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English 112 (English Composition II)

The Hamlet Site

Other Productions of Hamlet and about Hamlet

Objective for this Page: To provide additional productions and interpretations of the play.

N. B. These are not recommendations, just notes. Many of these resources will seem dated and/or patronizing. Preview or rent before you buy, if possible. If you have specific reservations or recommendations about any of the materials listed here, please email me at ehibbison@jsr.cc.va.us to note them--or suggest other materials that should be listed here regarding Hamlet, not Shakespeare.

1. Films for the Humanities and Sciences has a film in which 8 Hamlet actors (Gielgud, Olivier, Vittorio Gassman, Burton, Mandy Patinkin(!), Williamson, Ben Kingsley, Jean Louis Berrault, Maximillian Schell, and Russian Innocenti Smoktunovsky) (NOT Mel Gibson or Kenneth Branagh) talk about their rationales for portraying Hamlet as they did and ideas about their films and the play: The Great Hamlets. In "Program 1" (55 min. b/w & color) the actors talk about famous scenes from the play; in "Program 2" Trevor Nunn (then artistic director for the Royal Shakespeare Company) examines psychological and political themes from the play.

2. Of the 30 some English movie versions of Hamlet at the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), the 1948 version that starred Sir Lawrence Olivier [Paramount Pictures] is revered, but its emphasis on the mother-obsession of Hamlet in this version may be overdone. Still the Olivier prince is more of a scholar of the arts and literature than most Hamlets, making the killing that he has to do that much more repugnant to a sensitive Hamlet.*

3. The 1990 Warner Brothers version of Hamlet that starred Mel Gibson is dismissed by some as simplistic because it stars an action hero (Mad Max becomes Mad Hamlet) and cuts several scenes and all long speeches. Of course, the purpose of Franco Zeffirelli, the director, was to create broader appeal by making a movie, including remote and outdoor locations, not just a stage play filmed.

Ian Holm, who plays Polonius, graciously claims that Mel Gibson has the talent for the role. He certainly has the ethos--considering his star appeal, his reputation as a prankster, his reputation as an uncomplicated but somewhat private man. He also has the pathos, considering that his mother died shortly after the production had ended; Gibson claimed that it was somewhat fitting to show his parents around the set, which he seemed to do with some pride, since the movie focuses on the relationship of a grown son with his parents. Gibson also has the logos, since he--more than any actor before him--brings out the words of the script as if he is talking, rather than reciting the "Bard."

There are plenty of self-conscious moments for Gibson. When asked if he'd like to do a sequel, he resisted the impulse to suggest "Mad Hamlet Beyond Elsinore" and noted that he'd like to do the whole thing over again because the play is such a "minefield."

4. Kenneth Branagh's 1996 production at the ornate Blenheim Palace stars Shakespearian actors in major roles and movie actors in minor ones. One reason for making a full-length production is to catch the movie flavor that Zeffirelli tried to create while preserving the whole script with all its subtle shadings of Hamlet's character and subplots, like the foil Fortinbras, soldier, man of action, and presumably restorer of order at the end of the play.

Here's the first but not the kindest illustrated review I ran across doing a Net Search.

Here's a Time magazine review by Richard Corliss.

Brian Blessed makes more of a warrior ghost, the conqueror, than did Paul Scofield in the 1990 version, but Scofield manages to seem more the father than Blessed. The flashback enactment of the king's poisoning by his brother--and most of the flashbacks in the 1996 version--makes the scene more immediate.  Having Hamlet ponder suicide in front of his living enemies makes less sense than among the dead and beside his own father's sarcophagus in the 1990 version.

Since the longer version (1996) includes the scene in which Polonius tells Reynaldo to tell lies about his son to see if any acquaintances of Laertes will corroborate them, the old councilor seems much more Machiavellian--and licentious--than Ian Holm's (1990) Polonius, who is more lovable because he is less sinister yet loyal to the king.  Richard Briers' (1990) Polonius, based on the glances exchanged with Claudius during the altered Murder of Gonzago is one who could have been in on the poisoning of the former king.  When Kate Winslet's Ophelia end up on the bed just vacated by the prostitute and being comforted by her lecherous father, the incest theme gong goes off much louder than when Kenneth Branagh bounces Julie Christie onto her bed and holds photos for her to behold.

Here's an official site for the production, the page about the set with an interview with production designer Tim Harvey. 200 tons of artificial snow?

In general, I'm disappointed by the production; in its worst moments, it seems to turn the play into a victorian novel.  KB seems awfully self-indulgent, even long-winded.  Since the production is trying to be more subtle than the 1990 version, many lines are underplayed, and almost every actor falls into reciting lines that don't intone well or pausing oddly in lines that otherwise will.   For many reasons, I'm thankful I didn't see the 1996 version in a theater; one of those reasons is that the video can be rewound.  One blessing is that Hamlet, sitting in the box of the father confessor overhearing part of Claudius's "confession" makes clearer his desire for public knowledge of Claudius's assassination; another is that Branagh and Nicholas Farrell make clear that "the readiness is all" concerns Hamlet's readiness to die, if need be, for his mission.

5. Encyclopedia Britannica's 1959 series about the play includes these parts--

  1. The Age of Elizabeth: Puts the play and Shakespeare's life in the political context of E1's rule, audience preferences, and staging techniques that might have prevailed at the Globe. The opening scene of the play is staged to set up questions. [color, film, 28 minutes]

  2. What Happens in Hamlet: With selected scenes, three overlapping plots are suggested--ghost story, detective drama, and revenge play. [color, film, 28 minutes]

  3. The Poisoned Kingdom: Suggesting that the 3 poisoning scenes each end sections of the play, this film dramatizes some personality trait(s) of each main character and examines the views of the era about monarchy. [color, film, 30 minutes]

  4. The Readiness Is All: Presenting Hamlet as a young student, this film analyzes the psychological progression required to educate Hamlet to the ways of the world, thereby presenting themes about the nature of reality, evil, dissembling people, corruption of good intentions, death, and regalness.

Assessment:  Choose a production listed above and a compelling scene; then compare it with the same scene in the Zeffirelli movie.  

* Discussion of the 1948, 1990, and 1996 Hamlets is summarized from Sheena Gillespie, Terezinba Fonseca, and Carol A. Sanger, Literature Across Cultures, 2/e (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1998: 984) with commentary inserted regarding the 1990 version from HBO's "The Making of Hamlet" (1989) and some personal observations inserted after viewing Branagh's (1996) version.

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