The construction of Richard in Laurence Olivier’s Richard III(1955)

Richard The Third is a character of multiple interpretations and theories about his true intentions. In the text, Richard often invites the idea that he is a persecuted man who tries to win over the sympathy of the audience through his monologues, and of the other characters of the play through his interactions. At the same time, his actions such as his seduction of Anne and his astute manipulation of other characters shows him as more competent and influential then he purports himself to be. While any portrayal of Richard must show him as conniving, his actual nature as a wronged victim, a conniving prince or a hardened psychopath depends upon interpretation. From the calculated yet subtlely insincere way that Olivier delivered Richard’s first monologue, to the way he played his skilled and authoritative seduction of Anne and Richard’s manipulation of the coronation ceremony, Olivier plays Richard as the conniving, power hungry prince first. We are  left doubting whether Richard is truthful in his monologues and if his handicaps are as severe as he makes them seem. However, his passionate desire for the crown allows us to understand his motives, unlike McKellan’s Richard, who is insensitive and withered inside and out, and seems to enjoy “villainy” without any need for it.

In Richard introductory monologue, he gives his account as to why he is miserable and why he seeks power over people. His motives seem quite straight forward. Richard is handicapped, as he says he is “deformed, unfinished, sent befoe my time into this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionably That dogs bark at me as I halt by them”(Act 1, Scene 1 line 23). He also laments his inability to find the love of a woman,” I that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majestry to strut before a wanton ambling nymph”(Act 1, Scene 1, line 16-17). Due to his loneliness and lack of occupation, he says that “To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain”(Act 1, Scene 1, Line 30). It is evident that Richard says he is power hungry due to being unloved, and because his plots and treachery will be able to sabotage peoples’ happiness that he was unable to receive himself. However, because Richard is inherently manipulative and untruthful, the authenticity of this monologue can be brought into question. Laurence Olivier alludes to this in his version of the monologue.Richard does not come across as the self-pitying outcast he purports to be in his lines. He is standing straight, his voice is quite self-assured and he delivers the lines with forcefulness and tact rather than with pain and a sense of unworthiness. The only time Richard seems manic or emotional in Olivier’s version is when he is talking about the throne. He breaks into a grin when he says “I know not how to get the crown” (see clip: Olivier, “Now is the Winter of Our Discontent”, 2:49-3:10)and he starts yelling and staggering in almost a drunken way when he states “I will torment myself to catch the English crown!”(Clip:3:20-3:25). It is also significant that Richard is not speaking to himself in the monologue but clearly speaking to the audience, so the Act is much more like a speech than like a meditation;he is aiming to manipulate the listener to support him rather than to confess or reflect to himself.

Loncraine’s Richard provides a notable contrast to Olivier’s. Richard, as played by Ian McKellan gives the same speech in a urinal, talking to himself after addressing a crowd. The scene begins with McKellen addressing what appears to be a state dinner, and giving what seems like a rousing speech that is eagerly attended to. He starts the first few lines of the monologue addressed to the Son of York in Public. The first few lines start cheerfully and seemingly admiringly “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the son of York”(Act I, Scene 1, Line 1-2) and the transition to the private urinal is made at “He capers nimbly in a ladies chamber”.(1:1:12) Mckellen then mutters the rest of the lines about his disfigured appearance and seeking revenge while he painfully urinates and later as he fixes his moustache in the mirror(See Clip). He delivers the line “I that am not shaped for sportive tricks”(1:1:14) with a cynical sigh and defeated self loathing. He only addresses the camera at the very end, and with familiar surprise, as if he has found an old friend or an accomplice who is “in” with his plans of villainy. Evidently, this Richard is far different to Olivier’s. Olivier’s Richard was the ambitious yet dissatisfied prince eager to manipulate the invisible audience to sympathise with his goals. McKellen’s Richard is not isolated, but is seen as important and celebrated. This Richard is not the outcast prince looking for an audience because he already has an attentive audience in the movie. This Richard is genuinely world-weary and bitter, someone who utters the lines about revenge and murder to himself because he genuinely has no regard for the world. In a way, Olivier’s Richard is the more sympathizable of the two. His evil springs from a genuine isolation, he feels he deserves the throne and is trying to win the audience over to his cause. McKellen’s Richard is already powerful, already celebrated, but plots evil to himself in a jaded and hardened manner. Olivier’s Richard is angry, greedy and manipulative, but his evil springs from an identifiable cause, whereas McKellen’s Richard is decayed and impenetrable.He seems purely motivated by a hatred of life, which makes him more dangerous.

