LIT 380: Shakespeare in Film

Blog writing is over for the semester


Thanks to everyone who participated in writing on the blog this semester, but writing closed as of the last day of class. Please focus on finishing your final exam. I won’t accept any further blog entries after this this post.

Mise-en-scene: Taking a look at a certain Henry V’s Monologue speech in both Olivier’s and Branaugh’s films


This post only addresses the question #2 in the Blog Questions to be considered for the posted in the course blog. Only one monologue scene is going to be discussed in this post and it happens to be the St. Crispin’s Day speech that is a part of both the films where. In this scene, the mise-en-scene witnesses a similarity in both the films where the people in the camp of King Henry V are scattered within the camp when Henry begins his monologue speech. As his monologue continues, people start crowding the frame reacting to what is happening in the context. Furthermore, as the monologue is taking place, both Olivier and Branaugh who play the role of Henry V in their respective films are walking for the most part. The build up of the crowd around Henry is achieved by keeping Henry as the nucleus of the crowd and the people nearby following him as he walks and the people farther trying to catch up to speed with what is unfolding. The other interesting thing to note when it comes to the mise-en-scene is that the frame in the beginning of the monologue has major elements from the environment that can be seen whereas toward the end of the monologue, the entire frame is filled with people with only minor elements from the environment can be seen such as camp-tents in Olivier’s film and Trees in Branaugh’s. Lastly, another mise-en-scene that tells that King Henry V has successfully motivated his fellow men is the later end of the monologue scene where the soldiers in the camp have crowded the frame, the area around Henry, listening to him with attention and cheering unanimously as he closes his speech.

Almereyda’s Halmet (2000): An Interesting adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet


As a business major, I thought it was an interesting thing to address this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet into Almereyda’s film, Hamlet (2000). The world we live in today has no kings, kingdoms (which I’d put it as “Royalty is a Novelty”) and even if they do exist in some cases, they have no real power like that state’s government does. But there is one type of organization that runs along similar lines – large corporations and only the thing to be rule over is the markets. Then, name of the commercial powerhouse, “Denmark Corporation” and the name of the film, “Hamlet” are an obvious giveaway to adaptation of a Shakespearean play. Furthermore, the location in the context of the film is New York which subtly suggests that the entire occurrence is referring to a commercial powerhouse than a state’s powerhouse. So, this film is a really creative adaptation of the Shakespearean play and so I would give full points for the creativity in adaptation.


But the question had in mind was did Almereyda have a specific target audience in mind that he wanted to reach out to with this film? I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily see this movie fully appealing to teenagers or young adults. But in my opinion, it probably could appeal to full adults who have dealt with the corporate lifestyle, or like the drama and politics that come along with the business lifestyle. In closing, I can see strong link between a running a state or a large corporation – places of power, wealth and status (as in both cases) are places of moral corruption, and in my view, this is what is being portrayed in the film.

Quite a Branagh Entrance


Despite the St. Crispin’s Day speech, long shot after the battle, and flashbacks,  the scene that stayed with me the most in Henry V (1989) was Kenneth Branagh’s entrance as Henry in the first few scenes. The chorus character first set the dark serious tone while lighting a match in front of his face and exposing the backstage. Then two scenes later, Henry makes his first appearance. But first in the preceding scene, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely speak in whispers and are shot in close-ups, voicing their concerns with England taking away the church’s land and money. Both of their faces are barely lit on one side by the candle light, indicating that this is a backdoor conversation. Then in the next scene, the doors of the throne room are thrown open revealing a reaction shot (before the action is even shown, for dramatic effect) of the nobleman. The music suddenly gets louder and the next shot shows Henry. He is back-lit so that all we can see is his outline with his crown and cape, not to mention he is perfectly framed in the doorway. All of the noblemen rush to their positions as he approaches the camera. Then there is a reaction/tracking shot following him, showing the back of his neck. It isn’t until he sits down until we see his face. The music suddenly stops and then he speaks. This was quite a dramatic entrance! This gives Henry (or Branagh for that matter) a sense of control and power right from the beginning. There is no question to who the leader is.

Iraqi Version of Romeo and Juliet


I read this article from the New York Times on an Iraqi version of Romeo and Juliet where Montague and Capulet are portrayed as Shiite and Sunni, respectively. Other notable changes: the lovers are killed by a suicide bomber, Paris is an Al Qaeda fighter, and the Queen Mab speech (which is too risque for conservative Iraqi audiences) is replaced with an Iraqi proverb. The group will be performing at the World Shakespeare Festival in Straford-upon-Avon.

Almereyda, method of no madness.


