Anja Dörfler: Notes Reflection

I am an annotation lover! But there is a significant difference between my note-taking while close reading a text and my annotation while watching a film. When reading a play-text my pens are the most important utensils. One pen is not enough – I need several colored pens and highlighters. I have to admit that my annotation routine is not a very well structured approach, not a “one step at a time” process. It is more like chaos but I love writing down my thoughts and it sometimes feels like allowing my “stream of consciousness” to brisk up in form of notes, while I´m exploring the space between the lines.

For me a text without my personal notes is not a text that has a “Gestalt” and reminds me that I didn’t immerse myself fully in the diegetic world. Primarily my note-taking is confined to play-texts and poems, as I do think there is so much more that needs to be highlighted than for instance in a novel.

As English is not my first language, a dictionary is an important object of utility for me whenever doing literary criticism of English texts. Especially, when reading Shakespeare I rely on a dictionary a lot. This leads to one habit of my annotation practices: translation. In order to filter out the meaning of a Shakespeare text I underline all unknown words and search for them in my dictionary. Once found, I write the German translation above the English word or phrase. I do prefer translating some words but never the whole sentence, as I think translating Shakespearean English to German without “losing” the greatness and aesthetic of the English expressions is unfeasible.

What my professors back home recommend to us is buying a bilingual edition, where the original English text is always on the left pages and the German translation is on the right pages. But I am not a big fan of translation of Shakespeare texts into another language and therefore I am fine with “struggling” through the English text, although it takes some time. Paraphrasing is another practice that helps me to understand the meaning of complex lines but I only paraphrase it in my head.

Apart from my “translation note-taking” in consequence of English not being my first language, my favourite annotation habit is definitely coloring. I use one color for each semantic field I detect within a passage and paint all the words with a marker that can be classified with a certain category, for example sensory organs, as can be seen on the image below. Besides that, I also use colors for rhetorical figures and underline for instance a single repeated letters in order to be aware of the alliteration whenever I read the text again. In my opinion note-taking helps to understand the deeper meaning of the text faster, when re-reading it.

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As already mentioned before, for my own part there is a significant difference between my annotation practices for a play-text and a film. Put simply: I hardly take notes while watching a Shakespeare film on screen. The reason why is that I feel distracted when directing my attention away from the screen. An option would be of course to pause and write down my thoughts but that would lengthen the film watching quite a bit. I also think that a film usually provides enough context and visual imagery in order to ensure the accesability of the play-text. My film notes taken in the Shakespeare 311 class are actually quite detailed, although I actually don’t like taking notes of a film. But given the fact that we only watch single scenes I break my usual “non-annotaion” routine and find my notes very helpful when reflecting a scene at home again. That´s why I also applied this succesfull strategy when watching Oliviers’ Henry V (1944). I was watching each scene seperately and annotated important things I had noticed before starting with the following scene.

In sum, I think note-taking is especially essential to understand the deeper meaning of any play-text. I have no doubt that my annotation practices are successful, as I would say they make itself felt whenever re-reading a play and entering the diegetic world from the very first line.

Anja Dörfler: Scene Comparison – Hamlet

For my Blog Post I´ve chosen Act 3, Scene 1 from Olivier´s Hamlet (1948) and Zeffirelli´s Hamlet (1990). This scene shows one of the most famous Shakespeare soliloquies.

The reason why I chose these two directors is because they each use very distinct approaches. Olivier, as a man of the theater, defines his productions of Shakespeare films by choosing stage elements and combining them with old theatrical roots. Zeffirelli, on the other hand, brought Shakespeare films closer to Hollywood and casted well known stars like Mel Gibson, which was followed by a big success. It was the start of Shakespeare films for a broader cinematic audience. Based on concrete examples, I will cover the contrasts between their directing styles later in this comparison.

What I have briefly introduced above goes hand in hand with my intention for picking a soliloquy for the scene comparison. Soliloquies are fundamental elements used mainly on stage. It has often been discussed if the film genre is suitable for soliloquies as stage conventions need to be adapted to the screen, and therefore directors have to make really careful decisions about how to present soliloquies. Samuel Crowl acknowledges in his book Shakespeare and Film a Norton Guide (2008) that “…soliloquy is a convention foreign to film.” In film, it is unusual that actors address the audience directly, and on screen, it is not possible to achieve that intimacy between those two levels. Nevertheless, there was no other way for directors to not include soliloquies in their films because Shakespearean texts contain several soliloquies, which are central passages. Filmmakers found different solutions to solve the problem of how to translate a soliloquy into the language of film, one of which, is the voice-over.

Now I want to move on from the theoretical framework to a more concrete analysis of this specific element. First, I want to start with picturing how Olivier dealt with the soliloquy in his screen adaptation of Hamlet. Secondly, I am going to illustrate Zeffirelli´s film and draw comparisons between the two versions of the same scene.

Act 3, Scene 1 starts in Olivier’s film with music that is in my opinion irritating but matches perfectly with the fast motion shot, when the camera moves quickly up the stairs in semi-darkness. Up on the top of Elsinore the camera captures the breaking waves down at the shore, and Olivier has chosen this landscape in order to link the visual images to Shakespeare´s lines “to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them” (Crowl 2008, 24). After this line Olivier switches to a voice-over, which is an element of film often used instead of a soliloquy and works exclusively on screen. Hamlet holds his eyes closed during the voice-over. Again, this is another example where Olivier combines the words and the images perfectly, as Hamlet talks about dying and sleeping, all of which are related to closed eyes. At the moment when the line “…perchance to dream” gets spoken again and the voice-over stops, Hamlet opens his eyes again as if he awoke from dreaming.

The most impressive moments of this scene happen towards the end when Hamlet faces the camera directly two times. For me it was quite irritating but it gave me the feeling of being closer to the actor and that he addressed me directly with his internal struggle.


This same scene has been done differently by Zeffirelli. As already mentioned, he creates a unique version contrasting Olivier´s. Mel Gibson plays Zeffirelli´s Hamlet in a very energetic and emotional manner. At the beginning of Act 3, Scene 1 the Italian director chose a close-up that exposes anxious eyes. As opposed to Olivier Zeffirelli´s Hamlet did not look directly into the camera. Moreover Zeffirelli left out any film score in this scene and there is also no voice-over. It is only Hamlet speaking with a soft voice at the beginning but his voice gets more wavering and louder because of reverberation as he walks down into the tomb. The silence in the tomb makes Hamlet´s soliloquy even more impressive in my opinion – no breaking waves disturb his verse. The last thing I want to mention is that Zeffirelli chose this dark tomb but lets the sun break through several times maybe as a sign of hope and optimism.


To sum up, soliloquies are not easy to translate into the language of film but directors such as Olivier and Zeffirelli managed to create very successful versions.


 Works Cited

Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare and Film: A Norton Guide. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008.



Film music

As I´ve read through the passage where Crowl talks about music playing a much larger role in film rhetoric (p. xvi/xvii) than we would assume it reminded me of one example our Professor back home showed us in the lecture on Dark Romanticism and I thought I could just share it with you.

I´m sure you´ve all seen Titanic and I know that it is already a tragedy but still with just changing the music it turns more into a horror movie.

Check out the youtube link below if you´re interested in seeing it.

I know it´s not directly linked to Shakespearean film but it points out that music really matters and can have a huge impact on our emotions while watching a film.