Hamlet's main theme: Action vs. Inaction

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One of the main themes in Hamlet is Action vs. Inaction. Kenneth Branagh uses many "action movie conventions" in his interpretation of Shakespeare's play. But, how does he employ these conventions to heighten the film's tension and further our understanding of Hamlet's ability/inability to act?

If anyone has any comments on this or can help be further my understanding of this please respond.

Thanks in advance!

-- Eva (Mutsy247@aol.com), January 08, 2003


Getting the 'ouch' again, so I'll try it in two bits.

Not big on action movies myself. Have you been told what any of these 'many action movie conventions' are? I guess the action bits in the film offer some different perspectives, and interesting cross-currents, to the play and its characters.

Maybe the chase scene over the dinner tables etc. after 'Hide fox and all after' equates with a car chase. But it's interesting, and depends how you see it: is Hamlet trying to run away, does he have a plan in it, or is he merely playing merry hell with people's minds and emotions for the devilry of it? Or all of the above?

Branagh has Fortinbras attack Elsinore, which gives action film excitement and tension, with the usual attendant noise, speed, violence, gallons of red liquid, architectural destruction. Plus, it means that Fortinbras has taken revenge against Denmark whereas in WS's text he doesn't. Which begs a new comparison/contrast between Hamlet and Fortinbras discourse.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), January 11, 2003.

The sword fight at the end ends up being a lot more than just swordplay: Hamlet and Laertes get down and dirty and manhandle each other: maybe that visually, physically, indicates deeply engaged, uncontrollable personal feelings beyond the sense of duty and justice and honour that each may feel and be prompted to act on.

Branagh's Hamlet manhandles Ophelia and his mother too. Again, it's interesting: you can see it as Hamlet acting, or as Hamlet letting off steam in part because he isn't acting/can't act as he wants.

Then there's the Errol Flynn-Douglas Fairbanks Jnr throwing swords about and swinging on the chandelier stuff at the end, with the extra dimension afforded to it all by the use of the gallery over the hall. It's tense and exciting to watch. It also means Hamlet doesn't have to look like he might be trying to kill Laertes by giving him a serious wound with the poisoned sword. Ordinarily only a serious wound would lead to Laertes dying of the poison before Hamlet does. But Branagh has Laertes crash down to the ground from the balcony. And it means Claudius gets his death an extra shocking, gory way, having the chandelier crash into him while Hamlet loks like a real, strong, gutsy action hero.

That, for now, is all I can think of. Hope it's a bit helpful.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), January 11, 2003.

I can t believe Hamlet smoked Polonius! Now that s action. Man if only vin deisel was in this movie.

-- Hamlets mom (Hamletsmells@hotmail.com), April 07, 2003.

One great playbook to read is the Arden Shakespeare, is has an extensive aparatus, my suggestion would be to take other themes involved not just the Action-Inaction, for example the theme of the Revenge of Fathers, Hamlet Sr. kills Fortinabras Sr.- Claudius Kills Hamlet Sr.-Hamlet kills Polonius, etc. Another underscore is the renaissance mentality represented by Hamlet Jr vs the old archaic chivalric code of honor represented by Hamlet Sr. So the play as you see has to keep the cinematographical imagery steady and subtle in order to let the imagery of the text to shine through(such as the players reception speech about phyrrus) But if i had to surmise it would all depend on what a movie convention(s) would be? my guess is certain editing cuts or quick pans to other characters in order to keep up with the compression of the verse(you see since the verse is compact, action has to keep up with it) so editing cuts and certain sequential fades have been omitted in order to make sense of the 3 different styles of playwriting that are inherent in the play. Altough the Play seems fluid the skips are hardly noticed until the quality of the characters are begun to be analyzed and studied, then you will discover that Hamlet himself an advanced entity is truly alone amidst the other characters that where not upgraded as Hamlet was by Shakespeare himself. His solitude is exacerbated by this and only the goodness represented by Horatio is what (to me) is what draws him to this revenge play environment. As to the tension of the movie itself, Im sure it is quite passive compared to other movies of our times in which we have no idea of the text before we see them on the big screen, in Shakespeare's time just as in the athenean theatre people already knew the story and it was the resolve or the innovation of the newly written play that was the star of the show. The elizabethans had an acute ear that now days is lost in ample visualization. So it occurs to me that this is a thinking person's action movie, more inactive compared to contemporary flicks but are today's action flicks memorable as much as the words exuded in the play that even after years of having read the play they(the words) still resonate with the intensity of sunday bells. So the tension is better expressed if we didnt know the play, but how many times did we read the play before we saw the film? tension and action are secondary or almost gets in the way of trying to process the tight verse. almost to the point to wishing for moments of quietness in order to wait for the words to unwind from our slow-moving ear. more if you email me at mlobo01@optonline.net thanks:Mario

-- Mario Lobo (mlobo01@optonline.net), December 09, 2003.

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