Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Othello, The Moor Of Venice

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. April, 2012 was The Tragedy Of Othello, The Moor Of Venice. This blog entry has reviews of the films, and little blurbs about the books. (Scroll down for the film reviews.)

Related Books

- William Shakespeare's Othello edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom - This is a volume in the Modern Critical Interpretations series, and includes criticism by Stanley Cavell, Susan Snyder, Stephen Greenblatt, Mark Rose and others. In the introduction, Bloom writes, "A.C. Bradley's charming notion is still true: exchange Othello and Hamlet in one another's plays, and there would be no plays. Othello would chop Claudius down as soon as the ghost had convinced him, and Hamlet would have needed only a few moments to see through Iago, and to begin destroying him by overt parody" (pages 1-2). Anthony Hecht writes about how Othello is not just a Moor, but also a Christian. He writes, "There would, I venture to suppose, be something slightly galling to an Elizabethan audience in having a Moor lecture his gentile associates and subordinates on Christian behavior. If 'turn Turk' means 'turn renegade,' one wonders what this might have meant, coming from the mouth of a Moor, since the Moor himself must have turned renegade to become a Christian. He is, in all probability, a Morisco, or New Christian, a breed regarded without must trust by the Christian community at that time" (page 125). Published in 1987.

- Othello Character Studies by Nicholas Potter - This book begins with an overview of the play, then focuses on the characters of Othello, Iago and Desdemona. Only in a short chapter on "the minor characters" is Emilia really considered. In the chapter on Desdemona, Potter writes, "In the final scene Desdemona argues her case until she realizes that hope is lost when Othello tells her that Cassio is dead: 'Alas, he is betrayed, and I undone' (5.2.75). Does she realize that there is a plot against her? It would seem so. Her words, 'betrayed' of Cassio and 'undone' of herself, suggest that she sees that someone (does she realize that it is Iago? Her words are in response to Othello's 'his mouth is stopped. Honest Iago/Hath ta'en order for't' (5.2.71-72)) has plotted against them both, and suggest that she realizes also that Othello has been hoodwinked, because she never blames him" (page 105). Published in 2008.

- William Shakespeare's Othello adapted by Vincent Goodwin; illustrated by Chris Allen - This is a graphic novel adaptation of Othello. At fewer than fifty pages, it is but a bare outline of the play. In this version, Cassio slays Rodrigo in self-defense; Iago doesn't kill him. That's just wrong. And cut completely is the wonderful scene between Desdemona and Emilia - the "Willow song" scene. Published in 2009.

- Othello: A Contextual History by Virginia Mason Vaughan - Divided into two main sections, this book discusses first the social and political elements present at the time of the play's first performances - the Venetians and Turks, knights and mercenaries, the racial issue, and the relations between husbands and wives. In the introduction, Vaughan writes, "like England under Elizabeth and James, Venice needed military prowess but feared its subversive potential, disbanding its armies at each war's end. This ambivalence resulted in the Venetian practice of employing 'strangers,' condottiere, as a professional, standing army. The status of non-Venetian captains was necessarily ambiguous - vital to the state's safety, but seldom a fully accepted part of it. Othello is caught between the old ideals and the new professionalism; his adherence to a chivalric code of honor defintes his sense of 'occuptaiton' and makes him more vulnerable to the wiles of Iago, a perversion of the new military man" (page 5). In the chapter on knights and mercenaries, she writes, "Readers of Othello have long noted how the verbal irony in the phrase 'honest Iago' reverberates throughout the play. The phrase entails more than verbal irony, however. The Ensign, Elizabethan military treatises agree, must be selected for his honest, upright character. As the bearer of the company's standard, he must be a man the soldiers will trust and follow into battle" (page 43). In the chapter on husbands and wives, Vaughan writes, "Othello's passionate love, expressed on the Cyprus quay, is initially kept in check by Desdemona's matter-of-fact response and by the military business at hand. But the strength of his passion makes him vulnerable to Iago's insinuations; having invested so much of himself in this woman - 'My life upon her faith' - he is unraveled by the mere possibility of adultery" (pages 82-83). The second main section of the book focuses on the history of the play from the Restoration up through Trevor Nunn's 1989 production. In that section, an entire chapter is dedicated to the Orson Welles film. Published in 1994.

- The First Quarto Of Othello  edited by Scott McMillin  -  This is a volume in The Early Quartos series of The New Cambridge Shakespeare.  It contains an annotated edition of the First Quarto, as well as a nice long introduction.  One interesting tidbit in the introduction that isn't completely related to Othello is this: "The bookkeeper's function has been cast in a new light by the discovery at the reconstruction of the Globe in London that supplying lines to forgetful actors is virtually impossible in the configuration of the Elizabethan stage" (page 14).  McMillin also writes, "Once we give up the notion that prompt books were word perfect, Q1 begins to appear in a fresh light - not as a bundle of errors attributable to lazy scribes and slovenly compositors, and not as the first thoughts of a playwright who would deliver his second thoughts in time for F, but as a performable and lively playhouse script which can be staged as it stands, and probably was" (page 14). "The evidence we have reviewed, howoever, tilts towards a theatre script as the source for Q1" (page 14).  He also writes, "Not only was Q1 Othello published close to the time of the printing of the Folio, it was also the first Shakespeare play to be newly published in more than a decade (since the 1609 Quarto of Troilus And Cressida). In 1619, the King's Men had apparently entered a staying order in the Stationers' Register to prevent any of their plays from being published without their consent.  That Q1 Othello should then appear in 1622, while plans for the Folio edition must have been in the making, has aroused some suspicion" (page 15).  Later he discusses the punctuation in Q1: "One other unusual feature of the Q1 punctuation is that the vast majority of its verse line-endings are marked, usually with commas and often without respect to poetic enjambment" (page 23).  McMillin argues that Q1 was most likely set down by a scribe listening to a performance of the play.  He writes, "Lineation is hard to hear.  Especially in dialogue which varies from prose to verse and back again, a listening scribe is bound to copy in the wrong mode from time to time" (page 38).  Published in 2005.

