Natasha King: Scene Comparison | Zeffirelli vs Shakespeare | Hamlet


One of the most obvious differences between Zeffirelli’s Hamlet and the original play is that the opening scene at the guard tower is entirely omitted in the film. I can understand why he did this, since it wasn’t entirely necessary to have multiple scenes with the ghost being encountered. Instead the film skipped the first ghost sighting , to Hamlet being told of the events and then going to the watchtowers himself. By doing this Zeffirell was able to cut down the length of the film while still including the scene that is the catalyst in which Hamlet decides to prove the murder of his father and seek out revenge on his Uncle.


Instead it begins with an original scene of Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet are mourning the old King’s death at a funeral. In this scene Claudius’ speech only briefly tells Hamlet to consider him his father. In the same scene in which Gertrude is bent over her late husband’s body, she looks up to Claudius, which seems quite striking. I believe Zeffirelli’s intention was to emphasize how she is already moving onto her new husband-to-be. It is not until a different scene in which Claudius addresses his court to announce the bittersweet news that he has married his former sister-in-law.


The next scene contains Hamlets famous line “a little more than kin and less than kind,” however in the film Hamlet says this directly to Claudius as opposed to saying it quietly to himself. This is something that continues to occur in the film, in which Hamlet is much more bold when it comes to sharing is quips and sarcastic remarks.

One of the aspects of the play that Zeffirelli maintained was Hamlet’s monologue in which he shares his absolute shock that his father has only recently died and his mother is already remarried. The line “frailty, thy name is women” is carried over into this scene. Something I noticed about Zeffirelli’s version is that he maintains the well-known lines.

Opposite to this, something that I was not a fan of was the fact that Fortinbras was hardly mentioned at all. One of the things Shakespeare liked to do was talk about current events in his play, or at least create politic events in order to have a subplot. However by omitting this in the film it almost made the film seem boring to me, not to mention it makes the ending of the film seem rather anticlimactic. One of the most important parts of the entire play was the ending, in which everyone has died and now the kingdom faces an impending attack.

To go back to the humour I mentioned, I really enjoyed the film scene in which Polonius and Hamlet are talking in the library. While in the play, Hamlets response to Polonius’ question about what he is reading is simply “words, words, words,” the film adds more depth. This line can be interpreted in different ways depending on who is reading it, but I truly appreciated the way that Gibson presents it. Each time, he says “words” with a different tone. The first time he seems to ask himself what he’s looking at, and then he confirms that it is, in fact, words and the third time, he loudly informs Polonius of this. By doing this it is apparent of Hamlet’s distaste of Polonius and his lack of caution by answering in this way. He makes it obvious that he’s talking down to Polonius. Another part about this scene that I liked was Zeffirelli’s choice to have Hamlet sitting up above Polonius, to reaffirm the differences between the two men.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-7-32-04-pm  screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-07-28-pm

While Gibson played an excellent Hamlet, I was not entirely impressed with the scene in which he kills Polonius. Although the acting itself is good, he doesn’t really seem to be bothered by it at all, by doing this Hamlet appears to no longer be sane, which in the play is something the audience is constantly trying to figure out: is he actually crazy, or is he just pretending so everyone will drop their guard around him?

Zeffirelli did an excellent job of adapting the play into a film by modernizing the language, and cutting the long soliloquys and speeches to shorten the film. He added in bits of humour to ensure entertainment and to keep a more positive attitude throughout. Overall he made sure that even people who aren’t huge fans of Shakespeare could enjoy it and experience it in some way.

With that being said, for Shakespeare fans, he may have left them disappointed with the number of changes made to the story line. What some people may have considered unimportant or monotonous, Shakespeare fans would have looked forward to only to finish the film lacking the experience they would have hoped for.

Andre Retuta: Film Review

Zeffirelli’s rendition of Hamlet (1990) was really interesting to me right from when I first saw it, which is roughly around a couple of years ago.  It is probably my favorite Shakespeare play, regardless of how limited my knowledge of his productions is.

The first time I saw the film, I was intrigued right away by the dark ambience that started the whole movie.  I have always been a fan of movies with a sombre tone which is probably another reason why Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, compared to other renditions, is my favorite.  One thing that I noticed about Zeffirelli’s Hamlet though, is its immediate divergence from Shakespeare’s original script.  The original script opens with the traditional sequence involving the sighting of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, while Zeffirelli’s opening is instead a funeral sequence of his own design.  We understand right away how much Hamlet distrusts his uncle Claudius, shown in the opening scene where Claudius starts speaking with Hamlet.  The lines “think of us as of a father; for let the world take note you are the most immediate to our throne, and with no less nobility of love than that which dearest father bears his son do I impart toward you.” show Claudius’ attempt at good intentions, while Hamlet’s response shows the distrust he holds for him.


