Monday, April 2, 2012

Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark

This is the third year of my Shakespeare study. I read one play each month, and then watch as many film versions as I can get my hands on, and read as many books about the play as I'm able. March, 2012 was The Tragedy Of Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark. This blog entry has reviews of the films, and little blurbs about the books. Anyone who considers himself or herself a fan of movies must absolutely read Hamlet. Just take a look at all the films that make references to this play. (Scroll down for the film reviews.)

Related Books:

- There Is Nothing Like A Dane! The Lighter Side Of Hamlet compiled and illustrated by Clive Francis - This book is a collection of humorous anecdotes regarding various productions of Hamlet. Published in 2001.

- Readings On Hamlet edited by Don Nardo - This book is a volume in The Greenhaven Press Literary Companion series. It contains essays on the plot, setting, characters and themes of Hamlet. It includes a bit from Laurence Olivier's On Acting. It also features contributions by Philip Edwards, Michael Pennington and Rebecca Smith, among others. Published in 1999.

- Hamlet: Poem Unlimited by Harold Bloom - This short book was intended as a sort of companion to Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention Of The Human. Bloom writes, "Too prescient not to know that a plot is under way ('how ill all's here about my heart'), Hamlet is testing Laertes, and presumably does not believe the grudging response 'I do receive your offer'd love like love/And will not wrong it.' That is a mere lie" (page 103). It is interesting that Hamlet knows about the trap, basically as soon as the audience does, and goes into the scene ready for his own death. Bloom writes, "Conceding his own likely death when entering Claudius's trap, Hamlet is already in his own place, the high place of his dying" (page 104). On page 120, Bloom writes, "Playwrights and novelists will be compelled to continue revisiting Hamlet, for reasons that I suspect have more to do with our horror of our own consciousness confronting annihilation than with our individual addictions to guilt and to grief." And, as I have come to believe through reading plays like Measure For Measure, Bloom writes, "Shakespeare, despite much scholarly argument to the contrary, was no lover of authority, which had murdered Christopher Marlowe, tortured and broken Thomas Kyd, and branded Ben Jonson. The poet kept some distance from the ruling powers, and temporized whenever necessary" (page 133). Published in 2003.

- To Be Or Not To Be by Douglas Bruster - This book is part of the Shakespeare Now! series. And yes, it's a book dedicated entirely to that most famous of soliloquys. It does seem to be stretching at time, but is also truly interesting. And toward the end of the book there is a section comparing the version of the soliloquy in the First Quarto to that of the Second Quarto. Published in 2007.

- Hamlet For Kids by Lois Burdett; foreword by Kenneth Branagh - This book is a volume in the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series, which is aimed at children. It tales the story of Hamlet in rhyming couplets, and includes artwork by children. It also includes short sections of the play written by children from the perspective of various characters. Fortinbras was cut from this re-telling. Also cut were the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Published in 2000.

- The First Quarto Of Hamlet edited by Kathleen O. Irace - This is a volume in The Early Quartos series of The New Cambridge Shakespeare. It includes a good introduction, but the notes are not presented in as clear a fashion as the notes for The First Quarto Of Romeo And Juliet, and aren't as in depth. Published in 1998.

- Hamlet And Oedipus by Ernest Jones - This book is exactly what you think it is - a psychoanalysis of the character of Hamlet, and also to a certain extent William Shakespeare himself. This is one of the most interesting books I've ever read about Hamlet. I've often thought that when Hamlet stabs Polonius through the curtain, he couldn't possibly think it was Claudius that he was killing. After all, he's just left Claudius. A lot depends on how it's staged, of course. But Ernest Jones makes another good point, in favor of Hamlet knowing full well that it's not Claudius behind the curtain. "Soon after this the ghost appears, which would have been superfluous had Hamlet seriously intended to kill the king, and Hamlet admits his recalcitrance" (page 32). And of course the majority of this book talks about how Hamlet wishes to sleep with his mother, and that's why he is unable to kill Claudius - because he identifies with him. I usually don't go for that sort of Freudian thinking, but this book makes a truly convincing argument. Ernest Jones writes, "In reality his uncle incorporates the deepest and most buried part of his own personality, so that he cannot kill him without also killing himself... Only when he has made the final sacrifice and brought himself to the door of death is he free to fulfill his duty, to avenge his father, and to slay his other self - his uncle" (page 88). Hamlet kills Claudius only "when the Queen is already dead and lost to him for ever, so that his conscience is free of an ulterior motive for the murder" (page 89). Jones makes also makes an interesting point about The Mousetrap: "It is known that the occurrence of a dream within a dream (when one dreams that one is dreaming) is always found when analysed to refer to a theme which the person wishes were 'only a dream,' i.e. not true. I would suggest that a similar meaning attaches to a 'play within a play,' as in 'Hamlet.' So Hamlet (as nephew) can kill the King in his imagination since it is 'only a play' or 'only in play'" (page 89). On page 99, Jones writes that Hamlet "tells Ophelia that 'those that are married already, all but one shall live.' It is generally assumed that the 'one' is Claudius, but at the moment his thoughts are only about women, at whom he is railing." That is an interesting thought regarding that line. Is he threatening Gertrude? A little later on the same page he writes, "The curious slip of the tongue, deliberate or otherwise, in which he addresses Claudius as 'dear mother' shows how similar are his feelings about the two." In all the productions I've seen, it's never come across as an unintentional remark, which then Hamlet covers, but it seems a perfectly legitimate reading. Ernest Jones also writes about Hamlet's mention of Nero in Act III: "He is no Nero in action, certainly, but has he Nero's heart? Why the allusion at this critical point to Nero of all people, the man who is reputed to have slept with his mother and then murdered her (presumably for a similiar reason, inability to bear the guilt her continued presence evoked)?" (page 100). In the same speech, when Hamlet is on his way to see his mother, he says, "Let me be cruel not unnatural/I will speak daggers to her, but use none." Could the "unnatural" refer to an urge to sleep with her? And could the "dagger" he speaks of be something other than a metal weapon? Hamlet And Oedipus was first published in 1910, and then added to over the years, until it was published in its current form in 1949. However, this edition was published in 1976.

- Hamlet's Perfection by William Kerrigan - This book starts with a sort of history of Hamlet criticism, and then becomes Hamlet criticism itself. Kerrigan writes, about The Mousetrap, "When Claudius finally breaks, Wilson makes us feel as never before Hamlet's exultation - and its precariousness, since the very stratagem that catches the conscience of the king reveals to the king the conscience of Hamlet. He also insists on the thwarted political ambitions of the prince. These ambitions are not mentioned until 5.2.65, because everyone in the court and everyone in the original audiences would have understood Hamlet's position from the beginning; a presumption that Hamlet wants the crown explains why the court takes the Moustrap, where the regicide is the king's nephew, as a grievous offense to Claudius" (page 24). About the possible adultery, Kerrigan writes, "Though it has been questioned, the stains seem pretty clearly those of an adulteress: Hamlet's point in holding up the two pictures is not simply that she married Claudius, but that she preferred him when both were available" (page 53). Published in 1994.

- I Am Hamlet by Steven Berkoff - This book is essentially a production diary, as actor/director Steven Berkoff takes the reader through a performance of Hamlet. It's told from the perspective of an actor performing the role of Hamlet, and so some of it is presented as the thoughts of Hamlet himself, and some is presented as the choices an actor makes in tackling that role. Published in 1989.

