I’ve created a close read of three of Hamlet’s soliloquies for your listening pleasure. Let me know which is your favorite soliloquy!
I’ve created a close read of three of Hamlet’s soliloquies for your listening pleasure. Let me know which is your favorite soliloquy!
I’m helping to direct a young actor playing Hamlet and we’re going over the “O That This Too Too Solid Flesh” speech. Going over the text, it occurred to me: what happened to Hamlet’s father?
Shakespeare makes it clear that Claudius poisoned Hamlet’s father with a vial of poison that he put in the king’s ear:
Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebona in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body. Hamlet, Act I, Scene v, lines 796-805.
The Ghost calls the poison “cursed hebannon,” which fis a poison that Shakespeare made up. Interestingly, Shakespeare’s original source for Hamlet makes no reference to poisoning, but that the king was stabbed in front of his own court. I think Shakespeare might have changed this simply because Queen Elizabeth was concerned about assassination herself, and Shakespeare didn’t want to make it look like he approved of assassination. Then again, maybe he changed it so that the murder didn’t seem like a repeat of Julius Caesar, (which Shakespeare’s company performed the year before Hamlet, (Source: New York Times, 1982).
The Ghost describes how, when the poison went through his ear canal, he experienced violent swelling, sores, and unimaginable pain. He actually compares himself to Lazarus, Jesus’ friend in the Bible who died of leprosy.
And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark’d about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust
All my smooth body. Hamlet, Act I, Scene v, lines 807-811.
Sadly, Leprosy is still prevalent in third world countries so its symptoms are still very well understood: CONTENT WARNING: DISTURBING IMAGES IN THIS VIDEO
The poison is made up, but could such a poison actually exist? I found a wonderful article from the Journal of ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat), where the author John Riddington Young posits the kinds of real-world poisons that might have this horrific effect on Hamlet’s father.
What actual poison was used? Shakespeare states, “the juice of cursed Hebenon”  but sadly, there is no such drug. Did he mean hemlock, or perhaps henbane? Laurence Olivier actually substitutes the name hemlock in his 1948 film. Belladonna, aconite and nicotine have all been suggested, but the most likely culprit is taxine from the yew tree. It is a deadly poison and its Old English name was heben. Shakespeare would certainly have known of it; he says in Richard II, archers bend ‘their bows of doubly fatal Eugh’  (implying that apart from the arrows killing foes, there is an intrinsic toxicity in the wood).JOHN RIDDINGTON YOUNG:
“History of ENT – Murder most foul, strange and unnatural”
I found a case study of a real case of Yew poisoning that emphasizes that it is incredibly fast-acting, “Fast as quicksilver”, that it can be misdiagnosed as another poison (like a snake bite, as Claudius later claims), and that it has no known antidote, the perfect way to kill a king:
. The taxine alkaloids (for example, taxine A, 2-deacetyltaxine A, isotaxine B, 1-deoxytaxine B) derived from p-dimethylaminohydroxycinnamic acid are the effective poisons of the yew . In chemical terms, the compound is structurally related to veratrine, and the presence of an unsaturated lactone group makes this group of alkaloids similar to digitalis. Poisoning with the latter may be falsely diagnosed during a toxicological examination. Cardiac disturbances after intoxication by yew are ascribed mainly to the alkaloids paclitaxel and taxine B, affecting sodium/calcium permeability in cells . The taxine alkaloid is absorbed through the digestive tract very rapidly, and the signs of poisoning manifest themselves after 30 to 90 minutes. An infusion made from 50 to 100g of needles is considered to be fatal [3–5], as no antidote is known.Vališ, M., Kočí, J., Tuček, D. et al. Common yew intoxication: a case report. J Med Case Reports 8, 4 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-1947-8-4
So if you are playing Hamlet, in addition to the sadness and anger you feel after losing your father, you could also feel revulsion and pity at the painful, disgusting and cowardly way he was murdered. Truly, “MOST FOUL STRANGE AND MOST UNNATURAL.”
