Yes, I've really written one of my own. And no, I won't post it on this website.
Because this website is not about selling a screenplay. – It's about a dream.
Then why all this, you ask? Has not the world productions of this play aplenty yet, that you think you
must add another to the pile? And really think you you can outdo Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Kenneth Branagh,
Grigori Kosintzev or Franco Zeffirelli? (Faith, no. I don't.) Then why a screenplay even, if you won't go
and share it with us here?
For two special reasons.
First for myself, and foremost that in fact. – I am probably not unique in that, to truly understand
something – anything, actually; be it a play, a book or another piece of literature, a mathematical
problem (to the extent that those aren't beyond my scope of comprehension anyway), a street map, or whatever
else – just passively taking it in simply won't do it for me. I have to do something with
it: delve in, take it apart, put it back together in a different order, trace its connecting and dividing
lines, translate it into another medium; make it work for me whichever way I can. Only then do I feel I
truly begin to develop an understanding of the thing I'm looking at.
So much for this in general. Now, as for
"Hamlet" in particular, we're talking, as I truly believe, about the single most complex and
multi-layered piece of writing in literary history; which is, after all, why to this date it is the subject
of such an ongoing debate. I, too, have stopped counting the hours I have spent delving into the world of
Shakespeare's Elsinore (not counting the creation of this website), and I am still discovering new layers of
complexity with every new visit. Thus, at some point there was simply no way I could go on sitting idly by,
merely consuming the interpretations of others. I had to find a way to enter into a dialogue with the play's
characters; to slip into their skins; to understand their motivations; to let them speak directly to me, and
to me alone. In doing that, however, my approach could not be that of an actor, because I simply don't
know enough about acting to use any of those techniques in order to put myself into the Prince's place (or
that of any other inhabitant of Elsinore). So, while an actor might well and truly feel that "Hamlet" belongs
into the theatre – that one must be forced to tackle the Prince's inner trials and tribulations again
and again every night of a full theatrical season in order to really be able to get into his skin (as Mel
Gibson has commented: his only exposure to the role being Franco Zeffirelli's movie but, unlike the world's
Olivers, Jacobis and Branaghs, no theatrical performance at all, "it's as if I did it but I didn't really do
it," he said) – for me, who knows nothing whatsoever about acting, there had to be another way.
The need for this grew in exigency the more I also began to realise that I disagreed
with some aspects of even the greatest enactments of the play, including those committed to celluloid –
which in my view are, incidentally, as far as "real" movies go, the four mentioned above, and as for a filmed
stage production, without question or competition the BBC's 1980 version starring Sir Derek Jacobi. My one
true regret is that I never had the opportunity to see the two other great actors for whom I have as much
respect as for Sir Laurence and Sir Derek (the late Sir John Gielgud, as well as Sir Ian McKellen) in the
title role; although thankfully at least several Gielgud audio recordings have been (re-)released in recent
years. – But to get back to the business at hand, let's face it, folks, it's very easy to criticise.
If you are, however, dealing with people who have such infinitely greater insight and experience with a given
matter than you do yourself, the very, very least you can and in fact should do if you
dare enter into any kind of dialogue with them at all (even if only a virtual and indirect one) is to make
sure you understand not only why you disagree on individual aspects of that matter, but also how you yourself
would approach it instead. Ultimately, there was only one way for me to achieve this: to move from spectator
to participant, and to enter into the aforementioned dialogue with the play's characters and, at least indirectly,
with the directors and actors involved with my aforementioned favourite interpretations; to go through the
play line by line, visualise each and every scene, understand what it means to me and how I read the characters'
motivations, and think out in detail how I would translate that in an adaptation of my own.
The other motive why I actually sat
down and wrote out a complete screenplay – and in a way it's connected with the above –
is a lesson my father taught me when I was very little, and which I have never forgotten. If you have ever
visited my other website (Themis-Athena.info),
you know from my "About You" page there that I was exposed to Greek mythology (and Greek and Roman history)
at a very early age – indeed, a mere look at my screen name on that site should tell you that. Anyway,
as even my loving mother
noted in a diary she kept for me at about that same time, I have always been decidedly better with words
than with actions. So on one occasion, when I had again been making big proclamations about what I could and
would do (if only ...), my father pulled me to the side and quoted the famous epigram from Aesop's fable
"The Braggart," where a spectator comments on an athlete's claim that he once jumped as high as the Colossus
of Rhodes and could even produce witnesses to that effect: "Hic Rhodos, hic salta" – "Here is Rhodes,
jump here." In other words, don't make any speeches, but prove that you can, in fact, do it ... right
now. Or, as the Bard would have it,
"suit the action to the word, the word to the action,"
and, "that we would do, we should do when we would."