Film Versions:

- Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark (1980) with Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Claire Bloom, Eric Porter, Lalla Ward; directed by Rodney Bennett. This film version has some phenomenal performances, particularly by Patrick Stewart as Claudius. I was a bit unsure of the casting, only because Derek Jacobi, who plays Hamlet, is two years older than Patrick Stewart. But right away, any worries I had were put at ease. Patrick Stewart, with curly grey hair and a grey beard actually seems quite a bit older than Derek Jacobi. Both give excellent performances. And of course Claire Bloom as Gertrude is perfect. The only performances that were a bit weak (and really, that's only in comparison to these giants) were Lalla Ward as Ophelia and David Robb as Laertes. But they certainly weren't bad. This production uses sparse sets for the exteriors. Act I Scene iii is moved from Polonius' apartment to the docks from where Laertes is about to travel, and the location is created mostly by the sound effect of seagulls, and also by a few extras carrying crates and barrels in the deep background. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are introduced, this production doesn't do the bit where Claudius gets the names wrong, and Gertrude corrects him. But it does include the confusion when Hamlet greets them. (This is one of my few complaints about this production.) In Act II Scene ii, the emendation "god kissing carrion" is used rather than "good kissing carrion." Hamlet reads "What a piece of work is man" from his book, up through "the paragon of animals," which is an interesting choice. Likewise, Polonius reads his list of types of drama from a parchment, with Hamlet joining him in reading the last couple. Derek Jacobi includes a long pause between "I did love you" and "once" to Ophelia in Act III Scene i. Ophelia is nervous, and glances to where Polonius is hiding, thus giving away his presence to Hamlet - this was done well. But then "all but one" is said to Ophelia; so, in this production it seems Hamlet doesn't know Claudius is also behind the arras. Polonius' death is great, as is the scene following it between Hamlet and Gertrude. I love Derek Jacobi's delivery of "Goodnight, mother" as he drags Polonius' body out by the feet. The skull used in this production has no lower jaw, making Hamlet's "Here hung those lips that I have kissed" line ever stronger. Peter Glae is excellent in his role as Osric in the scene where he tells Hamlet of the king's wager. (time: 222 minutes)

- Hamlet (1948) with Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Jean Simmons, Norman Wooland, Peter Cushing; directed by Laurence Olivier. This film version has some good performances, and some truly interesting shots and choices, but suffers from some disastrous and unforgiveable cuts. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are cut completely. And because of that, we lose the "What a piece of work is man" speech entirely. And I don't see how you can do Hamlet without that speech. Also cut is Fortinbras, so the end is rather a mess. In addition, Olivier rearranges many of the scenes, to the point where I don't think I would have understood the film at all had I not read the play. It's shocking that this won the Oscar for Best Picture.
The film begins with a title card, and a voice over reading the card. The voice over then concludes by saying, "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." What a bizarre and rather moronic simplification of Hamlet's character, and the play overall. This isn't the story of someone trying to decide between steak and fish, or between two vacation spots. The first scene ends with the line, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," taken from Scene iv. Oddly, Hamlet's first two lines are cut, those famous quips about being "too much in the sun." But this actually sets the darker tone of the film. Most of the humor has been sucked out of this production. So Hamlet's first line is "Ay, madam, it is common." Hamlet's first soliloquy is done as voice over: "Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt." But he says aloud, "Nay not so much, not two." He says a few more lines aloud. After his soliloquy, it goes to Scene iii, with Laertes speaking to Ophelia. Then at the end of Scene iii, we go back to Scene ii with the entrance of Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo. Horatio says, "he wore his visor up" rather than "beaver up." Before the Ghost comes, Hamlet goes in and out of focus several times, a deliberate choice that seems rather annoying. Hamlet holds up his sword like a cross when he follows the Ghost. I absolutely love the voice of the Ghost, the way his words are spoken. When Ghost talks of his murder, we actually see it - so in this production there is no question of whether the Ghost is telling the truth or not. The Ghost tells them to swear but once; the rest is cut; it goes right to "Rest, rest perturbed spirit."
Act II begins with Ophelia's description of Hamlet to Polonius, only it's done as voice over to herself, which is very poor choice. Especially as it then goes right to Polonius telling the king and queen: "My liege and madam, to expostulate what majesty should be..." Also, we see what Ophelia describes, which is unnecessary, and actually weakens her words. But how can Polonius give them the information when Ophelia hasn't given it to him? I do, however, love that Hamlet watches Polonius talking to the king and queen before he enters. So his entrance with his book is deliberate. Instead of as an aside, Polonius rushes over to Claudius and Gertrude to say, "How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter."
Then it jumps to Act III Scene i, with Polonius handing Ophelia a book and saying "Read on this book." Polonius and Claudius hide to watch the encounter between Ophelia and Hamlet. Hamlet enters and says, "Soft you now! The fair Ophelia," which makes no sense. Those lines should come at the end of "To be or not to be," basically him telling himself to shut up. But if he hasn't been speaking, why would he tell himself to shut up? And then Hamlet immediately walks over to the arras, as if he already knows where Polonius and Claudius are hiding. When he says "all but one," he actually points at the arras. Ophelia's speech after Hamlet's exit is completely cut. And then comes Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech, as he stands at the edge of a wall over the sea. Because of this, Polonius and Claudius don't hear it. Some of it is done as voice over. Polonius, not Rosencrantz, tells Hamlet, "My lord, I have news to tell you. The actors are come hither, my lord." Then Polonius does his listing of the types of drama, and the players enter. Gone completely is the bit where Hamlet recites a speech and the player continues it. Then it goes to the "Speak the speech" instructions to the players. Hamlet tells Horatio to observe his uncle, but the reason for it is cut - the lines about the Ghost. Oddly, the whole court watches the king during the play rather than just Hamlet and Horatio. It's as if everyone has figured out that Claudius has killed his brother, which is ridiculous. And all of the players' lines are cut - and thus Hamlet's as well. It's right at the end of the dumb show that Claudius shouts, "Give me some light." Polonius takes the lines of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern after the play, as well as his own lines. All of Hamlet's lines when Claudius is praying are done as voice over, so Claudius won't hear. Of course all of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's lines are cut after the Hamlet/Gertrude scene, so the next bit is the king asking Hamlet where Polonius is. Then it goes right into Ophelia's madness. When the messenger comes in, it is not to speak of Laertes, but to bring letters from Hamlet, which isn't supposed to happen until Claudius is speaking with Laertes. Then the letter is delivered to Horatio while he watches Ophelia. The letter is read as voice over, and we see the pirate battle. When Horatio leaves Ophelia alone (an excellent moment), she walks straight to Claudius, who is now suddenly with Laertes. Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death is done as voice over, and we see Ophelia in the water. That goes into the gravediggers scene. But the opening is cut. It begins just before Hamlet's entrance, so there is just one gravedigger (again, cutting out most of the humor of the play). The skull has no lower jaw, which makes the "lips" line stronger. After the grave scene, Claudius says to Laertes, "I must commune with your grief," a line which normally comes much earlier, and is about Polonius' death and Ophelia's madness, not her death. So Laertes' line about Ophelia "driven into desperate terms" is changed to "to a desperate end." One of the few scenes that retains its humor is the one with Osric, played by Peter Cushing (though I could do without his fall at the end). Shockingly, Laertes' response to Hamlet's apology is cut. Instead, Laertes calls for the foils. Laertes' response in the play - if you take it as at least partially honest - sets up his later aside, "And yet it is almost against my conscience." Gertrude seems alarmed when Claudius says, "Give him the cup" - and then she looks at it with suspicion, as if she knows it's poison. So when she drinks from it, does she deliberately kill herself? It's an interesting idea. Hamlet's lines about Fortinbras are cut before "The rest is silence." Horatio, not Fortinbras, says the last lines of the play. And then the film's last line is the "flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" line. And we see Hamlet being carried out. Of course, with Fortinbras cut, it's completely unclear who the hell will become king. But I guess Olivier didn't care about that. (time: 153 minutes)

