focuses on the familial, and not the political, elements of their relationship in preferring "stepmother" to "Your Majesty." This exchange also mirrors Hamlet's comment to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is not mad, in which he refers to Claudius and Gertrude as "my uncle-father and aunt-mother" (2.2.312-13). Not only does this echo remind us that Hamlet's friends are absent in this particular production, but also, it moves the conversations, jokes, and information shared between Hamlet and his friends into exchanges between Hamlet and this film's reimagined Gertrude. This has significant implications for how Feng's Hamlet understands the intrigues of the palace and for how Feng's Gertrude feels about her (step-) son. Firstly, Wu Luan's knowledge is filtered almost entirely through Wan. Rather than testing out his theories with Horatio or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he is restricted to conversation with his stepmother, who is chief orchestrator of palace intrigue in this film. Secondly, the fact' that the majority ofWu Luan's private conversations occur with Wan focuses our attention on the intimacy of this relationship, inviting the audience to contemplate the confused tenderness and frustration between the two characters.
Little Wan is given the unique opportunity to defend herself that Gertrude never gets. Perhaps this is because Little Wan and Wu Luan get much more private time, alone together, than Shakespeare ever granted Hamlet and Gertrude. Of course, Wafts defense depends upon a kind of self-knowledge that Gertrude does not appear to have, as she never admits to awareness of Claudius's schemes. When Wu Luan asks, "Did I come back to grieve for my father or to congratulate my stepmother?" (a line that occurs in Hamlet and Horatio's joking exchange in 1.2.175-80), Little Wan responds, "Do not use such a cruel tone of voice against a helpless woman. I have sacrificed more than enough for you and your father." Implicit in this defense is the notion that Wan continues to make sacrifices through marrying Li to protect Wu Luan. This is not only a defense, but also an accusation: Wu Luan doesn't do anything but react, emotionally, to the events around him. Little Wan acts. She protects and preserves Wu Luan and the entire empire. Here, she voices a frustration with Wu Luan, angry that he cannot or will not see the offstage actions she takes to help him--actions which this film chooses to stage for the audience, while Hamlet renders them invisible. We see Little Wan sleeping with Emperor Li, we see her alone contemplating her situation, and we see her taking many dangerous steps to protect Wu Luan.
However, the prince is either unable or unwilling to see this and persists in asking her if his father was murdered, kneeling before Wan with his head bowed. Passionately embracing him, holding his head to her chest and kissing his forehead, Wan begs him to stop asking dangerous questions in a fascinating departure from Gertrude's position of ignorance in the play: "Wu Luan, the pain in your eyes breaks my heart. Don't ask so many questions. Don't think too much. Promise me? The best way to soothe your father's spirit ... is to make sure we are both safe. Especially you." This brief speech provides several clues to Little Wan's character. She hints at a deeper knowledge of how Wu Luan's father died, but does not elaborate, underscoring the idea that she is well aware of Emperor Li's machinations. In Hamlet's closet scene, Hamlet forces his mother to confront the reality of Claudius's evil nature; in The Banquet's, Little Wan seeks to protect Wu Luan from full knowledge of his uncle's ambition. Explicitly voicing her desire to protect Wu Luan, Wan inspires rather than gratitude or obedience a sort of embarrassed awareness of their relative positions--both socially and literally--and Wu Luan hastens to distance himself, breaking dramatically from the embrace, pushing Wan away from him, lowering his head in shame, and stating that his shabby clothing has stained "the Empress's bathrobe." While Hamlet contains a Gertrude who is frequently hushed and dismissed by Claudius in exactly the manner Little Wan hushes and dismisses Wu Luan, Feng's film promises a stronger, more vibrant queen, one who intimidates those around her. Wu Luan's reference to the disparity between his and Little Wan's dress underscores their different social stations. The contrast appears to distress Wan and leads her first to slap him and then, to begin to laugh. The slightly manic quality of this exchange impresses us with the depth and wealth of emotion Wan is constantly keeping under control, and that control is beautifully realized when she soon after challenges him to a demonstration of sword fighting/martial arts skill. The stunning exhibition--which Wan handily wins--serves to point out again her superiority to
Wu Luan in terms of her greater physical prowess. Wu Luan attempts to opt out, stating that he now only uses the short sword for paper cutting, a statement which further distances Wu Luan from the man of action that Wan urges him to be. According to her, he is not a true man, because a man "should not be a lonely musician, a product of warm hills and soft streams." But Wu Luan persists in articulating a doctrine of loneliness that he argues is the definition of the human experience: "No one can really understand another person. If we did, we would not feel so lonely."