I have no illusions whatsoever as to the quality of my writing – such as it is in the first place;
for I did, after all, have the best help I could possibly get in Shakespeare himself, whose immortal words
I merely had to put
into some frame of my own.
But it is no matter, since I
primarily did it for myself anyway. Still, I care about this little bit of intellectual property of mine
just about enough not to simply post it on the web, for any- and everyone else to use, abuse and copy.
(And for what it's worth, I'm also contemplating to register it with the WGA and whatever other competent
authorities out there.) Now, remote though it may be, I can't entirely rule out the possibility that someone
with the right connections will pick up on my dilettante ramblings on this website and work them into a
production without seeking my consent regardless. In that event, I guess it would be time for me to talk to
a few people in the legal community who specialise in this kind of stuff. But I'll cross that bridge
if and only if I should ever absolutely have to.
So how does my screenplay differ from the great adaptations already committed to celluloid, particularly
the five expressly mentioned here? Well, in light of the above considerations regarding copyright issues I
don't want to go into too much detail, but of course
you shall hear, or rather, see
the cause of this effect throughout
for this effect defective comes by cause;
(since brevity is the soul of wit),
the ideas set forth here are all reflected in the screenplay in one way or another. To highlight just a
couple of basic points:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Triumph of Death – detail (ca. 1562, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)
Premise and Setting: While like Signor Zeffirelli I would use a medieval (or very early Renaissance)
setting, I would for nothing in the world forego the play's opening scene with the Ghost's very first appearance,
as both Zeffirelli and Grigori Kosintzev do; rather, I would take Shakespeare's words to the letter with
regard to all the gloom and doom suggested there. My Elsinore would, for all intents and purposes, be the
cinematic equivalent of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder or Hieronymus Bosch: hell on earth, reigned
by the Devil himself (and if you think you've seen a ruthlessly scheming, Macchiavellian Claudius in the
adaptations by Sir Laurence Olivier and Franco Zeffirelli, you just wait 'till you've seen mine). At the
same time, I think it is possible to use a setting seemingly so firmly tied to a given historical period to
get across a very simple and timeless idea: for ultimately, "Hamlet" is not just a revenge play (or a detective
story, or whatever particular slant you want to give it) – to me, it's also the story of a man's stance
against evil incarnate in the attempt to restore civilisation, justice and humanity to a profoundly corrupted
and oppressed land; and in that respect, it could just as well be set in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet
Union, or on a slave owner's plantation ... anywhere, that is, where the basic tenets of a humane civilisation are
trodden and spat on. See the Hamlet's World page and the
character pages of Claudius and
the Ghost of Hamlet's father for a basic idea as to the way
this would play out, as well as the soliloquy pages dealing with
Claudius's announcement of his and Gertrude's wedding;
Hamlet's, Claudius's and Gertrude's exchange on sons, fathers, and the proper form of mourning;
Hamlet's encounter with his father's Ghost;
Hamlet's lecture to Claudius on worms and beggars; and
Claudius's and Laertes's conspiracy.
Hamlet and His Father My view of the play's setting and premise also closely ties in with the way I
see the relationship between Hamlet and his father, which to me drives the plays' action even more (or at the
very least, as much as) that between Hamlet and Gertrude: While our Prince is certainly awed by the dead
King's appearance from beyond the grave, I see no Freudian rebellion or jealousy in Hamlet's attitude towards
his father but rather, an earnest desire to fulfill his command, stifled by an as great awe at the magnitude
of his task. To me, the dead King, whose reign (as we must assume from all we hear Horatio, Hamlet himself
and others saying about him) was fair and valiant – the model of what any just government should be –
operates as Hamlet's conscience, much the same way that the realisation of the injustice and manifold wrongs
and injuries wrought by a reign of terror must weigh on the conscience of those opposed to the ruler and
spur them to action, despite the typically overwhelming odds they face. Having grown up with a role model
like King Hamlet to look up to, our Prince is devastated, upon returning to Denmark, to see what has become
of the country since his father's death, and how all virtues upheld by the former King are turned into their
very opposite. It is this devastation, coupled with his awareness just how unassailable Claudius seems on
the throne, which nearly strangles him, makes him gasp for air, and, horrified though he is at the turn of
events, makes him struggle to understand what he himself can possibly do to
set right this world (or time) so profoundly
out of joint in which he suddenly finds himself.
Quentin Massys: Erasmus of Rotterdam (1517, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome, Italy)
Horatio: Whereas I principally agree with those interpretations that see him as Hamlet's close
friend (as opposed to his gay lover), I think he has a much more important role to play than being merely
the Prince's loyal sidekick. For one thing, I see him as a few years older than Hamlet and by virtue of
that fact, as well as due to his rationality and superior intellect, as something of a mentor to the Prince
(and after Hamlet's departure and Polonius's death also to Gertrude, and to some extent as a surrogate guardian
to Ophelia). Moreover, and crucially, he is also the Prince's chronicler; the one person through whom the
world learns of Hamlet's fate – and thus at the same time, in the more symbolic context described
above, akin to anybody reporting on a reign of terror; such as a journalist, a historian, a witness at trial
... or a playwright working the material into a (semi-)fictionalised stage adaptation. This also provides
a bit of a different angle for the character of Fortinbras, who is not only Hamlet's heir and one of his
several foils but also Horatio's primary audience. See the site's
Fortinbras character pages, as well as the page on
Hamlet's World and the soliloquy pages for
the Prince's praise of Horatio and
Hamlet's death for further
Roses, Huntington Library and Gardens, Pasadena, California, USA (photo (c) Ulrike Boehm; all rights reserved)
Elsinore is a man's world to the last, and that includes the Prince's own attitude towards women –
nowhere more than in this regard do we see that we are, indeed, dealing with a medieval society; or with
a society as yet barely touched by enlightened thought. Indeed, we're looking at a
world that leaves its female inhabitants even less freedom of movement than it accords to their male
counterparts; and neither Gertrude nor Ophelia are anywhere near forerunners of women's lib. Rather, trapped
in a dichotomy only capable of seeing them as either snow-white virgin or painted whore, in Hamlet's
perception – and hence, also in his dealings with them – they both end up firmly in the latter
corner: Gertrude at least in part because of her own choices, too, but Ophelia solely and exclusively because
of the Prince's severely bruised male ego after her rejection of his courtship (in which she did nothing
more than obey her father's express orders). – Now, lest all the guys out there fear some sort of
feminist reinterpretation of the entire play, far be it from me to suggest any such thing. But since I
am a woman, I guess it's only natural that I should see a few things about this play differently
than any man would. And while I can identify with smatterings of my favourite adaptations' respective Ophelia
and Gertrude scenes, none of them brings together all of these elements in a truly comprehensive fashion.
Moreover, and more fundamentally speaking, none of them ever fully espouses Gertrude's or Ophelia's point
of view. At best, we get the perspective of a neutral observer, which is at heart, however, still that of
the respective production's male director. – For a more extensive discussion, see the two pages
summed up under the headline "Hamlet and Women"
(Eve and Her Daughters and
Hamlet and Eve), as well as
Ophelia's character pages and the soliloquy pages for
Hamlet's, Claudius's and Gertrude's exchange on sons, fathers, and the proper form of mourning;
Hamlet's first major soliloquy
(which includes his infamous exclamation,
"Frailty, thy name is woman!);
Laertes's and Polonius's admonitions to Ophelia;
Ophelia's account of the Prince's intrusion into her bedchamber;
Polonius's report to Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet's and Ophelia's courtship;
Hamlet's and Ophelia's confrontation after
"To be, or not to be;"
Hamlet's and Gertrude's confrontation;
Ophelia's mad songs and prophecies; and
Gertrude's report of Ophelia's death.
Anthony van Dyck: Portrait of a Commander in Armour, with a Red Scarf (Gemaeldegalerie, Dresden, Germany)
Laertes: Oh, him, you'll say: he's that impetuous young hotspur so hell-bent on revenge that he
even lets Claudius talk him into conspiring against Hamlet, right? What else is there to be said about him?
– Well, young he may be, and an impetuous hotspur, too; but has anybody (besides Master Kosintzev,
who at least gives us an inkling of this) ever thought about the fact that upon his return from France he is
staging a downright armed rebellion against Claudius? Which means commanding troups, which in turn demands
decidedly more than the stature of an easily-manipulated young hothead. In addition, I think it is quite
likely that Laertes and Hamlet were boyhood friends (we're admittedly never told so expressly, but they seem
to be of approximately the same age, and Hamlet in particular can't have had many other childhood companions
of "suitable" rank and age); and in addition, since Laertes has grown up at court, he is certainly no stranger
to conspiracies as such. Taking all this into consideration, Claudius's success in turning Laertes from an
adversary into his primary tool against Hamlet gains even more in its sinister import. See
Laertes's character page and the soliloquy pages for
Claudius's and Laertes's conspiracy and
Hamlet's and Laertes's exchange before the duel
for further details.
Orchid exhibition, Kew Gardens, London, England (photo (c) Ulrike Boehm; all rights reserved)
One of the play's key structural features is the contrast between its highly individualised principals
(Hamlet himself and the royal family, Polonius and his children, and Horatio) and archetypical characters
almost totally lacking in individualised traits. The paragons of these are, of course, the Players (more
on them below); but similarly, the Clowns (these days, better known as the Gravediggers), the Sentinels,
and Claudius's Pawns – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as well as Osric – constitute a marked
difference in personal make-up and appearance as compared to the principals. Yet, especially with regard to
the Sentinels (and there, particularly with regard to Marcellus), as well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
there is a tendency to imbue them with as many individualised features as humanly possible, because they
seem to be so damned important to the plot. Important they certainly are, but in their individual capacity?
No, at least not in my view – otherwise Shakespeare wouldn't have created them as archetypes in the
first place. Well, but if that is true, why not go all the way and show them for what they truly are? See
Clowns character pages, as well as the
Clowns and riddles
soliloquy page to get an idea how I would go about achieving this effect.
Pablo Picasso: Family of Saltimbanques (1905, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA)
The Players: In addition to all their symbolic importance as mirrors of the main play's principals
and catalysts of the mid-tragedy build-up of tension in the "play within the play" – as well as, in
interpretations such as those starring Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet's surrogate family
in the world of make-believe – I think the Players present a one-of-a-kind opportunity to pay homage
to the great tradition of Shakespearean theatre; not least because the Bard himself – in Hamlet's
"instructions" before the "play within the play" – takes advantage of their appearance to vent some
of his own major grievances. So why not have his spokesman, the Prince of Denmark, give that speech to
Players actually recalling Shakespeare's own company? And why not finally give Will Kempe, the obvious
addressee of the Prince's remarks about
"those that play your clowns",
an opportunity to respond? (Yes, I know there are those who believe that Shakespeare had Kempe's role model
Richard Tarlton in mind when he wrote these words. But for all I know, Tarlton and the Bard never quarrelled
about the clown's overstepping the bounds of his role, whereas Kempe had had to leave the Lord Chamberlain's
Men, likely over precisely this same issue, about two years before "Hamlet" was written, so I see him as the much
likelier candidate. – And to those who now suspect I might want to add to the play after all and
convert this little bit into a "real" dialogue ...
fear me not! As always, I don't think a single
word needs to be added to achieve my purpose.) See
the Players' character page for further details.
