To Be Shakespeare, Or Not To Be Shakespeare, That Is The Question Essay, Research Paper
To Be Shakespeare, Or Not To Be Shakespeare,
That Is The Question
Kenneth Branaugh may have had the script of William Shakespeare+s Hamlet spoken down to every last thee and thou, but one must remember that this is Hamlet through Branaugh+s eyes, not Shakespeare+s. Therefore, dismissing obvious additions made for adapting the play to film, such as having a real castle instead of a stage, it is possible to observe the unique characters, interpretations, actions, and setting that make this version the director+s own.
In the time of Shakespeare, one of the actors main challenges was to use the words to paint the scene for the audience, since, for the most part, they were looking at a bare stage. However, this use of imagination and portrayal is no longer needed when the script is brought to film. Every pearl and snowflake have been placed strategically before the audience, so that there is no need to listen to the language to create your own vision of Hamlet+s world. Branaugh+s world is full of lavish affairs, freezing winters, and halls of mirrors. The use of the camera has some definite advantages and disadvantages. First, since the characters are no longer limited by a defined space, they are able to deliver their long speeches while being in a constant state of motion. This occurs in the scene with the guards, and most noticeably in the scene with Laertes and Ophelia, before he leaves for France. This same scene demonstrates how the camera enables the characters to switch from one setting to the next, as when Laertes, Ophelia, and Polonius are taken from outside to the church. This, in turn, helps Branaugh set the scene for Ophelia and Polonius, in which, Ophelia confesses everything to her father, perhaps only because she is in a confession booth. Filming also allows for clarification of what is being said through silent plays. During characters+ dialogue, the scene switches to actions of the past, present, and even to things that could happen. This seems to be used to give the audience a better understanding of what is happening, and it also helps to further develop the characters so that the story is built up to the audience, rather then being tossed into the middle of the storyline. Young Fortinbras is often shown in these silent plays and is the only way his character is able to be developed to such an extent. This technique is also used to show how King Hamlet is killed, as it is being explained by the ghost. Small details, that a play could not possibly portray, add to the overall film. For instance, the book Hamlet picks up, after being told about the ghost, is entitled Demons, suggesting that Hamlet is going to be prepared to meet this apparition. Branaugh uses the ability of a spanning camera to include other details that enhance the richness of the scene. The building of cannons is shown at the beginning to capture the feeling of a brewing war. Also, Hamlet is shown with a group of fencers going through their exercises while Laertes and Ophelia talk, perhaps a foreshadowing of the end scene. As many advantages as there may be to film, there are also numerous drawbacks that can take away from any masterpiece.
The same technology and resources that can make a film great, can also make a film terrible when used extravagantly. Sometimes it is better to rely on good acting and simplicity rather than smoke, fire, and earthquakes to make a scene worth remembering. This seemed to be true in the ghost scene. It was interesting that Branaugh decided to take the scene deep into the woods. This added a certain foreboding, eerie feeling to the scene, but one that the fire and smoke dominated. The earthquake and fire was really just too much for the scene. It became almost comic at some points because of all the commotion. This also gave the impression that the ghost was from hell, even though it descended from the sky when it was first seen. Another scene that seemed a little ridiculous was with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern riding up to Hamlet on a toy train. The only question that comes to mind is, why? An underscore of music during certain scenes enhances the emotion and intensity being played out. However, the music during Hamlet+s soliloquy about war and Fortinbras gives an overwhelming feeling of reckoning, determination, and triumph. The music had too much pizzazz, and especially became overly dramatic when combined with the contrasting black clothes against the white snow, and the army forming ranks behind the passionate Hamlet. Once again, simplicity might have been the key to avoid such a staged performance.