Here is Feng's answer to Hamlet's anxious inquiries into the meaning of life, the morality of vengeance, and the necessity of action: Wu Luan does not ponder these things, but clings to an ideal of the lonely man. In his audio commentary on the DVD, Bey Logan states that mainland Chinese martial arts period films "tend to be about the defeat of the one by the many," as opposed to older hungfu films that valorize the triumph of the individual. This loneliness and preordained defeat inspire Wu Luan not to struggle, not to argue with others or himself, but rather to adopt a subordinate and submissive position both literally (in many scenes he is reclining, seated, or kneeling while others stand over him), and dramatically (as he does not work to initiate almost any action within the film, with the exception of staging a Mousetrap-like performance at the coronation banquet). This excessive, repeated narrative of loneliness stands in stark contrast to a Gertrude who nearly bursts at the seams with schemes, ambition, and action.
In the second half of the closet scene, which occurs fifty-four minutes into the film, Little Wan chastises Wu Luan for his passivity again, only this time, rather than suggesting he abandon his art, she tells him he is unskilled at it. Little Wan is clearly frustrated with his inability to protect himself when she accuses him: "You are incapable of even the most basic play-acting. Your sorrow, anger, bitterness and uncertainty are there for all to see. You permit danger to follow you everywhere. You think hiding behind a mask can elevate your art? The highest level is to use your own face and turn it into a mask." For the duration of their conversation, Wu Luan is reclining by the fountain. At the beginning of the scene, Wan combs his wet hair, tending to him like a maid, but by the end, she leans domineeringly over him, mocking him. Wu Luan does not move, embodying an extreme motionlessness in contrast to Wan's energetic exit as she sweeps out, her long robes trailing behind her. The visual aspects of this scene underscore each character's approach to communicating his or her emotions. Wan's long, dark robes imply the obscurity she wishes Wu Luan had. They also are heavy and ornately embroidered, demonstrating the weight of her responsibility and the gravity of her person. Meanwhile, Wu Luan is dressed in lighter robes, showing a nature less tethered to the real. His robes are a bland taupe in color, such that he almost blends into the gray stone of the fountain where he is reclining, providing a very dull, monochromatic backdrop for the stunning black of Wan's robes. Wu Luan's very wardrobe is passive and unremarkable, whereas Wan's both communicates and conceals her nature.
The film continually contrasts Wan's activity and Wu Luan's passivity. Wan plays polo and intervenes to save Wu Luan's life repeatedly while the Prince is docile even in battle. This docility is evident in the opening scene, described above, where he is revealed to be hiding beneath the bridge while the Emperor's party slaughters his companions at the compound in the Yue territory. Later, when he becomes aware en route to Khitan that his escort has been ordered to kill him, he closes his eyes and awaits the blow, remaining unmoving as Yin Sun and his guard defend the Prince and save his life. Ultimately, he does not even kill Laertes or Claudius, but watches helpless as Wan's poison finally finds its mark in the Emperor and Wan stabs Yin Sun in revenge for his accidental slaying of the Prince. Wu Luan is certainly not presented as a pompous, self-important, or proud duelist, as the Prince is at the close of Hamlet, when Claudius depends upon Hamlet's inherent pride to force him to meet Laertes' challenge. The only time we see Wu Luan exert any violent action is in the disturbing scene where he rapes Qing.33 Even this scene ends, though, with a pietallike pose, as Qing cradles the limp and weakened Wu Luan in her arms like a child.