- Hamlet (1990) with Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham-Carter, Trevor Peacock; directed by Franco Zeffirelli. This film version features some of the same cuts done by Olivier, as well as some rearranging of scenes. But this film, unlike Olivier's, does include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. However, Fortinbras is cut.
The film begins, not with the Ghost's appearance, but with the funeral of the king, with Gertrude (Glenn Close) crying over his body. Claudius says to Hamlet, "Think of us/As of a father; for let the world take note,/You are the most immediate to our throne." Then it goes into the beginning of Scene ii, "Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death..." Gertrude laugh's at Hamlet's quip, "I am too much i' th' sun." Then Gertrude and Hamlet are alone for their talk, and so Gertude has Claudius' line, "This gentle and unforc'd accord sits smiling to my heart." Glenn Close at the beginning plays Gertrude like a young girl in love. Hamlet's first soliloquy ends with "Frailty, thy name is woman." Then the film goes to Scene iii with Laertes and Ophelia. Hamlet watches Polonius giving Laertes his famous advice, and then watches the conversation between Polonius and Ophelia about Hamlet, which is an odd choice because then Hamlet knows that Ophelia is merely following Polonius' orders when she later spurns his advances. Then we have the entrances of Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo. Because the Ghost has not yet been introduced, Horatio's great response to Hamlet's "Methinks I see my father" is cut. Instead, it goes right to "I saw him once." And then Horatio tells him he saw the king last night. Then onto Scene iv. The Ghost is not in armor, as he is supposed to be (and because the Ghost wasn't introduced earlier, we miss the bit where they reason that his presence has to do with an invasion by Fortinbras). Ghost actually walks toward Hamlet on "adieu, adieu, adieu." We get the scene where Hamlet, disheveled, approaches Ophelia, and Polonius witnesses it (instead of Ophelia describing the scene to Polonius). But at least they didn't make up any dialogue for this scene. Then Polonius goes to the king and queen to tell them his thoughts on Hamlet's madness. Hamlet says "good kissing carrion," not "god kissing carrion," to Polonius. I love Mel Gibson's delivery of "words, words, words." Hamlet sees Claudius and Polonius run off before he enters to speak with Ophelia. The scene begins with his line, "Nymph in thy orison be all my sins remember'd." Ophelia's speech after Hamlet's exit is cut. Hamlet then goes down to the tomb for his "To be or not to be" speech. Then Hamlet is out with his horse, and it's then that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive. Hamlet confronts them, saying he knows the good king and queen have sent for him. But this makes little sense, as Claudius has already decided to send Hamlet to England (because of this rearrangement of scenes). He's given up trying to figure out what's wrong with Hamlet, and that was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's original task. At the end of the "what a piece of work is man" speech, the players arrive. Again, the king's happiness at Hamlet's excitement about the players makes little sense when he's already decided to ship him to England. After "the play's the thing" line, we go right to the play, with Hamlet telling Horatio to observe the king. So we lose all the stuff with Hamlet reciting a speech, and we also lose Hamlet's instructions to the players (which is a shame). Polonius introduces the players to the court with his list of types of drama, an interesting choice. It seems, by Ian Holm's delivery, that Polonius is deliberately being funny rather than being a bit of doddering fool. But we do get the great stuff between Hamlet and Ophelia ("country matters"). But oddly the "get thee to a nunnery" stuff is added here, while the players are juggling. Gertrude has the "'Tis brief, my son" line to whicch Hamlet responds, "As woman's love." In the play, Ophelia says, "'Tis brief, my lord." The dumb show version of the king's death is cut. It goes right to the lines. I like the "pipe" scene with Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. All of Claudius' lines are cut before Hamlet finds him praying. The Gertrude/Hamlet scene is heavily incestuous, and it's then that the Ghost appears again. We see the boat on the water as Hamlet goes to England.
Then onto Ophelia's madness. She sings her song to a guard, not to Claudius, then sings to Gertrude. Ophelia says her "We know what we are, but not what we may be," then immediately looks at Gertrude, which is interesting. Ophelia says her "good night, ladies" to some actual ladies instead of to Claudius, Horatio and Gertrude. We see Hamlet on the boat, switching the letters, with a voice over of Claudius saying, "Do it, England." Then we see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern brought to the chopping block. Laertes arrives to challenge the king. Ophelia has small bones and reeds which she names as flowers rather than having the actual flowers. We see Ophelia at the river and hear Gertrude describing it, but then we cut to Gertrude telling Laertes about Ophelia's death.
This goes into the gravediggers' scene, which begins with Hamlet's entrance. So all the silliness between the two gravediggers is cut. It's great to see Trevor Peacock as the gravedigger. The skull has no lower jaw. All the stuff between Laertes and the priest is cut. After the grave scene is the scene beween Claudius and Laertes. That scene ends with "And call it accident," but that line is placed after Claudius says "Revenge should have no bounds." The film then goes to the Osric scene, but all of the humor is cut from that scene. Like the "That's two of his weapons" and most of the silliness aout the weather. Then the film returns to Claudius and Laertes, when they discuss the specifics of their plan. Hamlet's apology to Laertes is short and includes no mention of madness. Oddly, the first mention of the pearl is cut. That's one of the worst cuts in the film. But of course it's still mentioned when Claudius puts it in the cup. But we needed the lines that explain why he puts it in. Hamlet clowns a bit during the fight. They use heavy swords, not foils. Glenn Close is great when she begins to realize the cup contains poison. Horatio does not try to kill himself. Hamlet does not mention Fortinbras. The last line of the film is "Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." So Hamlet is not carried out by four soldiers. (time: 135 minutes)

- Hamlet (1996) with Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, Richard Briers; directed by Kenneth Branagh. I definitely commend Branagh for doing the full text. However, he changed the time period. And there are certain scenes and lines that refer to very specific things during Shakespeare's life, so if it's not done in Elizabethan garb, those scenes and lines make absolutely no sense. There are a lot of visual flashbacks, as well as flashes to other scenes and locations, used in this film.
Right at the beginning, for example, when Horatio (Nicholas Farrell) talks about Fortinbras, we actually see Fortinbras. When Claudius (Derek Jacobi) talks of young Fortinbras, on the line "So much for him," he rips the letter - a nice touch. Hamlet sees a bit of the conversation between Laertes and Ophelia, but is not close enough to hear it. There is no question in this production about whether Hamlet and Ophelia have been intimate, for we see a it (as yet another flashback) during the conversation between Polonius and Ophelia. The Ghost's motions to Hamlet are slow, small movements, as if he can't expend much energy. And Hamlet goes through the woods in following the Ghost, rather than up on a section of the castle. When Hamlet stops, the Ghost speaks, but is not visible at first. He then suddenly appears behind Hamlet, which is great. We first see the Ghost only from low angles, and then a closeup of his mouth when he speaks of murder. We see lots of flashback footage of Claudius flirting with Gertrude while Ghost speaks, and we also see the poison being poured into the king's ear. So there is no question that the Ghost is telling the truth. When the Ghosts says "Swear," there are small explosions in the earth, which is silly rather than fantastic. The earth then shakes when Hamlet talks before they swear on the sword - making the Ghost seems like a very powerful spirit.
When Polonius is talking to Reynaldo, there is some strange woman on the bed in the background. Polonius' prostitute? Apparently, for on "drabbing," Polonius looks at her, then points her out the door. Polonius is less funny than usual. In this production, Gertrude does correct Claudius' mistaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, one for the other. Ophelia is present in the scene when Polonius tells Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet's madness, and it is Ophelia who reads the letter rather than Polonius - an odd choice. But she runs off, and Polonius continues it (but what we see on screen is Hamlet and Ophelia, and Hamlet says the lines to her). Hamlet says "god kissing carrion" rather than "good kissing carrion." Branagh's reading of "words, words, words" is strange. He acts retarded on the third "words." Likewise, on his third "except my life," he says it in a goofy manner.
When Hamlet meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they are riding in on a small train engine, which is weird. I love Branagh's reading of the Denmark-as-prison speech. The stuff about the child-actors makes less sense when not done in Elizabethan garb. And, again because this isn't done in the Elizabethan time period, the players include some women. So Hamlet's lines about the one player's voice make no sense - it's supposed to be a boy who plays the women's parts, which is why Hamlet worries about his voice. When the player does his speech, we actually see the scenes he's describing. And these include two very strange cameos - John Gielgud as Priam, and Judi Dench as Hecuba. Why hire them to do a Shakespeare film, and then put them on screen for like three seconds in a scene that shouldn't have been filmed in the first place? What a waste.
Hamlet speaks "To be or not to be" into a mirror, behind which Claudius and Polonius are hiding. So they do hear this soliloquy (and see it). And is Hamlet speaking it, at least partially, for their benefit? For on "bare bodkin," he pulls out a dagger and points it at the mirror. At himself? Or at Claudius? Hamlet hugs and kisses Ophelia near the beginning of their conversation. A noise and a look from Ophelia cause Hamlet's line, "Where is your father?" Hamlet seems surprised by this, so I guess the "To be or not to be" was truly to himself and not to Claudius.
In this production, Polonius does display love and affection for his daughter. Before Hamlet's instructions to the players, we get a shot of Horatio reading a newspaper, which mentions that Fortinbras' army advances (I guess Branagh doesn't trust us to remember Fortinbras; thus, this reminder). Hamlet gives his instructions to just one player rather than to all of them, at least at first. Because of the displacement in time, a spotlight shines on Hamlet, who is on stage for the scene before the play. He pulls Polonius on stage for their conversation about how Polonius once played Julius Caesar, so it's done as entertainment. When Hamlet sits with Ophelia, everyone can hear their conversation. The brief prologue is spoken by a woman. Jakobi's reading of "Give me some light" is truly interesting - he speaks it softly, when often it's shouted.
Claudius prays in a confession booth. Hamlet is on the other side, in the place of a priest. And so his words are done as voice over. But how did he get in there without Claudius noticing? It's a bit ridiculous. And how does he get out again without being seen? We don't know, because the film cuts to the next scene, with Gertrude. We have a shot of soldiers searching for Hamlet in Ophelia's chamber. After Hamlet says "The king is a thing," Ophelia enters, crying "My lord" (which is not in the play). We also get a shot of Ophelia screaming as she sees her father's body being taken out. Claudius' speech recounting the troubles is moved to the very beginning of Act IV, and is done as voice over instead of to Gertrude. Ophelia is in a strait jacket, bouncing off the walls, which is seriously stupid. Horatio, Gertrude and a nurse (rather than a Gentleman) watch her from above. Then Ophelia, still in her strait jacket, is lying on the floor, Gertrude helps her out of it. When Ophelia next enters, she's in her usual white rather than the strait jacket. When she names the flowers, she holds nothing. Kate Winslet does a good job with it, though I do prefer it when she actually has the flowers she names. After saying goodbye to Laertes, Ophelia walks back into the padded room. Then we see Ophelia being hosed down in another room, and she removes a key from her mouth (but that act shows her very sanity, which is a problem). When Horatio gets the letters from Hamlet, it is winter. The ground is covered with snow. But when Gertrude describes Ophelia's death, she talks of the willow tree and the garland of flowers. Whe did she get the flowers in the snow? Gertrude doesn't follow when Claudius beckons her to follow Laertes.
There is a continuity error in the gravediggers scene. First Gravedigger (Billy Crystal) is holding a spade in his right hand, but when he sits down again, it's gone. The gravedigger scene is done at night, which is odd, because the funeral scene follows it. Yorick's skull has no lower jaw (though the others in the line of skulls do). While Hamlet talks of Yorick, we get a flashback to Yorick entertaining. The score is so wrong when Hamlet speaks of his love for Ophelia. There is a really nice moment between Hamlet and Horatio during the "sparrow" bit. During Hamlet's apology to Laertes, we see Fortinbras' army, which is a shame. Laertes says the "almost against my conscience" line to Claudius. Two women yell "Treason" when Laertes says the king is to blame. We see Hamlet carried out, and then in his coffin. The king's statue is destroyed at the very end. (time: 242 minutes)

