Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hamet Act 1: Scene 2, the soliloquy


Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet


Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

You have until Monday 2.9.09 @ noon to complete this assignment.

It is worth 100 points and will be graded with the APE Rubric.

Objective: Watch the two performances above of Hamlet's first soliloquy from Act 1 Scene 2 and choose which version is the best interpretation of the lines.

Your critique of the video must be based on your knowledge and understanding of the passage, so you must provide textual evidence from Hamlet as well as provide descriptions of the video. I can't watch the video and read your post at the same time, so you need to make me see what you see with your words. It will also help you to take notes on the video while you watch it. Pay attention to what you captures your attention. Notice what you notice! (Hint: Watch the video more than once.)

Pay attention to:

  • delivery of the lines
  • imagery the setting / scenery
  • the portrayal of the actor (characterization)
  • lighting & camera effects
  • sound effects or music
  • etc--the list could keep going

You should make sure to develop a sophisticated thesis. Post in the comment stream of the video you choose below. It should be about 1,000 words (use your best judgement in either direction--this is a recommendation, not a requirement. It should be as long as it takes to develop your thesis.)

Edit and put spaces between paragraphs before you post please!


Mary N. said...

Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act One, Scene Two of “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is the first time Shakespeare introduces the audience to Hamlet in length. In previous pages prior to the soliloquy, the audience only knows of Hamlet through the words of other characters. Only through this soliloquy is it possible for the audience to meet Hamlet, whom is characterized as important, as distressed, as furious, and as struggling with himself over the current situation in Denmark, in which the version that employs actor Kenneth Branagh entertainingly and accurately portrayed.

This scene marks its importance in presenting the character of Hamlet as the protagonist for the very first time. Thus, Shakespeare has created this scene in order for Hamlet to completely stand out from all the others since the play revolves around this one character. He does this by having Hamlet recite a soliloquy that provide insights into his character once all the other characters exited the stage, suggested through stage directions, “Flourish. Exeunt all but Hamlet” (Shakespeare 128).

In the version in which Kenneth Branagh plays the role of Hamlet, the director also sees the importance in isolating Hamlet in this scene to achieve the same purpose. Unlike the other version of Hamlet, this one does not play melancholy music in the background while Hamlet speaks. In not doing so, the audience is able to concentrate solely on the words spoken and the tone they were spoken in, which therefore allow them to develop an idea of who Hamlet is. In addition, the setting of this scene introduces an enormous two-story room that contains overly-decorated and oversized furniture and structures to put the focus on the only underplayed character in the room; Branagh wears not fancy robes but a simple black and white attire, which sets him apart from the eloquent scenery. This contrast suggests that Hamlet is a simple character by nature while the world around him is characterized by complexity and extravagance. Thus, Hamlet becomes the center of attention in this scene.

The overly large scenery employed in the video also stresses to the audience how completely alone Hamlet feels in this undesirable event of Denmark being in absolute chaos due to the death of King Hamlet and his mother’s marriage to his uncle since the oversized furniture and structures provide the illusion of Hamlet being extremely small in size. Prior to Hamlet’s speech, the king asks Hamlet, “How is it that clouds still hang on you?” with the queen reiterating by demanding him to “cast [his] nighted color off” (Shakespeare 66/68). While Hamlet continues to mourn for his late father, his mother and the new king urge him to move on with his life as “‘tis umanly grief” (94). In addition, through Hamlet’s soliloquy, it becomes obvious how hopeless he feels in not being able to do anything about the marriage as he states “how [weary], stale, flat, and unprofitable/ Seem to [him] all the uses of this world” (133-134).

Kenneth Branagh perfectly captures Shakespeare’s Hamlet through his body language in the first part of the speech. The soliloquy begins with Kenneth Branagh doubling over and holding onto the arms of the chairs, a sign of hopelessness and of pain, as he contemplates suicide because he could not bear how quickly his mother remarried; “O, that this too too sallied flesh would melt/ Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” because nobody understands his lingering sorrow (129-130). As Branagh continues to recite the lines, he repeatedly furrows his brows and stares up at the ceiling as if searching for answers as he paces back and forth, which shows his desperation for a solution. Branagh strategically begins to put more strength behind his actions as the character Hamlet becomes angry and feels unjustified for the late king when remembering how quickly his mother has married King Claudius. Branagh would throw up his arms sporadically and shake his hands furiously as if speaking to his mother. This change in action is also demonstrated through the tone Branagh used as he recited Hamlet’s first soliloquy.