In 2008, I was in grad school studying Shakespeare. My roommate Robbie invited me to watch this show on DVD. I loved the show at the first watch and bought my own copy soon after. I also shared watching them with the woman who would later become my wife. Watching this show was our unofficial first date!
So as you can see, I clearly have a bias and a nostalgic connection to this show, but I think it has garnered enough praise that I can justify my admiration of it. The creators are Tony award-winning writers. The actors are acclaimed stars on stage and screen, all of whom have experience with Shakespeare, musicals, improv-comedy, or all three! So we have a comedy written by talented theater practitioners, acted by professional Shakespearean actors, and half the dialogue is Shakespeare? Was this show made specifically for me?
Something is rotten at the New Burbage Shakespeare Festival- a fictional Canadian Shakespeare company that is loosely based on the Stratford Shakespeare festival. The Artistic Director, Oliver Wells has died in suspicious circumstances, right before he was to start rehearsing “Hamlet.” Wells’ successor is a volatile actor-manager named Geoffry Tennet, who, in addition to dealing with the work-a-day demands of running a theater, the backstage drama of directing a play, his own romantic feelings for lead actress Ellen, is also having ghostly visits from his old mentor, Olliver! What follows is a funny, tragic, bittersweet comedy about drama. It’s The Office for Shakespeare Nerds!
The drama centers around the actors and actresses in the New Burbage Festival as they rehearse a Shakespeare play; Hamlet in Season 1, Macbeth in Season 2, and King Lear in Season 3. The subplots are more often than not workplace drama. Ironically, though the main cast parallels hamlet, the management team of Richard St-John (with a hyphen, played by Mark McKinney) and Holly Day (Jennifer Irwin), are unknowingly playing Lord and Lady Macbeth. The two of them plan to sabotage the production and eventually replace all Shakespeare shows with a more profitable musical-theatre-centered festival. It’s deliciously ironic that McKinney plays the scheming musical-loving Richard, since he himself is one of the Tony-award-winning writers of the Drowsy Chaperone.
I’ve said before that Gorss gives a kind of animal intensity as Hamlet and Geoffrey, and this is especially true in Season 1. When we first meet him, Geoffrey lost his girlfriend, his sanity, and his career as a respected actor. Then he has to return to the theatre where the man who betrayed him works, and is forced to take over this same theater as Artistic Director.
If you’ve never seen the show before, I should warn you, GEOFFREY IS AN ABSOLUTE JERK in the first few episodes. Like I said, he starts out hating his job and pushing away everyone who comes in contact with him. However, little by little, he re-discovers why he loves theater, Shakespeare, and his friends and colleagues. Look at how he goes from a sarcastic pedant to a real director as he teaches these businesspeople how to act!
The most truly lovely thing about season 1 in particular, is watching Rachel McAdams’ charming and heartfelt performance as Kate. She plays a struggling actor who deeply loves the theater and dreams of becoming a respected actress. Her dreams are tested however when she falls in love with one of her co-stars and is accused of sleeping her way into a better role.
McAdams is the perfect ingenue in this show: She is naive, charming, Ernest, and kind. You watch Kate struggle and desperately want her luck to turn around and then rejoice when she gets to fulfill her dreams.
As Kate on Slings, she’s the understudy who knows better — happy to be cast, sad that she’s not really cast, and trying not to be bitter that the actual Ophelia is such a wreck. Her smarts and capability of course find her pairing off with Jake (Kirby), who’s more famous but less theatrical.Slings and Arrows Is the Show Rachel McAdams (and All of Us) Deserved
By Margaret Lyons. Vulture Magazine, Aug, 2015.
Then you remember… she was Regina George! It’s easy to overlook how good an actor Ms. McAdams is since she frequently is overshadowed by her co-stars. Much like Ophelia herself, people heap all the praise on Hamlet and forget Ophelia. When I keep in mind the breadth of emotions Ms. McAdams has to portray, and how incredibly different this role is from her role in Mean Girls, I feel compelled to say her acting rivals Paul Gross as Geoffrey Tennet
Geoffrey: “Are you dead, or am I insane?
