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Hamlet Film

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Hamlet Film Essay Hamlet is a play that transcends generations and has been placed on a pedestal of fame along with its author, the legendary William Shakespeare. Every word in every line of dialogue has been analyzed repeatedly and broken down by numerous experts of Shakespeare, not to mention that thousands of high school students every year pay homage to the playwright by reading and interpreting his famous text. Despite all of the time and effort invested into decoding arguably Shakespeare’s most famous work, the true meaning he put behind the pen and paper still remains wildly debated and surrounded with intrigue. Film directors and visionaries have taken control of this situation and have utilized artistic liberties to each create their own interpretations of the timeless tale. Two of such directors, Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh have created two very different manifestations of Hamlet . Transcending the obvious choices of setting and time period, the directors’ visions of each of the characters have also greatly affected the way viewers envision the classic tale. Branagh and Zeffirelli’s different portrayals of Ophelia made for unique experiences of Hamlet in each of the movies. Each of the films manifests into physical existence two very different Ophelias. Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Ophelia in Branagh’s movie shows independence and assertiveness, as well as maturity. Ophelia often appears in scenes where she does not in the actual play, such as Act 1, Scene 2. She shows up to read half of the letter before letting her father read the second half. Her increased screen time shows the director’s emphasis on her as an influential character. In the final scenes of her madness, Ophelia displays the qualities of assertiveness and spirit that makes her memorable. In a brief scene she is shown bouncing off of the padded walls of her cell, as if trying to get out. Later, when she is let out in front of an audience of the king and the queen

she is first on the ground, immobilized in a straightjacket. When she is let free, she fights against her the people restraining her and her voice often raises to a shout in her insane exchange. A particularly memorable scene is when she is singing, or rather screaming, her nonsense songs, and presses against the king at the lines, “‘By Gis and by Saint Charity, alack, and fie for shame! Young men will do't if they come to't by Cock, they are to blame.’” At the exact moment when she says “cock,” she thrusts her hips directly at the king’s private area, sending him stumbling back. In her madness, Ophelia’s strong will is emphasized through her fearlessness when she faces the king and forceful and wild way she portrays her insanity. She drops to the ground at “Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled me, you promis'd me to wed.' He answers: 'So would I 'a' done, by yonder sun, an thou hadst not come to my bed,’” jabbing the air with her hips and writhing around in a sexual manner. One can tell that Ophelia is not a sheltered girl, but a woman who has had experience with her own sexuality. The additions of various sex scenes between her and Hamlet reinforce this. Branagh’s film portrays Ophelia’s madness as a way for her to strike out and express anger and frustration against the unfortunate events happening around her; although her mind is clouded, she does not lose dignity. During her last exchange with Laertes, her voice remains even and her composure calm. She begins singing with the words, “And will he not come again?And will he not come again? No, no, he is dead; go to thy deathbed; he never will come again.” Turning away from her brother, she sings in a clear and pure voice, her expression sorrowful and desolate. At the end of her singing, she turns back to her brother and casts a loving look on his face. She quietly tells him, “God b' wi' you,” before standing up and walking away. At this moment her insanity melts away and she appears dignified and strong. Later in the movie,

after being hosed down by guards, she reveals the key to her cell hidden in her mouth. She hardly seems insane; she is woman with a plan to break out and to continue on with her life. The last time we see Ophelia is a cut to her lifeless form floating in the river. Her dignified and calculated actions towards the end of the movie makes it seem like it was her plan to drown herself. In the end she is a woman who chose to deal with her pain by choosing to end her own life. The Ophelia in the 1990 Zeffirelli version of Hamlet is in stark contrast to Kate Winslet’s portrayal. Played by Helena Bonham Carter, this Ophelia is shy and meek. Her body language throughout the entire movie creates an image of a lost little girl. Ophelia is constantly averting her eyes while speaking and placing her hands near her mouth or fluttering around her face. Her clothes are also drab and made from dull colors, and she often blends into the backgrounds of the scenes she appears in. When the viewers first see her insane, she looks like a mischievous child who has ran away from her parents. Her eyes peer from behind a castle wall before her whole face emerges; she then continues to dart up a stretch of step pressed against a wall, her eyes darting nervously back in forth as if afraid of being caught. Ophelia is wearing a colorless dress that seems much too big for her, and her bare toes poke from underneath the hem. Her behavior and appearance emphasize her child­like qualities as she seems small and helpless. Later when she encounters the king and the queen, as well as an assembly of other witnesses of her madness, she scurries back and forth between different people, her erratic a direct reflection of her jumbled and confused mind. Ophelia begins playing with her hands and seems lost in her own world before the king regains her attention, inquiring, “How do you, pretty lady?” She looks a bit startled before flashing a sheepish smile and replies, “Well, God dild you! They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. God be at your

table! I hope all will be well. We must be patient.” Her eyes dart back and forth between the floor and the ground when approaching the king, and she peers up with quivering pupils when speaking. After this, she becomes distracted again and turns away for a moment before clenching her head and collapsing on the ground with high­pitched wails. This Ophelia is helpless and lost in her madness. She is overwhelmed with the loss of the strongest authority figure in her life, Polonius, and with the absence of Hamlet; she doesn’t know how to cope with being alone with no one to direct her. She retreats into a childlike state and her sporadic movements and behavior reflect the overwhelming feeling of being lost. In her final scene, we see Ophelia running through a grassy, wooded slope to stop in the middle of a bridge built over a creek. She sits on the edge of the bridge, her bare legs dangling over the edge, while throwing flowers into the water. Her appearance is that of a young child’s innocent and oblivious to the impending danger. The camera shoots her from above, making her look even smaller than she actually is. From her actions leading up to this point and her perilous position on the bridge, one can assume that she accidentally fell into the water and drowned. Unlike the Ophelia in Branagh’s interpretation she doesn’t seem to have the drive or will to kill herself, or even have had the notion of doing so. In her final scene, Ophelia retains that childlike demeanor and innocence she portrayed throughout the entire movie. Her madness accentuates this quality by exaggerating these traits’ Ophelia is too overwhelmed by the unfortunate events surrounding her and retreats into a naive dream world, completely losing rational thought. Kenneth Branagh and Franco Zeffirelli have created two completely distinct interpretations of Hamlet through their movie directing. The exploration and portrayal of Ophelia in the two movies demonstrate how one story can create two completely different directions. The

Ophelia in Branagh’s version is womanly and strong­willed, while Zeffirelli’s Ophelia is meek and childlike. For me, Branagh’s Ophelia provided a more rounded, wholesome view on her progression as a character. While the Ophelia portrayed by Carter was flat and unchanging in her behavior and actions throughout the movie, only exaggerating those same characteristics in madness, Winslet’s portrayal of Ophelia uses insanity as a tool to enhance her potential as a woman, bringing the viewers through a complete character arc resulting in her suicide. In the Branagh film, one is more satisfied with the progression of Ophelia as she had a say in her own fate, unlike the Ophelia in Zeffirelli’s interpretation. The portrayal of Ophelia in the two movies clearly display the creative relationship between a reader and the text. Ultimately, it is up to the audience to draw conclusions from a piece of literature, and the directors’ different renderings of the same character show the extent of such interpretations.

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