The climax of the film, the banquet itself, is a tour de force of Little Wan's widereaching ability to effect change, influence events, and commit to action. It is Wan who ultimately kills the Emperor (Claudius) via poison and not Wu Luan. It is also Wan who kills Yin Sun (Laertes)--though, in this film, he is no threat to Wu Luan. And it is Wan who (inadvertently) kills Qing, so that even Ophelia's death can be just as readily traced to Gertrude as it can to her sense of loss from Hamlet's disappearance. (34) Feng's Hamlet doesn't kill anybody, as Minister Yin, the film's Polonius, lives in exile at the end of the film. When the result of Little Wafts long struggle to protect and promote Wu Luan is finally achieved, when she kneels before him and addresses him as "Your Majesty," Wu Luan collapses, recoiling from the honorific: "Please do not lay this sinful title on me." He refuses to do what is expected of him: to mete out punishment upon Little Wan for poisoning the Emperor and causing Qing's death. This refusal, this continued inaction, leads to Yin Sun's frustrated attempt to kill Little Wan, as he runs at her from behind, with the intention of driving his knife into her back. But Wu Luan reaches out to save her and stops the knife with his hand, sustaining the injury that will kill him (the blade is poisoned), and Little Wan kills Yin Sun in immediate repayment. Little Wan is not slow to punish those who kill the one she loves, and her action starkly contrasts with Wu Luan's overwhelming inaction.
Scholars frequently point to the fact that Gertrude's insistence upon drinking a toast to Hamlet is the only time she disobeys Claudius. However, in The Banquet, it is Wan who warns Qing not to drink the poisoned cup. In shifting this exchange from occurring between Gertrude and Claudius to Qing and Wan, Feng's film again suggests a possible sexual dimension to the relationship between his remade Gertrude and Ophelia. Recall the way that Wan leans over Qing's whipped and bleeding body, gloating, but also tenderly stroking her. In addition, Li's choice to knowingly drink the poisoned wine in the climactic banquet scene echoes Olivier's Gertrude's conscious drinking of the poisoned cup in order to warn her son. This cinematic reference not only demonstrates Feng's awareness of participating in a tradition of Hamlet on film, but also highlights some of Feng's production's major differences. First, The Banquet stages both the ignorant figure drinking the poison and the knowing martyr. Second, Li is here scripted in the feminine, martyred position. His choice to martyr himself to satisfy Wan is echoed moments later when Wu Luan stops Yin Sun's knife, destined to kill Wan. Unlike Shakespeare's Hamlet, Wu Luan doesn't receive his mortal wound while engaged in a duel; rather, he is killed trying to protect Wan. And Wu Luan doesn't retaliate for the wound; it is Wan who kills Yin Sun.
Although weeping over the Prince's body, Little Wan rises to the Chamberlain's shouts of "Long Live Her Majesty." The closing scene is incredibly powerful as we get a glimpse of Wan in triumph. Gathering bright red cloth in her arms--the same red cloth she admired early in the film and used in her coronation outfit; the same red cloth that was reportedly originally bought for Qing's wedding to Wu Luan--she contemplates her identity and her ambition in the film's only soliloquy:
When was it that I started to forget my name? Perhaps it was the day your father married me. You left and nobody used my name anymore. Gradually even I forgot what it was. Then your uncle married me ... and again I was called the Empress. But from now on, nobody will call me Empress anymore. Instead, they will call me Her Majesty, the Emperor. Do you know why I like this particular red? Because it is the color of the flame of desire. Yes ... Desire. How many lives have been consumed by this flame? Only I shall rise out of it like a phoenix.
Seeming to address the dead Wu Luan, Little Wan does not dwell on her grief. Instead, she returns to the theme of title and identity, embracing her future as "the Emperor." As soon as she finishes speaking the last gloating word, she is stabbed in the back by an unseen assailant and dies. Wan is killed at the height of her sense of self-knowledge and at the achievement of her goals. Cutting her down right as she asserts her ability to rise again like the phoenix startles both Little Wan and the audience. The film never reveals who killed her, but the commentary suggests that it was Ling, one of her maids, who has been a silent witness to all of her schemes and all of her plots. If it is the maid who kills her, then Ling is arguably an even more enterprising woman than the Empress. Feng decided in the final cut of the film not to reveal the identity of the murderer, relishing instead the ambiguity and the sense that even Little Wan could not escape justice. There is also a sharper sense of tragedy at the close of this film because Wan doesn't have the opportunity, like Hamlet, to turn to a Horatio and ask that her story be told. She is, instead, cut off in the midst of telling her own story, and given no concluding praise from a conquering Fortinbras or a beloved friend.