- Hamlet (2000) with Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Bill Murray. Screen adaptation and directed by Michael Almereyda. It's quite a feat to take the world's greatest play and make it exceedingly dull. But that's just what director Michael Almereyda has done. Congratulations, dipshit.
Title cards at the beginning tell us it is New York and the year 2000. Also, "The King and C.E.O. of Denmark Corporation is dead," "The King's widow has hastily remarried his younger brother," and "The King's son, Hamlet, returns from school, suspecting foul play." Thanks for that. The film then begins with Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) saying "I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth" to the camera, as if making a home video confession. He goes right into "What a piece of work is man." Then it goes into Act I Scene ii. Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) speaks at a press conference. When he talks of Fortinbras, he holds up a newspaper with his photo on it, and on "So much for him," he rips the paper in half. Hamlet's first two lines are cut, so that the first thing he says is "Aye, madam, it is common" (just as in Olivier's production). We get lots of low angles as they walk along a city street for this dialogue. That scene ends with Hamlet saying "I shall in all my best obey you, madam." Then Hamlet is in his apartment for his "too too solid flesh" speech, which is done as voice over. He watches video of his mother and father, video he presumably shot himself. He also looks at video of Ophelia (Julia Stiles). Horatio, Marcella (yes, a woman named Marcella rather than a man named Marcellus), and Bernardo show up at his apartment. While they tell Hamlet of what they saw, we see a flashback of the scene. It's a bit odd seeing the Ghost in front of a Pepsi machine. And he actually disappears into the machine. Of course the lines about his armor and his beaver being up are cut.
Laertes and Ophelia are in Polonius' house for their dialogue. Laertes continues packing during Polonius' advice to him, so doesn't seem to pay much attention to it until his final lines. Laertes whispers to Ophelia, "Remember well what I have said to you." So could Polonius hear that? Well, it doesn't matter, because cut then is the stuff between Polonius and Ophelia about Hamlet. Instead we go to a weird dialogue-less red carpet scene. And then Hamlet is home. He gets a call from Bernardo, waking him. He doesn't answer the phone, but sees his father standing outside. Hamlet opens the door to let the Ghost in. So Horatio, Bernardo and Marcella are not present. The Ghost actually touches Hamlet. He hugs him at the end, saying "Remember me." Horatio and Marcella then show up - is it the next night? The Ghost is again on Hamlet's balcony. Hamlet says "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy" (rather than "your philosophy").
Then we get the conversation between Polonius and Ophelia, which should have happened just after Laertes left. Ophelia does not vocalize her assent, and it seems from her expression that she might not obey his command to avoid Hamlet. We see Hamlet writing his letter to Ophelia in a diner, and hear it in voice over, that which usually we hear Polonius read to Claudius and Gertrude. Hamlet then shows up at Ophelia's apartment and hugs her, holds her hand, and gives her the letter. Polonius then shows up, and Hamlet takes off. A very odd way of doing it. So Ophelia is not obedient at all - she doesn't go running to Polonius to relate Hamlet's behavior. This is very different from what Shakespeare wrote.
Then we get just the first line of "To be or not to be," which is shown as footage Hamlet shot of himself, with a gun to his head. Polonius then speaks to Hamlet - the "fishmonger" scene. The "god kissing carrion" line is cut. Polonius' aside is done to the surveillance camera, as if Claudius is watching. Hamlet does not have a book, so the "words, words, words" is cut. He does have a gun, however. The second and third "Except my life" lines are done as voice over, and actually he says it a fourth time as voice over. He then enters what is presumably Claudius' office, with gun drawn, as if to kill him. But the office is empty. Again, this is far afield from the play. Polonius then goes to talk to Claudius and Gertrude at an indoor pool, and he has Ophelia with him. This is his "brevity is the soul of wit" speech from Act II Scene ii. When Polonius takes out the letter, it is in a plastic evidence bag. When he says that Ophelia "in her duty and obedience hath given me this," he is clearly not telling the truth, for she reaches for it even then to take it back. She tries to grab it again when he begins to read it. An unusual take on this scene. Ophelia then stands by the pool, and we see her intention to jump in.
Then we get the "To be or not to be" speech, as voice over, in a video store. Starting with "there's the rub," he speaks aloud. After that speech, it goes to the entrance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - at a club. After Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) says, "no other occasion," it cuts to Gertrude and Claudius in their bedroom. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are on the speaker phone, telling what they've learned (Act III Scene i). However, we didn't get the moment when Hamlet confronts them, knowing they'd been sent for. Gertrude gives her correction, "Thank you Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz," but since they're not present, it doesn't make sense. Also, why bother moving that line here from Act II Scene ii anyway?
Then we get Hamlet's "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" speech, in his apartment, as voice over, as he watches scenes from movies, including the graveyard scene from another Hamlet. But as the players haven't arrived, this speech doesn't really make sense. "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." What play? Well, we see Gertrude holding an invitation for a screening of a video titled "The Mouse Trap." Meanwhile, Polonius is strapping a bugging device to Ophelia. She goes to Hamlet's apartment to give him back his letters. After "I loved you not," we get a shot of a plane high in the sky. Why? He kisses her on, then discovers the microphone she's wearing and asks "Where's your father?" Ophelia grabs the letters again and takes them with her. Hamlet leaves messages on Ophelia's machine - "I say we shall have no mo marriage." Then we get the play; that is, the screening of Hamlet's film. Hamlet tells Horatio to watch Claudius. It looks like everyone in the screening room is wearing black, not just Hamlet, so his "Let the devil wear black" line doesn't feel as aimed at himself. The Mousetrap begins. Its title card reads, "A Tragedy by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," a nod to the full title of Shakespeare's play.
After the screening, Hamlet gets in a taxi. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern run to get in with him for their dialogue. But unfortunately we don't get the best part of that dialogue, the part about the pipe. This leads to Hamlet's "witching time of night" speech, done as voice over. Hamlet manages to drive Claudius' limo, without Claudius knowing. Claudius is on the car phone, giving instructions to take Hamlet to England. So Hamlet hears this. Claudius begins his "O my offense is rank" speech, and so does his prayer in the back of the limo. Hamlet raises his gun, ready to shoot him, but instead he rushes out of the car, without saying "Now might I do it" or his reason for not doing it.
Hamlet arrives at his mother's room, and Polonius hides in the closet. So Hamlet shoots him through the closet door. Polonius stumbles out, holding his hand to his bloody face. Gertrude picks up the phone, as if to call the police, and that causes Hamlet to say "Leave wringing of your hands," which makes no sense (unless they're intending a quibble on "ring," as in a phone). Gertrude's "Alas, how is't with you/That you do bend your eye on vacancy" is cut. The Ghost seems surprised and sad when Gertrude says she sees nothing at all, which is actually a really cool interpretation. The bit with the likenesses of her two husbands is cut. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find Hamlet doing laundry. Claudius and his men then show up. Hamlet is driven to the airport. On the plane to England, he is watching a television. He asks the flight captain, "Good sir, whose powers are these?" He responds, "The nephew to old Norway, Fortinbras." But it's not like there is an army on the television screen, so what is he talking about? And then Hamlet does his "How all occasions do inform against me" speech as he walks down the aisle of the plane.
Gertrude is embarrassed by Ophelia's madness. And Laertes enters immediately after Ophelia is dragged out by security. But then Ophelia is there again - how? She has Polaroid photos, not flowers. This scene really doesn't work at all. Claudius gets a fax from Hamlet, instead of a messenger delivering letters. When Claudius asks Laertes what he would undertake for his father, before Laertes can reply, Gertrude appears to relate Ophelia's death. So cut is the description of what Claudius and Laertes plan to do. Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death is cut, because of course she drowned in a pool, not a river.
Hamlet arrives at the airport and is met by Horatio. They ride on Horatio's motorcycle, and stop at the cemetery for no reason whatsoever (unless Horatio somehow knew of Ophelia's death). The Gravedigger is singing Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower." But then we don't get the gravedigger scene. Hamlet and Horatio walk right past him to Ophelia's funeral, which is already in progress. How can you cut the gravedigger scene from Hamlet? And then why tease us by having him there at all? Another terrible choice in a film of many terrible choices. Hamlet reaches his hand down and helps Laertes out of the grave instead of jumping in himself. When Hamlet tells Horatio about how he learned of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's betrayal, we see the scene. Hamlet changed the names in an email, so nothing to do with the king's seal. Osric doesn't show up; instead a fax arrives, and Horatio reads it. During the "sparrow" speech the Ghost shows up again.
Then we see Claudius putting poison in the cup, while saying, "Hamlet, this pearl is thine." That doesn't make sense, as there's been no mention of the pearl before this. Laertes does not respond to Hamlet's apology, but turns from him and says, "Give us the foils." A poor choice, which was also done in Olivier's film. Laertes chooses a foil, and Claudius gives him a nod, indicating that must be the right one. But then Laertes says, "This is too heavy. Let me see another." He takes another one, and Claudius seems worried. So has Laertes changed his mind about killing Hamlet? Of course, we never heard the plan of the poisoned, unbated blade anyway, so this would be terribly confusing to anyone who hadn't read the play. Hamlet and Laertes fight on the roof, and have ropes attached to them. Osric is present in this scene, and is played by Paul Bartel, which is cool. Cut are Claudius' lines about the pearl and about him drinking "If Hamlet give the first or second hit." Gertrude looks suspiciously at the wine. And after Hamlet gets the second hit, Claudius goes to give him the wine. Gertrude hurries to stop him, gets in between them and tells Hamlet to take her napkin to wipe his brow. She then grabs the cup and drinks from it and says directly to Claudius, "I pray you, pardon me" - an interesting choice. Then Laertes lifts a gun and shoots Hamlet, and somehow himself too, all while Gertrude is still alive. That really makes no sense. So why the bit about choosing the foils if the plan had been to shoot him? And so even the sword fight is dull and brief. Laertes tells Hamlet, "Thy mother's poisoned. The king is to blame," and hands Hamlet his gun. Horatio helps Hamlet up and Hamlet shoots Claudius. So he doesn't feed him the poison, as in the play. And there was no poison on Laertes' foil. Nor was it unbated. A fucking awful ending. After Horatio's famous line, the film cuts to a television screen. On it a newscaster says, "This quarry cries on havoc..." His last line, and the last line of the film, is "Our thoughts are ours. Their ends, none of our own." That is a line from Act III Scene ii, and is spoken by one of the players. And then we see that line on the teleprompter. Ha ha, get it? His thought wasn't his own at all. So clever. What nonsense. (time: 113 minutes)