While we see right away the conflict between Hamlet and Claudius, we also continue to unravel the fact that Hamlet holds his father in the highest regard as opposed to how he holds Claudius, and this is then consistently reinforced all throughout the film.

Somewhat proof of this comparison between Hamlet’s father and Claudius (or lack thereof), is shown in Hamlet’s first monologue.  In this first soliloquy, Hamlet laments about his father compared to Claudius, so delicately captured with the lines “So excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr…”

In this scene as well, Hamlet expresses his disgust with his mother Gertrude about how his she has now intertwined herself with Claudius after Hamlet’s father’s recent passing.


This is described accurately by the lines “But two months dead! – nay, not so much, not two…” and also “Why, should she hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on: and yet, within a month…”  The scene from the film ended on Hamlet saying “Frailty, thy name is woman!”, which cut off most of Hamlet’s soliloquy written originally, another deviation from Shakespeare’s original piece.


Perhaps the most iconic scene in Hamlet is his famous soliloquy from Act 3, Scene 1.  I really like how Zeffirelli introduces this scene, as he starts of from showing Hamlet’s face portraying pure emotion and then pans through the coffins as if to show a subtle longing for death.  Numerous times do we see Hamlet peering at the coffins, also leaning on them as if talking with the idea of the dead being his only audience.  There are also parts in this scene as well that Hamlet looks up at a beaming light, possibly hoping for answers as he ponders thoughts of suicide, before then stepping back into darkness with suggests once again the conflict in his mind – hence, “to be or not to be”.  Finally, this scene was focused more on Hamlet’s monologue itself, that Zeffirelli did not feel the need to put in any background musical score.  I feel that it really captures Shakespeare’s intent of the moment supposedly being dark and sorrowful, while at the same time being powerful and iconic as well.

As a whole, the film – in my humble opinion – is well made from a simple bystander’s point of view.  It may have had some deviations from the original piece that Shakespeare wrote, however I feel that it still captured the emotion and the message that he originally wanted to portray.  The acting in the film also captures the characters that they are trying to portray, yet also distinguished their own style within the character.

Zeffirelli gave a very refreshing take on one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, Hamlet.


Daniel Leong: Scene Comparison

While the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1 was undoubtedly of paramount importance to the immortalizing of Hamlet as a play, I would argue that in film, Act 2 Scene 2 warrants just as much, if not more, scrutiny and discussion. In particular, there is much to be said about the differences in creative decisions made by directors Zeffirelli and Doran in terms of text splicing, angles, character direction, and choice of visuals, particularly in Hamlet’s short interrogation of his friends but also in the ending soliloquy.

Perhaps the most readily apparent difference between these versions is that Zeffirelli chooses on more than one occasion to change the original order of events or, in some cases, omit lines entirely. With reference to the text, Zeffirelli places the “to be or not to be” soliloquy directly before Hamlet’s friendly encounter with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then skips forward from the players’ arrival into just after the First Player’s speech. He then moves backwards to the “Flourish of trumpets within” before jumping forward again into halfway through the closing soliloquy. In my opinion, Zeffirelli’s new sequence of events does an admirable job of simplifying the plot without detracting too much from the meaning, as we still have Hamlet’s brooding, his interactions with other characters, and his resulting rage. However, that isn’t to say that Zeffirelli’s is necessarily better; in fact, his decisions almost give us a shallower Hamlet whose motivations and thoughtsare more generic and easy to understand. By contrast, Doran’s Hamlet follows the text exactly, sacrificing simplicity in favor of preserving the complexity of Hamlet’s character and motivations.

The same effect of showing two different Hamlets can be seen in each director’s choice of how to direct Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern during Hamlet’s short interrogation of them. When he first asks if they were sent for, Zeffirelli alternates between head-on shots of Rosencrantz/Guildenstern sitting and lower angle shots of Hamlet’s face, right up until Hamlet reveals that “[He] knows the good king and queen have sent” them, when all three are visible.

