Some ideas for using the Mel Gibson film version of 'Hamlet' for a coursework essay either on Media Studies or as part of the Shakespeare A/S Level assignment

The following is intended merely as a set of considerations to start off your thinking about this play. You can use the points in any order, adding ideas of your own, if you wish.

The Mel Gibson film leaves out a large portion of the plot of Shakespeare’s play – the so-called “Fortinbras” story. This means that the play is really focussed on Hamlet and his dilemma as to whether or not to follow the ghost’s instructions to kill Claudius and avenge the death of the old King.

How does the director suggest the oppression of the court?

Look at specific ways in which the theme of spying is used. Who spies on whom? When? Why? What are the consequences?

How does the director make the court of Elsinore “a prison” as Hamlet calls it?

Look at the choice of location. The historic choice of setting. Costume/time.

Does it add to the mood of the film? Watch the opening sequences carefully and show how the mood is suggested from the beginning with no dialogue at all. What do we learn of Hamlet? Gertrude? Claudius? What tensions are shown at the outset?

Look at the way relationships are suggested throughout the film. What are we shown about Gertrude and Claudius? What relationship is suggested between Ophelia and her family (Laertes and Polonius) and between her and Hamlet? How does Hamlet relate to Horatio? Most importantly, what is suggested about Hamlet’s relationship with his mother? Is this a suitable interpretation? (Watch the “closet” scene in particular) Why do you think this has been suggested? Does it add anything to the way you view the character of Hamlet?

How does the film deal with pace? Is the action fast? Where have liberties been taken with the Shakespeare text to sped up the events? The original script is quite long (about four hours in performance) and there is a lot of static action, where Hamlet spends long periods of time talking to himself and the audience in the “soliloquies”. These are cut very short in the film. Why do you think this was done?

How is the character of the Prince portrayed by Mel Gibson? Is he credible? Look also at the way in which the other leading characters play their roles. How dos each one choose to interpret the character (s)he plays? In your opinion, does each character “work” on screen? Are there any who are unconvincing?

What do you think the film’s producers wanted to achieve with this production? Would you say it was an attempt at “serious” Shakespeare, or have they tried to make a popular version for the general public? What audience is it aimed at? Does it succeed, or not? Why?

In a movie, much can be suggested without dialogue. Look at a particular part of the film of Hamlet, which uses means other than words to show the audience what is happening. Try to break the sequence down into the various elements which have been used to make an impact (there may be some dialogue, but you should look at what is happening apart from that).

Pick a couple of scenes and look at the original text for them. Watch the film version of the same scenes and see how different they are on screen. How would you decide to stage them?

How important are music, lighting, colour, costume and scenery in bringing a text to life? How has this movie used these elements? Again, pick a sequence of the action (the duel, or the graveyard scene, or the play-within-the-play) and examine how the director has added mood and atmosphere to the text.

Usually, a movie has “key” moments and builds up to a climax. Which are, in your opinion the “key” moments in the film of Hamlet? How are they made to be important?

The fight scene, or duel scene, is usually held to be the climax of the play. How is tension suggested? How is the scene constructed? Does it work well? Look at the actual sword fight. How does Gibson play it? Is the climax convincing, or not

One of the ways you could develop this would be to watch the Branagh version and compare the way he interprets the elements outlined above and if you have seen a 'live' performance, perhaps this could also be used as a further comparison.