[Review of a DVD of a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet]
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hamlet’s story remains incomprehensible, November 4, 2016
This review is from: William Shakespeare: Hamlet (DVD)
With this production of “Hamlet”, the RSC continues their attempts at modernizing Shakespeare’s canon. In the RSC’s approach, everything in Shakespeare is up for “change”, whether it is the text, setting, plot, location, characters. In this particular production, the action of the play was taken away from 16th century Denmark and moved to a modern day African kingdom. Of course, in the name of artistic freedom, the director has every right to exercise his vision and to share his understanding with the audience.
The RSC’s “Hamlet” is exceptionally well acted; Paapa Essiedu, the first black actor to play Hamlet at the RSC, is particularly noticeable for his interpretation of the young Prince. Combined with exotic stage decoration, beautiful costumes, musical instruments, drumming, visual and sound effects - this production is very entertaining and interesting to watch.
Yet, there is much more to “Hamlet” than an attractive and entertaining container. Shakespeare’s plays are based on an inner structure that links all of them in a single coherent narrative. This narrative illustrates a process that leads to the activation of more subtle layers of the mind. The ordinary mind allows one to register a series of events. However, in order to perceive the overall pattern that drives these events, more subtle layers of the mind are needed. In Shakespeare’s plays, a city or a country represents a certain state of mind; the various characters represent the ordinary and the subtle layers of the mind. The activation of a subtle layer is illustrated by a marriage. The harmonious development of the mind requires the activation of several subtle layers at the same time. This is why the process illustrated in Shakespeare’s plays gradually leads to a situation where it is possible to have several marriages taking place at the same time. If a specific subtle layer is not permanent yet, then it might be temporarily deactivated - the lovers die. But the process continues: a new state of mind is formed and the action moves to another “city”. In this particular case, the process goes from Vienna (“Measure for Measure”) to Elsinore (“Hamlet”) and then to Windsor (“The Merry Wives of Windsor”). In other words, Shakespeare’s plays illustrate experiences that are needed for the correct developmental of the mind.
The subtler layers of the mind allow one to break through the limitations of time and space. This is why, in every Shakespeare’s play, there are a few seemingly odd or “miraculous” scenes which, when removed or changed, sterilize the intended impact on the audience. This means that the director’s artistic freedom comes with a certain responsibility and challenge: how to make the plays more palatable to the audiences but without robbing them from the experiences that are built-in the plays?
Let’s take an example from the RSC’s production to illustrate the challenges that the director of “Hamlet” was faced with.
In order to grasp the meaning of “Hamlet” it is necessary to recognize that the events that led to the current situation in Elsinore are alluded to in “The Murder of Gonzago”, i.e., the play-within-the play presented by a traveling troupe of players. Upon Hamlet’s request, the players staged “The Murder of Gonzago”, which supposedly was based on the story heard from the Ghost. The players, however, presented their own adaptation of “The Murder of Gonzago”. They augmented the Ghost’s story by adding an episode from Vienna. The story of the Ghost was presented as a dumb-show, i.e., the first episode of their performance. But then, they used the show-proper to present events that took place in Vienna. At this point it is very helpful to recognize that “Hamlet” is the sequel to “Measure for Measure”, i.e., the play that is set in Vienna.
For the last 400 years it has been accepted that the dumb-show of “The Murder of Gonzago” illustrates the same event that is presented in the following show-proper. But this is not the function of dumb-shows in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare used dumb-shows to fill-in time gaps between events which took place at different times and in different places. In other words, the dumb-show and the show-proper presented by the players illustrate two different events. One event took place in Elsinore in accordance with the Ghost’s report. The second event, which is of great importance to the current situation in Elsinore, took place earlier. Specifically, it took place 30 years after the marriage of the Duke of Vienna and Isabella at the conclusion of “Measure for Measure”. At the conclusion of “Measure for Measure”, Claudius (the son of Claudio) was about to be born; Lucianus (adopted by Lucio) was “a year and a quarter old”. In the show-proper, Lucianus represents Hamlet’s father. In this way the players intended to warn Hamlet, and the audience, that Lucianus, i.e., Hamlet’s father, got hold of the crown by murdering the previous ruler. However, the players were not able to finish their story, because irritated Hamlet disturbed their performance. He abruptly interrupted the performance by delivering his own line:
“you shall see anon how the murderer
gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.”