Related Films:

- Hamlet 2 (2008) with Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler; directed by Andrew Fleming. This film is about a high school drama teacher who puts on a play that he's written in an effort to save the drama department. The play is a sequel to Hamlet, appropriately titled Hamlet 2, and in it Hamlet uses a time machine to save Gertrude and then Ophelia. He rescues Ophelia from the river, gives her CPR, and then proposes. Hamlet gets a little help from sexy Jesus. This film also has a reference to A Midsummer Night's Dream. (time: 92 minutes)

- Hamlet: An Actor's Journey (2003) This short film is an interview with Mel Gibson about playing Hamlet, and contains some interesting stuff. Mixed in are moments from the film and a bit of behind-the-scenes footage. (time: 12 minutes)

- Mel Gibson: To Be Or Not To Be This documentary includes a lot of great footage, including footage of Mel Gibson showing his parents around the set, as well as footage of the table read and lots of behind-the-scenes stuff. The film is of course focused on Mel Gibson, who also narrates, but there are also interviews with Helena Bonham-Carter and Glenn Close. And a good portion of the film focuses on that most famous soliloquy. (time: 51 minutes)

- Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Iain Glen, Donald Sumpter; written and directed by Tom Stoppard. This film tells the tale of Hamlet, sort of, from the perspective of two of its supporting characters. So we actually get quite a lot of dialogue from the play, but the focus is on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, not Hamlet. It opens with Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth) riding across the land, presumably on their way to Elsinore. But it's as if they are trapped in time, with little memory, until they recall they've been sent for. Along the way, they come across the players. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern even get their own names wrong when introducing themselves to the players. The players suddenly disappear, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves at Elsinore. Or is it merely a play, for pages blow across the floor? Claudius and Gertrude enter, and we are in Act II Scene ii of Hamlet. Gertrude's first line, "Good gentlemen, he hath much talk'd of you," is done with a great pause before the word "gentlemen," as if she is trying to recall their names and can't - an interesting choice when it is she who later corrects Claudius' mistaking of one for the other. We get a bit of the dialogue between Polonius and Claudius, then between Claudius and Gertrude, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern see it. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play a game about their identities, the players arrive. Guildenstern wanders, and overhears Polonius speaking with Claudius ("I have a daughter"), and hears Polonius read the letter. And we see a bit of the scene between Polonius and Hamlet (the "fishmonger" scene). There is a great scene wherein Rosencrantz and Guildenstern completely work out why Hamlet is acting strangely before even talking with Hamlet. Then we get the "except my life" bit, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. And Hamlet of course confuses the two. We get most of the scene, though after Hamlet's line about "bad dreams," he goes right into, "But, in the beaten way of friendship." After Hamlet's "I will tell you why," time oddly passes. Then rather then go into his bit about losing all his mirth, he jumps upon the table and actually recite lines from one of the players: "Anon, he finds him/Striking too short at Greeks; his antique sword,/Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,/Repugnant to command" (from later in Act II Scene ii). Then he goes into his "mirth" line, and into "What a piece of work is man." Polonius enters, and Hamlet and Polonius then exit together, as Polonius lists the theatrical types, leaving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern alone. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern see a bit of the First Player's speech. The next day Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak with the First Player, who seems to know more about what's happening. Then there is a scene where the players are putting on another play, not for the court, but for the commoners. And it is indeed the play of Hamlet. First Player acts as Hamlet in a scene that has not yet happened - where he confronts Gertrude with the images of her two husbands, and stabs Polonius through the curtain. Then they enact Ophelia's drowning and funeral, and the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. It's all done in dumb show, and it's fantastic. Afterwards, First Player asks Guildenstern, "Are you familiar with this play?" Guildenstern says, "No." First Player says, "A slaughterhouse. Eight corpses, all told." Guildenstern says, "Six." First Player corrects him, "Eight." The other two, of course, being Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We then have the scene where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report to the king what they've learned. Meanwhile Hamlet is at his father's tomb, doing the famous soliloquy. Oddly, everyone is nearby to see this - Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia. We get the beginning of the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern watch a rehearsal of the dumb show. Ophelia and Hamlet interrupt, with Hamlet pushing Ophelia down, saying, "no mo marriages." Hamlet then turns to the players who represent Claudius and Gertrude and says his "all but one" line to them - an interesting take. And we get the play. It's done in an incredibly interesting fashion, with players suddenly being replaced by the real people. When everyone leaves, following the king, Rosencrantz says, "It wasn't that bad." Hamlet plays a recorder, and we get the scene with Polonius and Hamlet. But sadly we don't get the great bit when Hamlet confronts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the pipe, which I think is the best Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scene in Hamlet. Why cut that from a film that focuses on those two characters? It makes no sense, except that that scene would show them in a bad light, and this film has avoided doing so. Anyway, Claudius gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their orders to go to England. Somehow Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wander into the scene between Hamlet and Gertrude, and find themselves behind the arras with Polonius. After Polonius' death, it cuts to them on the boat to England. Rosencrantz says, "I can't think of anything original. I'm only good in support." A joke about their being supporting characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern open the letter to the king of England and read it, which Hamlet overhears (thus reversing their roles a bit). We see Hamlet writing the new latter and switching the two. And then the pirates attack, and somehow the players are on the boat. Hamlet jumps aboard the pirate ship. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to decide what to do now that Hamlet is gone. The player appears as the king of England, and they hand him the letter. The ambassador from England shows up at court to say that "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead." And the film ends with the players packing up and continuing on their way. (time: 118 minutes)

- To Be On Camera: A History With Hamlet (1997) This is a short film on the making of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, and it features interviews with Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, John Gielgud and others. It also shows some behind-the-scenes footage. (time: 25 minutes)