Events alluded to but not acted out in the play: There are a number of events
in "Hamlet" that we don't get to see, although Shakespeare obviously accords them importance enough to at
least have his characters talk about them. Approaches as to what to do with these events differ: here's a
brief run-down how I would handle the major ones of these occurrences and developments:
Alhambra, Granada, Spain: Corte de Leones (Lions' Court) – detail (photo (c) Ulrike Boehm; all rights reserved)
The back story – Kings Hamlet and Fortinbras/ Prince Fortinbras and "Old Norway": Sir Kenneth
Branagh takes us to the Norwegian court whenever we hear our characters talk of the events relating to the
quarrel between Norway and Denmark, and its diplomatic solution by Voltemand's and Cornelius's mission. In
the best tradition of "show, don't tell," there is much to be said for that approach; and yet,
I wouldn't follow Sir Kenneth's example here, at least largely not. Initially, unlike him, I actually
would show the "seal'd compact"
between Kings Hamlet and Fortinbras and the latter's slaying at the hand of King Hamlet, because these are
the events that lay the foundation for almost the entire action of the play. But other than that, I'd want
my audience's attention in the play's very first scene to stay with Elsinore's beleagured state, which
results from the threat brought about by Prince Fortinbras's retaliation campaign for his father's death
(particularly since both Marcellus and Horatio expressly mention the castle's state of near-siege in this
very context). Moreover, crucially, it is none other than Horatio who lays out the play's back story for
us, and if, like me, you see him as your story's major narrator anyway, I think this is just too good an
opportunity to waste in establishing him in precisely that role from the start. – Subsequently, then,
Voltemand and Cornelius report back on their mission to Norway in the context of an official audience, in
the presence of (one assumes, numerous) other courtiers and attendants, and it is this official context
which Polonius then also chooses to impart the news of his discovery of Hamlet's and Ophelia's courtship. There is a
sharp, even painful contrast between the public setting and the extremely private nature of his report to
Claudius and Gertrude, and I would rather highlight this contrast by making the most of the audience setting,
instead of running the (ever so slight) risk of diverting my audience's attention by even visually taking
them to the Norwegian court, and to that doubtlessly colourful confrontation between Fortinbras and "Old
Horatio's character page and
the pages dealing with
Hamlet's World and
Polonius's report to Claudius and Gertrude
for an in-depth discussion of the associated issues.
Willem Claeszoon Heda: Still Life, or Vanitas (1628, Museum Bredius, The Hague, Netherlands)
King Hamlet's Murder: Sir Laurence Oliver and Sir Kenneth Branagh both show it: the former in a
scene echoed in the third act's "play within the play," the latter as a near-surrealistic flashback focusing on
the murdered King"s ear and the vial of poison being poured into it. Though I shudder at these images and
am much tempted to do as Sir Laurence and Sir Kenneth did (this one act is the driving force of the play's
more immediate action in chief after all), ultimately I would stick with Hamlet and his father's Ghost here, I think, the
way that Franco Zeffirelli does: for what matters more to me than even the murder itself is the devastating
effect of that act, and of the news of its commission, first on the King's soul (which is sent to Purgatory)
and then on Hamlet (who is horrified not only by the act itself but also by the torment it has brought about
for his father, and the consequences that it has for his, the Prince's own person). Because the purpose of the
dialogue between Hamlet and his father's Ghost is not only to let us, the audience, in on the truth behind
Claudius's reign. First and foremost, we're meant to see the impact that the Ghost's revelations have on
Hamlet, to feel his instant compulsion to act, and his compassion and fury, which seems to contrast so
strongly with his later doubts (as expressed, particularly, in the
"rogue and peasant slave" and
"to be, or not to be" monologues).
For only after having seen his passionate first response to the Ghost's revelations will we truly wonder: So
why in God's great name doesn't he do as he instantly promises his father and avenge him?
Édouard Manet: The Funeral (ca. 1860, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA)
King Hamlet's burial:Grigori Kosintzev and Franco Zeffirelli show it; but they both do so primarily
in order to circumvent the play's opening scene and in order to be able to begin the movie with a scene
involving Prince Hamlet himself. Clever (also a nice touch in that we get to see Gertrude's abject protestations
of grief right at the beginning of their movies), but again I'd stick closer to the Bard's play "as written"
here: Act I, Scene 1 is too important to my approach to see it replaced entirely by the dead King's burial
(which is not to say that we wouldn't get to see a snippet of the latter, as well as a view of his tomb at
some point or other).
The courtships between Claudius and Gertrude, and Hamlet and Ophelia:
Jean-Antoine Watteau: The Love Song (ca. 1717, National Gallery, London, England)
Conversely, I would want the viewer to question whether Hamlet's views on Ophelia, and on Gertrude's wedding
are really the be-all and end-all to be said about those subjects. This would necessarily require at least a few
brief flashbacks, both on the (new) royal couple's wedding and on the begin of Hamlet's courtship with Ophelia;
although (much as I love those scenes in Sir Kenneth Branagh's movie, and at the risk of disappointing my
prospective audience right here and now), in line with my understanding of Ophelia as a heretofore rather
sheltered teenager growing up at a medieval court, the encounters between the Prince and the maid that I
envision would distinctly more chaste than those shown by Sir Kenneth. – To the extent possible
in the context of this website, these issues are discussed on the pages listed above under the
headline "The Women."