- Phakespeare's Mothello  by Dilan MacHardy  -  This is a book for children in which Shakespeare's characters are moths and butterflies and ants and so on.  A choice of moth for Othello is interesting, because of course the word "moth" is uttered by Desdemona in Act I Scene iii: "So that, dear lords, if I be left behind/A moth of peace, and he go to war,/The rites for which I love him are bereft me."  In this telling of Othello, the Willow song is introduced early.  Mothello has just emerged from his cocoon and is learning to fly.  Desdemona, a butterfly, is singing that song, which is what draws Mothello to her (so clearly Desdemona is actually older than Mothello in thie version).  She then teaches him to fly, and actually says, "Just think happy thoughts, and you'll fly" (page 17).  Mothello goes and lives with the butterflies and tells stories of the cave where he lived.  He begins making up stories, stories which Brabantio loves.  Mothello is chosen to lead the army against the red ants, and he in turn chooses Cassio as his wingman ("It was one thing to have a foreigner in the top position. But to have foreigners in the top two positions was unheard of in Venus and immediately raised antennas in the military" - page 31). Imago (this rendition's Iago) is jealous of Mothello, as he wanted to be put in charge. Mothello and Desdemona get "airied," the butterfly version of married.  Mothello is often referred to as "The Moth" rather than "the Moor."  Finally, in Chapter 7, we get to Act I Scene i.  And then short quotations from the play are scattered throughout the rest of the book.  Imago tells Brabantio that "an ugly black moth is plucking your precious butterfly" (page 40), but includes "your daughter and the Moth are now making the beast with two backs" (page 42).  In this version, Mothello doesn't completely trust Imago from the start, which is an odd choice.  When Mothello and Brabantio arrive to see the Monarch, the Monarch says to Brabantio, "Welcome, sir, but we aren't in need of your services tonight" (page 48), a pointless change from the play.  Early on it's established that Mothello doesn't know much about battle.  So his lines to the Monarch don't make sense - "I know very little about the ways of Venus except those things relating to battle" (page 49).  Mothello hasn't yet been in battle.  So when he talks of the stories he told Desdemona, he's speaking of lies.  It's sort of an interesting take on Othello.  Are his tales at all true?  Iago at one point says they're not, so was Iago actually truthful in that moment?  In this book, the line from Othello that mentions the word moth is changed to "a so-called moth of peace" (page 56).  By the way, the author seems to be following the Folio rather than Q1, as the Monarch says they'll meet at "nine in the morning."  This book's "your son-in-law is far more colorful than black" doesn't really work nearly as well as "more fair than black."  The other definitions of "colorful" and "fair" don't exactly compare.  Instead of "cats and blind puppies," Imago tells Rodrigo to drown "gnats and blind fleas" (page 60).  Imago tells Rodrigo, "She will exchange him for a younger butterfly."  But it was established that Mothello is very young.  He just came out of his cocoon when he first met Desdemona, so she is older than he is.  Added in this telling of the tale is the whole thing about Mothello missing his family.  They were gone when he awoke from his cocoon.  So when he first sees the ants, he takes them for his family.  And he's taken prisoner, and of course saved by the ant that had acted as his mother.  When he's not paraphrasing Shakespeare, the author has the character speak in a very different voice - the mark of poor writing.  When Imago is questioning Mothello about Cassio and Desdemona, it doesn't really make sense.  Imago asks, "Did you know Cassio when you fell in love with Desdemona?"  Mothello answers, "Yeah" (page 86).  But that's not true in this version of the story.  Mothello met Desdemona first.  In this telling, it's a rose petal, not a handkerchief, that Mothello gives Desdemona.  And in this version it's clear that everything Mothello tells Desdemona about the petal is a lie.  For when he gives it to her, the author tells us he picked it from a rose bush just the day before.  Cassio rushes off to give Bianca the petal, then tells her to leave him because he's waiting for the general.  How can he in flight and waiting at the same time?  The author has a difficult time making Shakespeare's tale fit his butterfly world.  Throughout the book the author uses "antennas" as the plural form of "antenna," and then suddenly on page 121 he correctly writes "antennae," but does so only once ("antennas" would be correct if he were talking about television or radio antennas).  Instead of strangling Desdemona, Imago says Mothello should "drown her in the stream. The very stream she has infected" (page 122).  Published in 2008.

Film Versions:

- Othello (1981) with Anthony Hopkins, Bob Hoskins, Penelope Wilton, Rosemary Leach; directed by Jonathan Miller. This is an excellent production, starring one of my favorite black actors, Anthony Hopkins (The Human Stain), as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago. Both of them are perfect. This film also boasts excellent performances by Rosemary Leach as Emilia, David Yelland as Cassio, and Penelope Wilton as Desdemona. There are a couple of somewhat weaker performances, Geoffrey Chater as Brabantio and John Barron as Duke of Venice, but these characters are minor. This production seems to follow the First Folio, rather than the First Quarto. For example, in Act I Scene iii, Othello says "upon this hint" rather than "upon this heat." And the Duke, in the same scene, says, "At nine i' the morning" rather than "ten i' the morning." Interestingly, in Act II Scene i, after the gun is heard, Cassio says, "So speaks this voice. See for the news" - a combination of lines from Q1 and First Folio respectively. His "But hark! a sail" is cut, as is the Second Gentleman's lines. The actors speak all soliloquys to themselves, rather than to the camera, to us. This is the one fault I find with this production. It would be a much stronger choice for Iago to speak his asides and soliloquys to us, for he should be wooing us and bragging to us, getting us on his side. In Act IV Scene i, when Othello has his fit, Iago (behind him) jumps for joy. Later in that scene, when Iago and Cassio are talking about Bianca, we see it from Othello's perspective, which is interesting. This is when Othello thinks they're talking about Desdemona. Bianca (Wendy Morgan), by the way, is a bit of a hottie. But she's a bit much when she confronts Cassio, basically screaming all her lines: "This is some minx's token, and I must take out the work!" The scene with Desdemona and Emilia is wonderful, the "willow" scene. (However, I have to wonder, Is that Yorick's skull on Desdemona's table?) Emilia's speech at the end of that scene is perfect (I love her reading of "What is it that they do when they change us for others? Is it sport? I think it is"). I really like the way they staged Act V Scene i, when Iago gets Cassio and Rodrigo to fight. And the entire final scene is excellent. When Emilia rushes to Desdemona's bed, the staging is wonderful. On the left side of the screen, we see Othello in the hall just outside the room, in a bluish grey light. On the right of the screen, we see the reflections of Emilia and Desdemona in the framed mirror on the wall, with a candle on the table just in front of the mirror. And that shot is held while Emilia asks who has killed her and Desdemona answers, "Nobody. I myself." It is not until after Desdemona has died and Emilia has wept over her body and then exited to the hall that we leave that shot. And Emilia's reaction when Othello mentions the handkerchief is excellent, as is Iago's reaction. (time: 203 minutes)