Kenneth Branaugh+s development and interpretation of the characters and their relationships to one another can be quite surprising to anyone who has read Hamlet before and already has formed opinions about the characters and story. Hamlet is played as being very witty, having a range of emotions, and being a bit eccentric. This seems to work very well, allowing even a bit of humor to find its way to the audience. Branaugh played most of Hamlet+s madness as an act. The only exception might be after the ghost appeared. He became a rambling madman too quickly for it to be an act, especially since the only two people there were those he trusted. Overall, he slipped into the mask of madness only when it was appropriate. Sometimes, however, his overly dramatic actions could definitely be on the line of madness. The main source for this observation being from the play, The Mousetrap. Hamlet appeared to be a raving lunatic enraptured in his own delight at the King+s discomfort. It seemed dangerous to direct this scene with Hamlet running up on the stage and finishing the actors lines, because almost anyone would stand up and look frightened while observing such atrocious behavior by the prince. Therefore, it seems ridiculous that Hamlet feels like the King acted in a frightened manner, when, in fact, the whole audience is startled by Hamlet+s ravings. As for Hamlet+s relationship with Gertrude, he seemed to turn into a little boy whenever he talked to her. The bedroom scene with these two characters did not come off very well. It was hard to believe Gertrude was upset, since she looked so calm sitting cross-legged on the bed. Gertrude+s relationship with Claudius is obviously a loving one. A flashback shown during a soliloquy even suggests that there was an attraction between the two while King Hamlet was still alive. The character of Claudius could almost be viewed as regretful. The part that gives this impression is the silent play during which the death of the king is shown. When the camera focuses on the murderers face, Claudius is watching his brother die, and in that instant a look of regret and horror creeps onto his face, as he realizes the magnitude of what he has done. It never seemed like his intention to want Hamlet dead. But, Hamlet kept making him confront his guilt, which was so unbearable, that the only way he thought he could cure it was by committing the same heinous act of murder, again.
Polonius was one of the bigger surprises. This character is portrayed as being mischievous, maybe a bit evil, powerful, and hypocritical man, who even enjoys a bit of whoring. This is quite a contrast from my own vision of an eccentric, older man, who is more of a busybody and meddler than anything. His relationship with Ophelia is a bit confusing. When first shown together, he seems to be vicious as he shoves her into the confession booth. Later, he is seen always hugging, kissing, and condoling his lovesick child. Ophelia, of course, has reason to weep, since Hamlet did not only pursue her love in a courtly manner, but also pursued it in bed. This adds an odd twist to their relationship and Ophelia+s character. Would someone who is in love with a person, enough to dismiss religious and moral issues, obey and listen to their father when asked to no longer see and talk to that person? Well, it seems Ophelia would, and portrays herself as a coward who has no faith in love. She unveils this when she lies to Hamlet about where her father is at. It is surprising when she does this, considering the warm greeting Hamlet and her exchange. Altogether, this scene is very interesting to watch. The two-sided mirrors really add to the appeal, as Hamlet+s words focus directly on Claudius. With a few exceptions, the characters intertwine and compliment each other appropriately.
Some of the most noticeable additions are made through character actions. The King is shown striking Hamlet, because he will not tell where Polonius is hidden. When he is found, Ophelia+s madness starts with screams that could rival any B-rated horror film. Her madness displays one of the most unexpected additions because it consists of Ophelia in a straight jacket throwing herself against the walls of a padded room. Branaugh must have really wanted to play up her madness. He had her frolicking on the floor, kneeing the King in the crotch, and, as if that was not enough, Ophelia gets hosed down with cold water. Apparently, she is sane enough to hide a key in her mouth. This last part is quite a stretch for the imagination, since this is a girl who is seeing imaginary flowers, singing songs, running around in her nightgown, and yet capable of planning her escape using a stolen key. Another part that stands out is Ophelia+s burial taking place at night, and in this same scene Hamlet appears for the first time no longer wearing black. The final scene also has parts that could be viewed as different from the typical Hamlet.
First, there is the irony that Fortinbras has captured the kingdom while the duel is taking place. Furthermore, there is the Laertes going over the balcony, and Hamlet throwing his sword across the room nailing the King to his thrown. Hamlet then precedes to cause the chandelier to fall on him, and to really make sure Claudius dies, he pours the poisoned drink down the murderers throat. Branaugh ends the film with Hamlet being carried out in a cross formation, perhaps suggesting that Hamlet+s pursuit of vengeance was his crucifixion.
There are so many ways this work can be interpreted and acted out, and that makes it hard to be critical when there is no standard to compare it to. This film was Kenneth Branaugh+s vision of Hamlet, and so to him it is magnificent. To myself, this film had many brilliant spots and was very thorough and well acted out. However, at times, the action and music became a bit overwhelming. Perhaps Branaugh got a little to caught up in the moment, it is hard to say. The silent plays that were shown throughout ( King Hamlet+s death, the drowned Ophelia, Hamlet+s childhood days with Yurich, Priam+s slaughter, Fortinbras) added a lot to the film, because it gave the characters a history and allowed for a non-shakespearean audience to better understand what was being said. The adaptation from play to film is not always very easy, and obviously some changes have to occur. Branaugh+s version of Hamlet definitely had some additions, but it still captured the essence of Shakespeare making it an interesting piece of work, and an enjoyable film.