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The Many Film Versions of Hamlet


You had provided me with some opinions awhile back and I was wondering about some of your points that I wondered if you could clarify for me.

1) The setting of the play is more contemporary, as are the costumes, but it still remains relatively true to Shakespeare's original vision. (WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS?)

2) Mel Gibson's version (1990), as with others, leaves out some information, and the sequencing of events is altered for a smoother flow in the film. (HOW IS THE SEQUENCING CHANGED AND HOW DOES THAT MAKE IT FLOW MORE SMOOTHLY?)

3) Zeffirelli (the director) chooses to change the chronology of some of the events so that the plot moves along more quickly, not necessarily altering the substance of the action, but presenting different scenes as if they occur simultaneously so that the plot does not get bogged down. (WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS?)

4) The play does not appear as "darkly" filmed as others (in terms of lighting!), and the supporting cast does an excellent job presenting characters that stand up to close scrutiny. (CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU MEAN BY THIS?)

5) The scripting is changed in some instances: for example, in the movie, Polonius is shown spying on Hamlet and Ophelia for information, while in the play, the dutiful Ophelia goes to her father with the information. Changes like this do not seem to have detracted from the play's impact. (WHAT IS THE LIKELY REASON THAT ZEFIRELLI MADE THIS CHANGE?)

6) Though Fortinbras is generally left out of most of the plays, this does not seem to hinder the play's effectiveness. Some argue that Shakespeare, being an artist himself, would not mind such license being taken in the name of literary interpretation. (WHAT DO YOU MEAN?)

7) Ethan Hawke's version is, as mentioned, the more contemporary of all of the plays, but it seems to lack the power and intensity in acting (IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT IS THE BASIS FOR YOUR OPINION?)

8) Kevin Kline's version has supporters, but some aspects of Hamlet's character are elusive in his portrayal of the "Prince of Denmark." He finds the wit, satire and cynicism of Hamlet's character, but not the depth of internal struggles that haunt the young Dane. (IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT IS THE BASIS FOR THIS JUDGMENT?)

Thank you so much!

Solution Preview

#1 - The version of the film I must be referring to is Kenneth Branagh's. His film is set in the 19th Century (the 1800s).

The play of Hamlet was written by Shakespeare, it is believed, in the very late 1500s, though he copied the idea from another writer who had recorded it from an earlier time. (This was not at all unusual for Shakespeare, and no one thought twice about it at the time.)

In general, when the play is presented, the clothing and setting seem to reflect Shakespeare's time, although it is hard to tell: the headdress that Gertrude wears in Gibson's version seems more medieval, however the point of number one is that Branagh's filmed version is set several hundred years later. "Contemporary" does not mean twentieth or twenty-first century, but something closer to our time rather than when it was originally produced. The costumes Branagh used were from the Victorian Era, but either way, the play does not "suffer" because the setting is of a more "contemporary" nature.

"Remaining true to Shakespeare's vision" refers to Branagh's dedication to presenting the content (and intent) of William Shakespeare's original play.

#2 - The sequencing in Gibson's version has been altered for an improved flow. A stage production moves more slowly as the characters move in real time. In the film, the editing of the film allows for a more fluid movement. The absence of the character of Fortinbras provides for a more compact presentation; there is no reference (as I recall) to an impending war, as the battle is being waged by Fortinbras who is not included in this version of the play.

"Cartmell also notes that the text is drastically cut, but with the effect of enhancing the roles of the women."

In terms of other sequencing alterations, in Gibson's version (Zeffirelli's) has Polonius spy on Hamlet and Ophelia to study Hamlet's "madness," however, in the play, Ophelia is called to Claudius and Polonius to "report" as to Hamlet's actions. This basically deals not with leaving something out, but changing the way in which it was placed into the film.

(See #3 for another example.)

#3 - Zeffirelli's change in the chronology can be seen at Ophelia's funeral. Hamlet is close by in the famous graveyard scene, speaking to Horatio and the gravedigger, remembering Yorick, the king's jester when Hamlet was young. As this scene continues, the camera bounces back and forth between Hamlet and the train of mourners who follow Ophelia's body to its burial. In Shakespeare's play, the two scenes are separate, but in this film version, they ...

Solution Summary

This posting deals with the several versions of the film based on Shakespeare's play, Hamlet.