The differences between hamlet's play and hamlet movie


Shakespeare, the favorite dramatist of British crowned heads during the 1500s, is able to keep pace with the fast rhythm of today's entertainment industry. That might look like a paradox because his plays, so full of symbols, strong emotions, vivid characters, and savory puns, don't seem to fit into the tight and usually redundant patterns of today's mass-produced entertainment. Yet his plays are continually adapted and performed, either in a classic manner, or in one radically changed from the original. This proves that, in the way he used and manipulated his subjects, Shakespeare appealed to a part of the human mind that isn't influenced by its innate culture, and this is why many actors have tried their skills on Shakespearian plays, from high-school kids to acclaimed artists. Hamlet, next to Romeo and Juliet, is one of the most popular works of Shakespeare today. It has inspired many movies, some that tried to get as close as possible to the original play, while others aimed at transforming the social circumstances and keeping only the essence of the original. In the first group fits Zeffirelli's Hamlet, a film made in 1990. It stars Mel Gibson as Hamlet, Glenn Close as Queen Gertrude, and Alan Bates as King Claudius.
In the very beginning, the credits are presented on a dark background, consisting of Elsinore castle, surrounded on three sides by water. Judging by the light, it appears to be dawn. Written across the screen, in black letters, is the name Hamlet. It is not part of the credits, however, because the name of the movie follows the cast, and is written in white letters. It appears that the black word is part of the background and foretells the message of the play - that the action will stand under the shadow of death (the black, stretches letters remind of the black wings of the angel of death). The image of the castle zooms closer, until it centers on a solitary tower, with a flag on it. This is a beautiful image, as people familiar with the play will recognize in the central tower a symbol of the main character's just and lonesome nature.







The first scene continues the gloomy mood of the credits, as it presents the burial of a king. In the castle's crypt, Queen Gertrude (Glenn Close) sobs on his grave. The new king (Alan Bates), already wearing the crown, watches her. On a closer look, he seems tense or preoccupied about something, as his eyes narrow a bit. Prince Hamlet (Mel Gibson) looks very sad, full of grief, as if disaster struck so violently that he doesn't even have tears to mourn his sorrow. The new king (his uncle) tells him that he's the heir, and he'll receive a fatherly love from his him. Although these words are said distinctly, in a low voice, they don't seem soothing, or full of the newfound love characterizing a family that's recently been through a trauma. Hamlet ignores the coldness of this speech, but something happens that makes him reconsider. When the queen throws herself on the grave, the king, in a rigid posture, with totally cold eyes, looks down on her as if her grief doesn't trouble him at all. She notices, and so does Hamlet. After a moment's thinking, eyes darting left and right, the prince leaves the room without a word, as if to protest the king's coldness and leave this distorted environment (the king has no regret for his brother's death). The next scene abruptly switches to a happy atmosphere, as the king announces his marriage to Gertrude. Hamlet isn't present and the queen looks flattered and satisfied with her marriage, like a young girl. These two introductive scenes give a good impression that something is wrong with this royal family, and that there is already a conflict between Hamlet and the king, as one seems to have common sense, while the other doesn't.
In the original play, the burial scene isn't present, as the play starts by introducing the ghost of the former king. Both the play's and the movie's introductions give the audience a feeling that something is wrong, although the movie gives much more details. It already points a finger at the new king, as his behavior is very cold and unfitting of someone who just lost a brother. In the play, this information isn't present and the king could pass as a positive character. Another reason for this is the scene where the marriage is announced, and Hamlet's presence in it. Both the king and queen speak to the prince, trying to convince him to stay, and it would appear that the king really means what he says, and cares about him. In the movie, Hamlet and the royal pair are alone, when they try to convince him not to go back to the university. The king clearly shows that he does this only because Gertrude asked him and he looks kind of tired of Hamlet and his behavior. He doesn't succeed in convincing Hamlet to stay, as it happens in the play. Hamlet is persuaded by Gertrude to stay, and he seems very hesitant and undecided about what his attitude should be. He doesn't know whether to respond to her caresses or to reject her because she married her brother-in-law after being a widow for less than two months. He almost gives in to her as he accepts her embrace. At this point, he exhibits the symptoms of a depression, unlike in the play, where the formality of the scene doesn't allow him to show his feelings. Because of this, his characterization is better done in the film, where the circumstances are more appropriate. The film also shows Gertrude as a loving mother who wants her son around her.