Oliver’s ghost: “I don’t see how those things are mutually exclusive.”S&A Episode 3
I recommend watching all six episodes of Season 1 consecutively, but I can’t deny, some episodes are better than others, especially in Season 1. The first three episodes mainly focus on Oliver’s death and the tragedy of the falling out between Geoffrey, Oliver, and Ellen. This is important for backstory purposes, but it’s a little uncomfortable and sad to watch. My favorite episodes are episodes 4,5 and 6. Here’s why:
After a drunken sword fight at his ex-girlfriend’s house, Geoffrey winds up in jail. This is his rock bottom. He even paraphrases Hamlet’s most famous speech as he contemplates ending it all in his cell. Thankfully, Oliver’s Ghost talks him out of it. Once he’s released, Geoffrey is re-energized and has a new purpose in life- directing Hamlet. Again, after three episodes of Geoffrey hurting, irritating, and sometimes even stabbing people, it’s nice to see our hero do what he was put here to do.
Geoffrey is finally fully committed to making the best Hamlet he can be, but he’s having problems with his Ophelia.
Geoffrey’s star is missing! With the production stalled, Geoffrey and Ellen finally have it out, and finally, share their tragic past with each other. Now the race is on to, “Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come, and fulfill their promise to Oliver.
So I hope I’ve articulated why I love this show and its characters. Just like anyone who’s ever had a boring office job loves and recognizes the characters from “The Office,” those of us in the theater recognize the crazy directors, the hopeful understudies, the divas, and the money-grubbing management. These characters feel like our friends and colleagues and they care so much about the universal dogma of “The show must go on,” no matter what kind of agonizing problems slow it down. Whether it be death, dementia, or a dislocated knee caused by a chameleon. the show within-this incredibly clever comedy about drama will catch your conscience… and your heart.
Play ME OUT CYRILL!
Interesting take. I don’t want to see it onstage but it does fit the text. What do you think?
I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of actor Kevin Conroy, world-renowned as the voice of Batman and Bruce Wayne on Batman The Animated Series, the Arkham Asylum games, and many others. Conroy is definitely my favorite Batman, and as I and many others have said before, there are Shakespearean tropes in the Caped Crusader. From the very beginning, Conroy drew inspiration from a particular Shakespearean play, the melancholy prince, dressed in black, who seeks to revenge his father’s murder: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:
I did a cold audition, I had never done an animated voice before. I said the only exposure I’ve had is the Adam West show from the 60’s and they said “NO! NO! NO! That’s not it.” I said ZIP POW POP and they said “NO! It’s, think film noir, think the 40’s New York. Think dark, think a kid who just watched his parents get murdered and spends his life avenging their deaths and he lives in the shadows. He’s got this dual personality and he’s never resolved this torture of his youth. I said you are telling the Hamlet story, this is heavy stuff. And he said yeah, no one has ever said that before, but yeah I guess it is. This is like a classic archetypal, Shakespearian tragedy. So I just used my theater training and put myself into that head (Batman voice) And I got into this very dark place and came up with this voice. (Regular Voice) And as I did it I saw them all running around in the booth. And I thought well either I did something really bad or something really good because I hit a nerve, I know I hit a nerve. And they came out and they said well we’ve seen about over 600 people and how would you like to do the part?Kevin Conroy
It makes sense that Conroy would use Shakespeare to flesh out Batman. He was a veteran of the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and performed in Hamlet several times. He even played the prince himself for the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1984. Yet I don’t think Conroy’s decision to make Batman a sort of modern-day Hamlet was entirely based on just his past experiences with Hamlet.
“Batman is basically the American version of Hamlet,” Affleck said. “We accept that he’s played by actors with different interpretations.”Ben Afleck, Entertainment Weekly, 2015.
Batman and Hamlet are basically Revenge Tragedies; age-old stories that began with Oedipus Rex and the Orestia in ancient Greek plays, where a hero must lift a plague on his society by avenging the death of a parent (usually the father). This kind of play was very popular in Shakespeare’s day and included a host of others such as Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, The Spanish Tragedy, Locrine, The Dutchess of Malfi, and later The Revenger’s Tragedy.
