Acting Shakespeare- Hamlet
Today’s mission: To reflect on how interpretations of Hamlet affect the audience’s
understanding of the play. How do the actor’s choices impact the viewer? We’re going to
begin by watching 3 different versions of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet.
Here’s the soliloquy:
To be, or not to be--that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep-- No more--and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep-- To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th' unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprise of great pitch and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now, The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remembered.
Acting Shakespeare- Hamlet
As you watch the soliloquy, takes notes about what you notice. Here are some questions to guide you:
How has the actor chosen to portray Hamlet (melancholy, insane, angry, etc) What is the set like and how does it contribute to the soliloquy? What is the costume like?
How is the actor using his body?
Campbell Scott as Hamlet
Richard Burton as Hamlet
Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet
Acting Shakespeare- Hamlet
Now, reflect on those three monologues, using the following questions:
Which actor portraying the role of Hamlet was your favorite? Explain why. What was it about him that attracted you to his performance? Be specific.
Which actor portraying the role of Hamlet was your least favorite? What was it about his performance that turned you off?
Which costume was the most interesting to you? Why? Be specific.
The director has a large part in the vision of each piece. Which directors' vision matched your own vision? Why?
If you could direct Hamlet on stage or in a movie, who would you cast in the role and why? Be specific.
Which character used his body the most in the part? Did his actions fit the monologue or scene? Was there something he could have done better? Did he do too much?
Which actor gave the best interpretation of the text? Which actor was more easily understood and clearer in his intentions and objectives?
Hamlet: The Movie
We are going to watch most of the Campbell Scott version of Hamlet. Here is a synopsis of the play to help us fill in the blanks:
Act I, Scene i:
The play begins on the outer ramparts of Elsinore castle. It is late and Francisco, a guard, is on duty waiting for Bernardo to relieve him from his watch. Francisco is nervous because the previous two nights he and Bernardo have seen a figure who appears to be the ghost of the recently deceased king wandering around.
Bernardo approaches, accompanied by Horatio (Hamlet's only friend and confident). Even though Horatio dismisses the idea of a ghost, the guards start to retell the previous nights' encounters. As the guards begin, the ghost appears before them- much to Horatio's surprise. The guards urge Horatio to speak with the ghost. Because Horatio is a student, they feel he should be able to communicate with the ghost, and their previous attempts to talk with it have failed. Horatio's attempts also fail. The scene ends with Horatio stating that he will go and inform his friend Hamlet of these incredible events.
Act I, Scene ii:
This scene opens in contrast to the first scene. The first scene takes place on the dark, cold isolated ramparts; this scene begins in a brightly lit court, with the new king, Claudius, celebrating his recent wedding to his new wife, Gertrude.
Everyone in the court appears happy and joyful, except one character who is sitting off to the side. He is dressed in black, the colour of mourning, and does not like what he sees. The lone figure is Hamlet, the main character of the play. He is wearing black because it has been only two months since his father, Hamlet senior the ghost on the battlements, died and he still is mourning his father's death.
To further upset Hamlet, Claudius' new bride is Hamlet's mother, Gertrude. Hamlet is upset because his mother married Claudius so soon after becoming a widow. To add to all the injustices Hamlet is feeling at this time, Claudius is also related to Hamlet. Hamlet's uncle is now his step-father and Gertrude's brother-in-law is now her husband.
Claudius conducts several pieces of business during the beginning of this scene. He first tries to take measures to prevent a war with Norway, then discusses Laertes' request to leave court and go back to school. Claudius agrees with Polonius, Laertes' father, that Laertes' plan of going back to school is a good one. He gives Laertes permission to go.
This familial scene brings Claudius' mind to Hamlet. He recognizes Hamlet is upset and he tries to make amends and urges Hamlet to stay in Denmark, instead of returning to school. After his mother echoes Claudius' request, Hamlet agrees to stay.
Hamlet is left on stage after everyone else leaves. He speaks a soliloquy expressing his anger at the present circumstances in his life and discusses his depression as a result of these events. The scene ends with Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo entering and talking with Hamlet about the ghost they have seen. Hamlet agrees to join them this coming night to see the ghost for himself.