From the soliloquy, the audience observes an inner conflict Hamlet struggles between the love for his mother and the unwise marriage his mother made to his uncle Claudius. Hamlet begins off his speech in a melancholy and a hopeless tone as he remembers his late father and says, “So excellent a king, that was to this/ Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother/ That he might not beteem the winds of heaven/ Visit her face too roughly” (139-142). As he begins to think about how only one month passed before his mother remarried, he becomes furious at the idea, to which he tries to stop thinking about but keeps coming back to, giving him an anxious and angry tone characterized by the inner struggle he is facing. “…Heaven and earth/ Must I remember? Why, she should hang on him/ As if increase of appetite had grown/ By what it fed on, and yet, within a month-/ Let me not think on’t” (142-146)! Yet, it “[breaks his] heart, for [he] must hold [his] tongue” (157).

Branagh’s version of Hamlet matches that of Shakespeare’s exactly. Branagh begins off reciting the soliloquy in a slow and a soft voice, full of hopelessness, as he briefly contemplates suicide. As he starts to remember the late king, his voice becomes rather raspy and rough, as if the memory has created a rock in his throat to which he finds it hard to speak due to the tragedy of it all. Upon recalling his deceased father, his mother’s quick marriage to Claudius slowly comes back to his mind, causing him to become pained as he fights to forget it. Branagh recites this part with accuracy to how his voice quivers as he begs heaven and earth to let him forget such painful memories. Yet the inner fighting proves to fail when Branagh raises his voice and shouts “one month” each time it comes up in the soliloquy to really emphasize how much the speedy marriage painfully affects Hamlet. At the end, when he realizes that there is nothing that he can do about the undesirable situation, Branagh voice slows down to a slow and soft pitch again, where each word takes an enormous amount of effort to say.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s first soliloquy has been captured in the media multiple times, to which some versions prove to dominate over others in accuracy of portrayal of character and of interpretation. In the version where Branagh plays Prince Hamlet, the director successfully shows the importance of Hamlet’s isolation through setting and the omission of music while Branagh takes on a matching behavior and tone of voice to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Jenny L said...

In Kenneth Branagh’s depiction of Hamlet’s first soliloquy, under a contrasting background of light and dark, he utilizes angry outbursts, grieving anguish, and self hatred, to convey emotions concerning the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother. As a youth experiencing the physical lost of his father and the emotional lost of his mother, Hamlet is in a state of hurt and despair. In taking on the role of Hamlet, Branagh begins in a state of weeping sorrow, with his head bowed down, standing between the two thrones of royalty and transitions to enraged thoughts of his mother’s “most wicked speed, to post/With such dexterity to incestuous sheets.” (38-39)

The setting in which Branagh carried out Hamlet’s soliloquy parallels his fluctuating emotions. Shifting from an eerie darkness to a gloomy lightness that indicates a realization that he “must hold [his] tongue (39), the scene captures the conflict Hamlet faces. In standing between the two thrones, it may be symbolic of the entrapment he faces, as he is in a stage of both sorrow and rage. Hamlet now finds himself in solitude as he has lost both of his parents and in beginning the scene in between the thrones that symbolize his royalty, the directors are able to create a sense of not only entrapment, but also helplessness. With snow blanketing the surfaces and flurrying about as Hamlet starts to speak, it creates an almost numb effect as Hamlet laments the pain he is in. Wishing that his “too too sallied flesh would melt,/thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” (38), the feelings of coldness and isolation is emphasized by the directors through the incorporation of snow. Branagh depicts Hamlet’s suicidal thoughts accurately through a show of frustration as he clenches his fists and clutches his hair. By depicting the pain that Hamlet feels, Branagh is able to allow viewers the opportunity to empathize with the grief he feels in realization of not only the death of his father but also the atrocity and humiliation his mother has brought to him by marrying his uncle. He rises from his state of despair and exudes anger in thinking of “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/ Seem to [him] all the uses of this world” (38) As the scene draws to an end, Hamlet enters into a room that is dominantly embellished in white and ends on the same tone in which he began his soliloquy. Using the color of white in the ending scene of Hamlet’s soliloquy maybe a technique to illustrate the innocence Hamlet is about to leave. The cyclic quality of his soliloquy has brought him back to where he had initially began, leaving both his conflict and grief both unresolved.