- Othello (1922) with Emil Jannings; directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki. This is a silent film version. We're quickly introduced to Iago, Rodrigo and Desdemona. On a card Desdemona is referred to as "the toast of suitors from far and near." Then Othello enters. he card calls him "intellectual, tender, lofty; warlike, heroic, impetuous." There is quite a bit about appointing a lieutenant. We learn that Iago is expecting that honor. When Othello names Cassio, we see Iago's confused, shocked, angry face. Othello then approaches Desdemona, and Iago begins to think of revenge. Othello tells Cassio to protect Desdemona, but Desdemona leaves with the Moor. Then we go to Act I Scene i, where Iago calls to Brabantio from below his window, saying, "Thieves." We see Othello give Desdemona the handkerchief, the card telling us, "An Egyptian gave this handkerchief to my mother. There's magic in the web of it - and to lose it or give it away were such perdition as nothing else could match." Brabantio goes to the Duke, crying "My daughter." They ask, "Dead?" Othello arrives with Desdemona. Outside, there are crowd reactions. The crowd cheers Othello as he exits with Desdemona. Meanwhile Rodrido is threatening to drown himself, until Iago convinces him to travel with him to Cyprus.
Act II begins with shots of Othello and Cassio on one boat, and Desdemona and Emilia on another. Desdemona shows Emilia the handkerchief and says, "My dear husband gave this handkerchief to me and bade me hold it alway - for if I do lose it, or make a gift of it, that were perdition." Iago is spying on them, and so overhears this. Iago then tells Emilia to grab the handkerchief. It seems she agrees in order to receive some trinket that Iago has pulled out of his pocket. Once in Cyprus, there is some cute business with Othello teasing Desdemona and Emilia, and wrapping Emilia up in a curtain. Meanwhile, the people celebrate, being entertained by a sword swallower. And there is some weirdness with Iago, Rodrigo and a false nose. Iago is never really on his own - no soliloquys in a silent film - so he's basically stuck with Rodrigo, or with Emilia (we see quite a bit of Iago and Emilia together in this version). Iago by making only one comment about Cassio arouses Othello's jealousy. The quarrel between Cassio and Rodrigo is pretty silly. The stuff with Cassio bemoaning the loss of his reputation is included, and is a nice shot. Iago tells Emilia, "Cassio comes to Desdemona to ask her aid - Othello must not know." And it's then that Iago takes the handkerchief. Othello asks Emilia who was with his wife. Emilia, at Iago's urging, says "No one." Othello says, "Thou liest" and rushes to his wife, who is sewing. She tells him Cassio was there, and to call him back. Meanwhile Cyprus is being attacked. The governor urges Othello to help.
Rodrigo woos Desdemona from below her window. Othello hears it. Iago tells Emilia to shoo Rodrigo away. Othello chases Rodrigo away, but doesn't know who it is. Iago tells him it was Cassio. (This is obviously a deviation from the play.) And it's then that Desdemona can't find her handkerchief. Emilia, concerned, rushes to her husband to get it back to give to Desdemona, but he won't give it to her. We get a weird dream sequence - Othello imagining Cassio with Desdemona. Iago soothes Othello with the handkerchief, and tells him he found it at Cassio's. Othello then confronts Desdemona, asking for the handkerchief (Act III Scene iv). He then rushes from the room and tears the handkerchief apart with his teeth, which is cool. Othello then gets the message that he is to be sent home, and Cassio put in his place (Act IV Scene i). And Othello strikes Desdemona. Iago convinces Rodrigo to slay Cassio (Act V Scene i). Then Othello talks to Emilia (Act IV Scene ii), Emilia telling him Desdemona is honest and true. Othello actually grabs Emilia and throws her to the ground. Othello gives Iago a blade and bids him to kill Desdemona for him. But then he stops him and enters her chamber himself. Emilia rishes in just as Othello finishes strangling her. (Desdemona is not still alive in this production, so no dialogue between the two women.) Iago then enters. Othello lifts the blade in his right hand, as if to kill him. We see Iago's frightened reaction. And then it's unclear just what happens. It looks as if Iago has been stabbed - he falls out of frame - but when he does, we see that Othello has no blade in his hand. Where did it go? But anyway, in this production, Iago is killed, which is really weird. Othello exits he bedroom as the men arrive to say Cassio rules in Cyprus. Cassio is bandaged - from the fight which we didn't see. Othello then returns to the bedroom. The crowd outside is upset that Othello is arrested. Othello dies next to Desdemona. The film ends with Cassio addressing the crowd, "Othello is dead."

- Othello (1965) with Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Joyce Redman; directed by Stuart Burge. This is an incredible production, with only one major fault (that being a cut toward the end of the play). The first act starts with Rodrigo's line, "Thou told'st me thou did'st hold him in thy hate" (so the first few lines of the play are cut). I love Frank Finlay's delivery of "I am not what I am." Most of the beginning of Act I Scene iii is cut before Brabantio's entrance. Othello (Laurence Olivier) looks at Brabantio on "Her father lov'd me; often invited me." This production seems to follow the First Folio, as Othello says "upon this hint" rather than "upon this heat." Iago's soliloquy is done partly to himself, but then he faces the camera and looks directly at us at times. On "Hell and night.Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light," the lights fade, first in the background, then on Iago.
Act II begins with the sound of thunder. The word play between Desdemona and Iago is completely cut. Iago is on the left side of the screen, in closeup, when he speaks his aside about Cassio, this time facing Cassio and Desdemona (who are on the right side of the screen in the background) rather than to us. In his next big soliloquy he begins speaking as if to himself, but then turns to the camnera on "Now I do love her too." That short scene with the herald is cut (Act II Scene ii). Iago's aside about getting Cassio drunk is done to himself, while facing the direction where Cassio went. There are women in the drinking scene. Bianca is there, hanging on Cassio. Cassio kisses her after his bit about being saved before Iago. Then he stops kissing her, so his "no more of this" is about kissing. Edward Hardwicke is really good as Montano. The entire drunk scene and quarrel is done really well. Iago takes Cassio's sword before asking if he's hurt - a nice touch. After "soliciting his wife," Iago makes the sign of the cuckold, horns on his head.
In Act III, Cassio kisses Desdemona's hand before taking his leave, which causes Iago's comment, "Ha! I like not that." Othello laughs off Iago's comment about it not being Cassio who "would steal away so guilty-like." Olivier is fantastic in the scene with Iago when he asks what he thinks of Cassio. Othello's soliloquy is done to himself. There is an intermission before Act III Scene iv, which on the DVD is just a few seconds. The Clown is cut from the beginning of Act III Scene iv.
In Act IV, after Othello collapses, Iago says, "Work on./My medicine, work." However, his next line is cut - "Thus credulous fools are caught..." After Desdemona says "O these men, these men," it cuts to Act V. I can't believe they cut the rest of the dialogue between Desdemona and Emilia, including Emilia's great speech. That is a fault. How can you cut the part where Desdemona asks if there are women who abuse their husbands? It's one of the best scenes in the play, and losing it is the one great fault of this production.
In Act V, Cassio is not carried in on a chair, but walks in with a crutch. At the end, after everyone who is alive has exited, there is a slow pull-out, showing the bodies on the bed.
(time: 166 minutes)

