A Strong Character with a Weak Mind

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A Strong Character of Weak Mind
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark appears to be a powerful man, driven by bloodlust to avenge his father’s death. At the beginning of The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 version of the play, Hamlet conducts himself in a reserved manner. However, as the movie progresses, he begins to act more impulsively. For example, the prince seems very eager to question Queen Gertrude and King Claudius’s relationship and marriage. Hamlet’s unique determination to discover the truth behind the late king’s early death depicts him as steady and sensible, yet his brash personality diminishes the thoughtfulness in his decision-making. The 2009 version of Hamlet demonstrates this during Act I, Scene IV, when Hamlet encounters the ghost of his father. In order to portray the prince as a man of rashness rather than reason, director Gregory Doran uses dramatic dialogue, acting and film techniques to bring the tragic character’s implicit character to light. Doran first introduces Hamlet’s intense demeanor in Act I, Scene II during his soliloquy. His disapproval in Gertrude and Claudius’s marriage becomes evident as he proclaims, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” and how Gertrude married his “father’s brother, but no more like [his] father Than [he] to Hercules.” Hamlet becomes lost in thought and looks off in the distance while speaking his mind, even when Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo enter the scene. This heat of passion sparks the curiosity and inquisitiveness that he carries throughout the rest of the film, but also introduces the very impulsivity that leads to his downfall.

Hamlet’s heightened emotional state in Scene IV quickly undermines his thoughtful character. The scene begins with an establishing shot as Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus stand side by side in a long hallway:

While King Claudius throws a party nearby, flashes of light illuminate the hallway. The shrill noises of fireworks and trumpets dominate the sound while Hamlet speaks in a low tone. The rhythm of his speech quickly breaks by Horatio sharply exclaiming, “Look, my lord, it comes!” in reference to the ghost of King Hamlet, now entering the shot’s frame:

Even with the key light being shown on Horatio’s face, a stark contrast can be observed from his expression and Hamlet’s, the latter showing more shock and astonishment than the other. The fireworks and trumpets hush and ominous bass tones replace the sound. A slight fog enters the shot, and Hamlet begins to step backwards. The tone of this scene has suddenly changed from being relaxed to tense due to the ghost’s presence. This shift hints at King Hamlet’s powerful nature early on in the scene. The camera cuts away to a more distant position and includes Marcellus in the frame:

The camera now films in deep focus, allowing the audience to observe Hamlet as he backs away from his father while speaking in a frail and trembling voice. He appears very humble and afraid of his father’s ghost. Hamlet continues to ramble as if he has lost a sense of who he is and what he is trying to achieve: an understanding of what happened to his father. Horatio and Marcellus are left without words, leaving the action between the Prince and late King of Denmark. Now that the camera’s focus lies only on Hamlet and his father, the mood changes and Hamlet’s impulsive nature comes to light. The prince sinks against a wall while speaking to the ghost, who stands on the opposite side of the wall in front of a window. This initiates a shot/reverse shot sequence between Hamlet and his father:

The shot of the prince uses low contrast. The framing encompasses the wall behind Hamlet, and the camera films at level with Hamlet’s face. A dim light illuminates his position and fearful expression. In comparison, the shot of the King employs high contrast due to the background light. The framing includes the window behind the King, along with a fog that emits from the ghost as the light falls...
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