Speaking in an escalating tone, Branagh not only depicts the anger within Hamlet but his inability to act upon his emotions as well. Hamlet’s powerlessness can easily be seen as he is able to express his anger and grief but unable to propose actions to take. Branagh begins his portrayal of Hamlet in a soft tone, exuding feelings of sadness and his lost of will to live. The pessimistic view he holds on life is clearly supported by the posture he takes, bending over and weakly supporting his body. However, as the lines of Hamlet grow to become more emphatic and emotional, Branagh rises in unison and speaks louder recalling that his father is “but two months dead…so excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr.” (38) The lack of music and other sound effects for that matter in his soliloquy further emphasizes the isolation and solitude Hamlet faces as he is without any kin to trust. A sense of pensiveness is exuded throughout the delivery his lines, as he thinks and recalls, the days in which “[his mother] should hang on [his father] as if increase of appetite had grown/ By what it fed on.” (38) Though Hamlet is not speaking directly to any individual in his soliloquy, Branagh nonetheless direct his focus in different directions as he successfully conveys his grief with the audience. As unstable is the character of Hamlet at the moment is his emotions, Branagh artfully expresses the variations by fluctuating the volume of his speech (in lines speaking of the incestuous relationship between his mother and his uncle his voice rises and in lines speaking of his hopeless state his voice is lowered).

The richness of imagery in the lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy is clearly contrasted by the simplistic backdrop in which he speaks. By placing Branagh in a simplistic background the images addressed in the lines he delivers can be more vividly seen. From the “unweeded garden” (38) to the “winds of heaven” and the “incestious sheets”, each can be envisioned as the simple backdrop serves as a blank canvas for the audience to imagine the lines that Hamlet speaks. Not only does the plain setting serve to intensify the images of purity tarnished, but also intensifies the emotions felt at the thought of each image as well. Branagh shows Hamlet’s strong revulsion at the thought of his mother’s remarriage to his uncle by placing increased emphasis on words like “O God”, “within a month”, and “Frailty, thy name is woman.” The quickness of Gertrude to recover from being a widow is emphasized nicely as Branagh speaks with increase emotion at the lines conveying the speediness of the remarriage.

With no written stage directions, Branagh skillfully captures the anguish, the pain, the sorrow and the conflict Hamlet feels. In playing the role of Hamlet, Branagh is successful, having the ability to convey to the audience the fluctuating emotions the Hamlet experiences at the thought of both his father’s death and his mother’s betrayal. Not only does the acting of Branagh capture Hamlet’s anguish, but it also alludes to the tragedy he will face. With Hamlet standing in a white lighted room, the scene draws to a close, leaving viewers wondering what will become of Hamlet’s emotions.

Stephen said...

Act 1 Scene 2

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s classic play which, years after its publication, still stirs discussion, analysis, and modern retellings of this story through different mediums. Hamlet was and continues to be dissected, quoted, referenced, and parodied, over a long period of time, in many different forms by many different people. Generally speaking, Shakespeare tells the story of a Danish prince who attempts to seek revenge for his father’s murder by his uncle’s hand, while also dealing with a loss of sanity. Arguably, one of the factors that contribute to Hamlet’s mental destabilization is his mother’s very early remarriage to her late husband’s brother, which he considers to be disrespectful of his father’s memory. Hamlet gives his first soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 2 cursing his mother and bemoaning the thought that he is powerless to do anything about this remarriage. Many actors have attempted to portray this particular scene throughout history, with mixed results. On film, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 portrayal of Hamlet as an anguished and angry son through his famous soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 2 is notable for capturing Hamlet’s feeling of anger and helplessness by employing yelling, whispering, and emphasis on certain words and general passion in delivery, while taking liberties in the actual setting of the soliloquy, with details that are anachronistic of the time, in order to preserve and enhance the emotional forcefulness of this moment while changing minor details to reflect an evolving audience.

One of the obvious observations about Branagh’s portrayal is that he actually speaks his soliloquy. This is in contrast to Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Hamlet, another film version, where the soliloquy takes the form of a narration representing Hamlet’s thoughts. Olivier’s version takes advantage of modern advances in film in order to convey a passage in a play that resembles thought more than spoken word. By simply having Branagh speak his lines rather than using a character voice over, this director makes an important decision to preserve the essence of the play. Branagh, though speaking to vacancy, mimics the way that Hamlet would have been portrayed in years without film, when playwrights needed soliloquies to convey character emotions. By simply speaking, the director of Branagh’s version allows Branagh to blend voice, movement, and facial expression to convey Hamlet’s anger and helplessness, rather than relying on a voiceover.

