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.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xbroll_hamlet-part4_shortfilms (9:45)

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xbrpau_hamlet-part5_shortfilms (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.

(Gibson)

(Tennant)

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

 

 

 

 

 

       

 



Introduction

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.

hamlet-zeffirelli-far


hamlet-zeffirelli-closeup

 

hamlet-zeffirelli-morgue

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

hamlet-branagh-1  hamlet-branagh-3

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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

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Hamlet and Opheila in Hamlet (1990)

hamlet-branaugh-ophelia-side-side-talk

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.


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Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet (1990)

c-and-p-watching

Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet (1996)

 

 

 


Conclusion

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.

 



 

Adetola Adedipe: Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2) Scene Comparison

 

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet (1968)

Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet (1968)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This scene comparison is from Shakespeare’s: Romeo and Juliet. Personally, don’t like this play at all. The romanticized tragic end of the youngsters, foolishness and irrationality of Romeo and Juliet in the name of true love, the fickleness of Romeo, Juliet’s naiveté and the selfishness of their families not accepting their relationship (through their own personal grudges) which drives the youngsters to extreme rebellion makes for a very frustrating experience as a whole whether it is being watched or read. Another reason I chose this play is because they were portrayed in two ways that contrast each other completely and yet bring across the play in a way that did not change my feelings on the play.

I chose to do the famous Act 2 Scene 2 because of the tendency to portray this scene in a certain way it might have been similar in both films but that was not the case.

The setting in Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” with it’s classical landscapes in 14th-century Renaissance Italy while Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” modern day Verona Beach, California. The films automatically follow the tone set from these directing decisions – such as the use of swords in the 1968 film in comparison to the Sword 9mm series gun in the 1996 version- both effective for styles implemented to tell the story.

The actors in each film are very different in terms of age and acting prowess. In the 1968 film, Romeo and Juliet (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey) are closer to the age (16 and 14) as stated in the play however are both untrained. This enhances the sense of innocence and loss thereof throughout the play yet retaining the theme of youth and passion. In the 1996 version both actors are older (Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio) than in the play and there is a stronger themes of sexuality rather than innocence portrayed which also identifies with today’s perception of relationships.

In the 1968 version we see Romeo in a garden looking up at he balcony before whispering “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” (2.2.2-3) and the cameras pans to reveal Juliet. This adds a dramatic effect to this scene which gives off a feeling of curiosity and wonder at this new love. However, in the 1996 version we see Romeo immediately starting to climb and then land in Juliet’s back yard with the glistening water where he proceeds to fumble and over everything adding comedy into the scene. This emphasizes the intrusion of Romeo into a place he does not belong but the symbol of the water represents the purity of their new love while the clumsiness of Romeo adds charm to his character. Later on they are both in the water almost encapsulated in their own world surrounded by the water.

When comparing editing, the 1968 version is slower and less theatrical which can be a positive and a negative thing. The simplicity of the editing makes for more focus on the dialogue and acting which when compared to the other-the-top editing in the 1996 version lets the audience engage more in the film and make for a better watch regardless of the vocabulary. Luhrmann’s faced paced music and dramatic camera shots correspond with the feelings of the audience watching the film. The lights used in the 1996 version are more vibrant and changing in this scene when compared to the 1996 version. The underwater shots in Luhrmann’s version really left an impression on me while Zifferlli’s balcony scene tended to be more on the calm side.

During Juliet’s soliloquy in the 1968 version, the camera is at a long, low angle shot of Juliet looking into the distance on the balcony thinking of Romeo (an unattainable love) while in the 1996 version, there is a closer, high angle shot of Juliet and she is looking upwards. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet.” (2.2.43-44)

The costumes in the scene are similar due to Juliet being in a nightgown in both scenes, however the 1968 version shows Juliet’s gown to be significantly more low cut than the older actress in the 1996 version. I think this is done to add a sense of maturity to the younger actress which is slightly more unlikable to me (as she comes across completely blinded by this new love and completely loses her sense of self without Romeo). While in the 1996 version, a sense of modesty or innocence is added to the older Claire Danes who portrays a more intellectual and deeper character of Juliet- I also find her expressions so much more sassy.

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Luhrmann's 1996 Juliet

Luhrmann’s 1996 Juliet

Zeffirelli's 1996 Juliet

Zeffirelli’s 1996 Juliet

 

 

 

 

 

 

This iconic scene has elements that are unique to them yet still bring forth the foolish love between these two young lovers. Both directors appealed to the audience of the time and executed their themes consistently through the film and are brilliant for what they are. Different films but same story: Foolish young love and foolish deaths that is in no way romantic. Although, I would like a guy to sneak into my garden at night to woo me – that might be a tad romantic- even I have to admit that.

 

References:

Crowl, S. (2008). Shakespeare and film: A Norton guide. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Luhrmann, B., Martinelli, G. (1996) Romeo and juliet [Film]. Mexico: Twentieth Century Fox

Shakespeare, W. (1597). Romeo and Juliet [Play]

Shakespeare, et al., (1968) “Franco Zeffirelli’s production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet”