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The character of Hamlet

The character of Hamlet in the play of the same name by William Shakespeare has long been a difficult one for critics to assess because he is seen as passive rather than active for most of the play. Early in the play he is charged with the task of avenging his father, a task given him by his father's ghost, and yet for most of the play he does nothing about it. He is highly reflective but inactive until the very end of the play when he does his duty, destroys the man who killed his father, and is himself destroyed. Critics have pondered the question of why he waits so long. In his film version from 1948, Laurence Olivier answers this question in a spoken prologue, stating that this is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind. There is no prologue in the Franco Zeffirelli version from 1991, with Mel Gibson in the title role, and it is less clear why Hamlet hesitates as he does. The two films are very different, though based on the same material. The Olivier version is much truer to the spirit of the play as well as to its theatricality, and some of the changes made in the Zeffirelli version undercut the effect of the piece.

The most obvious difference between the two is the overall look of each film and the tone of the direction. Of course, the Olivier version is in black and white and the Zeffirelli version in color, and this is more than a surface difference. The Olivier film is dark, brooding, and truly theatrical, with sets that are suggestive rather than realistic, expressionistic rather than precise. The darkness of the image is matched by a darkness of spirit and a sense of foreboding that hangs over the film from the first frame. This is not the case with the Zeffirelli version, which tends to be brighter, often excessively colorful, and awash in sunlight on realistic sets. This realism does not match the internal nature of the action and specifically of the conflicted character of Hamlet, while the d...

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The character of Hamlet. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 02:45, April 02, 2023, from