It is impossible to predict how loud Shakespeare imagined Hamlet speaking in this soliloquy. Reading through the passage, one notices plenty of commas, dashes, and exclamations in this work. In lines 131 to 134, Hamlet declaims, “O God, God, How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world!” Clearly, Shakespeare leaves some direction toward how to approach these lines, with pauses after each “God” and an exclamatory tone. Branagh’s director respected and used Shakespeare’s direction while also adding a new emotional dimension into the work. When Branagh says, “O God, God,” he is whispering, in a disbelieving, moaning tone. Branagh uses volume to great effect, whispering when directly appealing to “God” and when making Hamlet’s realization at the end of the soliloquy in order to emphasize Hamlet’s feeling of helplessness: “It is not, nor it cannot come to good, But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue” (lines 158-159). In these last few lines, Hamlet bemoans his powerless situation- he hates that his mother remarried, but his only recourse is to refrain from criticism of the royal couple. Therefore, the whispering creates a note of resignation. Similarly, volume is used to great effect with indignant yelling. Branagh screams the words “rank,” (line 136) “gross,” (line 136) “month,” (line 145) and “God.” (line 150) “Month” in particular conveys Hamlet’s disbelief and indignation. None of these words and lines, however, are specifically emphasized by Shakespeare to be yelled or whispered. These nuances were added in by the producers of this film in order to create a spirited and passionate speech, one that enhanced what the soliloquy represents: anger and helplessness in the face of his mother’s remarriage, while still preserving the pauses and the exclamations of the original.

Branagh’s portrayal also differs in some respects to the original play. In the world of art, there have been recent reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s works that, while scrupulously staying true to Shakespeare’s lines, differ by offering a more contemporary interpretation of the setting. Instead of wearing period costumes, for example, modern interpretations would employ modern dress that still reflects the social status of the characters. While Branagh sticks faithfully to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the director of the film certainly employs a more modern interpretation. Take the setting, for example. While it is widely assumed that Hamlet takes place in sixteenth century, or earlier, the director designs the palace with a Romanesque style, with gilded walls and marble floors, something that would not seem out of place in France of the seventeenth century, but certainly would be out of place in Denmark in the sixteenth century, since Denmark was not as culturally sophisticated. In fact, Olivier’s portrayal seems to better capture the setting at the time of the play, despite the portrayal’s shortcomings. Hamlet’s clothing in Branagh’s portrayal seems very modern- he wears a black turtleneck, while again, Olivier’s version uses clothing more representative of the time period, with elaborate lace patterns near the collar. These anachronisms have the effect of revitalizing the play in terms of interest, and demonstrating that Shakespeare’s play endures past its assumed time period. The opulent setting also has the effect of reflecting a changing audience’s expectations of royalty. Audiences today have a certain expectation concerning how a “Prince of Denmark” lives, and Olivier’s version, with its dark and dreary halls, does not reflect this expectation. By modifying the play to suit expectations and by experimenting with new styles, the director of Branagh’s version attempts to make Hamlet both more interesting and relevant.

Hamlet has certainly undergone change, from its original version as a play in an open air theater, to modern film. While the basic content of Hamlet’s first soliloquy has remained unchanged, the more modern Branagh version supplements Shakespeare’s writing with more emphasis on certain words and control in speaking tone while also altering setting details, both for the sake of art and for the purpose of keeping up with modern expectations. These changes only enhance this version of Hamlet.

Matt Z! said...

In comparing the two movie versions of Act 1 Scene 2 of Hamlet, I have come to the conclusion that the Laurence Oliveir version is superior both in accuracy of tone, and quality of acting. This part of the play deals with Hamlet’s recollection of his incestuous mother, and because of the secret subject matter of the soliloquy, I personally would expect the tone of any actor reading these lines to be contemplative and angst-ridden. I believe that the Laurence Oliveir version most accurately portrays the tone of Hamlet as I envisioned it, as well as the scene in general because it portrays these lines as being thoughts of Hamlet, not his spoken words.

