“To be or not to be” (Act 3 Scene 1) is possibly one of the most famous Shakespearean soliloquies of all time, in one of the most critically acclaimed and audience renowned plays written by William Shakespeare. Hamlet has been recreated time after time in different eras of the century and still manages to captivate the audience’s attention. Where Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 take on the play stuck to conveying the original themes and setting of the play, Almereyda took his own spin on the classical script by placing it in the 21st century.
The two movies were not only drastically different in box office collections and ratings, but also vastly different in direction and creative choices made in scenes. Zeffirelli being a far more experienced director in Shakespearean themed movies made quite the big box office hit, ten years later Almereyda was not able to make such a great impact but did end up creating the first millennial modern twist on Hamlet.
To begin, the setting of Zeffirelli’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy took place in medieval times Denmark in what looks like a cemetery for nobility and kings. Gibson is surrounded by rocks, skeletons and most importantly he delivers his lines while fawning over his fathers coffin which is centred in the middle of the room. The dark cave like setting emanates a depressing and cold tone in contrast to the Blockbuster store that Almereyda’s Hamlet is in. Ethan Hawke delivers his soliloquy in 21st century New York city in your average looking Blockbuster store, the set really has no meaning to it besides the fact that Hamlet can’t even make the simple decision of choosing a movie.
Zeffirelli and Almereyda did not emphasize the music as much as they did the dialogue in this scene. Zeffirelli used the acoustics in the cave to emphasize Mel Gibson’s dialogue, as he walked around the echo would strategically increase with Gibson’s voice. I believe the music wasn’t there because it didn’t need to be, the echo caused enough of the dramatic effect needed for the scene and added a little more genuineness as well. There was no echo in the Blockbuster but there was soft violin which through the combination of Hawke’s depressing tone of voice set the mood for the scene.
While some costume choices made sense others were just fashion statements. In Almereyda’s Hamlet Hawke’s is wearing an all black outfit staying true to the original theme of Hamlet mourning his father’s death, the odd thing is his weird winter toque which either makes sense for the cold weather in New York or is just Ethan Hawke’s fashion style. Zeffirelli commits to the setting of medieval times and ties in Hamlets costume with the all black ensemble.
Performance, film editing, all tie up in Zeffirelli’s version of the soliloquy. During the line “The dread of something after death the undiscovered” we see Gibson look to the right of the screen where the camera cuts to the skeletons and then back to Gibson, Zeffirelli plays on the dialogue given at that moment to show something Shakespeare could not through just his playwright. Almereyda starts the soliloquy with the camera following Hawke as he delivers the beginning lines through voice over the director continues with the voice over as it cuts to the front of Hamlet who is not speaking his dialogue but rather thinking them, this could have been Almereyda’s way of modernizing the speech instead of the delivering the soliloquy the way it is always spoken; out loud.
As far as performance goes Hawkes performance is rather abysmal, but he does portray a good “emo” from the 21st century. His soliloquy last’s a total of 2 minutes and 49 seconds while Gibson’s delivery of the dialogue stretches for a good 4 minutes. Gibson’s hushed tone and unhurried delivery all take part in enhancing his performance which makes for a better scene all together.
Both directors delivered the Act 3 scene 1 very differently and used drastically different creative choices when making the film. While Almereyda’s work was not wildly popular it still showed the many different ways in which Shakespeare’s literature can be interpreted, and even though Zeffirelli was going for a more direct approach on the play he still managed to find a lot of places where he could make it his own.
Almereyda (2000) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Up-oGfiosE
Zeffireli (1990) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf2TpWsPvgI
Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare and Film: A Norton Guide. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008.