Returning to Olivier’s Richard, a scene which strengthens Richard’s true nature as a seducer and manipulator rather than a genuine victim is his woo-ing of Lady Anne. He makes it known to the audience that he wants to wed the widow of the Prince of Wales. He initially meets her on the funeral procession of her husband, where he obnoxiously stops the procession of the casket and threatens the priests. Anne was naturally enraged but he tries to pacify her telling her that a man of her husband’s character belongs in heaven more than earth. He then says that he belongs in her bed chamber. While Anne spits at him, she responds to this absurd advance by lustily gazing at him up and down and she walks away. The absurd flirtation with Anne is continued when he meets her at her husband’s grave. He confesses that he killed her husband out of his love for her, and after making a few insincere gestures threatening to kill himself if she doesn’t accept him as her new husband, Anne yields herself to him and kisses him. The most obvious extraction from this strange courtship was voiced by Richard himself when he said “Was ever woman in this humour wooed, was ever woman in this humour won?”(Act 2, Scene 2, 222-224). While the courtship doesn’t make any sense, perhaps Olivier is endorsing the possible viewpoint by Shakespeare that a powerful and competent man can win over any woman, even a grieving, recently widowed one. The idea that a woman can be swept up by any man with the social standing and the confidence to woo her is mirrored in Hamlet, where Cladius married his brother’s wife within a month of his brothers funeral. This also supports the idea that Richard is not the neglected,unaccepted,virgin that he makes us feel he is in his monologue. Richard is brash and overconfident with women, it is unlikely that someone with a broken self-image would proposition a woman at her husband’s funeral. More so, the fact that Anne accepted him speaks volumes for his likely status. Anne was portrayed as a weak and shallow woman but even then, she probably accepted him because he was a prince and an eligible bachelor, rather than a freak. This makes us think that his monologue in the beginning about “Dogs bark at me as I halt by them” was probably a ploy for him to stoke up our sympathy rather than a genuine sense of persecution.

Richard iii

The tactic of Richard as tyrant playing a victim is made evident at the scene of his coronation. At the scene where Richard is ripe for the throne, he is shown marching in a procession of priests, singing holy hymns in the robes of a monk. At this point, no-one knows that Richard intends to take the English crown, and him being seen in public as a holy man deflects any suspicion that he may be ambitious. The cloaking of Richard in Monks robes also plays on the handicapped card, as it was known that in medieval times and even today in some countries, that the disabled are often reliant on the Church. The setting is perfect for Richard to deliver rehearsed lines, fed by a co-conspirator, in order to deliver his seemingly-reluctant ascension. He makes sure his accomplice Catesby calls the whole village to hear his lament about him becoming king, as he dramatizes “Will you enforce me to a world of cares?”(Act 3, Scene 7, 222) He also once again invokes his handicap to invite sympathy ” Yet so much is my poverty of spirit, So mighty and so many my defects That I would rather hide me from my greatness”(Act 3, Scene 7, 158-159). Unique to the Olivier version is how Olivier deploys the line “call them again” as a sharp order to Catesby to rally up the villagers who had dispersed, which created the effect of rehearsed scene. The interpretive choice of the director to priestly procession complements the monologue of Richard as a master of appearances. He introduced himself to us as the outcast cripple to disarm us and he portrays himself as the humble, disabled monk to disarm the peasantry. Through these two false appearances, we infer that Olivier created Richard not only as a schemer but someone who has created the persona of a victim, and uses his disability as a tool to achieve his aims rather than have it serve as an impediment to them.

Hamlet: Act 4 Scene 4 (Paolo Juego, 10110489)

For my Engl 311 course, I have watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film of Hamlet and read the play in Robert Miola’s Norton edition.

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This edition includes Branagh’s introduction to the play, where he explains his experience of Hamlet at the New Theatre, Oxford.  He not only watched, but experienced ‘something unique.’  Although he did not completely understand the language, he was able to share the emotions of the characters.  Branagh was ‘moved to tears’ and found it ‘as thrilling as a football match.’

In act 4 scene 4 of Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet, Hamlet had just spoken with one of Fortinbras’ captain about their reasons for going into battle/war.  The combination of the background music and the transition form a close up to outward panning shot creates a sense of change in Hamlet.  It feels like he finally has resolve to match his thoughts and is the turning point of the movie.