The main reason that I do not think the Kenneth Branagh interpretation is the most accurate is because, to me, the tone of the performance is extremely off. When I personally read the Hamlet soliloquy, it seemed like an honest attack on his mother’s reputation. Because of this, I envisioned Hamlet to be extremely angry, bitter, and to have a caustic tone in his voice. When Branagh performed the soliloquy, he seems to be on the verge of tears throughout most of the performance. His portrayal was far more whiney than how I envisioned it to be, and it made Hamlet appear to be the victim of the situation instead of on the giving end of an insult. I read Hamlet’s lines as being more aggressive and deliberately hurtful, while to me Branagh’s portrayal of Hamlet made him seem like he is merely complaining about his mother. He seems on the verge of tears during parts where I would expect Hamlet to be angry. Yes, there were spurts of anger that were appropriate, but they would quickly (and oddly) switch back to a calm, almost whiney tone. This odd changeability of Hamlet’s emotions made the entire scene awkward to watch, and did not lend much credibility to the actor’s skill level.

On the other hand, I found the Oliveir version of the scene to be far more accurate to the way I envisioned the scene to play out. Because the majority of the soliloquy is spoken inside Laurence Oliveir’s head, and portrayed in the movie as Hamlet’s thoughts, it lacks the impact that the oral presentation has. It better captures the contemplative moments of the scene, such as the lines, “O God! God!/ How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, / Seem to me all the uses of this world!” In the Oliveir scene, this is accomplished by showing the viewer a close-up of Hamlet’s face, while these lines play with a melancholy tone. Hamlet’s lips do not move, leading the viewer to assume that these are Hamlet’s thoughts, not his spoken words. I believe this version more accurately portrays the scene because the phrase simply sounds awkward when spoken aloud by Kenneth Branagh, both tone-wise and merely because they do not seem like words that would actually be spoken aloud. Throughout the scene, Branagh seems as if he is complaining about something instead of expressing his contempt for his mother’s incestuous behavior. On the contrary, they are received quite naturally by the audience when they are presented as the melancholy, contemplative thoughts of Hamlet, as in the Laurence Oliveir version.

Another advantage to having the scene performed as if they are the thoughts of Hamlet is that it amplifies the appearance of Hamlet imagining certain situations. During the time when the lines “'tis an unweeded garden, / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely.” are being spoken, Oliveir as Hamlet is slowly walking towards the edge of the frame, gazing off into the distance at some unknown object. Because of his location, in some great hall, it appears to the viewer that Hamlet is imagining this great hall, or even the entire kingdom, as the “unweeded garden” which he is speaking about. Also, at the very end of the scene, there is a dramatic moment where Hamlet reveals to the audience that the horrible actions of his mother that he has been talking about during the soliloquy can’t even be revealed to the general public. During the final lines of his soliloquy, Oliveir as Hamlet sits down into a chair, and gazes mournfully out into the distance as his thoughts speak “But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.”

While both modernized interpretations of Hamlet, I believe that the Oliveir version of the performance is more accurate to the way that Shakespeare intended for it to be performed. Through the use of technology, Hamlet’s secret and angst-ridden thoughts about his incestuous mother are portrayed quite nicely, adding to the tone of the scene and maximizing the apparent internal conflict that Hamlet is experiencing.

emily said...

In William Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet," Hamlet is a character struggling with the recent death of his father and his inability to accept his mother's marriage to his uncle. Hamlet is first introduced in Act I, scene i; in his first soliloquy, Hamlet curses his uncle Claudius as well as his mother, mourns his father's death and express his current dislike of living. Actor Kenneth Branagh, in his accurate rendition of Hamlet's first soliloquy, conveys Hamlet's frustration with his familial situation by employing a range of volumes, seemingly sporadic movements and distinct angry and frustrated tones of voice. In addition, the minimalism of the scenery and lack of background music add to the intensity of the scene and force the listener to focus on the words that Branagh is saying.

Branagh conveys Hamlet's range of emotions effectively and accurately; for the first 9 lines of his monologue, Hamlet is complaining about the hardships of living, claiming that the world seems "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable." Hamlet even contemplates suicide, saying that he would kill himself if suicide was not condemned by the Bible. As he recites these lines, Branagh moves about the room very little; in fact, he stands supporting himself on a set of chairs for more than 20 seconds into the passage. Branagh's voice is low as he slowly delivers lines; he often squints and at one point rubs his head. All of these elements of his body language suggest an inner conflict that is almost giving Hamlet a headache, an accurate portrayal of a character that is thinking so deeply about the negative aspects of his life.

