Michael Almereyda's Hamlet
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One of Shakespeare's most famous plays; Hamlet has been adapted to film at least 43 times1. Michael Almereyda's Hamlet is the most recent adaptation; he describes his film as 'an attempt at Hamlet' and 'a patchwork of ideas'. Looking at how this patchwork comes together to form a Hamlet for the modern world is what this essay will concentrate on. In particular, the directors mise-en-scene, textual adjustments and how these affect the overall authenticity of the performance. In the Hamlet play text 1.1, it is unclear what the conflict is or whether there is any conflict at all and Hamlet does not appear until the play's second scene where he is sullen, the reason for this mood only becomes clear at the end of the scene. In Michael Almereyda's film, he uses the introduction to explain that Hamlet is suspicious of his fathers' death, justifying his mood from the outset. The first line of the play, 'who's there?'2 spoken by Bernardo, immediately highlights the theme of mystery in the play. This scene involves three soldiers Francisco, Barnardo and Marcellus and Hamlets close friend, Horatio, all of whom see the ghost of Hamlets father.
Ophelia is fashionably dressed in bright clothing and trainers. Wearing her hair in a style reminiscent of a previously cast Ophelia, makes her identity explicit to an audience familiar with Hamlet on screen. Hamlet is casually dressed wearing sunglasses, which he does not remove for the press conference, and later a hat, particularly fashionable in 2000. Almereyda draws attention to their youth in the hallway scene by placing them close to Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Polonius, all of whom are in formal dress. During this scene, Claudius and Laertes converse 'And now, Laertes, what's the news with you?' (1.2.42)14 lines 43-46 that talk of Fortinbras ending with 'what would'st thou have Laertes'15have been cut. In Laertes's reply the first line is rearranged and the final line, 'And bow them to your gracious leave and pardon'16 cut. The next alteration to the play text comes at 1.2.64 when 'but now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son'17 is merged with 'how is it that the clouds still hang on you'18 cutting Hamlets lines 'A little more than kin, and less than kind.'19 And 'not so, my lord, I am too much I'th' sun'20.
The scenes I have focused on in particular show a man overwhelmed in a world ruled by money and power, a man who fights to repress his inner feelings, an image many people in the 21st century can identify with. The authenticity of this film is questionable, not because the director located the play in a modern setting using modern dress but because of the scenes that were cut. That said Almereyda never set out to emulate previous adaptations he wanted to realise his own vision of a Hamlet in the modern world and ultimately described the result as 'an attempt at Shakespeare'32. As Jorgen's states in his essay, 'the true test is not he whether the filmmaker has respected his model, but whether he has respected his own vision'.33 This film appeals to an audience both familiar and unfamiliar with the work of Shakespeare. Those who have read the play will identify with the interlocking themes made explicit by his use of the camera images. Almereyas portrayal of the individual characters and his modern interpretation of how each deals with life in a modern world, ensure that those unfamiliar with Shakespeare will identify with at least one of the characters and appreciate it as a modern film incorporating an Elizabethan dialogue.
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