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Comparing Productions Of Hamlet

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Since William Shakespeare began his career as a playwright, many others have attempted to produce their own versions of his plays. One play which has been produced time and time again is Hamlet. Whether Hamlet is performed live or simply a movie, each production has its own unique spin on the stories within the play, and each has its own “feel”. Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet places the story in modern day New York City, with Ethan Hawke as Hamlet, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Bill Murray as Polonius, and many others. Almereyda’s interpretation of Hamlet makes the audience able to be more emotionally attached to the characters through the way in which scenes are staged, speeches performed, and relationships and interactions organized.

Almereyda’s Hamlet is a completely modernized production of the play. For example, as opposed to Hamlet being the former king of Denmark, he is actually the “king”, or CEO of Denmark Corporation located in New York City. Instead of Elsinore being the castle, it is Elsinore Hotel. Hamlet (the “prince”) is an indie film producer, adding to the idea of a “movie within a movie.” His films are a good way to represent and reflect his thoughts during his speeches. When there are scenes in which the people of the court are present, such as during Claudius’ announcement of his marriage to Gertrude or the duel scene between Laertes and Hamlet, the scenes are set up as press conferences with photographers and reporters. Fortinbras is actually the nephew of another corporation, Norway, and the threat of his takeover is only slightly touched upon. Whereas the threat of a Nordic invasion adds to the tension of Shakespeare’s version, this element is for the most part absent from the movie.

One of the most interesting parts of the movie production of Hamlet is the way in which soliloquies, monologues, and asides are performed. These types of speeches are much easier to add into movies, as they do not have to necessarily be spoken parts. One repeated way in which Almereyda has Hamlet’s soliloquies performed is by Hamlet watching his videos with his thoughts being read. It is as though watching the homemade clips brings up these thoughts and the audience is able to hear them without Hamlet actually speaking. With the ease of speaking someone’s thoughts in a movie, there are less “awkward” seeming parts in which a character is merely standing talking to no one. In a couple scenes of the movie production, Hamlet’s thoughts are being spoken for half of the speech, and then he actually speaks them for the second half. One scene in which Hamlet is on a plane to England, his soliloquy begins as thoughts and then while looking in a mirror, he begins talking directly to himself. Most other character’s monologues are actually spoken, which appears to give more depth to the character of Hamlet by being more reflective and thoughtful. Asides, such as during the talk between Polonius and Hamlet in Act II scene ii, are also presented in an interesting fashion. Almereyda makes use of both Hamlet’s portable DVD player as well as other cameras, such as the security camera in this scene, in which characters speak their asides and each is shown in a unique camera/screen. All these abilities to manipulate the way in which certain speeches can be performed in movies add greatly to the overall flow of the production. Pauses and breaks in the action are rare, which keeps the audience’s attention throughout.

The use of modern technology also makes delivering certain dialogue easier and more effective. Many speeches are done over the phone, such as in Act III scene iv. In the movie, Hamlet has most of his conversation with Gertrude after Polonius is killed in person. He then drags the body down a hallway a bit and calls her on a payphone to finish his advice to her on what to do. Phones make dialogue between two characters much easier since they do not have to be in the same place, adding a different element to the way in which a work can be performed. Almereyda also makes use of fax machines by having Hamlet send word to Claudius about his return from England, as well as Claudius sending a fax to Horatio to inform him of the duel challenge and terms from Laertes to Hamlet. Sending messages this way keeps up with the modernization of the movie as well as eliminates the issue of time waiting for letters to arrive, again keeping a steady flow to the movie.

Along with the various ways in which dialogue can be performed in movies, the most important element a movie can add to a play is music. The underlying tone in nearly all productions of Hamlet is that of tension, and nothing can play that tone up better than music. In nearly every scene of the movie, whether it is to add to the suspense of the ghost scene or to increase the intense feeling of sympathy and sadness in the final death scene, some sort of music is being played. Most live productions of Hamlet do not have the musical element added, taking away from many of the benefits music adds. Music is the best way to touch emotions and really set the mood of a scene, something that is utilized very well in Alemereyda’s production.

Relationships between the characters seem to come alive much more in Almereyda’s production of Hamlet than that of Shakespeare’s and interact differently than it appears from just reading the play. One of the most gleaming differences in the productions



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