Soon Branagh increases the speed and intensity of his speech; when Hamlet begins to shift from discussing his own life to his mother and Claudius's marriage, he understandably becomes more angry. Hamlet praises his father, calling him "so excellent a king," and "so loving to [Hamlet's] mother," lines that Branagh delivers with a nostalgic, loving tone of voice. He proceeds to express extreme anger with Gertrude's marriage to Claudius, and soon becomes so heated that he is literally yelling; most obviously in the lines "within a month" and "O, God!," in a successful attempt to express his frustration. When Branagh delivers the line "Heaven and earth! / Must I remember?" his voice quivers and he grabs his head with both hands; the actor demonstrates the near insanity that the gravity of the situation is imposing upon Hamlet. Branagh is emotional and forceful in delivering his lines.

Throughout the scene, Branagh continually looks back toward the chairs from which he began walking. In the scene, these chairs are symbolic of the two people who are absent from them-Gertrude and Claudius. Toward the end of the monologue, however, he looks toward the ceiling as he recites the line "But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue," as if looking toward heaven for advice.

Although the scenery is effective in theory, the function of the flower petals scattered throughout the room is somewhat unclear. Also, the decor of the room is somewhat unrealistic, but not without purpose; while a castle would probably not be so starkly furnished and decorated, the lack thereof draws attention away from Hamlet's surrounding and draws it to his word-this is why the actor's delivery of the lines is so crucial in this case. It is for the same reason there is no music playing as he speaks; also, Branagh's clothing is simplistic and black, probably symbolizing his emotional turmoil and dark thoughts during this particular monologue.

In stark contrast to this, Laurence Olivier's interpretation of the same scene is far less accurate; Olivier's performance is flat and unemotional, displaying no anger whatsoever. The scene is instead interpreted as sad, as Olivier uses an extremely melancholy tone; this is not only somewhat illogical given the situation, but is probably not how Shakespeare intended the soliloquy to be performed, given the intensity of the diction he used. The complexity of the scenery and music detract from the soliloquy. Also, because Olivier speaks most of the monologue inside his head as if he is thinking it rather than saying it aloud, his frequent outbursts seem random and pointless.

Branagh's more modernized interpretation of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act I, scene i proves to be historically accurate; Branagh accurately conveys Hamlet's mixed emotions through an impressive range of body language, pitch, volume, and facial expressions. To compound this, the scenery the director employed in this rendition serves to prevent distraction from Shakespeare's language, as Shakespeare's eloquent language should be the audience's focus as his plays are performed.

Tzivia H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tzivia H said...

Hamlet’s soliloquy in act 2, scene 2 presents a man undergoing great psychological and mental distress. In his solitude, Hamlet discusses his desire to die, his father’s death, and his mother’s subsequent remarriage to his uncle all of which are subjects of great pain for him. It is for this reason that Laurence Olivier’s interpretation of Hamlet resonates more with Shakespeare’s writing than Kenneth Branagh’s. Oliver’s haunting delivery in conjunction with the setting, composition, and music provide a reading of Hamlet that is at once contemplative and sorrowful, as Shakespeare intended to convey him.

The setting, a simple, darkened room within the castle, mirrors Hamlet’s growing isolation and a sense of foreboding. Olivier notes “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world” (134-135), and proceeds to stand up and look about him. The viewer is provided a panorama of the scene, in which, gray columns dominate the eye. Beyond such architectural structures, a table and a few chairs are placed in the room. However, there is a feeling of melancholy and gloom even within the setting of the scene. Olivier comments, “things rank and gross in nature/Possess it merely” (136-137) and as he does so, he walks by one of the aforementioned columns. The zoom on the column reveals its rough, uneven texture. Later in the scene, Hamlet walks over to a table overflowing with papers, near a few chairs. As the camera zooms out to reveal the entirety of the surroundings, Hamlet himself appears small among such elements of setting. Rather than being the focal point, he seems to blend into the background further conveying a sense of isolation and solitude. Further, Olivier begins and ends his soliloquy in what appears to be a red chair. The fact that Olivier got up from the chair, paced, and then returned to it, reflects the same cyclical nature of his thoughts, which came full circle, while also cementing the thoughtfulness of his actions. The simplicity of the setting however allows the focus to remain on Hamlet.