Hamlet's intrusion into Ophelia's bedchamber:
John Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Fuessli): The Nightmare (1781, Institue of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA)
This scene, too, is absolutely crucial in my view; we need to see it to get a grasp of what has
transpired there and how it impacts the further relationship between the Prince and Polonius's daughter.
Of course Shakespeare leaves a lot of room for interpretation by giving us solely the testimony of the
distracted maid herself to work with; but then, he is the ultimate actors' playwright for a reason
... See Ophelia's character page and the soliloquy
Ophelia's account of the Prince's intrusion into her bedchamber and
Hamlet's and Ophelia's confrontation after
"To be, or not to be"
for details on my take.
Pyrrhus and Hecuba:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Triumph of Death – detail (ca. 1562, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)
As great fun as it is to see Dame Judi Dench and Sir John Gielgud give us everything they've got as Hecuba
and Priam in Sir Kenneth Branagh's adaptation, here again I'd stick with the play as written: I think there
is a distinct method behind the way Shakespeare builds up the various layers of symbolism involving the
Players, and for that purpose it is rather crucial to start with a "naked," purely orally delivered soliloquy.
For more, see
the Players' character page and the
Pyrrhus and Hecuba
Hamlet's discovery of Claudius's letters to the English King:
Hans Holbein: Portrait of a Man Holding Gloves and Letter – detail (ca. 1540, Kunstmuseum, Oeffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel, Switzerland)
Kosintzev and Zeffirelli show it in conjunction with Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's death (see below): As
explained on the respective character page I think it's more
instructive to hear Hamlet tell Horatio about it; so here, again, I would stay with the play as written.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Storm at Sea – detail (1569, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria)
Hamlet's flight onto the pirate ship
I don't think it's absolutely crucial for us to see it, but it does underline the fact that Hamlet's
reluctance to revenge his father has nothing to do with cowardice (and of course, showing it would also honour
the old adage, "show, don't tell"). In addition, after all the scenes where I would keep the narration as
written by the Bard intact, a snippet of the actual battle scene with a voice-over of Horatio, reading Hamlet's
letter, may provide a welcome change of rhythm.
three days into the sea voyage to England:
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: The Polish Rider (1655, Frick Collection, New York, NY, USA)
Laertes's return to Denmark: This, on the other hand, I would absolutely want to show; I
think it's one of the play's heretofore substantially neglected features (as far as cinematic
adaptations are concerned, in any event: Grigori Kosintzev's movie is the only one where we at least see
Laertes acting as a rebel leader for more than a second or two before he storms past Claudius's guards to
confront the King, but even Konsintzev doesn't show us how widespread popular support for Laertes's rebellion
has grown). His return to Denmark, thus, in my view not only provides an opportunity to illustrate how
Polonius's son has matured into a leader to be reckoned with, but also what Claudius's reign has actually
done to the country, and why people are rallying behind Laertes in the first place. (Here, as always, though,
images speak louder than words I think.)
Marksburg Castle, Rhine Valley, Germany – castle hall (photo (c) Ulrike Boehm; all rights reserved)
The hearing Claudius grants Laertes on his cause of revenge: Immaterial as to its precise course,
but in and of itself an important first step in Claudius's diabolical conspiracy scheme, and in diverting
the wrath of Polonius's son from the King himself to Hamlet. To that end, we at least should see the
hearing's demoralising effect on Laertes. A brief comment on this is included on the soliloquy page
Claudius's and Laertes's conspiracy.
Odilon Redon: Ophelia (ca. 1900-1905, Woodner Collection)
As with regard to Hamlet's intrusion into the maid's bedchamber, I think there's a reason why we're only
getting a witness account here; but as this time our witness is (probably) not even an eyewitness, some
caution is due as to the reliability of her story. (Not that she is necessarily lying or purposely softening
the facts, but who knows what details got lost or went astray on the way from the actual event to Gertrude's
ears – and I think there's even a considerable amount of things to be said for the way Grigori Kosintzev
handles the matter, by replacing Gertrude's account entirely by images showing Ophelia's dead body floating
in the brook.) So while in my version we might see Ophelia walk up to the willow by the brook, I wouldn't
feel comfortable showing the maid either intentionally or accidentally slipping into it. Again,
however, I do think it is important to see the effect that her death has on her brother. See
Ophelia's character page and the soliloquy page for
Gertrude's report of Ophelia's death
for further details.