Act I, Scene iii:
This scene opens with Laertes saying his goodbyes to his sister Ophelia, before he leaves for school. We find out from their discussion that Hamlet has been seeing Ophelia and is very serious about their relationship. He has been alone with Ophelia on many occasions and has professed his love for her during these times. He has also given her gifts during these visits. Leartes, who knows about his sister's suitor, tries to warn Ophelia that because Hamlet is destined to become King, he can never be serious in his relationship with her. Hamlet may seem virtuous and noble at this time, he warns, but he will leave her to fulfill his duties to the kingdom when the time comes.
She promises to be careful in this relationship and reasserts that Hamlet has never taken advantage of her, nor has he ever been anything but a gentleman in their relationship. The conversation ends with Ophelia lecturing her brother that he should practice what he preaches and not fall into any casual relationships foolishly, and not to worry about her. At this point, Polonius enters and gives his son one more lecture before he leaves on how to conduct himself when he goes back to school. The fatherly advice includes thoughts on not borrowing or lending money, because it can cause more problems than it is worth. He also tells his son not to say things that might make others think he is foolish, to hold his tongue and to be careful of getting into quarrels, but once in one give a good show for yourself. Finally, before Leartes leaves, Polonius tells him to be 'true to himself.' In other words, if you do the right things for the right reasons you can never do any wrong to others. The scene ends with Polonius discussing with Ophelia her relationship with Hamlet. He, like Laertes, does not trust Hamlet's intentions, because Hamlet is young and young men have no honour; they have only one thing on their minds- sex. Although Ophelia has no reason to distrust Hamlet's intentions, she obeys her father's wishes and agrees she will not see Hamlet any more.
Act I, Scene iv:
It is the night following Horatio's first encounter with the ghost and it finds him, the guards and Hamlet on the platform waiting for the ghost. There is a celebration going on in the castle and Hamlet explains to Horatio that it is customary for the king to hold a celebration where cannons are shot off in honour of the King's health. This celebration is something
Hamlet does not agree with; it is too excessive and other countries look upon the Danes as foolish because of it.
The ghost appears and Hamlet, realizing that the ghost does look like his dead father, approaches it and asks that it speak to him. At this point, Hamlet doesn't know whether or not the ghost is there for good or evil purposes. The ghost beckons Hamlet. When Hamlet considers leaving with the ghost, Horatio and Marcellus try to dissuade him. They are concerned for his safety. If the ghost is there for evil purposes, it might lead Hamlet to his death. Hamlet forces his way past them and follows the ghost. The scene ends with Horatio and Marcellus following Hamlet to try and protect him.
Act I, Scene v:
On another part of the platform, the ghost tells Hamlet that he is indeed Hamlet's father and that he was murdered. The ghost asks Hamlet to revenge his 'most foul, strange, and unnatural murder' and Hamlet heartily agrees.
Hamlet is shocked when the ghost goes on to tell him that he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius. Unlike the story Claudius told the court, that a serpent stung and killed the old king, the ghost tells Hamlet that during his afternoon nap in the orchard Claudius crept in and poured poison in the king's ear.
The ghost goes on to tell Hamlet about how Hamlet's own mother was adulterous with Claudius, before the ghost's death. He also has Hamlet promise him that he will leave her deeds to be judged and punished by God, and that Hamlet should not take revenge on her himself. The dawn comes, forcing the ghost to return to the hellish underworld he must inhabit, because of the wrongful deeds he did prior to his own death.
Hamlet is very angry about the events the ghost told him of, and swears that he will remember the ghost and what the ghost asked of him. He also swears that he will forget all trivial matters and that his life will be focused on one event, avenging his father's murder. Horatio and Marcellus find him and Hamlet has them swear that they will reveal to no one the events surrounding the ghost. The ghost calls up from below for them to swear when they seem hesitant to do so. Before the scene ends, Hamlet warns his friends that he will put on an 'antic disposition' for everyone to see. In other words, he will pretend to be crazy until he can avenge his father's death.