Chelsea Santucci – Hamlet: Act 4 Scene 7:158-163

4 hours of solid Kenneth Branagh action wew

Act 5 Scene 2

Lines: Hamlet, Miola’s Norton Version 4:7:158-163

And that he calls for drink, I’ll have prepared him
A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,
If he by chance escape your venomed stuck,
Our purpose may hold there. [A noise within] But stay, what

This line stuck out the most in terms of interpretation because I realized a foreshadowing effect during the film which I had not realized when I’ve originally read or heard this play. The distance between the lines “A chalice for the nonce” (4:7:159) and the action of the Queen entering and interrupting (162-163) have traditionally left the two rather unrelated for me previously. Perhaps it’s because it’s made much more obvious here by the lingering chalice that Claudius holds up in frame as the queen enters, but the connection between the plotting of poisoning Hamlet with a drink and being interrupted while making said plan made it really obvious that it was a foreshadowing that the Queen would interrupt the actual plan and end up drinking the wine herself.

Kind of made me feel like I wasn’t paying attention the first times around, but definitely picked up on it this time.

Brianna Morton: Hamlet: Act 5 Scene 1

HAMLET, Act 5 Scene 1

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Screen Cap: Gravedigger, Act 5 Scene 1

“Why, e’en so. And now my Lady Worm’schapless, and knocked about the mazard with a sexton’s spade. Here’s fine revolutionan we had the trick to see’t. Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggets with ’em? Mine ache to think on’t.” (5.1.110)

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My Notes: Hamlet: Act 5 Scene 1

From just reading this scene, I thought it was rather morbid. They were talking about death and there was nothing in the notes to indicate that it was supposed to be humorous. When I watched the film version I realized that the gravedigger was making light of the whole situation. (It was either that or he was off his rocker.) Hamlet was speaking the words, but the visual was the gravedigger handle skulls. This created a levity that I had not gathered by just reading the text.

The 4-hour, unabridged, film version helped me appreciate and understand Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a way reading the text could never have given me.


Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. Print.

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh. 1996. Web.

Film Notes

In Act 5 Scene 1 I quite enjoyed line
“why may not that be the skull of lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets,his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery?”. Lines 92-97. I felt that this described the burial well and expressed Hamlet’s emotions in a very raw way.


Andra Sutherland: Act 5, Scene 2

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.

film diarynotes

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.

Film Diary-Ore Arowobusoye


Many things cross our minds when we think of Hamlet, the lovely prince of Denmark. He’s dramatic, introspective, and emo (before it was even cool). However, one thing that I usually don’t associate Hamlet with is humor. He’s way too serious for that. He’s the type of person whose jokes make us nervous because we aren’t sure when things will take a turn for the uncomfortable.

Strangely enough however, when watching Branagh’s 1996 version of Hamlet there was a rare moment were I found Hamlet genuinely funny. This moment is in Act 4 scene 3 line 48 when Hamlet says “But come; for England! Farewell, dear Mother.”

When I read this line in the text, I thought Hamlet was being serious. In my reading, Hamlet was so convinced that Gertrude and Claudius’ betrayal’s went hand in hand he decided that they were one and the same. In the film however, this interaction was much more entertaining. It became obvious to me that Hamlet was just trying to get on Claudius’ nerves, by addressing him as a female, and this amused me.

Although Hamlet is still fairy young, so much of what he does and says is alienating. (I mean who tells their girlfriend to become a nun?) This simple act of sass, and the cheeky cheek-kiss that followed Hamlet’s farewell to his “mother” made me realize that despite everything Hamlet is still a kid who derives pleasure from ticking his parent off. And sometimes don’t we all?


Its ok Hamlet. Sometimes i just want to yell in my room too…



Act 5 Scene 1 Jennifer Pelham


In English 311 this semester I have watched Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet and read the Robert S. Miola edition of the play while I watched.  In the text, Hamlet watches the Grave-maker treat the skulls of the dead playfully, tossing them about instead of mournfully preparing them for the graves (5.1.87-98). Hamlet talks about one of the skulls and questions whether it might have once been a lawyer. He then contemplates how the proposed lawyer comes to be in such a state of powerlessness in death, being unable to take any action against the careless gravedigger or claim ownership of anything except his grave.