As this clip above indicates Hamlet is unique among revengers because his conflict doesn’t come from the machinations of his villain; he’s stopped by his own internal conflicts. Batman is more active than Hamlet, but he also wrestles with internal conflicts and Conroy plays these conflicts with a lot of subtlety and nuance. To illustrate this conflict, let’s look at some great clips from the series!
In this episode, Dr. Strange (not the Marvel Superhero), uses a dream-reading machine to try and blackmail Bruce Wayne, and inadvertently discovers his secret identity. Not only does this episode dramatize Wayne’s literal worst nightmare, (someone figuring out who he is), it also touches on the pain of his past and how even though now Batman is a deputized agent of the law who never kills, he began as an angry, vengeful vigilante, like Hamlet:
I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuseHamlet, Act III, Scene i.
me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.
I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my
beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give
them shape, or time to act them in.
In this clip from the animated movie Mask Of the Phantasm (1993), a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne feels a conflict between his obligation to avenge his parent’s death, and his budding romance with Ms. Andrea Beaumont:
One can almost sense an Ophelia- Hamlet-like conflict where Bruce knows his quest to avenge will consume him, and leave no time to pursue romance. In all revenge tragedies, the hero has to avenge alone, or at least without the support of a spouse or partner. Hamlet also makes the choice to cut Ophelia out of his life, though it’s not clear why. It could be he’s worried that Claudius will harm her, it could be he’s worried she’s compromised since her father tried to spy on him, or it could simply be that he doesn’t trust her. It’s up to the actor and director to “Pluck the heart of Hamlet’s mystery.”
Eventually though, the choice is made for him, and Bruce Wayne completely commits to his quest to battle the crime in Gotham, as this epic scene from “Mask of The Phantasm” shows:
Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swiftHamlet, Act I, Scene v.
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
The spirit that I have seenHamlet, Act II, Scene ii.
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.
What’s truly unique about the animated version of Batman is that it’s the only one that takes time to show Batman’s complex relationship with the ghosts of his parents. As previously discussed, Bruce Wayne’s desire to revenge their death and to punish the wickedness of Gotham is what spurs him to keep fighting as Batman, but he also wonders many times if he’s doing more harm than good. He’s also tempted to forget them and try to lead a normal life, like in the episode “Perchance to Dream,” (which itself is a quote from Hamlet). Above all, the animated show knows that, since children are watching this show, they will connect with Batman’s fear of not living up to his parent’s expectations, a fear to which every child can relate.
In the first season episode “Nothing To Fear,” the villainous Scarecrow exploits Batman’s fear of disappointing his parents by drugging him with a fear toxin, causing Bruce to hallucinate that his father is berating him and calling him a failure. Hamlet gets a similar ghostly chewing out in The Closet Scene:
Father’s Ghost. Do not forget. This visitationHamlet, Act III, Scene iv
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
While The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father is mostly supportive in this scene, Hamlet worries many times in the play if Claudius is in fact innocent, and the Ghost is a demon sent by the Devil to get him to kill an innocent man, and thus damn him for eternity. This uncertainty is the same that Batman wrestles with, as he confronts his own demon-like apparition. Batman then defiantly responds to this fiendish hallucination with one of the most iconic lines in the series:
Only a consummate professional like Conroy with his grounding in Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular could portray such an iconic character. Many fans of Batman like me believe that Conroy’s portrayal was the peak of the franchise, and I feel fortunate that it came out when I was a child. I mourn Conroy’s loss, yet as Mr. Affleck mentioned in the quote above, like Hamlet, the character of Batman has many possible interpretations, and though Conroy will always be my favorite, I hope new and exciting interpretations will arise from the shadows in time, bringing this complex, Shakespearean character to a new audience.
“Good Night, Sweet Prince and flights of bat wings fly thee to thy rest.”
This is a repost, but I want my audience to see it!