The first scene common to both the movie and the play is that in which he gives his monologue about his weakness. He resents not being able to accept things as they are, neither to kill himself, nor to take action and change things. But the subject of his thoughts changes from his weakness to his mother's (she's behaving like a girl, instead of a respected, aged queen), and he accuses all women of being frail. This gives an insight into Hamlet's feelings, showing that he disapproves of his mother's behavior and that he blames her for this rushed marriage.
Later, he finds out about his father's ghost from Horatio. As Horatio speaks the first words, Hamlet retreats step by step, as if afraid to know this and get involved. Later on, he gets enthusiastic and asks for more details. He wants to speak to the ghost. When he's left alone, he expresses his fears of some sort of foul play almost with relief, because he finally has some basis for his accusations and dislike of Claudius. The movie continues to expand Hamlet's profile by letting the public see his hesitations, fears and hopes. He backs up toward the wall because he's afraid of what he might hear, but in the end, after the guards and Horatio leave, he's hopeful of finding a meaning to his life and to his suspicions in the ghost's words.
At nightfall, the king and queen are at a party and appear to have a great time. Hamlet criticizes them because of the bad impressions they create of their country abroad. When the ghost appears, one guard is so scared that he bounces back into a wall, while Hamlet is at first speechless. There is a bit of terror of the unknown in this sequence, but Hamlet decides to face his fear and follow the ghost. They go together in a little battlement tight on the top - maybe the tall battlement shown during credits. Hamlet is really frightened as the ghost tells its story and he barely utters a few words. He seems too anxious to even comprehend everything the ghost is telling him and looks like he's ready to faint. There are differences between the ghost scenes in the play and the movie. In the play, Hamlet talks to the ghost and encourages it to speak, whereas in the movie he's too shocked to speak. This appears to be a more natural response, considering the circumstances of this encounter. When the ghost disappears, Hamlet comes around from his stupor and swears that he'll remember his father. He's both desperate at the thought of what happened - his father's murder and his damnation - and angry with Claudius. This anger is well expressed in the movie when Hamlet hits with his sword some stones, as if attempting to free them from the masonry and throw them in Claudius's head. In the play, it appears that Hamlet is standing on the battlement and delivering his speech without any external signs of rage, so the movie has an advantage over the play. The way he calms down in the movie is also more consistent with his feelings, and suggests that he has now a purpose in life. Hamlet's indecisions are over, and from now on he will be dedicated to his purpose.
In the next scenes, he starts behaving strangely, as to give the impression that he's mad, although he only does this when he knows he's observed. He breaks up with Ophelia because he's still haunted by his mother's act of marrying her husband's killer, and he blames all women. However, when he meets Ophelia as her father planned, he's a little sorry that she gave him back his gifts. Only when he notices he's being observed, he starts behaving like a lunatic and scares her. This makes the king decide he's mad and want to get rid of him. Luckily, he heard the plans and knows what to expect.
In the play, Ophelia is taking her father's advice and doesn't dream of marrying Hamlet anymore. However, it doesn't seem too realistic for someone to just give up their loved one because they've been told to do so. In Shakespeare's times, girls did have to obey their fathers, but Ophelia is too enthusiastic about it. In the play, she goes and tells her father about Hamlet's behavior, while in the movie, Polonius has to discover this himself. The movie shows Ophelia's character better than the play, by making her rebel as much as she can against her father's rules. The first sign of this is the delivery of her line "I will obey", in a loud and disapproving manner, as if saying it just formally, because it was expected of her, not because she means it. Later, when Hamlet meets her the night after having seen the ghost, she looks happy that he came. He behaves oddly, and she suffers when she sees the conflict on his face. His behavior could have a double meaning, either being a result of the conflict between loving Ophelia and hating all women, or being just a scene played for Polonius's spying eyes.
Mel Gibson uses his experience with the character from the Lethal weapon series and makes Hamlet look like he's really mad. He delivers the lines together with gestures and facial expressions that help confirm this belief. Polonius and the king are quite convinced of it and, in this matter, Shakespeare's views are accurately represented. However, there is still a small difference between the play and the movie, because in the play Polonius wonders about the wit of some of Hamlet's replies, while in the movie he doesn't suspect a thing. Polonius was a courtier all his life and it would seem more natural for him to suspect Hamlet of some pretense in his madness.
Hamlet seems to have decided to behave like a madman and make sure that no one would suspect his real intentions. However, he still has a moment of hesitation when he delivers his "to be or not to be" speech. In the movie, this happens when he is alone, in the castle's crypt, while in the play he speaks it before meeting Ophelia. The crypt is a much more appropriate environment for this speech as the graves bring the idea of death into a perspective. Hamlet talks about his desire to end his miserable life and all the fighting, but he becomes aware of the graves around him. He realizes that he fears death and the unknown, and that he doesn't have another choice than to live. He wants revenge and yet he's weary of life. There is a contradiction in him that can be expressed in the movie by using close-ups on his face and an appropriate musical background. That contradiction cannot be seen in the play; it can only be deduced from his monologues.
