The Three Faces of Hamlet

Essay by december84High School, 12th gradeA-, March 2004

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"It's a classic, and they make you read it in high school." When asked about Hamlet, William Shakespeare's tragedy about a young man out for revenge, this is the answer you might receive. But what's the real story? To make an almost four hour play short, the prince of Denmark comes home to find his father dead and his mother hastily remarrying his uncle. If that weren't enough, his father's ghost comes back to tell the young Hamlet that he must seek revenge against his uncle, who has killed Hamlet's father. Your high school English teacher isn't the only one fascinated by this Elizabethan tale: Hollywood has taken an interest making over 40 films based on the play. Three actors have made the role their own in the past 15 years. Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh, and Ethan Hawke have all attempted to fill the Danish prince's shoes; some with more success than others.

Each film takes a different approach to the classic script. Hamlet and Ophelia's breakup along with the concluding swordfight are two scenes that are dealt with very differently in each picture.

Three movies have three distinct approaches to the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet. They range from nonexistent to baffling to emotionally painful. Franco Zeffirelli opted for nonexistent. Setting his Hamlet in medieval Europe, Zeffirelli used dark cinematography to give the movie its "primitive and earthy" feel. Scenery, set design, and costume all add to the characterization of Shakespeare's leading parts. "What Oliver only suggested about Hamlet's sexual feelings for his mother Zeffirelli makes considerably more explicit" (Franco 754). Any real relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia has been downplayed in favor of an Oedipus-like psychoanalysis of the main character. Zeffirelli chops up the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia dragging out the "get thee to a nunnery" line...