- O (2001) with Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, Rain Phoenix, John Heard, Martin Sheen; screenplay by Brad Kaaya; directed by Tim Blake Nelson. This adaptation of Othello sets the play in the world of high school basketball, with Othello, Cassio and Iago as players on the same team. It surprisingly sticks fairly close to Shakespeare's play. Othello is named Odin, and is the star basketball player of the team. Iago, named Hugo in this version, is jealous of the attention Odin receives at the end of the game, particularly because the coach, named Coach Duke Goulding (played by Martin Sheen), is Hugo's father. And when presenting Odin with the most valuable player plaque, Coach says of Odin, "I love him like my own son." Odin says he couldn't have won these games without the help of his teammate Michael (the one name not really changed from the play - in the play he is Michael Cassio). And Hugo is jealous and hurt that Odin singled out Michael over him. So Hugo's motivation is this jealousy; there is no mention of the rumor that Odin has slept with Hugo's girlfriend, Emily (Emilia in the play). And he begins plotting by telling Roger (Rodrigo in the play) that he can help him get a date with Desi, Odin's girlfriend (Desdemona in the play).
And then we go to Act I Scene i of the play, with Hugo and Roger outside Desi's house. Roger calls Desi's father, Dean Brabel (Brabantio in the play), who happens to be the dean of school (played by John Heard) and tells him someone stole his daughter. Then Dean Brabel talks to Coach and Odin in his office. Brabel thinks that Odin forced himself on his daughter. Odin says, "If Desi says I did anything even close to wrong to her, I'll leave the goddamned school, okay?" In the play, he offers his life. So then Desi comes in. She tells her dad that Odin and she have been together for four months. When he asks, what do you mean together, she says it's none of his business (a bit of a deviation from the respect that Desdemona shows her father in the play). Brabel tells Odin, "She deceived me. What makes you think she won't do the same to you?" As in the play. Desi is friends and roommates with Emily, who is Hugo's girlfriend. Unlike in the play, Desi admits that she doesn't trust Hugo. Odin climbs in through the window and gives Desi the handkerchief (called a scarf in this version), telling her it was his great-grandmother's. Desi asks Odin how he got the scar on his back, and tells him he has the best stories (a reference to Othello's speech to the Duke and Brabantio about how he won Desdemona's love).
We then get the drunk scene - Hugo gets Michael drunk, and tells Roger to pick a fight with him to get Desi's attention. And Roger ends up getting hurt. So Coach asks Hugo if Michael threw the first punch. Hugo reluctantly admits it, but adds it wasn't his fault. So it's the coach who tells him he's out for at least two games. In the play, of course, it's Othello himself who tells Cassio he's no longer officer of his. The stakes aren't quite as high in this version; after all, being suspended for two games isn't that big of a deal. We do get the "reputation" scene, where Michael cares about it. Hugo tells Michael to get Desi to talk to Odin, and Odin will get the coach to put him back on the team. So it's one removed from the play. During a basketball game, Michael sits next to Desi and when they win, Odin sees Michael and Desi hugging. He seems a little concerned, the first hints of jealousy.
Odin tells Hugo he's going to talk to Coach about getting Michael back on the team, which leads to Hugo asking Odin if Michael knew that he and Desi were getting together. Odin tells him that he knew, that Michael was kind of the one that got them together. Hugo asks Odin if he trusts Michael. Odin tells him to say what he needs to say. Hugo tells Odin to watch her, to see if she spends time with Michael. Again, this is sticking very close to the play. When Desi drops the handkerchief, Emily looks at it. Emily then gives Hugo the handkerchief. Hugo tells her he's going to use it just for a little prank. There is then a sex scene with Odin and Desi, with Odin beginning to think she might not be faithful, that she's not acting like a virgin. Then we actually get a reference to another Shakespeare play. In a classroom scene, the teacher is discussing Macbeth, Act I Scene vii. On the blackboard is written Lady Macbeth's line, "How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me" (with the stressed syllables marked). During class, Hugo leans forward to ask Odin if he'd given Desi a scarf, and to tell him he thinks he saw Michael with it. The teacher then interrupts them and says, "Would either of you care to name one of Shakespeare's poems for me." Hugo responds, "I thought he wrote movies." It's a little odd to have a self-referential line in such a serious film, this obviously being a film based on one of Shakespeare's works. An odd choice that pulls you out of the film, at least briefly. They do bring race into the story, with Desi telling Emily about how Odin got rough during sex, and then based on Emily's reaction, says, "Would you be so concerned if he was white?" Seems a bit forced. (A side note: if you put the subtitles on, the line is given as grammatically correct: "Would you be so concerned if he were white?") Odin arrives. Desi says Michael was looking for him. Odin asks about the scarf, so Desi goes to get it, and it's then she realizes it's missing. In the play, Desdemona knows it's missing before Othello mentions it. Odin attacks Michael during basketball practice. Michael and his friend Jason torment Roger before a slam dunk contest. This scene is quite a deviation from the play, as far as Michael's character is concerned. Cassio is no bully. Odin acts like a jerk during the contest.
Hugo gives him some cocaine. However, Odin already got some from Hugo's connection, so Hugo giving him drugs isn't as powerful a moment as it could have been. Then we get the eavesdropping scene. Hugo says something about Desi, then whispers to Michael, "If you could just handler her the way you handle Brandy, then you'd be in business." The only problem is we haven't really been introduced to Brandy (Bianca in the play). Brandy arrives with the scarf, and gives it back to Michael. Hugo plans to have Odin kill Desi and set up Michael, then have Roger kill Michael but have it look like suicide. This is different from the play, obviously.
Roger wounds Michael in the leg instead of killing him. Hugo then shoots and kills Roger. Brandy shows up, but then drives away. While Odin strangles Desi, he tells her, "Go to sleep." Emily arrives, but Desi is already dead (so they don't have that dialogue that they do in the play). Hugo arrives. Emily tells Odin the truth of the scarf. And Hugo shoots her. Odin picks up the gun and tells Jason - who has also arrived - to ask Hugo why he did it. Hugo says, "You won't ask me nothing. I did what I did, and that's all you need to know. From here on out I say nothing" (a variation of Iago's lines, "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word"). Odin shoots himself while Hugo watches. Hugo is then arrested. Desi's father rushes in (a deviation from the play, in which Desdemona's father has died before the play's end). (time: 94 minutes)

- Shakespeare The Animated Tales: Othello (1994) with Colin McFarlane, Gerard McSorley, Philip Franks, Sian Thomas; screenplay by Leon Garfield; directed by Nikolai Serebryakov. This animated adaptation of Othello is only twenty-five minutes long, so it definitely rushes through the story. It begins with a voice over telling us that Othello married Desdemona in secret, but this production does not rely too heavily on voice over, which is good. What is surprising is that for an animated film, it doesn't shy away too much from the violence or the racier language. For example, in Act I Scene i, Iago tells Brabantio that a "black ram is tupping your white ewe" and he does say "the beast with two backs." And later we do get the lines "with her, on her, what you will" and "that cunning whore of Venice." The willow song is included, and the song ends that scene, so Emilia's great speech is cut. When Othello says "put out the light," he puts his hand into the flame. We don't see the actual murder of Desdemona. And when Emilia enters, Desdemona is still alive, as in the play, so we get their dialogue. We do see Iago stab Emilia. Iago says, "What you know you know," but his line about not speaking again is cut. This production ends with Othello saying "to die upon a kiss." (time: 25 minutes)