Unlike Branagh’s interpretation of Hamlet, Oliver’s use of music lends itself to the eeriness of the scene. Although never loud enough to drown out the measured whisper of Olivier, the music remains in the background of his thoughts, providing a musical undercurrent to the words. The music begins with low string instruments, perhaps a bass or a cello. The darkness of the notes and instruments reflects the darkness of the atmosphere. The use of music creates a juxtaposition between the darkness of the music and Olivier’s impassioned whispers.
What really offset Olivier’s performance from Branagh’s however, was the delivery of the lines themselves, which reflects a man undergoing psychological turmoil. Rather than speaking the lines, Olivier read the script off stage and later dubbed the sounds in. The soliloquy suggested Hamlet’s thoughts, rather than reading the lines aloud and speaking to himself. In simply reading the lines as Hamlet’s thoughts rather than his speech, Olivier conveys the introspective nature of the scene. Olivier’s whisper, full of desolation and despair, accurately depicts the content of the soliloquy. There is a clear hopelessness in his discussion of suicide; he croaks out the interjections, “O God, God” (132), as if he does not even possess the will to speak, let alone live. As the soliloquy shifts from a personal self-reflection of suicide to a disgust at his mother, Olivier speaks his only line aloud, “Within a month,” (153) noting that it was only within a month that his mother remarried his uncle. The use of spoken word for this line, rather than the presentation of thoughts as before, suggests that Hamlet is speaking to himself, answering his own thoughts. The shift in his thoughts towards his mother is reflects a growing disgust, rather than simply a moroseness. As the scene continues and Olivier becomes more and more enmeshed in thoughts about his mother, the speech becomes faster as if his thoughts were running wild. “O God,” Olivier spits out, “a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourn’d longer” (150-151). The quick pacing of this line is juxtaposed with the slow drawn-out manner in which Olivier says, “married with my uncle,” (151) in the very same line. The statement, unlike the ones that precede it, is so full of venom and disgust at the mere suggestion of his mother and uncle being married. Olivier later says the statement, “Within a month” (153) again, and chooses to say it in the same manner as originally, the same inflection and emphasis. In doing so, Olivier conveys Hamlet’s fixation to his mother, by noting his attachment to the small time frame between his father’s death and his mother’s remarrying.

The manner in which Olivier acted as Hamlet also contributed significantly to a growing feeling of dread. His desolation is clear from the onset of the scene as the camera is pulled in quite close to his face, presenting eyes downcast, and creases of worry in the brow. As Olivier utters the line, “Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d” (131), he looks up to the heavens, almost imploring God to retract his law against suicide. “O God, God,” (132) Olivier goes on and he is presented closing his eyes and pulling his head down almost in shame. As he paces around the room, his footsteps appear heavy and slow; the walking aimless, just to fill time as Olivier attempts to sort his thoughts. At the concession, “Heaven and earth/Must I remember?” (142-143), Olivier allows himself to fall forward onto chairs, suggesting that the memories of such trying times are truly too much to bear. Similarly, as he states, “Let me not think on’t!” (146), he whips around as if trying to use the force of the movement to remove his thoughts and while he says “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourn’d longer” (150-151) he falls against a column as if resigned. By the conclusion of the scene, Olivier returns to the red chair and places his head in his hand, exuding hopelessness. However, Olivier’s depiction of Hamlet, regardless of undergoing mental turmoil, reflects someone of dignity and high station, as he walks with his hands clasped behind his back throughout much of the scene.

Laurence Olivier’s depiction of Hamlet is particularly strong for its subtlety and ability to suggest Hamlet’s psychological and mental disturbances. Rather than being taken by fits of anger, Olivier presented his Hamlet as full of misery and despair. The scene further reflected the foreboding aura of the book, the eeriness and gloominess that was missing in the scene by Branagh. The quieter, more nuanced more performance of Olivier was effectively able to convey Hamlet’s growing isolation and despair.

**Woops, don't mind the deletion, I forgot to put spaces between the paragraphs

Mario said...

