comparison between barnagh's movie and the actual play of shakespear : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

Can somebody please help me. What are the differences between the barnagh's movie and the actual text in terms of historic period, creative changes and the ghost?

-- stan wong (, December 08, 2001


It's a while since I saw it, but here are some thoughts.

Historic period: HAMLET was written about 1600, the late Renaissance and in England, the last years of Quenn Elizabeth I's reign. Branagh set it in the 1880's, which in England was the later years of Queen Victoria's reign. (Interesting: both queens, both long reigns, both periods of prosperity for England.) You could look up these periods in a history of England. The HAMLET story, though, comes from a 12th Century Danish source which in turn was based on earlier traditions. Shakespeare altered it a lot, and made it very un-medieval, except for the bit about England being a tributary of Denmark. From what I can make out so far, that was the case around the year 1000, certainly not later.

Creative changes: well the obvious one here is the free interpretation of Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship. The fencing match: in 1600, swordplay was still basic training for war and survival but in 1880 guns were making it obsolete except as a sport. Branagh seems emphasise the sporting nature with the costumes and the fencing strip (the red carpet on which they're supposed to fight). The Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. style finale was pretty creative with its chandelier stunt. Also important: it is definitely not in the text that Fortinbras attacks Elsinore. On the contrary, he is coming to see "his Majesty" and "express [his] duty in his eye" (IV.vii.5-6) At the end he's giving a "warLIKE volley" of gunshot "To the ambassadors of England" (ie a military salute) not firing an actual volley of war on Denmark.

Also, of course, because it's film, Branagh can show so much more than Shakespeare could have dreamed of on his stages. Eg. Claudius watching Hamlet in III.i, the drowned Ophelia, Ophelia in her padded cell, the chase after "Hide fox and all after", the pre-text family shots and killing of Old Hamlet, etc. All little touches which add so much to the basic text.

Ghost: I though it interesting that the ghost of the beloved father grabbed his son by the throat and hurled him against a tree. Again, because it's film, Branagh can do a lot of the Hamlet-Ghost scene with only the ghost's voice rather than person as well, without putting too much of a burden on the Hamlet actor. The earth-splitting stuff is thoroughly creative, too.

Interesting that in the beginning Branagh ties the ghost (and therefore, I figure, the person / memory of Old Hamlet) to the statue, and then has Fortinbras' men smash the statue at the end, as though destroying Old Hamlet himself, and his ghost. It's so finite. I personally do not like the ghost. What loving, caring father would put his son through that?

-- catherine england (, December 09, 2001.

oH!! thankyou so much!!!

-- stan (, December 09, 2001.


<"What loving father....that?">

It is only in the last few generations, and even now only in the west that physical violence on the part of fathers to children is even thought of. Before it was almost the only contact between father and sonn.

Read ALICE MILLER "For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in childhood and the roots of violence" published by Farrar Strauss. This may be taking a bit of a severe response but I was not at all surprised. Keep in mind that Hamlet Sr. is still very angry at his kid brother - sibling rivalry:more psychobabble- for offing him and since his son is the only one tuned in, so to speak, it is not surprising to me that he (KB had him react) reacted physically.

This is another very interesting sidebar to Hamlet. I must look up any other references to the earthly relationship between H. Pere and Fils.

A La George Lucas, some sharp writer could come up with a prequel to Hamlet, sort of like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, confecting the life of the Hamlet court up until the moment when H. Sr sees Jack Lemmon then H. Jr. (I have always regretted Brannagh not using Walter Matthau for Polonius: dat wouldda bin sooper, minus da Brooklyn accent uh course.) When the Queen dubs him (KB) with the sword on the shoulders, I would like to get some movie posters from that film.

"Good Prints, Sweet Knight"!


-- RICHARD ILOMAKI (, December 10, 2001.

Actually, I think you might find that it was John Locke and other writers of the Enlightenment who began to query both violence towards children and children's exposure to violence (which was even how we got fairy tales from folk tales). But that's a whole different forum ...

So do you think Old Hamlet is taking out his anger against Claudius on the son who he hopes is going to avenge him?

I think maybe he was establishing unquestionable power and authority over his son in a manner which fits with the other shocking, apalling and heart-breaking elements of this scene as directed by Branagh.

Of course, I'm implying that Old Hamlet isn't as loving and caring as he could be, and that he's overstraining "Honour thy father and thy mother", the noteable conclusion to which is "that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee". Poor young Hamlet's days are numbered the moment he takes on the vengeance mission for his father's ghost.

-- catherine england (, December 13, 2001.

I have looked at all the messages from everybody with interest and I'm hoping somebody can help me over this christmas period i.e. before 6 January!! I am a student teacher and up until 2 weeks ago, I had not read hamlet. You can imagine how much preparation has gone into looking into background before delivering my first lesson on the prayer scene and the theme of procrastination. Well now, here's where I need help. there is only so many hours in the day for preparation and I have to deliver a 45 minute lesson on 6 Jan on the 2 be or not 2 be sol to british A-level students - (16 - 18 year olds) any suggestions on themes I could look at would be just great! Please help anybody out there

-- julia l shaw (, December 18, 2002.

Have a look at responses to the other questions in the forum on this speech: "the meaning of Act 3 Sc 1 from to be ... of action", "Why does Hamlet say the To Be or Not To Be", "Intent of to be or not to be", "Why is to be or not to be so famous", and "To Be or Not To Be"

I'd also suggest you let the students do a lot of the work for you. That is, learning about literature is a lot about learning to decide what you think it might mean; so what do they think it means, are the themes, etc.?

-- catherine england (, December 20, 2002.

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