In a film where Gertrude kills Claudius, Ophelia, and Laertes, there is no place for "Frailty, thy name is woman." The Banquet re-renders Hamlet into a story less about the birth of the modern thinking man and more about the potential of a strong, ambitious woman. While she is killed, this Chinese Gertrude is at no point depicted as a victim. Her choices are all her own, and she is neither ignorant nor a pawn in Li's or Wu Luan's scheming. Is this a Gertrude for the twenty-first century? Or is some larger unsettling of the Hamlet myth at work in Feng's film? If the latter, then we can admire Feng for pushing the story so far, for building a new Gertrude who is independent, strong-willed, and not merely a vessel for Claudius's ambitions and Hamlet's petulance. And yet, this extraordinary Gertrude is ultimately silenced. She pushes the limits of power and ambition but in the end is cut off in her prime. While the film decidedly undermines Hamlet's stylized loneliness and introspection, it also pointedly refuses to espouse ambition as a valid paradigm.
What is the result of building a Hamlet story around an active, rather than passive, protagonist? Ultimately, the active Wan is still silenced, and we could argue that the film, like the play, shows the futility of human action to an extent. But there is something else at stake. In the silencing of Little Wan by an unseen assailant, we are invited to contemplate what larger entity could undo the most ambitious, passionate, and resilient of all characters. As she dies, for the first time in the entire film, Wan breaks the fourth wall by turning to stare directly at the audience, reaching out her hand in accusation and supplication, implicating us, the viewers, in her death. are the final abusers and consumers of her ambition and energy, and her story is the ultimate sacrifice. At this moment, we are accused of making her the Dragon Lady, of forcing all our interpretations and assumptions on this incredibly mysterious character, and we are punished for our audacity by never learning the identity of her murderer. So while Wan turns to no Horatio to ask him to tell her story, she turns to us to challenge us to forget it.
Many critics have said that Hamlet is a play you cannot ever experience for the first time, at least in a traditional Western context. So much of its language has passed into common use that students often find the experience of reading it a trip down memory lane. Thompson and Taylor call this "the sheer (over-)familiarity of the play's language." (35) What Feng Xiaogang has so successfully done is re-rendered the story in terms that preserve the crucial themes of desire, action and inaction, family and power, but surprise us with their newness. And in the conclusion, Little Wafts death asks us to reflect on our own insatiable desire for the story, our own capacity to destroy it and to render it anew, bringing us full circle back to the film's opening, where Wu Luan is learning the art of storytelling.
(1.) J. Anthony Burton, "The Lady Vanishes or, the Incredible Shrinking Gertrude," in Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Essays in Honor of James P. Lusardi, ed. Paul Nelsen and June Schlueter (Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006), 217-31.
(2.) Legend of the Black Scorpion, directed by Feng Xiaogang (2006, Santa Monica, CA: Dragon Dynasty, 2008), DVD. "Ihis Chinese film, Ye yon, is known internationally as The Banquet, but the American DVD release is titled Legend of the Black Scorpion. I will refer to it as The Banquet throughout this essay.
(3.) For your reference, here's a brief chart of the character equivalencies between Hamlet and The Banquet:
Prince Wu Luan Hamlet Empress Little Wan Gertrude Emperor Li Claudius Qing Nu Ophelia General Yin Sun Laertes Minister Yin Polonius
(4.) A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth (1904; New York and London: Penguin Books, 1991), 159; and Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 15, 30.
(5.) Yoshiko Ueno, "Three Gertrudes: Text and Subtext," in Hamlet and Japan, ed.Ueno (New York: AMS Press, 1995), 156.
(6.) Akiko Kusunoki, "'Oh Most Pernicious Woman': Gertrude in the Light of Ideas on Remarriage in Early Seventeenth-Century England," in Ueno, Hamlet and Japan, 169.
(7.) Rebecca Smith, "A Heart Cleft in Twain: The Dilemma of Shakespeare's Gertrude," In The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana, Chicago, and London: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 194.
(8.) Richard Levin, "Gertrude's Elusive Libido and Shakespeare's Unreliable Narrators," SEL 48.2 (Spring 2008): 323.
(9.) Maurice Hunt, "Gertrude's Interiority," Cahiers Elisabethains 78 (Autumn 2010): 14, 25.
(10.) Ann Thompson and Nell Taylor, "Introduction," in Hamlet, ed. Thompson and Taylor, Arden Shakespeare, Third Series (London: Thomson Learning, 2006), 39-41; Kusunoki, 170-71.
(11.) Charles Ross, "The Banquet as Cinematic Romance," in Asian Shakespeares on Screen: Two Films in Perspective, ed. Alexander C. Y. Huang, special issue, Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 4.2 (Spring/Summer 2009): 5.
(12.) Woodrow B. Hood, "A Thousand Universes: Zhang Ziyi in Feng Xiaogang's 7he Banquet," in Huang, Asian Shakespeares, 1.
(13.) Ibid., 2.
(14.) Ibid., 4.
(15.) Huang, Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 230.
(16.) Ibid., 230-31.
(17.) Ibid., 234.
(18.) William Shakespeare's Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh (1996, Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2007), DVD.
(19.) A good example of this would be the 1996 Branagh film, in which Branagh's Hamlet is dressed all in black, standing to the side of a grand hall filled with revelers dressed in festive white and military red for Claudius and Gertrude's wedding.
(20.) See 4.4.30 in Hamlet, when Hamlet encounters Fortinbras's army pursuing a small inconsequential territory, and in response gives the "How all occasions do inform against me" soliloquy. This and all Shakespeare quotations come from Hamlet, Thompson and Taylor (eds.), and are cited parenthetically in the text.
(21.) This detail comes from Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, who provided the audio commen tary on the American release of the DVD, titled Legend of the Black Scorpion.
(22.) Feng Xiaogang, "Master of Ceremonies: An ExcLusive Interview with Director Feng Xiaogang," Legend of the Black Scorpion.
(23.) Rebecca Chapman, "Spectator Violence and Queenly Desire in The Banquet," in Huang, Asian Shakespeares, 2.
(24.) Logan, Legend of the Black Scorpion.
(25.) Levin, 322. The scenes Levin refers to are 4.1.5-32 and 4.5.75-96.
(26.) In staging the consummation of Li and Wan's marriage, Feng's film seems to answer the question of whether or not Gertrude had an adulterous affair with Claudius while her husband was still alive. See Ueno, 160; Bradley, 160; Kusunoki, 170; Noel Blincoe, "Is Gertrude an Adulteress?," ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews 10.4 (Fall 1997): 18-24.
(27.) Ross, 4.
(28.) See, for example, Immy Wallenfels, "Gertrude as a Character of Intersection in Hamlet," Journal of the Wooden O Symposium 6 (2006): 90-99.
(29.) June Schlueter and James E Lusardi, "The Camera in Gertrude's Closet," Shakespeare and the Triple Play: From Study to Stage to Classroom, ed. Sidney Homan (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1988), 160.
(30.) Schlueter and Lusardi, 163.
(31.) Edward Eaton, "Hamlet and His Women: A Study of Four Films" Philological Papers 45 (1999): 52.
(32.) Smith, 195.
(33.) Ross points out that this is related to the rape of the Ur-Ophelia in Saxo Grammaticus (3).
(34.) Harmonie Loberg and Stephen Ratcliffe are among those who have read Gertrude as involved in Ophelia's death. Loberg notes that "Ophelia appears as a true threat to every role that the Queen possesses" (64), and this sense of threatened authority and affection is again embodied in Feng's film. See Loberg, "Queen Gertrude: Monarch, Mother, Murderer," Atenea, 24.1 (2004): 59-71; also Ratcliffe, "What Doesn't Happen in Hamlet: The Queen's Speech," Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 10.1 (Spring 1998): 123-44.
(35.) Thompson and Taylor, 25.
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|Author:||O'Leary, Niamh J.|
|Publication:||The Upstart Crow|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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