In Branagh’s film, Branagh, playing Hamlet, delivers these lines as if he is sort of amused at the same time as being confused that death makes life seem so meaningless. He doesn’t seem angry but more like he is accepting that it doesn’t matter that much what a person is or does during life because death comes for everyone and it means that in the end you have nothing. Perhaps this is also a statement on revenge and love meaning nothing as Hamlet tries so hard to take revenge on Claudius for his evil deeds against Hamlet’s beloved parents and in the end almost everyone is taken by an undiscriminating death. The way Branagh plays with the word ‘recognizance’ makes it sound like he is laughing at the lawyer for working so hard to achieve what he had during life because it doesn’t matter to anyone after his death, least of all the grave-digger playing with his skull. Hamlet seems to be laughing at the absurdity and meaninglessness of life in general.

Film Diary – Act 4 Scene 2 (Famya Virk)

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Surprisingly, I really enjoyed watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film Hamlet. I thought it would be difficult to watch (mainly because it’s four hours long), but I easily became obsessed with the film and thought the acting was superb. It was also great to see Kate Winslet and Robin Williams in the film, and I thought Kate Winslet did an excellent job playing Ophelia. At times she was acting absolutely insane, but that’s when you know you’ve played your role well! Below, you will find notes I took while watching the film. They’re a bit scattered and all over the place, but I wanted to track my progress.

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I thought it was amazing how the film followed the dialogue completely — I don’t remember a single line being skipped! This is how the film differs from other Hamlet movies, as most of the other ones will omit lines. I enjoyed this version way more than the Almereyda version I watched for my first blog post. Almereyda’s film skipped many lines and took a more modern approach to the play, while this film followed the dialogue and seemed more authentic.



For my film diary, I decided to focus on Act 4, Scene 2. Above, you will see my annotations and notes for this act. The lines in particular that I would like to focus on are 25-26 in Miola’s edition of Hamlet. In these lines, Hamlet says:

“The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body. The King is a thing.” (p. 87).

I found these lines to be both confusing and intriguing, as I was trying to find out what the heck Hamlet means. I determined that he was probably referring to his father as a being, but at the same time was also referring to the ghost or spirit of his father. The King is therefore “a thing” (p. 87) that doesn’t fit into a specific category. This irony/antithesis stuck out to me while I was reading the book, and its portrayal in the film was equally intriguing. While watching Act 4, Scene 2, I was pleased to find that Branagh took a different approach and presented Hamlet in a whimsical and hilarious manner. The way he is walking away from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is nothing short of hilarious, and the acting is superb. In the other films, the scene was much darker, but Branagh takes an interesting approach and makes it more lighthearted. I also enjoyed how everyone was walking behind Hamlet and the camera was following the movement of the characters. Lines 25-26 in particular are also presented in a very unique manner. Hamlet grabs Rosencrantz in a playful (and slightly aggressive) way when speaking the aforementioned lines, and does a nifty little spin after saying “The King is a thing” (p. 87). Branagh’s playful portrayal of the characters is very fun to watch, and the vibrant colors and costumes add to the overall visual effect of the play. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually enjoyed the four hours I spent watching the film. Well done, Branagh!

Act 4 Scene 7 – Maria Servito

Watching Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet may seem as torturous as running a marathon, but Branagh makes sure it is worth your time. The cinematography of this film is superb– almost every scene in the movie can be a standalone picture. Furthermore, Branagh perfectly captures the multi-faceted Hamlet and even effectively delivers Hamlet’s funny (and punny) one-liners.FullSizeRender [71783]

Derek Jacobi is convincing as Claudius. Through Jacobi’s portrayal, we can see why Hamlet detests him – he is a calculating, two-faced, and a master manipulator. However, Jacobi also adds another dimension to his portrayal of Claudius – remorse. In the prayer scene, we can see that Claudius is genuinely remorseful for killing his brother, such that I almost feel sympathy for him.

Julie Christie is also amazing as Gertrude. From her acting, we can easily see Gertrude’s character progression– initially in love (or in lust?) with Claudius to the eventual realization that Claudius’ personality is what’s “rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.90). This is particularly evident in the last part of Act 4 Scene 7.  In the text, Claudius tells Gertrude, “let’s follow” (4.7.193). Although the line doesn’t appear to be noteworthy, Branagh’s interpretation makes it so. In the film, Claudius almost demandingly says this line to Gertrude. Through Christie’s acting we can see that she is starting to believe Hamlet’s suspicions towards Claudius. This is further accentuated by the foreboding score that plays in the background. Even without uttering a word, we already get the impression that Gertrude had started to realize she made a grave mistake of marrying Claudius.IMG_5580 [71785]

This aforementioned scene is one of the many that prove Branagh has made an excellent interpretation of Hamlet.