Most readers would say madness and insanity are the key components of Hamlet but, in my opinion, various emotional states seen throughout the play and films later made, that contribute to feelings of madness, are just important to evaluate. Emotion can be associated with many different feelings and behaviors such as melancholy, depression, constant struggle between imagination and reality. In this paper I will discuss how those emotional behaviors and relationships among characters and portrayed differently between the play and Franco Zeffirelli's (1990) film in particular.
Hamlet was written between 1599 -1601 which was during Elizabethan era, and it takes place during religious reformation in Denmark. Audience during this time had different beliefs and views on life in general. In Introduction to Deadly Thought: Hamlet and the Human Soul, by Jan H. Blits, he states that virtually all the characters in Hamlet still believe in purgatory, angels, saints, and ghosts, and take very seriously the rites of the Catholic Church. Denmark is still a Catholic country. Furthermore, Blits states that some commentators say that Hamlet's tragedy lies in the conflict between pagan and Christian virtue - the one emphasizing pride, anger, ambition, and action; the other, humility, forgiveness, lowliness, and patience.
Having this in mind, audiences of Elizabethan era must've had very strong beliefs, especially since they dealt with Catholic Church and Paganism. Also, they probably didn't have much reasoning when it came to their emotion, they were superstitious, relied primarily of God's grace, and were not yet culturally exposed nor advanced in their beliefs. Using a ghost in plays would be something important, quite common and rather entertaining. In my opinion, to witness an appearance of any supernatural was taken very seriously by audience. In their minds supernatural beings can control human destiny, so one should listen and obey to them.
In today's world, we don't see many religious reformations, media is overly stimulated and many of us have been culturally exposed. People definitely act upon their own emotions and reasoning, and not so much is driven by superstition and Church influence. Women can act on stage, loss of a loved one is considered very sad and devastating, sex sells and everything is about action and new age Hollywood drama.
Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990) stars Mel Gibson as Hamlet, and Glen Close as Gertrude. Their bond is very complex and very passionate, almost insestuos. According to John P. McCombe in Toward and Objective Correlative: The Problem of desire in Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet, it is a disheartening comment on the current state of Shakespeare in Hollywood that many productions undermine the ambiguities which make his plays so readily available to interpretive criticism. One such example is the 1990 film version of Hamlet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Like many representations of Shakespeare on film, Zeffirelli carefully edits the play to adhere to what Hollywood believes to be the approximately two-hour attention span of the cinema patron. In the process, Hamlet becomes less a tale of political corruption in the Danish court and, instead, more closely resembles a dysfunctional family melodrama, McCombe says.
Dysfunctional is the key word here, because I think that is exactly what Zeffirelli had in mind. Hamlet's desire and hesitancy to revenge his father is never really clear in the play, except for his love for him, and simply as his duty as Prince of Denmark. But, in the movie, I believe Zeffirelli links that desire to Hamlet's bond with his mother. Gertrude is a driving force of all of Hamlet's actions and emotional states.
Getting back to emotions in the playâ€¦Hamlet after loss of his father goes mad, and he affects everything and everyone around him. He struggles to control his emotions and reasoning, and at times he lets his emotions control his actions. According to Eric Levy in The Problematic Relation between Reason and Emotion in Hamlet, Hamlet allows emotion to provoke him to unthinkingly violent action, as when stabbing blindly at the figure hidden behind the arras or grappling with Laertes. Levy says, Hamlet so little trusts emotion to prod him to action that he even invokes the opposite tactic of exploiting thought as a goad of emotion: "My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth". Here blood and judgment are to be commended not by the rational control of emotion, but by the rational arousal of emotion. Instead of disciplining emotion, here the function of thought is to excite emotion so that irrational violence results, Levy says. I believe this observation is crucial in understanding Hamlet's actions toward female characters, Gertrude and Ophelia.
Relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude is very strong. After death of the King, Gertrude marries their cousin Claudius, which instantly turns Hamlet against her. He feels compelled by this and becomes very angry and disgusted by it and is constantly criticizing her.
There are many differences between the play and the film. In the play Gertrude seems to be much older than Hamlet, and is more soft spoken and innocent. Their bond is more of the brother/sister one, and she is not center of attention. Hamlet is indeed disgusting by her incestuous marriage, and wants to revenge his father to protect his mother's reputation. There doesn't seem to be much sexual attraction in the play, but in the film there is definitely sexual attraction present, which director portrays as a main reason for Hamlet's revenge in my opinion. Although, Shakespeare suggests that love between Hamlet and Gertrude sincere one.
In Toward and Objective Correlative: The Problem of desire in Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet by John P. McCombe, he says Zeffirelli's film, like Adelman's critical analysis, shapes the play with Gertrude at its center, or at the center of Hamlet's fractured consciousness, rather than the ghost or Claudius. The film is much more about sons and mothers than fathers and uncles, which is evident not only from the opening dumb show but in Zeffirelli's casting decisions as well. Close and Gibson are of an age, and everyone in the film is fascinated by her. Anthony Dawson intelligently sees that "the gesture that seems to define Franco Zeffirelli's vision of the play is the glance. The camera moves, bodies move, but more than anything in his films, eyes move." And, from the opening dumb show, those glances are directed as much at Gertrude as at Hamlet, McCombe says.
Thinking back at the word "dyscfunctional", this fascination McCombe talks about, later escalates to a very intimate and intense scene in the film. It is the scene in Gertrude's room after Hamlet stabs Polonious. This scene is almost a climax in sexual desire that radiates not only from Hamlet, but also from Gertrude. It almost validates Hamlet's emotional state, and why he is acting the way he is. Could it be that Gertrude's desire for him itself has to do something with his actions?
I think a lot has to do with the actors Zifferelli chose; Mel Gibson being a very popular action star, in whacky "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon", and Glen Close starring in "Fatal Attraction" and having that "bad girl" perception and sex appeal new age audience likes. In the film her appearance is very intimidating, she is young, blondâ€¦someone who could easily seduce a man, even her own son.
Next, I would like to analyze the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. Just as Hamlet did, Ophelia loses her father as well. Her story is very tragic and sad in my opinion, simply from the position she was in.