Zeffirelli uses these shots to perpetuate the idea of a two-against-one scenario until Hamlet (Whose power is accentuated by low-angle shots) intrudes upon their space and angrily reveals their secret, toppling Rosencrantz’s chair before Guildenstern confesses. Hamlet then steps out from under the shelter into the light and comments upon its poor quality.

Through clever use of angles and character direction in this scene, Zeffirelli parallels exactly what Hamlet intends to do with Claudius and Gertrude: get close to them, accuse them, topple the “throne” and step happily out into the sunlight alone while cursing the place from whence he came.

(Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, 55:00)

Doran achieves the same two-versus-one effect by showing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern facing Hamlet, but leaves a perfect space between the two for Hamlet as though waiting for him to join them. When Hamlet, again, reveals that “[He] knows the good king and queen have sent” them, Doran does have Hamlet join them, but with an intimidating expectant glare rather than friendly acquiescence or violence. Doran’s Hamlet even goes so far as to declare that “If you love me, hold not off” where Zeffirelli’s does not. The difference, then, in how each director uses directs characters and angles to show a different take on the text is clear. Where Zeffirelli’s muscular, manly, low-angle Hamlet uses brute force to get an answer, Doran’s cunning, thoughtful, straight-angle Hamlet employs guilt and emotional blackmail. (9:45) (3:41)

Finally, both directors’ portrayal of the soliloquy primarily combine elements of lighting, angles, and character direction to create a Hamlet who goes from angry to defeated to cunning within seconds of each other. “Am I a coward?” and also “Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!” are both included with similar tones in each version, however, Zeffirelli uses exposure to light to emphasize Hamlet’s weakness whereas Doran uses the contrast between low-angle (Before “O, vengeance!”) and high-angle (Afterwards) shots. When conceiving of the idea to use the players as a means to expose Claudius, Doran’s Hamlet differs from Zeffirelli’s again in that the slowly accelerating camera is used instead of intentionally angled shots of the players and light/dark contrast to show an ominous, cunning Hamlet and a scheming, vengeful Hamlet respectively.



Clearly, both versions of Act 2 Scene 2 have their merits and demerits, Zeffirelli’s interpretation being easier to understand but less profound and Doran’s showing respect to the text at the expense of general comprehensibility.

Mirabelle Harris-Eze: Scene Comparison | Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Kenneth Branagh









Shakespeare’s Hamlet is arguably one of the most famous plays in English literature. This blog post will compare and contrast Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)—in particular the last half of Act III Scene I, encompassing Hamlet’s soliloquy up until Claudius exits with Polonius.

I know that I am not in the minority when I say that Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play. In this blog post, I look into how Zeffirelli and Branagh, two directors releasing their film adaptations during the same decade, with similar budgets, interpret Hamlet on screen—just how polarizing could their renditions be?

Script and Running Time

Zeffirelli’s Hamlet runs at 134 (2 hours and 14 minutes) minutes and Branagh’s Hamlet at, nearly double that, 242 minutes (4 hours and 2 minutes). The disparity in running times are apparent in the conversion from Hamlet the text from Hamlet the screenplay.

Hamlet (1990) was cut to a length suitable for the cinema. Long blocks of text were cut down and lines swapped, thus quickening the pace of the plot. In contrast, Hamlet (1996) was the first unabridged theatrical interpretation of the text. I recall it took 4 sittings to watch it in high school English class, and we followed along with our textual copies of Hamlet. Branagh’s decision here renders the film more theatrical than cinematic, which lies in complete opposition to Ziffirelli’s decision to use a multitude of cinematic techniques, many action-film based. This observation is further developed when I talk about the shots both directors favored.

To Be or not To Be…

“To be, or not to be: that is the question”

(Hamlet 3.1.56)

The way the two directors interpret Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on screen was what I was most interested in during my comparative analysis.





Setting of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet

hamlet-branagh-1  hamlet-branagh-3


Setting of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet

Zeffirelli’s Hamlet employs short takes, the average shot length is 6 seconds, reminiscent of action films. Mel Gibson as Hamlet wanders an underground morgue, the camera steady and shots short. These vary from close ups to wide angle shots, techniques possible solely with cinematography, that emphasize the darkly-lit setting. In contrast, the majority of Branagh’s Hamlet employs long single takes, very often with some sort of moving camerawork. In the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet is filmed standing in front of a mirror, in a brightly-lit hall of mirrors, the camera zooming closer and closer as the speech goes on. This mimics more accurately the experience in a theatre with the long single take, but still uses cinematographic elements with the camera zoom, building tension.

