December 20th 2012
Analysis of Hamlet
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” As one of the most popular proverbs, this is one that everyone knows. The proverb suggests that revenge is more satisfying as a considered response enacted when unexpected rather than acting rashly and getting it over quickly. Revenge is a desire that is all consuming in its nature. A person who wants revenge is only focused on that and would not care for any consequences. Between the definition of the proverb and the actual nature of revenge, no work of literature better represents it than the play Hamlet. Both in Shakespeare’s version and Franco Zeffirelli’s film adaption, the theme of revenge is prevalent. This is evident by how Shakespeare reveals the theme, what the play shows about the topic, and how Franco Zeffirelli explores revenge in his version. But as shown in Hamlet revenge is a dangerous theory to live by and it has caused the downfall of many people.
Revenge, is the central theme of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That is straightforward and readers will notice that by the end of the first act, but the suspense is created in the method Shakespeare uses to reveal the theme. The way Shakespeare uses plot, characterization, and conflict to reveal the theme, is ingenious. The plot shows the readers the theme but it shows it vaguely. The plot reveals that Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras want revenge for the death of their respective fathers. Hamlet`s desire for revenge drives the plot, while Laertes`s desire for revenge ushers the play into its climax, while Fortinbras's desire for revenge brings the play in a full circle. “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; [a]nd now I’ll do’t: and so he goes to heaven: [a]nd so I am revenged.” (III, III, 74-76). As Hamlet contemplates killing Claudius, to avenge his father, he feel as though he should wait so Claudius would not be able to repent for his sins, which allows the plot to move forward and reveal more of the theme of revenge. Characterization is another tool Shakespeare uses to reveal the theme of revenge. Like the plot, characterization shows the theme, but does it in more depth. The main character Hamlet’s personality, character traits, and actions etc. are all built by his desire to have vengeance for his father’s murder. Laertes is a character who becomes complete, to the audience, by his desire to kill Hamlet. By letting his character be controlled by their desire for revenge Shakespeare shows his readers the all-consuming nature of it. Shakespeare wants his readers to understand how dangerous the idea of revenge is. “To an exploit now ripe in my device, [u]nder the which he shall not choose but fall, [a]nd for his death no wind of blame shall breathe.” (IV, VII, 65-67). Laertes’s blind rage and need for revenge allows Claudius to easily manipulate him, into fighting Hamlet. Shakespeare uses this to show the need for revenge clouds ones judgement and makes a person susceptible to manipulation. Conflict is the final tool Shakespeare uses to reveal the theme of revenge. All major conflicts in the play are driven by the character’s desire for revenge. Like plot and characterization, the conflicts are used to reveal the theme of revenge, but go into more depth about it than the previous two. Shakespeare uses conflicts to show where a person, if he were to follow a path to vengeance, would end up. The two major conflicts in the play, Hamlet vs. Claudius and Laertes vs. Hamlet, are revenge based. Hamlet and Claudius’s conflict essentially moves the play forward and the conflict between Laertes and Hamlet brings the play to a dramatic end. Shakespeare uses both conflicts to show the audience, that those who want revenge will face dangerous consequences. “Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee.” (V, II, 323). Laertes’s desire for revenge makes him poison his sword and ends up dying by getting stabbed by the same sword. By using the three tools like a layered cake Shakespeare allows his audience to slowly digest the importance of the theme of revenge is to play. The theme then allows the audience to understand what Shakespeare is trying to show about revenge.