- Othello (1990) with Willard White, Ian McKellen, Sean Baker, Imogen Stubbs, Zoe Wanamaker, Clive Swift; directed by Trevor Nunn. This production by the Royal Shakespeare Company is excellent (apart from the incessant cricket sounds in the sound design whenever the action is outside). It is set in more modern times, maybe early 1900s or late 1800s. In Act I Scene i, Iago (Ian McKellen) smokes before "I am not what I am." Rodrigo doesn't call loudly enough to Brabantio, which leads Iago to step in and shout his lines. It is great to see the beginning of Scene iii, which is often cut. And I love Clive Swift as Brabantio. This production seems to favor the First Quarto over the First Folio whenever a choice between the two is presented. Except of course Othello says "upon this hint" rather than "upon this heat," preferring the Folio reading. Desdemona gives Brabantio a hug after "come hither, gentle mistress." Imogen Stubbs seems a bit boyish as Desdemona in her first scene, with the hood up. Desdemona's lines "To my unfolding lend your prosperous ear,/And let me find a charter in your voice/T'assist my simpleness" are cut. Othello says "Of feathered Cupid foils with wanton dullness," choosing Q1's reading over the Folio reading of "Cupid seel." Likewise, the Duke says "At ten i' the morning" rather than the Folio's "nine i' the morning" (letting Othello get an extra hour's sleep). When Brabantio tells Othello that Desdemona may deceive him, we see Desdemona between them in the background. Rodrigo pouts like a child, pounding his fists on his thighs and then on the floor. Iago says, "Put money in your purse" rather than "thy purse" every time he repeats it. An odd choice, especially as he says "thou" and "thee." And, of course, it's "thy" in both Q1 and Folio. Iago's soliloquy is spoken to us, to the camera.
At the beginning of Act II, the sounds of the storm are so loud that we nearly lose a couple of lines. Cassio says, "So speaks this voice," the Q1 reading. During the beginning of the word play between Desdemona and Iago, Iago steps on a case as if onto a stage. Desdemona cries and Cassio comforts her during a quiet pause while waiting for Othello - a nice moment, which leads to Iago's aside to us. Iago says, "whose qualification shall come into no true trust again," the Q1 reading ("true taste" is in the Folio). The herald is included in this production (Act II Scene ii), with military folks standing at attention. In Scene iii, Iago watches the beginning of the scene before entering. Iago falls asleep at the end of his soliloquy. And then it's later that Rodrigo enters - an interesting choice, and one way to help with the idea that it is now morning (Shakespeare's nights are often very short).
The first several lines of Act III Scene i are cut. Cassio gives Desdemona a gift when he presents his suit. Iago is quite a distance from Othello when he says "I like not that." I love Imogen Stubbs' delivery of "Why then, tomorrow night, or Tuesday morn," etc. There is something joyously youthful in her delivery. Othello's soliloquy is to us, to the camera. Only Desdemona enters, not Emilia. Desdemona says "bind your head," which again is the Q1 reading ("bind it hard" is in the Folio). The production's intermission comes when Othello and Desdemona exit, just after the handkerchief is dropped. We pick up again with Emilia smoking by herself, then spotting the handkerchief. Emilia says, "I'm glad I found this napkin..." to us, to the camera. Othello says "wide throats," which again is the Q1 reading (it is "rude throats" in the Folio). Othello strangles Iago when he orders Iago to prove it, and lets him go before Iago says, "Heaven defend me." The clown is actually included at the beginning of Scene iv. We see Emilia in the foreground when Othello tells Desdemona the tale of the handkerchief. Bianca in this production is black, an interesting choice.
In Act IV, I love Ian McKellen's delivery of "With her, on her, what you will." When Bianca says, "This is some minx's token," she hands the handkerchief to Iago. She then takes it back and tosses it to the ground and steps on it, while Othello watches. I love Willard White's delivery of "very good" after Iago suggests strangling Desdemona. Imogen Stubbs is fantastic in the scene where Othello strikes her and calls her back. I also really like the scene where Rodrigo stands up to Iago, and then Iago convinces him to kill Cassio. Desdemona quickly hugs Emilia when she says "good night." After Emilia's "you might quickly make it right," Desdemona unlocks a drawer and takes out the gift of chocolate that Cassio had given her, and shares some with Emilia. This is an interesting choice, for doesn't it hint that Desdemona might actually consider being with Cassio? Clearly she's thinking of him while they talk about women who cheat on their husbands. After Desdemona says "good night" again, Emilia hugs her.
In Act V Scene i, Rodrigo says "I have no great devotion to the deed" to the camera. When Emilia talks to Desdemona as Desdemona is dying, she finishes her sentences for her, saying, for example, "Myself," as Desdemona struggles to say it (something not in the play). Emilia says, "Twill out. It will. I hold my peace, sir? No. I'll be in speaking liberal as the air." That is the Q1 reading. At the end, Iago looks down at the bed upon which the corpses of Othello and Desdemona lie. Iago's face is the last image we see. (time: 205 minutes)

