Action versus Reflection
Shakespeare’s Hamlet inspired many film directors to adapt the play onto the big screen. In Kenneth Branagh’s version, he takes on the challenge of both directing the film and portraying Hamlet. In Marco Zeferelli’s edition, celebrated actor Mel Gibson stars as Hamlet. The directors use different aspects of cinematography and mise-en-scene to depict distinctive interpretations of the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Branagh interprets the scene as a contemplation of Hamlet’s decision whether to kill himself or Claudius, whereas Zeferelli construes the scene as a deliberation of life, death, and the afterlife.
Branagh uses props, varied camera angles, and thoughtful acting to describe the “To be or not to be” soliloquy as a brooding decision haunting Hamlet of action versus inaction. Branagh begins the soliloquy facing a two-way mirror, with Polonius and Claudius hidden behind it. The audience sees Hamlet staring directly at himself, while also facing the concealed men behind the mirror. This personifies the idea that Hamlet is hesitant about taking action against his own life or taking the life of Claudius: “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And, by opposing end them” (3.1.65-68). The camera angle consists of a medium close-up on the intense concentration of Branagh’s face, expressing the critical contemplation of his life and Claudius’s. Later in the soliloquy, Hamlet uncovers a bodkin, pointing the weapon towards the two-way mirror in a manifestation of action versus inaction. The lighting of the scene highlights Branagh’s face and disposition with explicit detail, leaving no question to the viewer about his intent on either killing himself or Claudius. However, Branagh neglects to analyze Hamlet’s actual contemplation of death itself.
Zeferelli focuses on Hamlet’s reflection of death as an experience and also the ambiguity...
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