Over the past week, I watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 full-text version of Hamlet twice; the second time reading along in the text and annotating Crowl’s “Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet: From text to screen”. The following are photos of my screen while watching it and a page of my notes on it.
A particular passage in Act 5 Scene 2 has always been fascinating to me as it portrays such a drastic change in Hamlet’s demeanor. It is in Hamlet’s conversation with Horatio immediately preceding the dual with Laertes. He talks about there being “special providence in the fall of a sparrow”(l.190), alluding to a line from the bible about divine direction or plan. He continues to say “The readiness is all.”(l.192) and “Let be.”(l.193). In the text I’ve generally interpreted this passage as a change in Hamlet to being finally at peace; having transcended his emotional turmoil into acceptance of his situation. Perhaps he means he is now ready to enact his revenge and face his destiny. He’s ready for anything, including death, and he is not going to needlessly obsess and agonize over it anymore. After philosophizing the meaning of life throughout prior scenes, most notably in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, maybe he feels he’s reached some sort of spiritual enlightenment and with “Let be.” he’s possibly answering his own famous question.
In Branagh’s film, I found these same lines were delivered in a subtly depressing tone and the passage depicted as Hamlet saying good-bye to Horatio, like he knows he is going to his certain death and is ready to die. Clearly recognizing a trap in the King’s invitation, he seems to resign himself to it. It’s interpreted more as sad than peaceful. As he speaks the last line, a tear runs down his face and Horatio embraces him as if for the last time. The musical score during this speech sounds the same as in the sequence when Hamlet lays dying and when his body is carried out at the end (except without the trumpets), foreshadowing his imminent death.