- Othello  (2008) with Eamonn Walker, Tim McInnerny, Zoe Tapper, Nick Barber, Sam Crane, Zawe Ashton; directed by Wilson Milam.  This production is a live performance filmed at the Globe Theatre, so occasionally a camera angle might not be perfect, or we miss a reaction of one of the characters.  But there are some incredible performances here, particularly Eamonn Walker as Othello, Tim McInnerny as Iago, Nick Barber as Cassio and Sam Crane as Rodrigo.  We have a very angry Iago at the beginning of the first scene.  He gives Rodrigo a little nod after "I am not what I am."  Brabantio's line "Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds" is said to the audience.  The Duke bangs on the table to silence Brabantio when he interrupts Othello with "Nothing but this is so."  This production favors the First Folio over Q1.  As usual, Othello says "upon this hint" rather than the Q1 reading of "upon this heat."  After Brabantio asks Desdemona, "Do you perceive in all this noble company/Where most you owe obedience?" Desdemona takes a long moment and looks around at everyone present, including the audience before answering, as if any individual there might be the one to whom she owes obedience.  That's a very poor choice, which is a shame, for it's her first moment on stage.  And because of that awful choice, it took me a long time to warm up to that actor.  The Duke says "new mischief" and "At nine i' the morning," again the Folio readings.  The scene with Iago and Rodrigo is wonderful.  Actually, all the scenes between these two characters are wonderful.  Rodrigo's "I'll sell all my land" is shouted from offstage after he has exited.
In Act II we are introduced to Emilia, who in this production is played by a black actor, Lorraine Burroughs.  Having a black Emilia is just wrong.  It makes no sense, especially considering many of Iago's lines and his apparent racism.  And even worse, it takes away from the one interracial marriage in the play, that of Othello and Desdemona.  Interracial marriages should not be commonplace in the world of this play.  It weakens the entire structure of the play.  Casting a black woman to play Emilia is by far the greatest sin of this production.  That being said, she does a pretty good job (particularly in the final scene).  This production includes the Herald scene, with a horn player who interrupts the herald.  (The herald is also the clown in this production.)  I would have liked a stronger reaction from Cassio when Othello cashiers him (but in general Nick Barber gives a great performance).
The clown and musicians are included at the beginning of Act III.  The intermission in this production comes at the end of Act III Scene iii.  This production has a black Bianca, which again is a poor choice (though not nearly as disastrous as a black Emilia).  Iago says "Bianca" just as loudly as "Desdemona" in the scene where Othello is hidden and listening, which is Tim McInnerny's one error.  He needs to whisper the name "Bianca" so that Othello doesn't hear it.  The blocking in this scene is a bit awkward, with Cassio facing the spot where Othello is (barely) hidden - it would be better if his back were to him and Iago faced Othello.
I love the various entrances of Rodrigo, with Iago's various readings of "How now Rodrigo?"  There is music over the Desdemona/Emilia scene, which is really annoying and totally out of place.  It does end before the mention of the willow song.  But then when Desdemona sings the willow song, the musicians return and accompany her, which completely kills the effect of the song.  It should be sad, not a production number. 
The brief exchange between Bianca and Emilia in Act V Scene i has a different feel with them both being black.  When Emilia asks Desdemona who has murdered her, Desdemona looks toward Othello before she answers "Nobody."  Emilia follows her gaze to Othello before looking back at her.  An interesting choice.  Again this production follows the Folio, with Emilia saying "I will speak as liberal as the north" rather than "liberal as the air."  Likewise, Othello says "base Judean" rather than Q1's "base Indian."  Othello kills himself with a crossbow, which is an odd and awkward choice.  He grabs it from one of guards and shoots himself with it.  This choice is especially odd considering that Iago dropped his dagger after stabbing Emilia, and it was plainly visible on the floor next to the bed - so I was fully expecting him to make his way to that dagger and use it.  Cassio's line "but thought he had no weapon" is cut.  (time: 195 minutes)

Related Films
- A Double Life  (1948) with Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso, Edmond O'Brien, Shelley Winters; written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin; directed by George Cukor. This film stars Ronald Colman as Anthony John, a famous and talented stage actor who is talked into playing Othello, even though, as he says, "Some parts give me the willies."  He's established as a man who takes his craft very seriously, and completely immerses himself in a role. He begins looking over his notes for Othello and says, quoting Iago, "O, beware my lord of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster."  He then switches to Othello and quotes, "All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven. 'Tis gone. Arise, black vengeance."  He then laughs to himself and turns out the light. Then he continues, "Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have."  He laughs again, and leaves.  He sees a travel poster for Venice, and then goes to an Italian restaurant, where he speaks more lines from the play: "That we can call these delicate creatures ours/And not their appetites. I had rather be a toad/And live upon the vapor of a dungeon/Than keep a corner in the thing I love -" A man interrupts him, asking, "Are you talking to me?"  The waitress, Pat Kroll (Shelley Winters), later asks him his name.  He tells her his many names, the parts he's played, including Hamlet.  He looks in the mirror and begins reciting, "The bawdy wind, that kisses all it meets,/Is hushed within the hollow mine of earth/And will not hear 't. What committed?/Impudent strumpet."  We see a good deal of Act V Scene ii acted upon the stage.  In this version Othello says "Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away," using the Folio reading of "Judean" over the Q1 reading of "Indian."  Anthony John's performance is applauded greatly by the audience, but Anthony is out of sorts afterwards.  Time passes, and the play is in its two hundredth performance.  This time we see the end of the handkerchief scene (Act III Scene iv), and when Othello exits the stage he says, "Zounds," but Ronald Colman mispronounces it, rhyming it with "sounds."  The production continues to be a hit, and suddenly it's the three hundredth performance.  We see part of Desdemona's death scene, and Anthony actually hurts her while strangling her.  He was once married to Brita, the woman who plays Desdemona, and still loves her.  Now he becomes horribly jealous of her, accusing her of being with Bill (Edmond O'Brien).  Anthony goes to see Pat, the waitress.  Pat tells him she may move in with her friend Emily (thus setting Anthony's mind in line with the play).  Then she asks him, "You want to put out the light?"  That's enough to make him become the role.  He says, "Put out the light," and turns off the light.  He immediately turns it back on and continues the speech.  Of course, Pat doesn't know what he's talking about.  Lost in the role, and in his jealousy over Brita, he strangles Pat.  We then see the final scene again on stage, and Anthony stabs himself. (time: 103 minutes) 
- Olivier Talks About Othello - This short featurette's footage is basically the trailer for the 1965 version of Othello, with Olivier speaking to the camera about the production. There is approximately a minute more in this than in the trailer.
- Stage Beauty  (2004) with Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville; directed by Richard Eyre.  This film stars Billy Crudup as Ned Kynaston, a 17th century actor famous for playing the female roles in Shakespeare's plays.  His Desdemona is greatly admired.  The film opens with a scene backstage, but we hear Othello saying, "It is the cause, it is the cause."  And then we see the scene as Desdemona wakes.  After the play, his wardrobe assistant, Maria (Claire Danes), rushes to another theatre, where she plays Desdemona herself (though illegally).  And we see the same scene, where she wakes just before Othello kills her.  Soon a law is passed that women shall play the female roles on stage, and Maria becomes a star, while Ned becomes unemployed.  It's a truly interesting film about identity and how it is shaped.  And the film ends once again with Desdemona's death scene from Othello, this time Desdemona being played by Maria and Othello being played by Ned.  (time: 109 minutes) 

Films With References To Othello:
- Blood Tide (1982) with James Earl Jones, Martin Kove, Jose Ferrer, Lila Kedrova, Mary Louise Weller; directed by Richard Jeffries. This cool horror film has several references to Othello. When we first meet Frye (James Earl Jones), he holds a knife to Neil (Martin Kove). When Madeline (Deborah Shelton) tells him to stop, that Neil is her brother, Frye says, "I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee. No way but this." And then he kisses Neil's cheek. Those lines are Othello's last lines of the play, in Act V, Scene ii. Madeline then tells Neil, "Don't mind Frye. He played Othello once in college and never quite got over it." Neil responds, "Othello in college? Okay, my Midsummer Night's Dream." That leads Frye to continue, this time from Act I Scene iii: "Rude am I in my speech/And little bless'd with the soft phrase of peace." Madeline says, "Cut it out, Frye." Later, Frye is in a cavern. He looks to the wall (and also to the camera) and recites the first lines from Act V Scene ii: "It is the cause. Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! It is the cause." (He left out "it is the cause, my soul" after the first "It is the cause.") He then puts on his mask and continues the lines, but they're barely discernible: "Yet I'll not shed her blood,/Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow." A moment later he picks up the speech again, reciting, "Yet she must die, or else she'll betray more men," while drinking straight from a bottle. He picks it up again, with "Put out the light, and then put out the light," then lights the explosives the destroy the wall. Later, Frye is mumbling to himself lines from Act III Scene iv: "A sibyl, that had number'd in the world/The sun to course two hundred compasses,/In her prophetic fury sew'd the work." He's suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a bleeding nun. And then at the end as he's getting ready to kill the monster, he says "I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus" (from Act V Scene ii).
- Shakespeare Wallah (1965) with Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Madhur Jaffrey, Geoffrey Kendal; directed by James Ivory.  This wonderful film is about a family that worked as a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors in India.  The real troupe was called Shakespeariana, and it was run by Geoffrey Kendal with his family, including daughter Felicity Kendal.  Both of them star in the film.  Felicity plays Lizzie.  Geoffrey plays Tony Buckingham.  And the troupe in the film is called The Buckingham Players.  As you might guess, there are plenty of references to Shakespeare throughout the film.  Late in the film we see Othello, beginning with "It is the cause" through Desdemona's death.  The fact that they're family makes it a bit odd - after all, the daughter plays Desdemona and the father plays Othello (Felicity talks a bit about this in one of the DVD's special features). 
- Theater Of Blood (1973) with Vincent Price, Diana Rigg; directed by Douglas Hickox. 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.