Giotto: The Seven Vices – Injustice (1306, Fresco, Capella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua, Italy)
Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's death: Franco Zeffirelli shows it
following Hamlet's discovery of Claudius's letters to the English King, for conciseness's sake and in order
to get around the Prince's revelations to Horatio preceding the Osric scene. Like the rest of his movie's
visual "inserts" it's a great example of the efficient use of images rather than words (i.e., "show, don't
tell"), but here, again, I think it is ultimately more enlightening to hear Hamlet talk about his own part
in his schoolfellows' death; for he has
ultimately treated them as pawns as much as Claudius has done
before – and with a truly fatal consequence.
And what about Hamlet himself, our all-important title character? Don't I have any
special motivation with regard to him to come up with an interpretation of my own, you wonder? Well ...
sure, at least to a certain extent, though I'm not necessarily proposing to reinvent the wheel. But –
at the risk of running afoul of Sir John Gielgud, who told the BBC in 1954 that to him the Prince was really
"a simple character," like "all of Shakespeare's great heroes" – I feel that the Prince is actually
way too complex to constrain him into any form of shorthand description. So, for details on my own approach
I would humbly refer you to his
character page, as well as to the soliloquy pages for
scenes (also) involving him (and there are precious few that don't, in some way or other).
By and large, thus, we are not talking about any attempt to completely reinvent the wheel here; neither
with regard to Hamlet's character nor with regard to the play as such: that would not only be patently
unnecessary but for an outsider like me, downright mad indeed.
(Mad call I it; for, to define true madness, what is't but to be nothing else but mad?
... A foolish figure. – Can ya'
tell I love old Polonius?) In fact, if you were fortunate enough to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's
2004 production of "Hamlet" – I wasn't; I didn't have the opportunity to travel to England that year
– for all I have read about this particular production, you may well find some of the interpretative approaches
detailed here and on my website's page on Hamlet's World
somewhat familiar. Yet, I do believe that if ever called upon, I could still make a substantial
enough contribution of my own, with a number of elements significantly differing from the approaches of others.
Now, for all the strutting of my stuff here and on
my other website (Themisathena.info), I'm
of course perfectly aware that it is desperately unlikely that I actually will ever be called upon to
make good on my wild and whirling
ideas for a production of "Hamlet": Leaving aside that I know nothing whatsoever about acting and have
absolutely zero inroads into "The Industry,"
I don't even have a single screenplay to my credit circulating studio offices in Hollywood, London or
anywhere else, I've never once entered an editing room (let alone know what it feels like to see huge strips
of film recording a day's hard work sail to the floor, to be tossed forever), I don't know the first thing
about such technical details as camera angles, lighting, and sound recording, and I would be absolutely
clueless what to actually do when placed in a director's chair. Worse yet, as far as this particular project
is concerned, I happen to believe fairly strongly that "Hamlet" is an epic and should in essence be maintained
as such (not to mention that there is just too much good stuff throughout the play that I simply wouldn't
want to see eliminated for anything in the world), so while I'd make a few select cuts here and there, my
movie would likely still clock in at well over three hours, probably even substantially over three and a
half hours if my calculation isn't totally off. In other words, forget studio conventions mandating that
a movie had better not be much longer than two hours (two and a half at the most). And notwithstanding
my status as a complete and total "Industry" nobody I am also very stubborn: as
should be obvious even from the brief summary given on this page, there is a reason to my screenplay's
tiniest feature, so there wouldn't be much point in trying to talk me into further cuts or other substantive
In few: Much as I might, like the Chorus in
the Prologue of Master Shakespeare's "Henry V," wish for a "Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest
heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene,"
given the overwhelming likelihood that my dream of a cinematic Elsinore will most likely forever remain
e'en that – a dream – this
website shall have to serve instead. Here at least I also have exclusive artistic control, and I am not
limited by budgetary necessities or studio demands of any kind. Still, even this website would probably
never have seen the light of day if I hadn't sat down and written out a complete screenplay first. So, as
you peruse this site, take my descriptions and explanations as far as they will go ... and let your
mind's eye (and ear) fill in the rest:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' th' receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times,
Turning th' accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass; for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like, your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
William Shakespeare, Henry V
Copyright 2002 – 2009: Ulrike Böhm, all rights reserved.