Tension is built in Hamlet (1996) sonically speaking, too. As Branagh delivers his lines, soft, pedantic music crescendos as the soliloquy goes on. Hamlet (1990) is void of music during the speech but Mel Gibson’s voice is filled with heavy reverb—as the scene takes place in an airy, cellar-like place—vocals are more emphasized than musical score.

Hamlet and Ophelia and the Other Guys too

The interaction between Ophelia and Hamlet is approached both uniquely and similarly by Zeffirelli and Branagh.

hamlet-zifferelli-ophelia-side-side-talk hamlet-zifferelli-ophelia-side-side-talk-2


Hamlet and Opheila in Hamlet (1990)


Hamlet and Opheila in Hamlet (1996)

If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for

thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as

snow, thou shalt not escape calumny . . .

(Hamlet 3.1.35-37)

Hamlet’s line above is delivered loudly and angrily by Gibson, in an arc shot, in Hamlet (1990). In Hamlet (1996) the line is delivered just as loudly by Branagh, and perhaps a little more maniacally, in a tracking shot. Both shots capture the madness of Hamlet, whether genuine or feigned.

The duplicitous natures of Claudius and Polonius are captured similarly as well between the directors. In Hamlet (1990), Claudius and Polonius eavesdrop from behind pillars covered in shadows, while in Hamlet (1996), Claudius and Polonius eavesdrop from behind the mirrors in the hall.


Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet (1990)


Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet (1996)





Acclaimed directors Zeffirelli and Branagh, although releasing their renditions of Hamlet in the same decade, with similar budgets, produce quite unique works. While Zeffirelli’s rendition focuses on mainly cinematic elements, Branagh’s focuses more so on theatrical elements.



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.

Film Diary – Act 5 Scene 2 (Jasmine Koonar)

While watching Branagh’s film “Hamlet,” I found the overall film to be quite enjoyable. There were many scenes that caused me to see Shakespeare’s script in a new light. Throughout this course, I have become more and more impressed with Kenneth Branagh’s work involving Shakespeare. It has definitely sprung an interest for me in his work, and I will probably continue to explore more of Kenneth Branagh’s career after the course ends.

In the film, Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Ophelia is one of a chilling and disturbing performance. Her slow decline throughout the movie was very obvious. In some of her final scenes when she is strapped in a straight jacket, it really dramatizes Ophelia’s insanity unlike in the play. Ophelia’s skin is very pale and her voice trembles, her portrayal still sends shivers down my spine.

If we analyze Act 5 Scene 2 in the film, we may see some distinctions in how the movie chose to interpret the play. I found that the play was quite blunt when the king dies. That one moment the Queen is dead then suddenly Hamlet is killing the king. However in the film, the scene is quite dramatic with many things going on at once to catch the audience’s attention. As Hamlet states “Then, venom, to thy work!” (5.2.296), He throws the sword from across the room to hit the King, then swings the chandelier onto him to trap him. This was almost humourous in how unrealistic his aim would be. Very dramatic. Very unrealistic in my opinion. Altogether, Branagh’s performance was once again magnificent and I will be looking forward to the next Branagh film to watch in the near future.



Aja Elemans: Film Diary Act 5, Scene 1

Other than the necessary snack and bathroom breaks, Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) is actually quite an easy and enjoyable watch. It is clear that Branagh and all the actors he chose understand the lines or at least how they should be expressed as per this rendition. The acting is great and the story is very well presented. Because Branagh chose only to lightly modify Shakespeare’s original script, it is very easy to follow along should you have the text in front of you. It is by this practice that I noticed a repetition of references to Greek and Roman mythology.

Ossa, Hercules? Did the average person know what these were? Do they now?

Ossa, Hercules? Did the average person know what these were? Do they now?

In Hamlet’s first soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2 he makes reference to Niobe and Hercules. I took note and considered this a way of demonstrating Hamlet’s education. This reference of Hercules is to demonstrate how far from a father Polonius is to Hamlet. Without knowing who Hercules is or what he represents, the idea being portrayed is clear in the comparison and delivery of the line.

Later in Act 5, Scene 1, Hamlet makes reference to Alexander the Great, Caesar and again Hercules. The note in Robert Miola’s Norton edition to this second Hercules reference (Let Hercules himself do what he may, l.271) is that it could be a jab at Laertes. It is here that I question who in Shakespeare’s original audiences would be getting these references.

