March 15th 2018
Heartbroken or Hateful Hamlet?
Hamlet is an iconic Shakespearean tragedy that has many themes and quotes that have been prominent in society. The play has been adapted to the big screen twice, both renditions varying in style and modernization. Many of Shakespeare’s plays have been transformed into a movie rendition, and Hamlet was even nominated for an Academy Award. The director of Hamlet (1996), Kenneth Branagh, who also starred as Prince Hamlet, is known for his creativity and impeccable screen work. Although he is a prestigious director and Hamlet did very well in the film industry, did it capture the true themes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? The main character is always hard to accurately portray, and the film unfortunately missed the mark on Hamlet. Branagh changed Hamlet in many ways, mostly through the main character, Hamlet, by turning him into a crazed henchman for the ghost of his father. Most young people enjoy watching a movie over reading a book, but are they really getting the full experience, especially when the main character has been tampered with?
Hamlet in the play was portrayed as ‘emo’ and very suicidal. This proved that he was quite depressed and nothing seemed to help him ease the pain he was feeling. However, Branagh portrayed Hamlet as insane. It was clear that Hamlet was troubled, but the film showed Hamlet acting very crazy in many situations. Shakespeare allowed the readers to assume for themselves if they considered Hamlet to be crazy. The play dictated him as a weak, young boy, due to the loss of his father, and portrayed him to be searching for his own identity. However, the movie depicted him as arrogant, and that he knew what he wanted from the kingdom. The play never once said that Hamlet was dying to be king, nor was the fact that he wanted to kill Claudius made very clear to the readers. He was depressed, and the only thing on his mind was suicide. In the play, Claudius disregarded and degraded Hamlet by claiming his sadness was “unmanly grief” (Act 1, Scene 2, Page 4) and wanted Hamlet to stop grieving. The story of Hamlet is meant to be very harrowing and sad, due to the betrayal and death. Hamlet’s Uncle killed his brother, Hamlet’s father, and then re-married Hamlet’s mother. It is very easy to feel sympathy for Hamlet, as his life turned upside down because of his corrupt family. The movie did not allow for such sympathy. The director turned Hamlet into an action film full of drama. Thus, dissolving most of the character’s true emotions.
It was very clear in the play that Hamlet was an unhappy child, yet the movie showed him as cocky and outspoken. In particular, he was very rough with his girlfriend, Ophelia, during their breakup. Shakespeare noted that he was more sad than angry, but the movie showcased an angry version of the breakup. Hamlet in the play never voiced any distaste for Ophelia, let alone manhandle her. Branagh portrayed this scene very heavily with hatred. Hamlet was shown as being very angry, abusing Ophelia by dragging her by her arm due to his uncontrollable rage. The play however said that Hamlet was very hurt by her leaving him, and was far too heartbroken to be vexed. The only scene in the play that Hamlet was truly outspoken was during the play created. Branagh however wanted Hamlet to be all powerful and all consuming; that he was more angry at Ophelia for not being with him than hurt by his love leaving him. The term was called ‘love melancholy’ and his sorrow was obvious during Ophelia’s monologue. Hamlet “raised a sigh so piteous and profound” which uncovered how heartbroken he was over his woman (Act 2, Scene 1, Page 4). Ophelia also mentioned that he “[let] her go…he went without their help” as he dropped his hold on her arm before walking away (Act 2, Scene 1, Page 4). The movie however made Hamlet drag Ophelia by her arm, after yelling in her face and accusing her of allowing people to intrude upon their privacy. That was the last time Hamlet talked to Ophelia in both the play and movie. However, the play allowed Hamlet to talk about Ophelia in later scenes, his longing for her companionship.
Hamlet never truly knew if the ghost of his father was real, or, if he was just imagining it. Shakespeare never alluded to the idea that Hamlet’s father wanted Hamlet to seek revenge on his uncle. Branagh, however, made it seem as though Hamlet was following his father’s orders, and doing exactly what he would have wanted. The difference effects the tragedy of Hamlet as a character. In the movie, Hamlet is taking powerful action and avenging his father, but, in the play, Hamlet is more sensitive about the topic, and doesn’t take action simply because of his father. The fact that his father, King Hamlet, was also depicted in a different way makes Hamlet’s character in both the play and movie. In the movie, Branagh used a very stereotypical ghost, who was a dark soul and was forceful with Hamlet. The king’s son ended up being scared of the ghost, which was what made him follow his orders. Shakespeare described King Hamlet as a kind and beloved king of Denmark. He only told Hamlet what happened to him (being killed by Claudius) and wanted his son to show some reaction. King Hamlet, in the play, showed that he was the victim, and that he loved Hamlet and wanted him to succeed. That is not the case in the movie, where it seemed as though the ghost did not care for what Hamlet wanted, and the ghost only wanted revenge. The difference in King Hamlet affects Hamlet, as the whole play revolves around his revenge against Claudius. The play makes Hamlet mournful over his father, and wanting to help Denmark, yet the movie shows Hamlet being aggressive and following the ghost’s orders.
Branagh took the idea of death and tragedy and turned it into anger and drama. He chose to use Hamlet’s misfortunes against him and make him crazy. Hamlet was seen as mentally disturbed, and attacking Claudius simply due to a dark soul that loomed over him, known as his late father. Shakespeare’s play focuses more on calamity, making Hamlet depressed and showing his love for Denmark. Movies that are based on books typically leave the main character similar to the book, as the protagonist’s personality and actions effect the plot. Branagh took a risk in changing Hamlet’s emotions, and by doing so, changed the plot of Hamlet. Watching only the movie, the audience would not understand who Shakespeare’s version of Hamlet is, as there are too many contrasting factors. Actively reading the book brings about many more facets of Shakespeare’s tormented character and allows for the reader to interpret Hamlet’s mindset more creatively.