Films With References To This Play
- The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (1953) with Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried and Tommy Rettig; directed by Roy Rowland. This strange children's movie about a boy who doesn't want to learn the piano has a wonderful reference to Hamlet. When Dr. T picks up the severed ends of the beards, he says, "Alas, poor Judson. Alas, poor Whitney. I knew them. Fellows of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." Compare to lines 169 to 171 of Act V Scene i: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." Also, Dr. T is wearing yellow stockings near the end, like Malvolio, but that might not be an intentional reference.
- The Big Lebowski (1998) with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi; written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen; directed by Joel Coen. This wonderful film has one brief reference to Hamlet. Walter (John Goodman), about to spread Donny's ashes at the ocean, says, "Good night, sweet prince." (time: 98 minutes)
- Billy Madison (1995) with Adam Sandler, Bradley Whitford, Bridgette Wilson, Norm MacDonald; directed by Tamra Davis. This largely stupid but occasionally hilarious film about a guy who has to repeat all twelve grades of school in order to inherit his father's company has a reference to Hamlet. During the academic decathalon near the end of the film, Eric (Bradley Whitford) reads, "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 -" And Billy (Adam Sandler) interrupts him, dressed in Elizabethan garb and carrying a skull. He says (without reading from the play), "Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. To die, to sleep no more." Then, a little later, "Shakespeare" is one of the categories on the board in the game show-like scene.
- Black Sheep (1996) with Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson; directed by Penelope Spheeris. This generally awful comedy surprisingly includes a reference to Hamlet. Governor Tracy is speaking to a man who has incriminating photos. She says, "Here's the rub. You'll have to tell me your name so I'll know who to make the check out to."
- Came The Brawn (1938) a Little Rascals short film directed by Gordon Douglas. Alfalfa is trying to come up with someone to play the Masked Marvel, someone he can beat in the wrestling ring. In walks Waldo, a nerdy kid, reading aloud from Julius Caesar. Then, in a later scene, the nerdy kid - now dressed as the Masked Marvel - is reading aloud from Hamlet. He only manages to say, "Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer -" before Butch interrupts him, saying, "All right, Shakespeare, can the chatter and hand over that wrestling suit."
- Clueless (1995) with Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Jeremy Sisto; written and directed by Amy Heckerling. This film has a Hamlet reference, and actually a reference specifically to Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film version of Hamlet. Josh (Paul Rudd) rescues Cher (Alicia Silverstone) from the valley, and in the car on the way home, Heather (Josh's girlfriend) says, "It's just like Hamlet said, 'To thine own self be true.'" Cher, in the back seat, says, "No, Hamlet didn't say that." Heather, feeling superior, replies, "I think that I remember Hamlet accurately." Cher says, "Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn't say that. That Polonius guy did."
- Cutthroat Island (1995) with Geena Davis, Matthew Modine, Frank Langella; directed by Renny Harlin. This pirate movie has one Shakespeare reference. The film's villain, Dawg (Frank Langella), is following his niece Morgan's pirate ship. Realizing the trap Morgan is trying to set for him, he decides to go around it. He says, "Uncle Dawg will have his day," a reference to Hamlet's line "The cat will mew and dog will have his day" in Hamlet, Act V Scene i.
- The Fear Chamber (2009) with Richard Tyson, Rhett Giles, and Steven Williams; directed by Kevin Carraway. This messy horror film about a serial killer who harvests organs to give to children in Africa has a reference to Hamlet. Toward the end, the killer says, "Good night, sweet prince" to the detective after he knocks him out. In Act V Scene ii, lines 370-371, of Hamlet, Horatio says, "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince/And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"
- Gnomio & Juliet (2011) with James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Matt Lucas, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ashley Jensen; directed by Kelly Asbury. This animated film features the tale of Romeo And Juliet as portrayed by garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments. So while obviously this film is mostly Romeo And Juliet, it does contain references to other Shakespeare plays, including Hamlet. The Capulets and Montagues live in houses right next to each other on Verona Drive. The blue house, owned by Miss Montague, is 2B Verona Dr., and the red house, owned by Mr. Capulet, is not 2B (the "2B" being crossed out). Nanette leads Gnomeo out through the gate, and it is she who says, "Parting is such sweet sorrow." But before that she sort of quotes from Hamlet: "Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of angels, or pigeons or sparrows or whatever." There is another terrible Elton John song about love called "Love Builds A Garden," which plays during a flashback of the flamingo's love being taken away in a moving truck. The moving company, by the way, is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Movers. (time 84 minutes)
- Hair (1979) with John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo, Annie Golden; directed by Milos Forman. This wonderful musical includes a reference to Hamlet. When George Berger (Treat Williams), having taken the place of Claude Bukowski (John Savage) in the army, sings the reprise of "Manchester England" during "The Flesh Failures," other voices sing, "The rest is silence." That, of course, is Hamlet's last line in the play, and indeed this is the last we see of Berger. There is actually another, much larger reference to Hamlet in the stage version of Hair. They sing Hamlet's "What A Piece Of Work Is Man" speech, a song that didn't make it to the film. That song begins with the line "What a piece of work is man," and goes through "the paragon of animals," then goes back to the line "I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth" and then goes through "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors." It then repeats "What a piece of work is man/How noble in reason." (And at the end of the film, there is this credit: "Originally produced by The New York Shakespeare Festival Theatre.") (time: 121 minutes)
- Husbands And Wives (1992) with Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack; written directed by Woody Allen. In this, one of Woody Allen's many excellent films, Sally (Judy Davis) says to Judy Roth (Mia Farrow), "It's like Hamlet and Oedipus. You were angry that night because I did what you really want to do." Judy responds, "You're over-dramatising." They were talking about how Sally had split up with her husband and is enjoying being single.
- A King In New York (1957) with Charles Chaplin, Oliver Johnston, Dawn Adams, Michael Chaplin; written and directed by Charles Chaplin. Hamlet plays an important part in this comedy about a king who flees to the United States. King Shahdov (Charles Chaplin) is at a dinner, seated next to an attractive woman named Ann Kay who has just done a deodorant commercial to a hidden camera. She then says to King Shahdov, "And I know that your Majesty is a wonderful actor, and that you have played Hamlet." King Shahdov replies, "Oh, I've dabbled in private theatricals." Ann says, "I'd give anything to see your Hamlet." King Shahdov says, "Maybe you will one night." Ann says, "Why not tonight?" He responds, "Okay, a private performance. To be or not to be." Ann then announces to everyone at the table that "His Majesty King Shahdov has graciously consented to give us Hamlet's To Be Or Not To Be." They applaud. King Shadov stands, and goes into the speech. At "There's the rub," the scene switches to his hotel room where his ambassador is watching television. And on the screen is the king continuing the speech, up through "puzzles the will." The scene then shifts back to the dinner for the rest of the speech. Then, back on the television, the announcer says, "You've just heard a recital of Hamlet by His Majesty King Shadov. We will now return to Ann Kay's Real Life Surprise Party after station identification." Later, his ambassador says they should return to Europe. He says, "After what's happened, no businessman will take you seriously." The king asks, "Why?" The ambassador responds, "Your Majesty, a king playing Hamlet on television. They'll question your sanity." A wonderful play on Hamlet's supposed madness.
- L.A. Story (1991) with Steve Martin, Victoria Tennant, Richard E. Grant, Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker; written by Steve Martin; directed by Mick Jackson. This beautiful and magical and hilarious comedy has several references to Shakespeare. The first two are reference to Richard The Second and Macbeth. But the rest are references to Hamlet. Harris (Steve Martin) takes Sara (Victoria Tennant) on a tour of Los Angeles. They go to the cemetery. Harris tells her, "Lots of famous people are buried here. Rocky Marciano, Benny Goodman, and, of course, William Shakespeare." On screen we see Shakespeare's gravestone, which says, "William Shakespeare. Born 1564. Died 1616. Lived In Los Angeles 1612 - 1614." Harris says, "I think he wrote Hamlet, Part 8: The Revenge here." And then we get a variation of basically the entire gravedigger scene. Harris and Sara come upon a gravedigger in a grave. Harris asks, "Whose grave is this?" The gravedigger replies, "Mine." Sara says, "No, I think he means who's going to be buried here? What's his name?" The gravedigger responds, "It's not a he, Miss." Harris says, "All right, all right, she." The gravedigger says, "Not a woman either." Harris looks at Sara, confused. The gravedigger explains, "Used to be a woman. Now she's dead." Harris says, "Finally, a funny gravedigger." The gravedigger says, "Want to know how long it takes a body to rot?" Harris says sarcastically, "Boy, do we." And this is where the scene becomes a bit more specific to Los Angeles. The gravedigger says, "Well, if they're not already rotten before they die, eight or nine years. Some of them Beverly Hills women, though, they'll last you twelve years, they will." Harris asks, "How come?" The gravedigger says, "Well, their skin is so tan. It's all stretched and polished up like a bloody shoe. That'll keep the water out. And water's the thing that'll ruin a perfectly good dead body, it will. Also, they got them extra parts. You know, some of that stuff, it's not biodegradable." The gravedigger then reaches down and picks up a skull. He continues, "Now here's a bloke that's been around for thirty-five years, I bet." Harris asks, "Who was he?" The gravedigger responds, "That there's a magician. The Great Blunderman. Not so great now, is he?" Harris squats down and takes the skull. He says, "Great Blunderman. I knew him. He was a funny guy. Taught me magic." Sara asks, "A fellow of infinite jest?" Harris says, "Yeah." The gravedigger says, "That's it." Sara now quotes the play directly: "He hath born me on his back a thousand times." The gravedigger says, "She knows. She's got it." Sara says, "Where be your jibes now, your flashes of merriment that would set the table on a roar?" Harris turns to her and says, "Ordinarily I don't like to be around interesting people because it means I have to be interesting too." It's a really interesting scene, because clearly the gravedigger knows perfectly well that he's doing Hamlet, and is excited when Sara catches on. But those aren't the only references to Hamlet in this film. At the end, the magical road sign (yes, there is a magical road sign) says, "There are more things n Heaven and Earth Harris than are dreamt of n your philosophy." (It uses just an "n" instead of the word "in," as the sign likes to save letters.) That is a line that Hamlet says to Horatio in Act I Scene v.
