In examining the film version of Hamlet by Branagh, what are some of the comparisions and contrasts between the film and the text?A comparative essay between the book and the film. Theme,...

In examining the film version of Hamlet by Branagh, what are some of the comparisions and contrasts between the film and the text?

A comparative essay between the book and the film. Theme, plot, setting and characters need to be discussed.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kenneth Branagh's film version of Hamlet is not different than the original Shakespeare play because he utilizes the entire script virtually word-for-word. So it comes down to his interpretation of the characters and story. Those mentioned above are good examples of that, and I would add a few more:

  • The scene where Hamlet meets the Ghost is quite protracted and rather frightening. It is no wonder Hamlet is motivated to do something based on this scene in the movie; the play as written has a much less intense scene.
  • At one point we see Polonius with a woman in his bed before giving Reynaldo instructions to spy on Laertes. This diminishes the impact of his admonitions to both his children to be pious and upright in all their dealings--he does not practice what he preaches.
  • Obviously the setting is much more modern than the original.
  • Gertrude is an interesting character who can be interpreted as a conniving, unfaithful woman who wanted to be with her brother-in-law while she was still married or a woman who was convinced to marry by a conniving brother-in-law. In Branagh's version, she appears to truly care for her son and sees the horror of her choice, implying that she was probably only swayed to marry after her first husband's death.

Obviously there are many ways of interpreting a Shakespearean play, and Branagh's film shows a consistent intensity of emotion from Hamlet, making it a faithful adaptation at its core. 

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is rather a difficult question to answer, because you need to remember that any production of a Shakespeare text involves a creative interpretation of what at the end of the day is just a set of lines on the page. You would do better to compare two different versions of this play.

Having said this, you might want to think about what Brannagh adds to this excellent tragedy and why he does this. One of the most notable things that he adds which is clearly not in the original text is a sex scene between Hamlet and Ophelia, which is used as a flashback at various points during the play to highlight the tragedy of what happens to Ophelia (and to Hamlet) and also to indicate that they were both very much in love with each other. In the text, it is never clear if Hamlet ever truly loved Ophelia, and we are left to decide this for ourselves. The film makes it clear that, were it not for events beyond his control, Hamlet would have married Ophelia and they would have been happy together.

Secondly, another aspect that is different is the way that Brannagh chose to stage the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy in Act III scene 1. The cunning use of two-way mirrors means that Hamlet can deliver this intensely introspective soliloquy to himself whilst being watched from the other side of the mirror by an eavesdropping Claudius and Polonius. This helps present Elsinore as a place where you are never sure who is listening in on you.