In Almeryeda’s (2000) Hamlet, Ethan Hawke plays a Hamlet that is more depressed than is mad or vengeful. Throughout the film his voice is kept low, he rarely shouts or raises his voice which rules out anger at Claudius, even after the movie scene. This rules out the vengeful side of Hamlet that one might read when he is plotting his revenge. More importantly though, Hamlet is not portrayed as being crazy in the film. There is no question that the apparition is real and he isn’t seeing things for starters. Also, his general tone is one of melancholy. Almereyda places extraordinary emphasis on the to be or not to be speech. The depiction that Almereyda show’s with this is a deeply troubled person who is extremely depressed. However, Almeryeda gives no allusion or image of Hamlet as a madman. In the traditional madman scenes we get an emotional but not crazy Hamlet. In the scene where Hamlet tells off Ophelia in his “Get thee to a nunnery” speech is one of anger and is shown as such. This differs from a film like Branaugh’s Hamlet which shows Hamlet worked up into a mad frenzy and dragging Ophelia around the hall. The other scene of note is Hamlet’s interaction with Polonius where he is supposed to be crazy. Instead, again Hamlet takes on a very sullen tone which gives more way to sadness rather than madness. This is an interesting take on the matter as it is generally accepted that Hamlet is supposed to at least appear crazy. Instead, Almeryeda omits this to show us the tortured soul of a filmmaker.

Rome + Juliet: Symbolism


With only about half of Shakespeare’s text from the play, Luhrmann uses film media as a way of visually expressing Romeo and Juliet’s story, creating multiple layers of meaning. The most obvious and frequent symbols are the hints towards Catholicism. Romeo + Juliet is overflowing with Catholicism with the Capulet house as the best. Everything from a cross on the gate (shown in the scene where the Montague boys are leaving the party) to Juliet’s room literally having two shrines to Mary. The references are never in the speech, but rather visually shown through cinematic techniques. For example: during the scene where Juliet drinks the sleeping potion, the mother shuts off the lights and the shrines to Mary are highlighted with candles.

In some instances, the director turns the religious undertone into another character in the story. In a few scenes, he purposely includes them in the mise-en-scene, perfectly framing them as if they were their own actor. For example, in the scene where the nurse tells Juliet that Romeo will marry her, the shot includes the Nurse, Juliet, and a subliminal religious statue in the background. Also, in a later scene (when the Nurse visits Romeo after she hears the news of Tyblat’s death), the camera starts with an establishing shot of Romeo, the Nurse, the Priest, and a picture of Jesus. It is as if there are four characters in this shot instead of three actors. Despite all of these references to Catholicism, the director always seemed to always revert back to one focal point: Throughout the film, Luhrmann’s most frequent used symbol was the statue of Jesus that resembled the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Branagh’s Hamlet


Branagh’s version of Hamlet seems significantly more dramatic than it needs to be. The fast speech, though necessary in order to keep the length of the film to a minimal 4 hours, makes everything seem urgent and amplified. Actors are often out of breath when delivering lines so quickly to meet the time constraints, making even slow-paced scenes seem too fast and dramatic. The flashback Branagh sneaks in where Hamlet and Ophelia are sharing an intimate moment even, seemed like it was rushed due to the quickness of the speech being delivered. Time is supposed to stand still in an event so passionate and intimate, so the delivery of the lines seemed to be unfitting for that certain flashback.
It does not help that Branagh likes to overdramaticize everything, and since he both directs and acts, there is no escape from the drama. When he delivers his lines, he is always upbeat, stressing lines and waving his arms in excitement where none is warranted. This does not fit well with Hamlet being mad, which in my mind should be down and gloomy. Even certain scenes, such as the forest scene with Hamlets ghost, seems to be a little overdramaticized. The crakling of the earth and the eerie mist coming out from the ground seemed too much for the situation. When reading that scene in the play, I didn’t expect anything more than a cryptic whisper from the ghost, “swear.”

I am Keanau Hamlet.. I mean.. I am Hamlet


Durring our last class Prof. Roback brought something up, Hamlet’s resolution, and wheather or not his purpose becomes “blunted” or not, as his ghastly father so mentioned.  I thought about this while watching Almereyda’s Hamlet.  Almereyda’s Hamlet is a dark brooding video artist, his character may be dark and depressed, but as Almereyda show’s his character is more likely to commit suicide than murder.  I came to the realization that Hamlet’s purpose isn’t blunted, he lacks courage and conviction untill his eyes provide the evidence for him.  Upon “botching” the inital murder situation, which was done cleverly, by adapting the situation to involve the limozine ride.    Hamlet goes to his mother and pleads her to confess to the crimes.  I think that Hamlet is searching for another external justification.  His visions and his gut feeling may not be enough to convince him to commit “murder.”  Shakespeare’s research about the breaking down of the psyche, Ophelia’s slip into insanity were researched.  Revenge is’t wrong if its justified, it then becomes “Righteous Vengeance”.  Hamlet yearns for “hard evidence,” he knows, he knows Claudius knows he knows, the dilema is finding that which will justify it.  When its out in the open that Claudius poisoned Gertrude, the court is in an uproar.  No one stands in Hamlets way while he’s shooting Claudius.  With respect to the updating of the technology i agreed wholeheartely.  Hamlets “Mousetrap” was a film, messages sent by fax, recording Hamlet with a hidden microphone, the use of pistolas as lethal agents.

The only other worse choice for Hamlet would have been Keanu…