Without the script, there is no way I would have caught the repetition in the first place and without a close reading would I be understanding the references. So who exactly was he writing them for?

Yup… I snapped my movie watching and the first moment we see Hamlet really losing his mind.


Notes Reflection

I will be reviewing my notes when analyzing the text entitled Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Zeffirelli’s film Hamlet from 1990. When analyzing the notes taken in comparison to watching a film and reading a play, there are many differences in the details that I take in. When reading a play, the reader usually takes notes regarding the style of language, the diction used, or the flow of sentences. We use our imagination to dictate our emotions towards the play, and there was much room to create a story to fill in the blanks of what is missing. Such as the appearances of the characters, the tone of voice used, the set design, and the expressions of the characters’ faces. However when watching a film, we are told the story and shown the dialogue in a fixed manner. Instead of us having to create the scene in our minds, we are shown it. This may give the reader a better understanding of how the script may be interpreted. Along with this, the reader tends to take notes revolving around subjects other than the script, such as music, editing, camera angles, tone of voice, or costumes of the characters.


I found when analyzing the film Hamlet by Zeffirelli, my notes revolved around many different factors. I made points regarding how there is an extensive use of bird’s eye view in the film. For example, at the end of the film, the camera slowly goes up to show a wider view of the surroundings as Hamlet dies. This may give the viewer a greater perspective of those watching Hamlet, as well as demonstrate the devastation of the scene as many die around them. However in the play, the final scene contains more words said then in the film. What I noted in my margins was more the play on words, such as “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” (5.2.334) which demonstrates the heavenly beings that will watch over Hamlet and help him to be at peace in the afterlife. In reading the play, there is more space to assemble the tone of the characters. I noted that I felt it was difficult for me to follow along with what was happening in the plot. With the help of music and body language, the 1990 film was much easier to follow. In the play, I also noted many examples of symbolism and metaphors or similes that were not demonstrated in the film Hamlet. The use of emphasis on language may change the way the reader, such as myself, interprets the text and this surely occurred in my situation. In the play, I found many small details that I took note on that aided with a visual perception of the scene as well as emotion.



When we are given the freedom to imagine the scene when reading a text, it allows us to be more subjective about the play. However in the film, we are given an objective view of an interpretation of that text. We as the viewer do not have control over how the text is manifested when watching a film. I believe that when reading the text, this gives us a sense of freedom of exploring the creative, imaginative side in all of us to subjectively analyze the text. Therefore, my notes when comparing those to a play and a film are very different. In my notes regarding the play, there is more analysis involving the meaning of words and diction, as well as summarizing my idea of what is occurring in the play. When reviewing my notes in the film, it mainly focuses on the direction of the film, not as much on the actual script. There is no better or worse type of notes in my opinion because each set offers something different to how I may later look back on them. I will gain different ideas from either notes because they each give me a better understanding of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Therefore there is no pair that is more successful because they each offer a component to my understanding of Shakespeare.

After reviewing my notes, I may find that each are different in their style and interpretation of Shakespeare, yet both are equally important to my learning experience. I may say that my notes on the film were of a greater success because it was easier to find more detail in the film compared to the play. This is due to the visual aspects involved in film because I find that I absorb the visual components of learning easier than that of text. Therefore, I found more to write about on the film compared to the play. When analyzing my annotative practices, I believe that I have a solid foundation on how to take notes when analyzing the play and movie of Hamlet, yet I will continue to try to improve my skills by striving to decipher the lines more deeply in Shakespeare.

Hamlet’s dynamic potential: an Act III Scene 1 comparison

Act III Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet contains Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy followed by dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia. The scene portrays Hamlet’s mental state as well as the status of his relationship with Ophelia. Film adaptations of Hamlet directed by Sir Lawrence Olivier (1948), Franco Zeffirelli (1990), and Kenneth Branagh (1996) take unique liberties with interpretation of the scene. The resulting effect is three versions of the same scene that feel quite different.

The most noticeable difference between the different film adaptations is the arrangement of the scene. Both Olivier and Zeffirelli reorder the scene so that Hamlet first speaks to Ophelia and then enters his soliloquy. This effectively allows the soliloquy to function as a reaction to his interaction with Ophelia. Additionally this rearrangement stresses Hamlet’s isolation by showing his physical retreat to solitude. On the other hand, Branagh follows the original order of the text. Ophelia is an interruption of Hamlet’s deep contemplation rather the initiation of it.