Act II, Scene i:
As we find out later in the scene, apparently Hamlet has been following the plan he told Horatio about, putting on an 'antic disposition.'
The scene opens with Polonius sending Reynaldo to Wittenberg to give Laertes money. Although Reynaldo's quest at first appears straightforward, Polonius also gives Reynaldo the added duty of spying on Laertes. Because Polonius is concerned for his family name, he wants to find out all about Laertes' actions and goings-on.
Even though Reynaldo intended to make some discreet inquires into Laertes' actions, he is shocked when Polonius tells him to do whatever he can, short of dishonouring Laertes, to find out what Laertes is up to, including making up stories about incidents that didn't happen. Even though Reynaldo doesn't agree with Polonius' way of gathering information, he gives in to Polonius' request.
Ophelia enters as Reynaldo leaves and her father, seeing that she is distressed, asks her what is troubling her. Ophelia relates a strange encounter she has just had with Hamlet. He came to see her in complete disarray. His clothes were a mess and his appearance was pale and sickly. She goes on to say that Hamlet grabbed her hand and studied her at arms length. He didn't say anything, but after a perusal of her face he shook his head three times and gave out a wail that was piteous and profound. He then dropped her arm and, without taking his eyes off Ophelia, walked out of the room.
Polonius, thinking that Hamlet is still madly in love with Ophelia, believes his request for Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet is the cause of his recent apparent madness. He tells Ophelia that they must report this incident to the King. They leave, after Polonius chastises himself for making what appears to be a wrong judgement regarding Hamlet's true feelings for Ophelia.
Act II, Scene ii:
The action takes place two months after Hamlet has met with the ghost. The scene opens with Claudius and Gertrude talking to two of Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It seems that Hamlet has been acting strangely for the past couple of months, and no one is able to find out why. Although Gertrude guesses it is because of the death of his father and her overhasty marriage, Claudius is not so sure this is the reason. Because Claudius and Gertrude are unable to find out the reason for Hamlet's madness they send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the hopes that they will be able to find out the truth. Both gentlemen agree to spy on Hamlet to find out the cause of his madness after Gertrude tells them they will gain the king's money, thanks and recognition.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave to find Hamlet. Polonius enters at the same time as the messengers sent to Norway return with news regarding Fortinbras. Polonius tells the King and Queen that he has found out the cause of Hamlet's madness, and will tell them after they hear the news from the messengers.
Voltimand and Cornelius enter and report to the king that they met with Fortinbras' uncle and have found a way to stop Fortinbras' plan to attack Denmark. The uncle, after finding out the true goal of Fortinbras' army, rebukes Fortinbras for his deeds and tells him to forget this plan. Fortinbras obeys his uncle's wishes and with his uncle's help decides to use his army to attack the "Pollacks." The king looks over a paper that has Fortinbras' plans for crossing safely through Denmark on his way to fight the Pollacks, and turns his attention to Polonius.
Polonius tells the King and Queen about his suspicion that Hamlet's madness is caused by Ophelia's rejecting Hamlet's affections. Although the queen believes Polonius' speech is too long-winded, and chastises him for his roundabout ways, he brushes her off and continues with his theories. As proof of his suspicions, he reads a letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia that expresses his love and feelings for her. Seeing that the king and queen don't agree with his assumptions as whole heartedly as he does, Polonius tries to prove his theory by approaching Hamlet himself. He ushers the King and Queen out as Hamlet approaches. Although Polonius tries his best to pin down Hamlet's thoughts, he fails. Hamlet not only manages to evade Polonius' questions, but he seizes the opportunity and slanders Polonius and his foolish, meddling ways, without Polonius' realization. Polonius leaves after realizing that there is a lot of meaning in Hamlet's ranting.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and Hamlet greets them affectionately. Hamlet is pleasant and cheerful to them until he finds out that they are there to spy on him and report to the King the reason for Hamlet's madness. Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hesitant to admit they were sent for, they cannot deny it further when Hamlet convinces them that he knows they were sent for.