Next month: King Lear

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shakespeare References In "Iris And Her Friends"

After finishing all the books I had checked out from the library on Othello, and before delving into the world of King Lear, I decided to read a book that had nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare: Iris And Her Friends: A Memoir Of Memory And Desire by John Bayley.  So of course there are nearly a dozen references to Shakespeare in the book.  I might have guessed.  After all, John Bayley had written a book on Shakespeare (Shakespeare And Tragedy, which I haven't yet read, but which I aim to read before the end of the year).

In Iris And Her Friends, he makes several references to Macbeth.  The book is of course about his wife, Iris Murdoch, and the struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.  Early in the book he mentions that the disease had entered another phase.  He writes, "For a moment, I thought I heard the voice of Macbeth, the most terrifyingly intimate of all Shakespeare's tragic characters. 'Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!" One is apt to get such dramatic visions of despair into one's head at two in the morning'" (page 4).  Later he writes, "'Most admired disorder!' Doesn't Lady Macbeth say that about her husband's behavior at their dinner party? Quite ruined her evening. She must have meant the embarrassment was something to be wondered at" (page 83). 

He goes back to Macbeth again later in the book: "When his wife went off her head, Macbeth expected the same things from his doctor that we hope for from ours today. 'Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd/Pluck from the memory of a rooted sorrow...' I fancy that the doctor may have tried on his royal patient all the somnolent potions that were at his command, although he tells Macbeth, perhaps defensively, that the patient 'must minister to himself' when it comes to staying sane and getting a good night's rest. Sedatives are tricky things. Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking and her hallucinations could easily be the consequence of some too-strenuous type of soporific" (page 188).  (By the way, that's from Act V Scene iii.)

He refers to Macbeth once more when he talks about reading about murderers who copped up young women: "They lacked the ability to imagine without enacting. Had they been producing Macbeth - an unlikely possibility, admittedly - it wold have meant nothing to them unless Duncan and Banquo, and Lady Macduff and her children, had really been butchered - and on the stage" (page 204).

But Macbeth isn't the only play he refers to in this memoir.  He refers to As You Like It: "'Sweet are the uses of adversity...' the commonest, sanest Shakespearean wisdom" (page 17).  That's from Act II Scene i. 

He also refers to A Midsummer Night's Dream: "It occured to me that Hardy had an unconscious recollection of A Midsummer Night's Dream - the play within the play. Pyramus finds Thisby's clothes, bloodied by the lion, and kills himself. The seducer doctor, of course, does no such thing. The danger and escape, to say nothing of his wife in her undies, bring them back together and reconcile them.  Like the wonderful and ambiguous ending of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Play and novel have the same pastoral woodland atmosphere. Beautiful, but disturbing" (page 79).

And later he writes, "You cannot fantasise about the being you love, that's true, and yet the being you love can inadvertently teach you things that will come in very handy on the fantasy side, where, as Shakespeare's Theseus puts it, 'The best in this kind are but shadows'" (page 208).

He also quotes The Winter's Tale, and in fact opens the tenth chapter with a line from that play: "'Thou mettest with things dying, I with things new-born.' It happens to me nowadays to be haunted by Shakespeare's line, which suggests that the two states are not so very different" (page 184).

John Bayley also makes a couple of references to Othello, specificallly to Iago.  On page 208 he writes, "Milton's Belial must have well understood this, and so incidentally did Shakespeare's Iago.  Brilliant as is Shakespeare's portrait of Iago, he has the difficulty of suggesting a man who is thoughtful and intelligent but also profoundly stupid; a man who, like those murderers the Wests, is ignorant of the difference between imagination and enactment. Wilfully ignorant, one presumes, in Iago's case? For he knows that there are 'meditations lawful' in the human breast which never will and never wish to see the light of day."  He goes on, "There are thousands of potential Iagos, in offices and organisations, in military and political circles, who would dearly love to deceive and betray their bosses as Iago deceived Othello."

Then, several pages later, John Bayley makes another brief mention of Othello: "'Evil into the mind of God and man may come and go.' Who says that? Is it Iago?" (page 215).

He makes one final reference to Shakespeare: "Virginia Woolf suggested that Shakespeare had a sister, equally a genius, who because she was a woman has never been heard of" (page 226).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Shakespeare's Birthday

Yesterday was William Shakespeare's birthday.  At least, as far as we know.  They didn't keep accurate records of births.  However, they did keep records of baptisms and deaths.  And Shakespeare was baptised on April 26, 1564.  Generally baptisms were performed three days after a child's birth, so we assume he was born on the 23rd. We do know for sure, however, that he died on April 23rd.

So to celebrate the birth of the world's greatest writer, I watched a few DVDs....

- Shakespeare The Animated Tales: Romeo And Juliet (1992) with Linus Roache, Clare Holman, Jonathan Cullen, Greg Hicks, Brenda Bruce, Garard Green; screenplay by Leon Garfield; directed by Efim Gamburg.  This animated version begins with the brawl.  A voice over introduces the characters as they appear.  Scene i and ii are combined, with the Servant entering and asking if Romeo can read just after Romeo says "thou canst not teach me to forget."  It then goes right to the party scene at the Capulets' home, and then straight to the balcony.  Romeo isn't shown in the balcony scene until his line, "I take thee at thy word."  Romeo then goes to the Friar.  Act II Scene iii is done very quickly.  All of the great play between Juliet and the Nurse is cut from Act II Scene iv.  Instead, Nurse quickly gives Juliet the news, and then onto Scene v, the marriage.  Tybalt deliberately stabs Mercutio.  Most of Mercutio's lines are cut from his death scene, including the wonderful "grave man" line.  After Romeo kills Tybalt, it goes directly to the scene at the Friar's cell (Act III Scene iii).  When Nurse arrives, Romeo is on his feet, rather than lying on the floor.  We see Romeo climb onto Juliet's balcony to sleep with her, something not in the play.  Then right into Act III Scene vv.  And Juliet is told that she'll be married to Paris.  (However, we don't see Paris.)  We have a quick shot of Romeo on horseback.  Act IV Scene i begins with Juliet and the Friar, the stuff with Paris being cut.  As the Friar describes the plan, we see it all - to save time.  The film then goes right to Act V Scene i.  The scene with Romeo and Paris is cut.  Juliet wakes just before the Friar arrives.  She asks where Romeo is, then sees him and realizes he's dead without the Friar telling her.  (time: 25 minutes)