In the second scene of the first act in Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Hamlet delivers a soliloquy that is an outpour of emotion and the reader’s first true look at the character that is Hamlet. Hamlet releases his feelings on his mother’s decision to remarry so soon, and to his father’s brother no less. Hamlet is dealing with many things, the loss of a parent and the remarrying of another are both things that affect anyone at any age. Both Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Olivier play Hamlet in their own respective presentation of Shakespeare’s play, and try their hands at the soliloquy. In the scene, Hamlet is erupting with emotion and it is clear that Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation is closer to Shakespeare’s vision than Laurence Olivier.

Not only is Hamlet filled with emotion, but so is Shakespeare’s writing. In the soliloquy there are a grand total of seven exclamation points, and twenty-eight commas by my count. The lines were written to be read with great emotion to show Hamlet distress and mental state having to endure the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother so close to one another. Branagh’s rendition of Hamlet is much more true to this emotion filled Hamlet, having Hamlet yell, move around, and even whisper at times; he hits the entire spectrum. Olivier version is contrasts this idea of an erupting Hamlet, with a much more melancholy one. Olivier’s rendition of Hamlet ignores the exclamation points , making much more use out of the commas and all the other indication for pauses. Olivier’s Hamlet is much more depressed, and it is understandable where this image may be found. This Hamlet also makes use of the stage, moving around almost constantly, characterizing Hamlet so that the audience sees him as restless, and unsettled. Both Hamlets do good in doing this, but only Branagh’s version has Hamlet erupting with emotion, and not just the one melancholy emotion.

The score in both of the versions is different too. Shakespeare has Hamlet alone, obviously, for his soliloquy, and that is very important. The director in Branagh’s version decided to keep the score out, and have the scene all but silent, except for Hamlet’s speech. The loss of a score makes the scene feel emptier, and emphasizes Hamlet’s last line, “But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” Hamlet has to keep all the emotions he expressing in this speech secret, and the empty sound in the scene helps the audience feel that emptiness. The director of Olivier’s version decided to go another direction with the sound. In the background the audience can hear a soft melody of strings playing. The strings are gentle, and aid in Olivier’s melancholy delivery of Hamlet’s lines. The mood of Olivier’s version is very well paralleled in the score, but do not reflect what Shakespeare would have wanted the soliloquy to be. In the lines themselves there are too many exclamations for this to be read with such a soft score, if the strings were aided with some brass or a deeper instruments at certain times the score would be wide range, and cover more of his emotions, rather than just the one sad emotion.

The most significant difference to me between the two versions is the fact that one is in black and white, while the other is in color. I am not too sure whether or not color helps. I believe that it is the most accurate of the two in keeping faith of Shakespeare’s vision, but I think it would have aided in being filmed in black and white. The set itself, with the exception of the thrones is completely black and white. Even Hamlet himself is wearing all black in the scene. The absence of color being just another thing to emphasize the loneliness that Hamlet is enduring because of feelings towards his father and his mother. The lack of all color in Olivier’s version does so well, with this black and white world the feeling of despair and hopelessness can be felt through the eyes. Both scenes deliberately lack in color to emphasize the loneliness that is supposed to be felt in the scene.

Apart from the reading of lines, the actor’s actions of key to pulling of a character right or wrong. Although both depictions of Hamlet roam around the stage, Branagh takes it one step further in his version. Whilst moving he looks around, stares at the heavens while shouting, and uses his hand, makes fist, and uses his entire body to show all of the emotion that Hamlet is feeling. Olivier’s version is not so robust in it’s actions. While moving around Olivier’s Hamlet does little more, he mostly stares into the deep space in front of him the entire time, and does little with his arms and hands besides folding them, but never raising them, never making a fist, they are just lifeless extensions of his body showing little emotions. Again, Branagh’s effort to capture a wide range of emotion from Hamlet gives his performance the edge over competition, and shows more dedication in staying truer to Shakespeare’s vision of Hamlet.
Although both clips of Hamlet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark do well in showing a character trouble with many issues, only one stays true to what Shakespeare’s original vision of what the play is supposed to be. Of the two version, Bragnagh’s Hamlet always showed more of the emotional spectrum that Hamlet was in than Olivier. Olivier’s Hamlet constantly suffered from concentrating on the depression that Hamlet must surely have, but the sheer amount of emotion found in Shakespeare’s original text is proof enough that it was meant for Hamlet to feel more than just depression, but to also feel rage and confusion. Over all Bragnagh always delivered in giving the audience a much more whole and human Hamlet than Olivier’s always ever so depressive Hamlet.