When the night comes and the actors reenact the scene of his father's murder, Hamlet is very excited because he knows he'll have an answer. He will be able to tell whether the ghost spoke the truth and whether he should have revenge or not. When Gertrude asks him to lay his head on her lap, he looks embarrassed by her offer, and he goes to Ophelia. In the play, it isn't clear that he refused because he still can't accept his mother's marriage to his father's killer, but the movie shows this by Mel Gibson's expression and his hesitation on how to reply to her. During the play, he talks to Ophelia and confuses her with his words. This, together with her father's murder, will cause her madness. It's clear that she already progresses down that path by the way she looks, moving her head like a disarticulated puppet. In Shakespeare's original, she doesn't show these incipient signs, and this makes the movie better at creating credible characters.
Hamlet is so relieved when he sees the king react to his trap, that he exhilarates and shouts his relief in words that might have made the king suspect something, if he was not so convinced that the prince was mad. Hamlet's response is quite natural, because he now knows for sure that he was not crazy for disapproving of his mother's marriage and that there is really a conspiracy surrounding his father's death. He's now relieved and free to plan his revenge. He also is reassured that his purpose in life - to punish the murderer - is a just one. In other words, Hamlet found his center again.
When Gertrude calls for him, he goes, but he's still exhilarating and has a sense of power because he was right. In the play, he decides to tell her the truth about his behavior but not to hurt her. In the movie, he just goes, without taking such a decision first. This will have some consequences, as he almost hurts her and needs to see the ghost again to remind him of his purpose. Gertrude is afraid of his apparent madness. He's raging at her, trying to tell her what she did by marrying Claudius. When she screams, Polonius cries for help and he stabs him, mistaking him for Claudius. He's upset about this pointless death but gets over it fast because he has to release his anger and tell Gertrude about her mistake. He makes her compare the two brothers and realize the nobility in one and evil in the other. He's angry, but also very upset and his emotions are overwhelming. He almost cries when he asks her how she could marry Claudius. It's clear in this scene that he still loves her very much, and suffers for her mistake, and that he's not simply accusing her. From the way he speaks, it seems that he whishes that the marriage never happened and things could be right again. Hamlet is strong in his resolution to revenge his father but the also has moments of weakness when he wishes bad things to never have happened. Acting this way only gives depth to his character and makes Shakespeare's work seem more profound from a modern psychological approach.
When the ghost appears, only Hamlet can see it. Gertrude is very scared about her son speaking to the air. It asks him to help Gertrude because she's so anxious that she could go mad too. This scene has something the performance of the play in Shakespeare's times could not accomplish: two points of view. From Gertrude's view, the passageway door is closed, and there is a calming, yellow light over the whole scene. From Hamlet's point of view, the door is open and the ghost stands right in the passageway. A dim, blue light, the light of dawn, like the one present when they first met, surrounds it. The door serves as a symbol of their knowledge; Hamlet realizes the injustice done to his father, while Gertrude is unaware of it. Also, it's Hamlet's job to revenge it and the light of dawn shows that he must awake to his fate, while Gertrude is blissfully ignorant of it, thus the comforting yellow light.
After this scene and Polonius's murder, a confrontation with Claudius follows. Hamlet is first mocking the king in the face, but then he also tells him on an accusing tone that he'll go to hell. Then he smiles again and makes it look as if these words came out of his madness. This game is played by Hamlet with ease, as he's now free to deal with the king. At the news that he's being sent to England, he replies that it is good. Claudius mentions that it's good indeed because he has some purposes unknown to Hamlet, but the prince just answers that he knows an angel that knows them. This exchange of lines proves that Hamlet is still in control of the action and that it will still lead to revenge.
Just before he leaves, in the play, Hamlet sees an army lead by Fortinbras, going to fight the Polish over a worthless piece of land. He reasons that since so many men will die for nothing, there should be some blood spilled over the injustice done to his father. He decides that his revenge will be bloody. In the movie, Hamlet doesn't take such a decision. Still, there is a change in him when he returns from England, but one that would only help establish him as a good character and a victim - he comes back with a desire to live. This is quite a change from Shakespeare's vision, but it doesn't ruin the plot or the beauty of the characters.