- The Lady And The The Highwayman (1989) with Hugh Grant, Emma Samms, Oliver Reed, Claire Bloom, Michael York; directed by John Hough. This film, which takes place in the 17th century, has a reference to Hamlet. The scheming Rudolph Vyne (played by Christopher Cazenove), who wishes to be a duke, says, "Dear Barbara, don't look so pale. I'm not asking for a loan. You remember what sweet Will Shakespeare said. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. For neither side is happy with the interest rates." The actual lines, from Act I Scene iii, are, "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;/For loan oft loses both itself and a friend,/And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry."
- The Muppets (2011) with Jason Segel, Amy Adams; directed by James Bobin. In what is by far the best Muppet movie since the original three, Walter tells Gonzo that he saw him recite Hamlet while jumping a motorcycle through a flaming hoop.
- My Darling Clementine (1946) with Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, Cathy Downs; directed by John Ford. This western about Wyatt Earp has a few Shakespeare references, including the famous soliloquy from Hamlet. In the scene after Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) has met Doc Holliday at a bar, Granville Thorndyke comes in, demanding service. Wyatt tells Doc, "That's the actor in tonight's show." Doc says, "Shakespeare in Tombstone." The bartender (off screen) says, "Coming right up, Mr. Shakespeare." Doc says to Earp, "Been a long time since I heard Shakespeare. How would you like to join me tonight, Marshall?" Later, while people are waiting for him to perform in the theatre, Thorndike is in a tavern, where he recites the "To be or not to be" speech to piano accompaniment. At "mortal coil," he is interrupted by a patron. Doc tells him to go on. At "bare bodkin," Thorndyke lifts a dagger. And at "weary life" he drops his dagger, not remembering the next line. Doc then continues the soliloquy, until a coughing fit sends him outside. Earp then tells Thorndyke, "They're waiting for you at the theatre, Mr. Thorndyke." Thorndyke replies, "Thank you, sir. Shakespeare was not meant for taverns." Then later, as Thorndyke is getting on a coach to leave town, he quotes from Hamlet again, saying "Good night, sweet prince."
- A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) with Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley; written and directed by Wes Craven. In this creepy horror film, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) goes to school the day after her friend was killed in her sleep. Nancy's teacher says, "What is seen is not always what is real. According to Shakespeare, there was something operating in nature, perhaps inside human nature itself, that was rotten. 'A canker,' as he put it. Now of course, Hamlet's response to this and to his mother's lies was to continually probe and dig. Just like the gravediggers, always trying to get beneath the surface. The same is true in a different way in Julius Caesar. John, will you go ahead please?" John, one of Nancy's classmates, stands up in front of the class and reads from his book (from Hamlet, not Julius Caesar): "In the most high and palmy state of Rome,/A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,/The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead/Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets./As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,/Disasters in the sun and the moist air/Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands" (Horatio's speech from Act I Scene i). (He says "moist air" rather than "moist star.") He trails off as Nancy sees her dead friend. When Nancy turns back to John, he is saying, in a weird whisper, "Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams," quoting from Act II Scene ii of Hamlet. It is a line Hamlet speaks to Rosencrantz. (time: 92 minutes)
- Outrageous Fortune (1987) with Shelley Long, Bette Midler, Peter Coyote, George Carlin; written by Leslie Dixon; directed by Arthur Hiller. This comedy is full of references to Hamlet. Obviously the title itself is a reference to the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy. The film opens with Lauren (Shelley Long) in a fencing class. Her opponent complains about having to do this. Lauren tells her, "If you want to do Shakespeare, Shakespearean people have duels." Her opponent says, "Not the women." Lauren replies, "It's my ambition to play Hamlet." She then has an audition to get into an acting class. In the lobby there is a Hamlet poster on the wall behind Sandy (Bette Midler). (There is also a King Lear poster.) When Sandy decides to wing an audition, Lauren berates her, saying you have to have a classical monologue prepared. She herself is going to do Ophelia's mad scene. Later, in the acting class, the teacher says to Sandy, "You will now perform for us, also without words, Hamlet's soliloquy." Sandy responds, "Who's that?" (Of course, the correct response would have been, "Which one?") The teachers says, "Hamlet. Hamlet. Shakespeare's Tragedy Of Hamlet." Much later Sandy mentions the play again: "Hamlet. How am I going to know Hamlet?" Lauren replies, "You really should if you're going to be an actress." And then, even later, Sandy says, "Aren't you dead yet?" Lauren answers, "Not 'til I play Hamlet." And at the end of the film she's on stage, being applauded, having just performed Hamlet. During the credits we hear Lauren and Sandy talking about Hamlet. Sandy says, "He's a wimp. I mean, look at him. He can't make up his mind about anything. He stands around all night and says, 'What'll I do? What'll I do? What'll I do?' Give me Romeo or Henry the Fifth. Now there's a guy I could boff." (time: 99 minutes)
- The Rebound (2009) with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Justin Bartha, Art Garfunkel; directed by Bart Freundlich. This romantic comedy about a woman and a younger man has a reference to Hamlet. On their first official date, Aram takes Sandy (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to his friend's acting showcase. They have to sit through the performances of forty-six actors doing scenes from plays and films. Of course, someone does the "To be or not to be" speech. He gets as far as "outrageous fortune," and then a piece of the set falls over.
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Plummer, Kim Cattrall; directed by Nicholas Meyer. In this, what is one of the best Star Trek films, there are many references to Shakespeare's works, including several to Hamlet. The first, of course, is the film's title. This is one of several films whose title is taken from Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech. The Enterprise is ordered to escort a Klingon ship to Earth. Kirk (William Shatner) invites the Klingons to dine aboard the Enterprise. Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) says, "I offer a toast. The undiscovered country. The future." They all repeat, "The undiscovered country." Spock then says, "Hamlet, Act III Scene i." Chancellor Gorkon says, "You've not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon." General Chang then says what I guess to be the Klingon translation of "To be or not to be." When the discussion gets heated, Uhura says, "General, are you fond of Shakespeare?" The Klingons are worried about the destruction of their culture. General Chang says, "To be or not to be. That is the question which preoccupies our people, Captain Kirk." Near the end of the film, when Chang sees the torpedo headed toward his cloaked ship he says, "To be or not to be." And at the end, Kirk says to the Chancellor's daughter, "Your father called the future the undiscovered country." This film also has references to Romeo And Juliet, Richard The Second, The First Part Of King Henry The Fourth, The Second Part Of King Henry The Fourth, Henry The Fifth, The Merchant Of Venice, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest.
- Student Bodies (1981) with with Kristen Riter, Matt Goldsby; directed by Mickey Rose. This horror comedy has a reference to Hamlet. Though it is the last day of school, one of the teachers says to her class, "Today we will discuss Shakespeare's Hamlet. Who was Hamlet?" A student responds, "His dog." The teacher says, "His dog?" The student jokes, "Wasn't he a great Dane?" The teacher tells him that is the stupidest answer she's ever received. She then continues, "Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. It is the story of a prince, the prince of Denmark, a melancholy man whose mother is sleeping with his uncle." A student says, "I can relate to that." The teacher continues, "And how does he solve this problem?" All the students say, "Murder." (time: 86 minutes)
- Swingers (1996) At the beginning of the film, Mike (Jon Favreau) and Rob (Ron Livingston) are having a conversation about Mike's girlfriend. Mike is talking about the possibility of her coming back. But Rob tells him, "See that's the thing is somehow they know not to come back until you really forget." Mike says, "There's the rub." Rob repeats, "There's the rub." This, of course, is a reference to the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy.
- Theater Of Blood (1973) with Vincent Price, Diana Rigg; directed by Douglas Hickox (my IMDB vote: 8) (In this movie, an actor kills his critics by methods from Shakespeare's plays. There are references to Julius Caesar, Troilus And Cressidea, Cymbeline, The Merchant Of Venice - in his version, Shylock does indeed get his bond - Richard III, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Henry VI Part I, Titus Andronicus, King Lear and Hamlet)
- What Dreams May Come (1998) with Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max Von Sydow; directed by Vincent Ward. This is one of the many films that takes its title from the "To be or not to be" speech in Hamlet. Apart from its title, this film has no direct references to Hamlet. Chris (Robin Williams) dies early in the film, and most of the film takes place after his death. The landscape seems like a dream, an obvious reference to Hamlet's famous soliloquy. Chris loved paintings, and his afterlife is composed of them. And though some critics insist the "To be or not to be" speech is not really about suicide, clearly Hamlet considers it (if not there, then earlier in the "too too solid flesh" speech). And this film deals also with suicide. Annie (Annabella Sciorra), depressed after her husband's death, kills herself. She does not join Chris in his heaven, but is sent somewhere else, where suicides go. And so the dreams that come for Annie are in line with what Hamlet feared when he said, "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil/Must give us pause." Chris goes on a quest to find her.