Is The Batman a Hamlet story? The Joker an Iago? I’m joined by Austin Tichenor (he/him), artistic director of the award winning Reduced Shakespeare CompanyShakespearean Villains and the Stories we Love
I’ve talked about some great Hamlets and some awful Hamlets. Now I want to talk about one that I find very much a mixed bag. The direction is incredible, for the most part it’s very well cast, and it has some truly memorable visuals, even though they’re very much rooted in the world-weary pre-9/11 New York of Y2K.
The mid 90s were the golden age for teenage Shakespeare adaptations with films like “Romeo+Juliet,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” and “O.” All of these films chose to do Shakespeare in modern day, and use youthful actors in the main parts. Since many teen novels and stories feature a brooding young protagonist dealing with the loss of a parent, while trying to find his/her place in the world, it makes sense Hollywood would continue this trend with Hamlet.
The trailer markets this as a sort of “cool Hamlet,” which is more about drama and exciting visuals then long-winded speeches. Director / screenwriter Michael Almereyda has a lot of interesting experience that translates well in this film., in addition to making films he also makes documentaries and short films. I think he wanted to tell this story like a documentary of a high-profile murder case, one where one of the victims happens to be an amateur short-film maker
I actually really liked Ethan Hawke as Hamlet. He has a real effortless delivery of Shakespeare and he plays Hamlet as a troubled art-student type of kid who wants to see life through a film lens instead of dealing with the chaos of real life. The film also has some creative staging choices for Hake’s soliloquies. Look at how they staged “To Be Or Not To Be,” in a way that though dated, is a clever way of establishing Hamlet’s worldview. This Hamlet wants to be an action hero like Schwartzenegger, but is cursed with a conscience, anxiety, and fear of the unknown:
Before he was a movie star, Ethan Hawke was an accomplished stage actor appearing frequently in the gritty western-inspired dramas of playwright Sam Shepherd. It seems appropriate that for Hamlet, the ghost of his father was played by one of Hawke’s theatrical mentors, plus as I said in my post on ghosts, it’s very true to form having the ghost played by a playwright
Shepherd is my favorite incarnation of The Ghost. He’s simultaneously fatherly and terrifying, he’s mournful and hopeful. He doesn’t have any special effects to detract from his performance, nor is he just a disembodied voice. The understated nature of Shepherd’s performance works perfectly for film!
I have to give special mention to Julia Styles (Ophelia), Liev Schrieber (Laertes), and Bill Murray (Polonius). All their scenes are great and they play off each other very well. You really feel bad for this family which winds up broken by Hamlet and the king, even though they did nothing wrong.
I particularly love this staging of Act I, Scene iii, where Laertes gives his sister Ophelia some advice before leaving for France. Their father Polonius in turn, gives Laertes some fatherly advice, concluding in the famous line: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”
Liev Schrieber as Laertes Shrieber was a great choice for a more movie -like American Laertes. He has a distinguished way of talking and a no-nonsense air about him that works well for the son of a corporate executive like Murray’s Polonius. At the same time, you can sense his boiling hatred of Hamlet, even in this first scene. He’s a great antagonist and plays well with Murray and Hawke.
Bill Murray As Polonius If you read my review of Branaugh’s Hamlet, you noticed I said that I thought his casting was terrific with two exceptions. One of which was casting Richard Briars as Polonius. Branaugh, (and Derek Jacobi in the stage production that inspired the movie), chose to direct Polonius as having no humor whatsoever- to play him as Claudius’ right-hand man. A controlling and micromanaging father who is obsessed with keeping up appearances. While Briars is a fantastic actor, you lose a lot of Polonius without giving him at least a little comic pedantry.
Bill Murry has no problem balancing the funny and business-like aspects of Polonius’ character. Like Peter Venkmen in Ghostbusters, he takes himself too seriously and loves to hear himself talk, and lke his character in Lost In Translation, he has a great deal of fatherly tenderness with Julia Styles. I also love the bit where he puts some extra money in Laertes’ backpack. This Polonius isn’t a fool, but he’s also a bit of a worry wart- and his fretting over his kids blinds him to what Hamlet is really up to.
