Hamlet | Page 2 | Sunday Observer


The BBC production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is directed by Rodney Bennett and produced by Cedric Messina and the music is by David Lloyd. It has a brilliant cast with Derek Jacobi as Prince Hamlet, Claire Bloom as Gertrude, Patrick Stewart as Claudius, Eric Porter as Polonius, Lalla Ward as Ophelia, David Robb as Laertes, Patrick Allen as the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, Robert Swann as Horatio, Ian Charleson as Fortinbras, Jonathan Hyde as Rosencrantz and Geoffrey Bateman as Guildenstern.

The film adheres to Shakespeare’s play and opens in Elsinore, Denmark. The feeling of apprehension and foreboding is established early on in the play with the appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. After seeing the ghost, Marcellus a soldier on guard at the palace says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, and Hamlet’s friend Horatio who also see the ghost says, “This bodes a strange eruption to our state” and after his encounter with the ghost Hamlet says, “The time is out of joint”. The ghost reveals to Hamlet that Claudius who is Hamlet’s father’s younger brother murdered Hamlet’s father by poisoning him while he was asleep in the orchard, and the ghost orders Hamlet to take revenge on Claudius, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”. Hamlet’s decides to put on an ‘antic disposition’ and pretend to be mad in order to conceal his rage and take revenge on Claudius for his father’s murder.

Hamlet’s thoughts after the ghost’s revelation and injunction to revenge are revealed in his soliloquy:

“O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else? And shall I couple hell? O, fie! — Hold, my heart; And you, my sinews, grow not instant old, But bear me stiffly up. — Remember thee!

Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat In this distracted globe. Remember thee!

Yea, from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there; And thy commandment all alone shall live

Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmix’d with baser matter: yes, by heaven! —

O most pernicious woman!

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!

My tables, — meet it is I set it down,

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; At least, I am sure, it may be so in Denmark.”

Claudius is a Machiavellian villain who is very devious and duplicitous but Hamlet is not deceived by his amiable appearance and says, “One can smile and smile and be a villain”. Hamlet is an intellectual and postpones murdering Claudius because he finds it difficult to take blood revenge. Hamlet epitomizes the virtues of the Renaissance man which is brought to the fore in Ophelia’s encomium of him:

“Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!— The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,

Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state, The glass of fashion and the mould of form, Th’ observed of all observers, quite, quite down!”

Hamlet decides to test the truth of the ghost’s words by staging a play named the ‘Mousetrap’ by which he plans to “catch the conscience of the king”. Claudius’s reaction to the play establishes his guilt because he gets up abruptly and leaves at the point where the player king is poisoned and murdered by his brother. Hamlet is convinced that Claudius is guilty and makes a firm decision to take revenge.

Claudius’s advisor Polonius who is an interfering, pompous fool whom Hamlet calls a “tedious old fool” and a “foolish prating knave” believes that Hamlet’s madness is caused by Ophelia’s rejection of him and suggests to Claudius that they “loose” Ophelia on Hamlet and hide behind the arras and eavesdrop. Polonius also advises Claudius to ask Gertrude to speak to Hamlet alone in her closet to find out the cause for his behaviour while he hides behind the arras and eavesdrops. While Hamlet is in his mother’s closet he hears a noise behind the arras and mistakenly thinks it is Claudius and takes out his sword and murders Polonius.

Claudius decides to send Hamlet to his death in England and enlists the help of Hamlet’s school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to carry out his plans. But Hamlet who is intelligent and educated knows at a glance that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spies for Claudius and that he plans to murder him. Hamlet turns the tables on Claudius and has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern murdered and returns to Denmark with the firm resolution of taking revenge on Claudius.

Fortinbras and Laertes who are easily spurred to take blood revenge function as foils to the philosophical Hamlet, and in his final soliloquy Hamlet reveals the reasons for his delay to take revenge on Claudius:

“How all occasions do inform against me And spur my dull revenge! What is a man. If his chief good and market of his time. Be put to sleep and feed? a beast, no more. Sure he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not

That capability and godlike reason

To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on the event

A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom

And ever three parts coward; I do not know

Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do’

Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means

To do it. Examples, gross as earth, exhort me:

Witness this army, of such mass and charge,

Led by a delicate and tender prince.

Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,

Makes mouths at the invisible event.

Exposing what is mortal and unsure

To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,

Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great

Is not to stir without great argument,

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw

When honour’s at the stake. How stand I, then,

That have a father killed, a mother stained,

Excitements of my reason and my blood,

And let all sleep? While, to my shame, I see

The imminent death of twenty thousand men

That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,

Go to their graves like beds — fight for a plot

Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,

Which is not tomb enough and continent

To hide the slain? O, from this time forth

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!”

Shakespeare explores the themes of death, revenge, madness, jealousy and love in Hamlet, and his theme of fratricide resonates with the story of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Shakespeare’s themes are universal and his plays are relevant even in the twenty first century because of his profound understanding of human nature and behaviour, and no other playwright compares with Shakespeare. The BBC has made an excellent film of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the actors Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Patrick Stewart, Eric Porter and Lalla Ward give brilliant performances. The film is a must watch for all those who love Shakespeare and appreciate his beautiful English.