He survives the trip to England that should have cost him his life, and discovers Ophelia dead. He says that he really loved her and looks sad to know her dead. He doesn't fake madness anymore because he's come for revenge, nothing else, and doesn't need to hide his intentions. His newfound attachment with life is expressed in this scene, as he doesn't break down seeing Ophelia dead. He's sorry for her but doesn't hesitate and he doesn't think about death as an escape from the pains of life. He will realize his fate and try to carry on, if it will be possible.
While Gertrude is happy to see him, Claudius is shocked. He does not see what could have happened for Hamlet to come back alive. He doesn't loose time on arranging Hamlet's death and the plan he comes up with involves treachery and poison. When Hamlet is told that he has to fight Laertes to win the king's bet, he knows what is really at stake and that the final confrontation has come. He frowns and looks a little nervous when given the news. Horatio doesn't understand and thinks this is a simple duel. Hamlet feels that this might also be his end and metaphorically says that there's something beautiful in a sparrow's fall. Both in the movie and the play, Hamlet has this moment of intuition as to what his fate will be, but in the movie there's also a suggestive image associated with it. He opens the window and sees the sun setting on the sea. This signifies that the cycle that started with the scenes bathed in the light of dawn is complete.
Hamlet is ready for the fight. He enters the hall dignified, with no trace of madness and asks pardon of Laertes because he knows he might die. Laertes refuses his apologies and they start dueling. Hamlet annoys Laertes, hoping to finish the duel fast and move on to his revenge. Meanwhile, Gertrude drinks the poison Claudius had prepared for Hamlet. The king is speechless and sorry but can't say a thing. It seems that he really loved having Gertrude as his queen and now is disturbed about this accident. Laertes takes the poisoned sword. He looks to Gertrude with fear. She realizes the drink was poisoned and tries to tell Hamlet. Unfortunately, she doesn't have time, as Laertes cuts Hamlet with the poisoned sword while they were taking a break. He's enraged at this apparent lowliness and punches Laertes, before they start fighting again, this time with each other's swords. This scene is significantly different from Shakespeare's version, where Laertes slashed Hamlet during the fight, not in a break. They still change swords by accident, but Hamlet's death is caused by betrayal and happens because Laertes wasn't able to hurt him in the fight and had to do it behind his back. When Hamlet sees that he's been wounded like that, his face expresses rage and it would appear that he suspects Laertes of being an agent to the king and planning to kill him. Even so, he later questions whether the sword has been poisoned too and it's not certain whether he suspected Laertes or not. However, because of this change, the movie is more dramatic and turns Hamlet into a victim. It also gave him better chances at survival than the play, because Laertes wasn't able to touch him during the fight and had to resort to a scheme.
Hamlet's desire for life is expressed in the movie by his repetition of the words "I am dead, Horatio", as if in disbelief of what is happening. He doesn't want to die, not by treason anyway. He outwitted all the king's schemes, managed to revenge his father and now he has to die. Mel Gibson, as well as the other actors, plays the death scene very convincingly. As the poison gradually weakens him, he wonders why he dies. The queen too, is credible as she starts feeling the effects of the poison and yet pretends that nothing's wrong, so her son wouldn't be distracted from his duel.
In the movie, Horatio's attempt to follow Hamlet in death is ignored and he never offers to drink from the poisoned cup. This is closer to Hamlet's own newly acquired love of life, as Horatio doesn't find it necessary to die and escape the pain of losing his friend. In the play, he wants to die because it's a noble thing to do. However, that doesn't really fit the modern vision on the subject, and another reason why the director changed this scene might be to avoid criticism for promoting suicide in his movie. Whatever the reasons, the movie is more dramatic, as the audience can identify with Horatio and experience his pain of remaining alive and forever separated from his friend, while in the play, the audience could feel that now all the characters are happy in heaven and the emotion of the ending is diminished.
The movie never mentions Fortinbras or the external situation of the country, choosing to focus solely on Hamlet's problems. This is a good change from the original play because it helps the audience focus on one thing and share the emotions spawn from the main conflict. The external conflicts would only have drawn attention away from Hamlet's tragedy, and although they add to the complexity of the social situation, they can be ignored for the closer look.
The actors convincingly portray all the main characters in this movie, and most changes from Shakespeare's version are there to help adapt the plot to suit modern standards. Although there is one big difference between the movie and the original play - there are suitable settings for the action in the movie, while in Shakespeare's times backgrounds were nonexistent - the film tries to follow the play's guidelines and to maintain as much of the original as possible. Some of the changes made give new insight into Hamlet's mind, helping the audience identify with his cause and dramatizing the action even more - thus making the movie more suitable to modern spectators.


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