The focus of the conversation changes to acting and the theatre when Rosencrantz informs Hamlet that players (entertainers) are on their way to the castle to perform a play for the King. They discuss the use of child actors in the theatre and Hamlet takes another opportunity to insult Polonius when he comes in to tell Hamlet about the players. When Hamlet makes a remark about a 'fair daughter' in a play, Polonius believes he is hinting at Ophelia. They are interrupted by the entrance of the players.
Hamlet greets the players warmly and asks the leader to recite a passage he once heard the player speak. Hamlet remembered the recital because the player spoke it in such an honest and passionate way. The player recites a passage concerning the death of Priam, during the Trojan war. After the speech, Hamlet asks Polonius to take excellent care of the players and to find them quarters. Hamlet talks with the First Player about inserting some lines that Hamlet will make up into the play they are presenting tomorrow. The player agrees to Hamlet's request and leaves. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave and Hamlet is alone on stage to give his second soliloquy.
Hamlet is angry with himself for procrastinating and failing to take revenge for his father's death. He is upset because he is unable to show the passion in real life that the player can show on stage. He can't believe that an actor can show anger and even cry for a fictitious event when he can't, despite all his reasons to show these emotions. He tries to incite his passion by stating events that would make him angry, but realizes all he is doing is talking about what he should do. Realizing that he isn't further helping himself with these speeches, he makes a plan that will give him the proof he needs to show Claudius' guilt in Hamlet's father's death.
Because there is still doubt about whether or not the ghost was Hamlet's father asking Hamlet to avenge his death, or an evil spirit trying to get Hamlet into trouble, Hamlet decides to get proof of Claudius' guilt before proceeding further. Hamlet believes he can
obtain his proof by watching Claudius' reaction to a murder acted out by the players similar to that of Hamlet's father's murder.
Act III, Scene i:
This scene opens with Claudius, the King, asking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they have discovered the cause of Hamlet's madness. After admitting they did not find the cause, but were treated well by Hamlet, they inform the King and Queen that Hamlet is happy that there is going to be a play presented tomorrow and he hopes that Claudius and Gertrude will attend. Pleased that there is something that amuses Hamlet, they both decide to attend the play and they urge Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to try and stimulate his interest further. Claudius asks Gertrude to leave so that he and Polonius can observe a clandestine meeting they set up between Hamlet and Ophelia. They tell Ophelia to pretend she is praying and they go and hide. Hamlet enters and gives a soliloquy on his thoughts about himself committing suicide. He sees Ophelia, and when she tries to return some gifts that he had given her, he claims he never gave her any. They have a discussion wherein Hamlet denies ever loving Ophelia and berating her and women in general for their trickery and pretentiousness.
When Hamlet leaves, Claudius and Polonius enter. Claudius is convinced that Hamlet's madness does not stem from his love for Ophelia, but that it is something else that is afflicting his soul. Claudius realizes that Hamlet's actions are a danger to those around him. He decides to send Hamlet to England, hoping a change of atmosphere will settle his heart. The scene ends with Claudius stating that Hamlet should be watched.
Act III, Scene ii:
Hamlet gives some last minute instructions to the players and they proceed to get ready to perform the play. Hamlet confides in Horatio that he has a plan to test his uncle's guilt. He tells Horatio that he has asked the players to reenact the murder of Hamlet's father. By seeing Claudius' reaction to the murder, Hamlet will know for sure whether or not the ghost was telling the truth. Horatio agrees to watch the king's reaction.
The play, The Mousetrap, is introduced and gets underway. When the murder scene is enacted, Claudius calls for lights and storms out. Hamlet and Horatio discuss the king's reactions and both are convinced that Claudius killed the old king.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, tell Hamlet the king is very upset and then they ask him why he has been so upset lately. Hamlet, tired of their meddling, confronts them and demands to know why they are trying all these games to get information from him. He tells them that he is too smart to be caught in their traps. Polonius enters and tells Hamlet that the Queen wishes to speak with him.