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How does Zeffirelli portray the characters of Gertrude and Ophelia?

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How does Zeffirelli portray the characters of Gertrude and Ophelia? Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 production of Hamlet has Glenn Close and Helena Bonham Carter cast as Queen Gertrude and Ophelia respectively. He has the luxury over a stage production of being able to add scenery, mood and vibrant close up of character to his film. These added advantages allow us to examine the players in a closer, more intimate way and so we can look at the figures of Queen Gertrude and Ophelia with different perspective. Right from the start the audience most definitely depicts Gertrude as the queen and the primary female of the cast, however there is no malice or grim intention portrayed. We open the film feeling sorry for her at her husband's funeral yet the speed of her re-marriage makes us question her morality and quality. The audience is made to question her character by her physical nature both with Claudius and Hamlet, particularly with Hamlet. Their relationship is portrayed as intensely Freudian, from the very beginning with Gertrude constantly touching Hamlet. Zeffirelli dresses Gertrude in a gown with a simple pale design yet trimmed with gold and subtle jewellery and her hair is worn like a regal crown, always perfect and obviously made by attendants. ...read more.


The duelling scene is not meant to be rich and colourful yet cast in shades of 'dowdiness.' However, Hamlets jesting brings laughter to the Queen's face yet it is in this moment when Gertrude is at her happiest that tragedy is close on hand. Zeffirelli's use of close up on Gertrude's distress as the King looks knowingly on is terrible. A mistake of drinking the poison is not lost on Gertrude and we are given the look that says she realises what has happened and in that instant she realises all that Hamlet has said about Claudius is true. Gertrude has been psychologically and morally poisoned as well as physically poisoned. Zeffirelli highlights the hopelessness of this moment more by allowing the duel to continue and so Hamlet's loss gathers pace while he knows nothing of it. Ophelia on the other hand, is passive almost to the point of non-existence as an independent consciousness and is to some extent, amore extreme version of Gertrude. The only time she speaks to the King and Queen is when she is mad. This makes it very difficult for Zeffrelli to inject any suggestion of irony or defiance into the few words Ophelia exchanges with her Laertes, Polonius or Hamlet. ...read more.


Her incapacity which has been a theme modulates into 'madness' presented as plaintive songs and pretty nonsense. This, together with Gertrude's stylised presentation of her death, offers decoration in place of any attempt at psychological elaboration. Her madness is less 'real' than Hamlet's confused states of mind because it is so tidy, unproblematic and unthreatening. Zeffrelli does well not to dwell on the act of her suicide as a film production might but leaves the sad tragedy of it to our imagination, which only heightens our sense of loss for Ophelia. Ophelia is presented by Zeffrelli as someone with no point of view "I do not know my lord what I should think," there is not even a gesture of struggle. Zeffrelli chooses not to develop her character to any great extent and allows the audience to develop their own understanding. To conclude, our final image of both women is when they are lying dead. We are made to feel great sorrow and pity for them both. Zeffirelli has Ophelia laying with dignity at her graveside in white linen and flowers on an overcast, breezy day whilst Gertrude is left prone and splayed on the cold concrete steps within the castle. His portrayal of both characters leaves us feeling great sadness for them in equal measure whilst never once feeling any malice towards them. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

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This essay looks carefully at many aspects of the characters' portrayals and the essay is fluent and analytical.

Although it is the screen production that is being analysed I would like to see further links with the original text and more direct analysis of language choices and the way specific lines are delivered.

Marked by teacher Laura Gater 26/04/2013

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