But this is not Lucianus’ line. This line applies to Claudius, the murderer in the dumb-show.
Hamlet’s interruption did not allow the players to finish the show-proper. Later on, the gravedigger tried to draw Hamlet’s attention to the players’ performance. Hamlet, however, completely ignored the gravedigger’s hints.
In the RSC’s production, the dumb show is cut-off. Instead, the audience is served another piece of entertainment: dressed in beautiful costumes, the players perform an African dance. And this erasing of the dumb-show makes it very difficult for the audience to get closer to grasping the meaning of Hamlet’s story.
As long as the directors do not help the audience to recognize the players’ message, so long will Hamlet’s story remain incomprehensible.
[review of the Branaugh movie]
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The movie is very good and would be excellent if …, January 4, 2014
This review is from: Hamlet (1996) (Amazon Video)
“Hamlet” directed by Kenneth Branagh deserves credits for including the full text of the play. It is just too bad that it also includes scenes that are not in the original text and which rather confuse than bring anything of relevance. For example, there is no need to put Ophelia in bed with Hamlet. It is obvious that the bed scenes do not fit into the nature of their relationship. Neither is it of any relevance to try to guess if or how Ophelia’s madness was treated. What is relevant, though, is the scene in which Ophelia delivers her messages and flowers to Gertrude, Claudius, and Laertes. Her seemingly confused messages contain some commentaries about past and present events, and foretell her and Hamlet’s deaths. Ophelia’s messages help to understand Gertrude and her actions, which are completely misunderstood by Hamlet. Saint Valentine's Day song does not have anything to do with Ophelia’s experiences. This song is for Claudius to remind him about the circumstances of his birth. Ophelia’s message to Laertes about “the false steward” is a reference to Polonius’ misdeeds. This is why shocked Laertes exclaims:
“This nothing’s more than matter.”
I have not seen any theater production or movie in which the scene with Ophelia’s messages was correctly directed. In Branagh’s movie Ophelia’s messages are wrongly emphasized by flashes of the bed scenes; the flowers are delivered to the wrong person.
Yet, the movie is the best ever made adaptation of the play. And it would be excellent if instead of trying to improve the play’s perfection the director paid more attention to the original text.
[and the Zeffirelli version with Mel Gibson]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As long as the audience does not realize that Hamlet’s father was a murderer, so long the play will remain incomprehensible, December 6, 2013
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
In most movie adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, it is necessary to cut some scenes or entire subplots. And this is a great challenge for the directors, who have to decide which parts to be cut and what parts to be invented. The problem is that Shakespeare’s plays are incredibly precise; there are no scenes and no episodes that are not needed.
In the case of “Hamlet” it is necessary to recognize that the play is the sequel to “Measure for Measure”. The events that led to the current situation in Elsinore are presented in “The Murder of Gonzago”, i.e., the play-within-the play presented by a travelling troupe of actors. Upon Hamlet’s request, the actors staged “The Murder of Gonzago”, which supposedly was based on the story he heard from the Ghost. In this story the murderer of the king married the king’s wife.
The actors, however, presented their own adaptation of “The Murder of Gonzago”. They included the Ghost’s story as dumb show, i.e., in the first episode of their performance. And then they added the second episode that took place in Vienna after the conclusion of “Measure for Measure”. The second episode illustrates the story of the Duke of Vienna, i.e., the events that took place prior to the murder in Elsinore. The Duke of Vienna is presented as a sick and elderly man. The Duke’s wife, Baptista, is devotedly attached to her husband. There is no indication that she is deceiving him. The audience will recognize that Gonzago and Baptista represent Duke Vincentio and Isabella 30 years after the conclusion of “Measure for Measure”. Lucianus, the Duke’s nephew, is the murderer. Lucianus represents Hamlet’s father.
However, the players are not able to finish their story, because irritated Hamlet disturbs the performance. He abruptly interrupts the performance by delivering his own line:
“you shall see anon how the murderer
gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.”
This is not the Duke’s killer’s line. This line belongs to the murderer in the first episode of “The Murder of Gonzago”. Hamlet’s interruption does not allow the actors to finish the second episode.
In Zeffirelli’s production the first episode of “The Murder of Gonzago”, i.e., the dumb show is cut off. And this makes impossible for the audience to figure out what is going on. As long as the audience does not realize that Hamlet’s father was a murderer, so long the Hamlet’s story will remain incomprehensible.