Hamlet is among Shakespeare’s tragic plays that have been redone by many producers over the years. This is because of the dramatic situations and the various range of motifs which it depicts. The characters in the play are complex but they are the ones who make the play more interesting thus the reason it has achieved the greatest playwright over time. The story is about prince Hamlet who killed his uncle Claudius in a war of revenge for murdering his father in order to take over the kingdom plus the wife, Queen Gertrude. However, like all the other Shakespeare’s play, there is tragedy at the end whereby Hamlet and his mother dies plus many more other characters. The play is therefore characterized by various themes of revenge, mother/father-son relationship, love, madness, melancholy, treason and supernatural elements like the scene of the ghost. All these elements could have been the reason that inspired filmmakers to make their own adaptations of the play with some producers coming up with new styles to interpret the plot of Hamlet. The aim of most directors is not to divert from the theme of the film instead focus on several elements for the audience to accept the film.
The producer Franco Zeffirelli decided to come up with his own adaptation of Hamlet which was produced in the year 1990 and starring Mel Gibson. This adaptation is more realistic to the original Shakespeare’s play. The main protagonist is Mel Gibson who plays the part of Hamlet. However, despite the realistic scenes in the film, there are several modifications that Zeffirelli made especially the settings and the personality of some characters to bring out the theme in the play. The producer decided to go with a medieval atmosphere which is different from the one in Shakespeare play. However, he ensured that the costumes won by the characters were historical to bring out the real Shakespearian feeling and era in the film.
The language that Zeffirelli used is the same as the one in the play. However, he shortened the original text by removing some few sequences and bringing up some new details and new lines that did not appear in Shakespeare play. For instance, the scene in act I part III where Laertes is speaking with Ophelia while Polonius advices his children is preceding the scene I part II where Hamlet and Horatio are meeting with the guards (I. II. 159-258). On the other hand, Zeffirelli moved the monologue part in scene III part I especially the words “To be or not to be” pushing it to the scene where Ophelia was talking (Hamlet III. I 92-151). Another scene which has also been moved in this film is where Claudius is trying to persuade Laertes that the person responsible for killing Polonius is Hamlet (IV. VII. 1-161). The scene is moved to the funeral scene in act V. I. This dramatic change is what led to the film’s tragedy ending with Hamlet plus his mother dying.
When it comes to characterization, the protagonist Mel Gibson has similar traits as Hamlet enough though he appears to be too transparent which shows some of the changes that Zeffirelli made on the film. However, he has the same madness level and anger issues as the character which he was playing. The producer decided to highlight the part where Hamlet is depressed to minimize focusing on the psychological reasoning in the play (Cartmell and Whelehan 136). However, despite of this, the mother son relationship is perfectly depicted in the film.
The other change that differs from the original film is the ways in which Hamlet is depicted as a simple man; he is not putting on fine clothes like a prince instead he is wearing a coat majority of the time (Cartmell and Whelehan 142). He also does not have noble characteristics similar to the Shakespearean play. However, in order to bring out the true meaning of tragedy which is not similar to Shakespeare’s idea, the producer decided to depict Hamlet (Mel Gibson) as a man who is broken and is undergoing through depression and permanent suffering making him vulnerable. Despite being a stronger character, these weaknesses lead him to kill his uncle. It shows that according to Zeffirelli, the tragedy at the end of the film was contributed by the permanent suffering and psychological issues that Hamlet was experiencing. This makes the film more realistic in depicting tragedy. On the other hand, the character Ophelia has been depicted differently in this film as she is presented as a childish and naïve young girl. Her insanity is always compared to that of Hamlet after the death of his father because they behave the same.
The other issue that cannot be omitted in this discussion is the motifs in this new Hamlet adaptation which is considered more significant. Zeffirelli perfectly brought out the revenge motif which is rich in this adaptation. Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes’s fathers are dead because of being killed. This makes them furious and hungry for revenge. The producer perfectly brought out the tension in the film using the aspects of sound and imagery to elaborate on these scenes.
In conclusion, Zeffirelli has done well in his adaptation of the Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. There are some scenes which are left the same but in most cases; some versions of the scenes are spin-off while others are changed. What sets the film apart from the play is the setting, the character Hamlet and the scenes which have been modified.
Cartmell, Deborah. and Whelehan Imelda. Screen Adaptation: Impure Cinema. Macmillan, 2010.
Hamlet. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, 1995.