Julia Styles as Ophelia As I mentioned, Ms. Styles did a number of great Shakespeare movies in the mid 90s, including her iconic portrayal of Kat Stratford in “10 Things I hate About You.” Sadly, the director didn’t give her much to do in the fisrt half of this movie. Her Ophelia mostly looks pretty and does as little as possible. The only moment that stood out to me was the look of guilt on her face after Hamlet discovers she’s wearing a wire in the “Get Thee To A Nunnery” scene.
Styles shines however in The Mad scene. I think her strong personality clashed in the first half of the film with the rather weak and docile Ophelia they were going for. Thankfully, during the Mad Scene, she screams, gets in people’s faces, and has a lot of fury towards the men in the scene. Also, putting the scene in the famous Guggenheim Art Museum works very well- it’s a public place, so anything Ophelia says makes Claudius look bad. Also, the spiral design of the museum feeds into the disorientation Ophelia feels without her father. Finally, the art itself calls back her love of photography and Hamlet’s love of film.
A lot of the scenes and soliloquies of this film are very hit-and-miss, but the one moment of the play Almereyda absolutely nails is the play-within-a-play in Act III, Scene i. First of all, the director cuts all the intentionally bad dialogue and turns the play into a silent film-within-a-film, with lots of homemade charm and disturbing imagery. Mr. Almereyda carefully adapted the often-cut dumb show that happens before the play, and used that to fashion Hamlet’s short film:
Not only does this film fulfill its dramatic function, (making Claudius betray his guilt), but we also get a window into Hamlet’s mind. We see how he sees his father, his mother, and his life before his father’s death. As an added bonus, the film is subtle enough that Claudius would’ t be able to make sense of it unless he had actually murdered Hamlet’s father.
Like I said, my problem isn’t with Hawke. My problem is the rest of the film. Some actors just mumble their lines. Sometimes the director wastes time with pointless film clips which only seem to exist to remind you that “This Hamlet is artsy.” But my biggest problem with the film is the pace. Almereyda does a great job paring down Hamlet to its core drama- Hamlet vs Claudius and the poor people who get caught in the crossfire. Though he is sparing with dialogue, he wastes time with silence. A lot of the film is the characters sitting around watching TVs, looking at photos, sleeping, or just staring off into space. In addiiton, the delivery is very mixed. Like I said, Hawke’s quiet, understated delivery works very well, but not for every character. To varying degrees, everyone in the film is guilty of what I call “movie Shakespeare acting,” which is to say, being so afraid of sounding like Oliver and Branaugh, that they mumble their lines, slow the pace down, and turn the emotion down to nearly zero, because they don’t want their performances to appear over-the-top. The thing is, Hamlet is a tragedy about people who are fighting for their lives and souls. A little quiet introspection is important, but too much of it drags the play or the movie down.
As you read in my post on the duel in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s play, ends in a fencing match where Laertes betrays Hamlet by fighting with a poisoned sword, which Hamlet eventually uses to kill Laertes and Claudius. It’s a powerful moment of poetic justice. In Almereyda’s version, LAERTES JUST SHOOTS HAMLET.
To be fair, the whole scene doesn’t work well in a 21st-century context. Laertes just told Hamlet to literally “Go to Hell,” but then in the very next scene Hamlet agrees to play against him in a friendly fencing match? Only a complete idiot wouldn’t know that something suspicious is up. In every good production I’ve seen, Hamlet knows this is a trap, but he does it anyway. I think he intends to let God decide their quarrel like in old-fashioned judicial combat.
Since dueling isn’t practiced anymore (except in episodes of The Office), it seems bizarre that Hawke’s Hamlet would agree to be in the same room with Laertes, let alone fight with him. I wish the director had done something, anything to justify Hamlet’s choice to fence with Laertes, or just do away with the fencing entirely and have them fight over Ophelia’s grave.