TV Programs With References To This Play
- Jeeves And Wooster (1990) At the beginning of the episode titled "Village Sports Day At Twing (Or, The Gambling Event)," Bertie Wooster (Hugh Laurie) is playing a song on the piano. He finds the song rather silly and says so to Jeeves (Stephen Fry). Jeeves suggests that he sing the rest of the lyric, and perhaps the song will begin to make sense. Wooster replieds, "Ah, now there's the rub, Jeeves. I don't know the rest of the lyric."
- Slings & Arrows (2003 - 2006) with Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Stephen Ouimette, Mark McKinney, Rachel McAdams. Obviously the show's very title comes from Hamlet's most famous soliloquy. Slings & Arrows is a show about a theatre company, and each season it focuses on one of Shakespeare's plays. The first season is Hamlet. (There are, however, references to several other Shakespeare plays, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Macbeth and Twelfth Night.)
In the first episode, "Oliver's Dream," the company is putting up A Midsummer Night's Dream. Oliver Wells (Stephen Ouimette) wishes the cast a good show. Kate (Rachel McAdams), a member of the cast, says she saw Oliver's Hamlet with Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) when she was twelve years old. A little later Oliver is watching television, and on the news Geoffrey is being arrested. They mention that he suffered a breakdown during a performance of Hamlet at the New Burbage Festival. By the way, the program's opening song is titled "Cheer Up Hamlet."
In the second episode, "Geoffrey's Return," Oliver's ghost talks to Geoffrey, much like Hamlet's father spoke to Hamlet. Before Oliver's funeral at the theatre, the guy setting up the microphones tests one of them by saying "To be or not to be." Geoffrey is hired as interim artistic director, and is asked to direct Hamlet. Also, as per Oliver's wishes, Geoffrey gets Oliver's skull to use in the production.
In the third episode, "Madness In Great Ones," Geoffrey walks onto the stage and suddenly is back in his production of Hamlet, during the Ghost scene. But it is Oliver's ghost who speaks to him. Later Geoffrey has a duel with the man he that was hired to direct the new production of Hamlet. Just before the duel he quotes Hamlet: "The readiness is all."
The title of the fourth episode is "Outrageous Fortune," itself another reference to the famous soliloquy, separated from the program's title only by the word "of." Anyway, in this episode Geoffrey asks Oliver about death. "What's it like, the undiscovered country," which is yet another reference to that same soliloquy. Geoffrey is wondering if it's a relief being dead, and Oliver also quotes the soliloquy in his lines, "Has death put an end to the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to? My knee doesn't bother me anymore." Geoffrey recites the "What a piece of work is man" speech as he enters the theatre to fire the play's director.
In the fifth episode, "A Mirror Up To Nature" (a title referring to Hamlet's line from Act II Scene ii, when he's giving the instructions to the players), we see a rehearsal of the "To be or not to be" speech.
In the sixth and final episode of the first season, titled "Playing The Swan," Geoffrey, while in his office, says "Oh my office is rank" (a reference to Claudius' line in Act III Scene iii). The final episode focuses on the opening night of the production of Hamlet. So we do see several good, but brief moments from the play.

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