Hamlet Film and Play Comparison

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Any movie based on a well-known piece of written work will inevitably be critiqued and compared to the original story, and Zeffirelli’s version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is no exception. Viewers who have read the play will scrutinize the director’s interpretation of the film and judge whether the changes made in the movie do the play justice. For the sake of film aspects and duration of the movie, Zeffirelli made some changes in Hamlet that do not take away from the overall meaning of the story, but rather, they change the viewers’ perception of Hamlet.

The movie dismisses Hamlet’s procrastination in another aspect as well; Hamlet’s soliloquy about Hecuba is cut out. In this soliloquy, Hamlet compares his own lack of action to the actor’s emotional speech: “What would he do, had he the motive and the cue for passion that I have? He would drown the stage with tears… Yet I, … unpregnant of my cause, can say nothing” (2. 2. 557-565). Hamlet even goes as far as to call himself “a scullion” (2. 2. 585), which could not be more untrue considering Hamlet’s position as the prince.

Not only does Hamlet realize his own pettiness, his soliloquy also serves to make the viewers aware of the fact that Hamlet is “pigeon-liver’d and lack[s] gall” (2. 2. 574). In the play, Hamlet’s character is both erratic and pensively hesitant, but the movie focuses on Hamlet’s erratic qualities. Because of this, Hamlet emerges as a more aggressive and active character in the movie. While the movie plot line stays the same, by eliminating Hamlet’s Hecuba soliloquy from the movie, the audience is oblivious to Hamlet’s uncertainty and unconfidence and instead getting the impression that Hamlet is a bold and frisky character.

Aside from cutting out Hamlet’s soliloquy in scene two, the character Fortinbras and everything associated with his character was cut from the movie as well. Fortinbras actually had several roles in the play, one of them being he is Hamlet’s foil character. Like Hamlet, Fortinbras is also a prince, and after his father was killed, the crown was given to his uncle. Hamlet admired Fortinbras for going to war in vengeance and “exposing what is mortal and unsure/To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,/Even for an egg-shell” (4. 4. 50-52).

Fortinbras was willing to risk everything on war for an insignificant piece of land, highlighting Hamlet’s “dull revenge” (4. 4. 32) in contrast. Due to the elimination of Fortinbras in the movie, this comparison is not made, and Hamlet’s procrastination and cowardly hesitation is not as pronounced as it is in the play. Omitting Hamlet’s timid qualities leaves his erratic side in the movie. Hamlet in the movie comes off very lively compared to the play because by excluding Hamlet’s comparison to Fortinbras, Hamlet’s lack of action is neglected in the movie.

Absence of Fortinbras in the movie not only eliminates his role as a foil character, but it also eliminates the war aspect in the movie. At the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, after Horatio suggests the idea that young Fortinbras may want revenge on Denmark because King Hamlet killed King Fortinbras. In the next scene, Claudius addresses a crowd about the situation with Norway: “[Fortinbras] hath not fail’d to pester us with message,/ Importing the surrender of those lands/Lost by his father” (1. 2. 22-24).

The conflict and possibility of war sets the ominous mood of the play. In the play, the characters are all agitated by the idea of impending doom and “something rotten in the state of Denmark” (1. 4. 90). Removing the war aspect lightens the mood and spirit of the characters in general, including Hamlet. Typically very melancholy in the play, Hamlet in the movie is more energetic which is subtly enhanced by the lighter mood created from eliminating the war element in the movie. Hamlet relationship with Gertude in the movie is different as well.

The scene with Hamlet and Gertude in Gertude’s room takes any incestuous theme in the play to the next level. After Hamlet says, “In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed” (3. 4. 94), he pelvic thrusts Gertude while she cries out. The sexual implications of this scene are undeniable. While Shakespeare’s play does contain an incestuous theme, in the movie, the sexuality between Hamlet and Gertude seemed Oedipus. The Oedipus complex interpretation adds a twist onto Hamlet’s character and adds interest in a film aspect.

It also shows how obsessed Hamlet is with the idea of Gertude and Claudius together in incestuous sheets” (1. 2. 157). In a sense, Hamlet’s sexual force may reflect and express the anger he harbors for Gertude as well. Sexual desire and anger are both strong emotions, and expressing one emotion amplifies the other. The Oedipus theme adds another dimension of interest to Hamlet’s character, and his sexual outburst also reflects his anger to his mom for being with Claudius.

In the making of the movie Hamlet, director Zeffirelli made changes such as cutting out Hamlet’s Hecuba Soliloquy, cutting out Fortinbras’ roles and intensifying the sexuality between Hamlet and Gertude. While none of these changes made a major impact on the plot line, the changes affected the viewers’ interpretation of Hamlet. Hamlet’s character in the movie is more aggressive. Mel Gibson did a splendid job accurately portraying Hamlet, and film aspects taken into consideration, Zeffirelli made suitable changes to recreate Shakespeare’s Hamlet on film.

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