The other thing I hate about this scene is that it isn’t a fight; it’s a murder and a very stupid one. Laertes shoots Hamlet but instead of shooting him at a distance, he walks right over and shoots Hamlet, close enough for Hamlet to turn the gun on Laertes. This makes Shreiber’s character seem incredibly stupid and completely unsympathetic. Not only is it stupid, but it’s also cowardly. Hamlet is unarmed, and can’t defend himself against a bullet. If Laertes had a knife, Hamlet would’ve at least have had a fighting chance. As it is, we get a pointless, bloody end to a great character, and Laertes does it in a cowardly ignoble way.
Whether or not you’ve seen and liked this film, it definitely influenced one of the most well-received Hamlets of recent memory.The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 TV movie of Hamlet takes a lot of cues from Michael Almereyda’s film.
So, to be brief, this version isn’t the best, but it has plenty of clever set pieces, good performances, and early 2000s angst to trigger any millennial’s nostalgia goggles. More than that, I think later productions are indebted to this little movie for paving the way to bring Hamlet into the 21st century.
Just like my favorite Hamlets, I want to emphasize that this is all subjective. Some Hamlets I don’t like because of the production, some because of the acting, and some because of EVERYTHING, but I encourage you to check these out anyway because you may disagree with me, and even the worst Hamlet is still a lot of fun.
Just as one of my favorite Hamlets played Sherlock Holmes, one of my least favorites played James Moriarty. I’ll grant you that Scott has a unique acting style- his gestures are fluid and yet frenetic. His voice jumps up and down pitches seemingly at random, which serves him well when he’s playing characters who seem mentally unbalanced. I’ll also grant you that he has a fresh take, but honestly, that take is- what if Hamlet is a bad person? Scott’s Hamlet is cold, full of internalized rage and fear and he treats everyone around him appallingly. He’s never warm or kind to anyone and is often belligerent, condescending, or outright disgusting. The part where he picks up Ophelia’s corpse and hugs her is very unpleasant to watch and I felt very sad for both her and poor Horatio. In short, nobody could say “Good Night Sweet Prince,” to this guy with a straight face.
This film was so disappointing. Every Shakespeare fan knows that Zeffirelli made one of the most iconic film versions of Romeo and Juliet, which is still beloved after 50 years. So it’s deeply ironic, that he also produced an utterly forgettable version of Hamlet with human punching bag Mel Gibson in the title role.
To be honest, this one isn’t all that bad. Shell is a talented actor, especially when you consider that English is his second language. And the fact that he won an Oscar a few years after this shows that mainly the problem with this film was the direction. His delivery is slow, dreary, with little vocal variety and no interesting cinematography. That said, you know he understands the part and does his best. My advice, don’t watch the film unless you’re watching the Mystery Science Theater Episode:
Like I said in the previous post, it might be debatable whether or not The Lion King is Hamlet, but if it is, I really hate this interpretation. Simba is not given time to mourn his father or contemplate revenge. Nor is he especially concerned with his kingdom for most of the movie. In essence, he’s a spoiled brat, who just happens to be the heir to the throne, so he is the only one who can overthrow Scar and take the kingdom. Really, every time Simba is onscreen I keep hoping Nathan Lane will start singing and drown him out. To paraphrase Hamlet himself:
This twerp cries out, and speaks each petty line of dialogue as grossly as an unwashed lion’s mane.
I haven’t had the privilege to play Hamlet, though I have come close many times. I’ve done scenes in classes and during recitals, recorded monologues, even sung the Gravedigger’s song online. The closest I actually got to doing the whole part in front of an audience was reading Hamlet in front of my high school class.
In 2020 when I had a little free time during quarantine (like many of us), I decided to record a short video for a lecture on Hamlet, where I did a clip of “To Be Or Not To Be.” I was never happy with it, but let me know what you think:
“Wait!” You’re saying, “Wasn’t Schwartzenegger on the Good Hamlets list too?” Yes. Yes, he was. Like I said yesterday, when it works, “Last Action Hero” is a cheeky, self-aware parody of all action movies that fully acknowledges that Hamlet is their true progenitor. Sadly though, when it’s not doing that, it’s a poorly directed, unfocused, dull mess. Like a lot of Hollywood blockbusters, I think this movie eventaully was taken over by studio heads who really didn’t get the joke. Having Arnold’s character Jake brood when he discovers he’s fictional just wastes time and goes nowhere.