Hamlet’s speaks to Ophelia with cruel and biting words. However, Oliver, Zeffirelli, and Branagh repurpose the words to add complexity and ulterior motives to the scene. Likewise, the treatment of each soliloquy creates unique meaning.

Olivier interprets Hamlet’s cruelty towards Ophelia as an act of protection. He speaks “I did love you once” in an honest and remorseful tone. It comes across as a confession before he deliberately shifts to his “get thee to a nunnery” speech. This speech full of cruel words is neutralized by a simple gesture; Hamlet stops and gently takes a piece of Ophelia’s hair in his hand as he passes her crying on the stairs. This single tender moment breaks the façade of cruelty that Hamlet erects when he steps forward and shifts into his “get thee to a nunnery” speech. The simple performance choice suggests Hamlet is trying to protect an innocent Ophelia from the evil of men rather than curse her.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.27.17 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.27.17 PM

Hamlet then secludes himself to the top of a tower for his soliloquy. The camera movement connects Ophelia’s crying form to Hamlet’s soliloquy by panning over the staircase connecting the settings. This suggests that Hamlet’s deliberate cruelty to Ophelia has spurred on his suicidal contemplation of life. Background music is used by Olivier to set the mood and for emphasis. The music speeds up as the camera climbs the stairs building anticipation for the coming speech and then slows as the speech begins. The music rises again at “perchance to dream” marking a shift in Hamlet. He shortly after drops the dagger coming out of his daze and returning to his indecisive nature.


Zeffirelli’s Hamlet is less loving towards Ophelia. The dark, grey setting creates a cold and harsh atmosphere for the scene. Hamlet initially intends to pass by ignoring Ophelia’s presence before she calls out to him. His displeasure with her is evident by this creative choice. He speaks the line “I did love you once” as though he cannot believe it for her finally sees her for what she is. The harsh and loud tones emphasize anger that matches the cruelty of his words.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.12.27 PM  Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.12.27 PM

During the soliloquy Zeffirelli creates a dark mood by placing Hamlet inside a crypt with low lighting where he is literally surrounded by death. The absolute silence in the crypt stresses Hamlet’s physical isolation. Similar to Olivier, Zeffirelli creates a shift in tone at the line “perchance to dream.” Uniquely however, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet does not have a weapon. This suggests Hamlet’s fault of indecision and lack of action because he does not even have a means of execution.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.44.32 PM  Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.44.32 PM


Branagh’s portrayal of Hamlet and Ophelia is the most dynamic. Branagh captures Hamlet’s movement through an array of raw emotion as he takes in Ophelia’s words. When Hamlet and Ophelia first see each other, happy music and warm light create a light, triumphant mood that showcases their deep love. The warmth and colour of this moment drastically contrast Olivier’s black and white and Zeffirelli’s dark scenes. The statement “I did love you once” is spoken with tears in his eyes that capture Hamlet’s love. When Ophelia’s returns the tokens Hamlet shows his feelings of betrayal and all of his emotions shift as he grapples at understanding. As Hamlet’s anger rises, the music shifts to match it. This interpretation suggests that with deep love comes the ability to hurt each other deeply.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.51.16 PM   Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.51.16 PM

Branagh’s Hamlet speaks his soliloquy steadily into a mirror. Mirrors are often used to suggest self-reflection and clarity. It is ironic Branagh’s emotionally susceptible Hamlet is associated with an item of reflection and clarity. In contrast to Olivier’s and Zeffirelli’s films, Branagh Hamlet does not shift from suicidal to contemplative at the line “perchance to dream.” Instead he draws his dagger after this line giving the end of the speech a more dangerous meaning than the other versions. Hamlet’s voice also is more even in Branagh’s interpretation. This suggests that his musings run in circles keeping him in the same spot.


Act III scene 1 of Hamlet is given different meanings by Olivier, Zeffirelli, and Branagh. Each interpretation has key elements separating it from the other two. These elements include text arrangement, camera movement, gestures, speaking tone, setting, music, and props. The result is characterization of Hamlet. Olivier’s Hamlet is depressing and loving, Zeffirelli’s is angry and hopeless, and Branagh’s is emotional and expressive. No one version of Hamlet is more correct or better than the others. That said I find the emotion in Branagh’s portrayal undeniably enticing. His Hamlet is as unpredictable and emotional messy as I personally imagined from the text.