Shakespeare wants his audience to know how deeply impacted one could be because of his/her desire for revenge. He wants to show that a persons need for revenge will allow one to be controlled (used for others gain), driven into the brink of insanity, and they will face deadly consequences at the end of their path. Laertes was created as a character to illustrate the first point. Once Laertes returns seeking revenge for the death of Polonius, the King quickly controls him by telling him Hamlet did it. This work to the advantage for King, since when Hamlet escapes, it gives the King an alternative way to dispose of Hamlet. “Strengthen your patience in our last night’s speech.” (V, I, 288). The king stops the little scuffle between Hamlet and Laertes and reminds him of their plan. This shows the level of control the King has over Laertes. Hamlet was created as a character to illustrate the next two points. Although most say Hamlet’s madness is an act, it is arguable that he truly does become mad. In his inner conflict deciding whether or not to kill Claudius brings him to the edge of madness. This is clear when Hamlet begins to converse with Yorick’s skull. “Where are your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?” (V, I, 183-184). As Hamlet continues his conversation, the question, of whether Hamlet is truly mad or is he acting arises. Has Hamlet’s desire for revenge sent him to madness? It is safe to say, yes. Hamlet is also used to show the consequences of revenge. As is Laertes. Both fuelled by revenge, fight. The result is both ends up dying. “O, I die Horatio.” (V, II, 345). Hamlet’s desire to kill Claudius brings about his death too. Shakespeare wants to show his readers that revenge is a double-edged sword and can hurt many people. He also warns of the consequences of wanting revenge. What Shakespeare really wants to show is how revenge can turn a man into little more than an animal.
Over the years there have been many adaptions of Hamlet. It has been adapted into Broadway musicals, school plays, and even Hollywood movies. Franco Zeffirelli’s version is one of the better adaptions that tries to stay as faithful as he can to the original play. The reason Zeffirelli’s version is one of the better adaptions is the fact that Zeffirelli tries to put emphasis onto the theme of revenge. He does a good job portraying what Shakespeare did, but his attempt misses the mark. This is evident in his choice of set, the actor’s vocal expression, and his re-organization of the script. The set does not do justice to the play, especially during the bout between Hamlet and Laertes. The fight between them, in the play, is portrayed to be grand, showing the importance of revenge while the movie it is downsized and shown to be in a room in the castle decreasing the emphasis Shakespeare on the importance of revenge. The movie also falters due to the vocal expression, of the actors in the movie. In the play the characters are determined to have their revenge, which is portrayed by the way the talk. In the movie the vocal expression is not as expressive as it should have been. The scene where the King and Laertes have their conversation is proof. In the play it read as an explosive meeting between the two with lots of vocal expression. In the movie although Laertes burst in screaming he is quickly shut up and Laertes’s desire for revenge is lost with his silence. The reduced expression downplays the importance of revenge intended by the original version of the play. The final change that Zeffirelli does that reduces the emphasis on revenge is the re-organization of the script. He alters the frames making the scenes seem shorter than they should be which effectively decreases how vital revenge is to the original play. Zeffirelli tries to allow modern audiences to understand the film by making it seem more like a modern day movie. The modernization and re-organization are shown right in the beginning when Zeffirelli adds the scene portraying the old King Hamlet’s funeral. This is not in the original version and was put in by Zeffirelli to make it more appealing to begin with and then brought in other things to make it flow better. This does once again downplay the emphasis give to the theme of revenge as Hamlet is introduced as being there at the time of his father’s death and not that he learns it from the ghost as in the original. Although Franco Zeffirelli does a good job of adapting the movie and trying to stay faithful to the original he does downsize the theme of revenge that Shakespeare shows in grandiose form.
Revenge throughout many, many centuries has been the root cause of the downfall of many powerful people. Achilles wanted revenge for the death of his close friend Patroclus and that lead to his death by the hands of Paris (who is the brother of Hector, who slew Patroclus and was killed by Achilles). Hamlet shows insight onto the mind and behaviour of someone who wants revenge. Revenge then becomes a vital part to the play. It is important in the ways Shakespeare reveals it to his audience, what he wants to tell his audience about, and how Franco Zeffirelli’ version compares to Shakespeare. Zeffirelli’s version does detract from the original play. It downsizes many of the things in the play the made the theme of revenge so prevalent. It tries to do justice to the original, but by adding too many things and not focusing on smaller things that helped the theme of revenge stand out, it misses its mark. Zeffirelli tries to make it appealing to modern day watchers and also tries to make it appeal to those who love the original, but he pays to much attention to making it more modern and therefore loses the attention of those who love the original. In conclusion he damages how important the theme of revenge is to the original and loses most of its message by trying to slightly modernize it.
Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Mel Gibson. Glen Close, Canal +, 1990. Film Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Toronto. Harcourt Shakespeare. 2003. Print