Nick – “This is a wonderful moment for me, Mr. Slater. I’ve never met a fictional character before. How new and exciting this must all be for you.”
Jack Slater – “Hey, I just found out I was imaginary. I mean, how would you feel is somebody made you up? Your job, your marriage, your kids. Oh, yeah. Let’s push his son off the building. Gives you nightmares for the rest of your life. But you’re fictional, so who cares? I’m sorry. But I don’t find this new and exciting to discover that my whole life has been a damn movie.”Arnold Schwartzenegger (as Jack Slater)
This moment in particular explains the problem with the film- it keeps wanting to be dramatic when it doesn’t need to be. The film loses focus when it starts commenting about action movies instead of gently poking fun and parodying them. Ironically, when Schwartzenegger is playing Hamlet he does some of the best acting in the movie. So I love this film when it’s a clever pastiche, but I hate it when it’s trying to give a fictional character depth.
What happens when you try to make a comedy out of “Hamlet,” and then get rid of Hamlet? In this case, you get THE WORST SHAKESPEARE ADAPTATION I’VE EVER SEEN!!! I simply can’t believe this exists- a comedy starring Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Mel Blanc, and MAX VON SYDOW FROM THE SEVENTH SEAL?
If you read a lot of my posts, you know I enjoy trying to find Shakespearean tropes in movies that aren’t intentionally Shakespeare. Heck, I even did one about Hamlet and Disney’s Coco. So I know you might be saying to yourself, “Why is he claiming this silly Canadian comedy about drunk guys is Shakespeare? He must be reading too far into this.”
Nope. No I am not. Look at the facts:
Weirdly, the 1980s and 90s had a lot of comedies that used Shakespeare as a framework; from Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy to Porkys 2, which hinges around a production of Romeo and Juliet, to later comedies like “Get Over It,” “She’s All That,” and “Ten Things I Hate About You.” It seems that a lot of writers wanted to try their hands at reworking Shakespeare for comedy.
But what about this version? IT’S TERRIBLE. The film doesn’t even focus on Pam, the Hamlet analogue, and instead focuses on the idiotic hockey hooligans Bob and Doug Mackenzie played with a tedium that would make Polonius cry to be stabbed again. The germ film was actually this sketch from the Second City Improv Troupe’s TV show: SCTV:
So like a lot of TV stars aiming for the big screen, Moranis and Thomas decided to turn these sketches into a movie, and they don’t even hide how lazy they are taking the exact same premise of this sketch and repeating it verbatim in the movie:
So the premise is, much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, these hapless idiots find themself caught up in the court drama of Elsinore, only this time it’s a beer company, not a castle, and they actually help the hero, not the villain, though completly by accident.
So who’s bright idea was it to pair these Canadian donut munchers with Hamlet?
According to Mental Floss, it was Thomas’ own idea to base the film on Hamlet, and the script went through many stages of re-interpretation of the play:
Dave Thomas studied English Literature in college, and thought it would be funny to class up Bob and Doug’s big-screen debut by modeling the pair after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Pam (Lynne Griffin), who takes over her recently deceased father’s brewery in the movie, is also modeled after Hamlet, who in the play returns to Denmark after the murder of his father. English lit fans will also note that Elsinore Brewery is named after Hamlet’s royal castle of the same name.Sean Hutchinson. “11 Frosty Facts About Strange Brew”
I’ve heard this film defended as a slice of Canadiana (is that even a word), and that the Hamlet comparisons are a way of riffing on Canada’s “Postmodern identity.” In essence, the film is Hamlet because both Hamlet and Canada are meta, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as a way to hoodwink people into thinking this comedy is smarter than it is.
Right now you’re thinking, “Geez, we got hosed! What about Hamlet, you knob?”Dave Thomas, ending of this POS
This is a video produced by TED-ED. If I have enough time, I’ll expand on it below, but for now, it’s very informative and visually striking.