Aspen Kozak

To be or not to be? (Scene Comparison)

 Kenneth Branagh (1996) vs. Franco Zeffirelli (1990)

Even the movie posters look to tell a different story.

Even the movie posters look to tell a different story.

Here are two massive Hollywood productions, competing for Oscar nominations in their respective years. Branagh in all his Shakespeare enthusiasm made one of the longest movies ever (3hr58min). Zeffirelli was completing his Shakespeare works with a more accepted film length. (Which also ended up being better received, at 2hr15min.)

When making Hamlet come to life, Act 3, Scene 1 has particular importance. People who don’t know Shakespeare have usually heard the line “To be or not to be”. It has been delivered every which way since the time it was written. While both the directors refrained from editing the original prose, the two deliveries could not be more different than Branagh’s performance in his self directed movie and Mel Gibson’s for Zeffirelli’s film.


That’s a hard look to pull off, even for Mr. Branagh.

To start, both directors took very different looks to the title character. Branagh is rocking some 90’s Eminem bleach blonde hair with a sharp mustache and goatee. To be fair, no one could really pull of this look. In comparison, Mel Gibson looks like, well, Mel Gibson. Not braided hair Braveheart Mel Gibson, just a short haircut and a light beard. Both are maybe not quite invoking of a student returning home from school but that’s creative freedom.


Classic emotional Mel Gibson looking sad.

Looks aside, the set choice for this famous soliloquy are also very different. Branagh is in a massive brightly lit ballroom, surrounded by double way mirrors. This is key, as Branagh’s Hamlet seems to know that Claudius and Polonius are watching him from the other side. The verse becomes less self-reflective and more of an act for his hidden audience. Zeffirelli places Hamlet alone in a tomb where he reflects life and death. In a somber space and almost asking the dead who surround him, Gibson’s Hamlet is truly considering if this life is worth living. Simply by the surroundings, the two directors take a very different tone to Hamlet’s words.

Whose house has two way mirrors?

Whose house has two way mirrors?

Branagh uses the mirrors to also deliver the soliloquy in one continuous shot. The only editing coming at the beginning before any words are spoken to establish that Polonius and Claudius are present for the speech. Having the camera look over his shoulder and slowly zooming in on the reflection as he walks closer to the mirror and his hidden listeners. At one point he even draws a knife and points it towards himself in the mirror. Or perhaps seen as foreshadowing he is in fact pointing the knife at those who are standing behind it. One could also consider the mirror as an illusion to the veil of death as Hamlet speaks of the travel no one returns from (LL80-81).

Zeffirelli in his tomb with low lighting had no problem taking multiple shots and editing them together. The scene is mostly close ups but it is clearly shown that Hamlet is pacing around the tomb in his self-contemplation. The audience is forced to revel in Gibson’s facial expressions and follow him closely throughout the scene. The only breaks are short glimpses of bones and the crypt as answers to Hamlet’s questions of death.

Well that's a gloomy setting.

Well that’s a gloomy setting.

Finally Branagh delivers his lines with a slow methodology that he is not simply saying them to himself. His pauses come as if he knows what he wants to say. The feel comes less naturalistic and more like a rehearsed performance. There is less inflection within the words and he maintains a steady almost whispering volume for most the phrases. There is a gradual build of volume as the camera moves closer to the reflection but it is accentuated by an introduction of a low lying score.

Zeffirelli lets Gibson have accentuated speech that comes when thoughts are spoken aloud. There is clear emphasis on Shakespeare’s repetition of words. The word sleep being used 5 times within 7 lines are given noted pauses (LL.61-67). Gibson puts lots of emotion into his performance and is not tied to a score. The only other sounds come from his pacing and throwing himself to the floor in his sorrow.

While both performances deliver the opening line quite quickly, Branagh chooses to pause and gives final focus on “action”. This again accentuates the feeling that he knows what he wants to say. Gibson delivers the last line fluidly in a final thought and ends the scene with a saddened hang of the head.


While both directors took very different approaches to Shakespeare’s work, they should both be appreciated for their artistic approaches. While you may not want to submit yourself to the 4 hours required for Branagh’s epic, you can catch both scenes here in these YouTube links:

Branagh (1996)

Zeffirelli (1990)


So what do you think? Is one far superior then the other? Are either of them really what Shakespeare meant when he wrote the ever famous soliloquy?