- Shakespeare The Animated Tales: Hamlet  (1992) with Nicholas Farrell, John Shrapnel, Susan Fleetwood, Tilda Swinton, John Warner, Dorien Thomas; screenplay by Leon Garfield; directed by Natalia Orlova.  This animated production has a really interesting look.  A voice over starts, "Something was rotten in the state of Denmark."  Then we begin with Act I Scene ii, with Gertrude's line, "Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off."  When Horatio tells Hamlet that he saw the King, we see what Horatio saw.  We get a bit of the scene between Ophelia and Laertes, but all of Polonius' advice to Laertes is cut (yes, including "to thine own self be true").  But we do get some of the dialogue between Polonius and Ophelia.  Then it goes into Act I Scene iv with the Ghost.  This scene is fantastic; it has a great, creepy look, and the voice is excellent (John Shrapnel did the voices of both the Ghost and Claudius, which is cool).  It then goes right to the Polonius/Ophelia dialogue from Act II Scene i (Reynaldo of course being cut).  Then Polonius relates the tale to Claudius and Gertrude.  Interestingly, the film then goes straight from a bit of the "rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy (starting with "Bloody, bawdy villain") into the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, but only up to "To die: to sleep/No more."  Then Hamlet sees the players arriving and goes back to the end of the "rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy, starting with "I have heard/That guilty creatures sitting at a play."  From there, we go to the Hamlet/Ophelia scene. After Hamlet says, "I did love you once," he notices the curtain move, and sees Polonius, and it's that that leads Hamlet to turn on Ophelia and say, "You should not have believed me/I loved you not."  A really nice choice.  Then it goes to the play, and then quickly to the Hamlet/Gertrude scene (skipping entirely the scene where Claudius is praying and Hamlet has the opportunity to kill him).  And the Ghost appears.  A narrator tells us that Hamlet was dispatched to England, and that secret letters condemned him to death.  Then to Act IV Scene i, with Ophelia's song.  And then Laertes' return.  The stuff with Ophelia and the flowers is wonderful.  As soon as Gertrude announces Ophelia's death, we go to Act V Scene i, starting with Hamlet asking whose grave this is.  And then we go back to Act IV Scene iii, when Claudius and Laertes devise their plan.  And then to Act V Scene ii, between Hamlet and Horatio (but Osric is cut).  And then to the duel.  This production ends with Hamlet's last line, "The rest is silence."  Fortinbras is cut completely.  (Also cut from this production are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.)  (time: 25 minutes)

- Shakespeare Wallah (1965) with Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendal, Madhur Jaffrey, Geoffrey Kendal; directed by James Ivory.  This wonderful film is about a family that worked as a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors in India.  The real troupe was called Shakespeariana, and it was run by Geoffrey Kendal with his family, including daughter Felicity Kendal.  Both of them star in the film.  Felicity plays Lizzie.  Geoffrey plays Tony Buckingham.  And the troupe in the film is called The Buckingham Players.  As you might guess, there are plenty of references to Shakespeare throughout the film.  The first is to The Merchant Of Venice.  While dining in a palace, the king quotes Portia from Act IV Scene i: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd,/It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."  He says he goes to see Shakespeare not just for the poetry, but for the wisdom.  He then quotes from The Second Part Of King Henry The Fourth: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."  And then one of the players then quotes from Richard The Second: "Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings."  Another player takes up the speech: "How some have been depos'd, some slain in war,/Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd."  Then we see a bit of a production of Antony And Cleopatra.  We get a bit from Enobarbus ("Purple the sails, and so perfumed that/The winds were lovesick with them"), and then we see Antony's death scene, with Cleopatra's lines: "young boys and girls/Are level now with men."  Later, Sanju (Shashi Kapoor) is flirting with Lizzie (Felicity Kendal) and he quotes Juliet: "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou - That's all I remember."  The father is talking to the brother of the person running a school where the family usually performs, but the brother doesn't seem interested, even when he mentions Hamlet.  Then we do get a bit of Hamlet.  We see some of the Hamlet/Gertrude scene, and then Ophelia's madness scene, with the flowers.  Sanju after the play tells his girlfriend Manjula about it, but says he can't understand why Hamlet took so long to kill Claudius.  Later we see them perform Twelfth Night, the Malvolio cross-gartered scene.  And later still we see Othello, beginning with "It is the cause" through Desdemona's death.  The fact that they're family makes it a bit odd - after all, the daughter plays Desdemona and the father plays Othello (Felicity talks a bit about this in one of the DVD's special features).  And finally we see a scene from Romeo And Juliet, the wedding scene at the Friar's cell from Act II.  (time: 122 minutes)

Not a bad way to spend the evening.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shakespeare References In Magazines

Going through some magazines, I came across a couple of Shakespeare references. The first is in the Winter 2011 issue of Oregon Quarterly, the magazine of the University Of Oregon. On page 24, in an essay written by student Elisabeth Kramer, there is a reference to A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Lush green plants caress the central reflecting pool at the head of which kneel two stone musicians. Perhaps the pair, reminiscent as they are of mischievous fairies and fawns, once flitted through A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The second is in the January/February 2012 issue of Westways. On page 20, the title of a very short article (they're all very short articles in this magazine) is "The Clay's The Thing," an obvious reference to Hamlet's line in Act II Scene ii: "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shakespeare References In Beatles Book

Since I began this Shakespeare study, I've been noticing references to Shakespeare everywhere. I'm compiling a list of Shakespeare references in films (with the intention of publishing a reference book at some future date), but now have decided to post other interesting references in this blog (which is becoming more and more a Shakespeare blog - not a bad thing).

Yesterday I finished reading All About The Beatles, a short book by Edward De Blasio, a journalist who was on hand when The Beatles had their famous press conference at the airport in 1964. This book was actually published in 1964, so its perspective is rather interesting in its limited scope.

There are two references to Shakespeare. The first is on page 64 (see photo), in which a girl is quoted as saying, about The Beatles, "They are the finest thing that has happened to England since William Shakespeare. They will make us famous once more. They will give us dignity, without stuffiness." The second, only a few pages later (see photo), is actually quoting another journalist (this book does that a lot), Maureen Cleave of the Standard: "Their hair (pronounced as in Ben Hur by George) is a lengthier version of Brando's in Julius Caesar."

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.