Franco Zefferelli’s film, Hamlet, adapted from Shakespeare’s text, Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, struts and frets his life in Denmark, convincing almost everyone that he is “mad.” The film bases the question of whether or not Hamlet is actually insane almost solely on Gibson’s acting interpretations, but Zefferelli’s editing choices assist in making the point that Hamlet is not insane, but either in a fog of confusion and anger from his grief, or pretending to be mad to manipulate others.
In the film, the morning after Hamlet sees his father’s ghost, there is a silent scene between Ophelia and Hamlet. He appears to Ophelia, disheveled and obviously emotionally distressed. He seems to try to say something to her, but leaves with only an amazed stare. Polonius sees the scene and decides that Hamlet is insane. Polonius, however, is mistaken. In the exchange, Hamlet is trying to confide in Ophelia, whom he loves, but is afraid of his own madness and shocked by his experience. Therefore, he chooses not to confide in her at this time. The scene causes us to question whether we should trust the hero, or the observations of other characters.
Even Hamlet doubts his own sanity for the first half of the film and play. The film portrays him wandering about Ellsinore tearing up books, wearing only one shoe. He searches for answers and does not know who to turn to or how to comprehend what the Ghost told him. The famous “To be or not to be” speech is displaced in the film, occurring after the Ophelia exchange instead of before. Zefferelli wants to increase Hamlet’s depression over the circumstances of his father’s death. The fact that his family is spying on him and the woman he loves is a...
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...l, those who truly believe in Hamlet’s madness have died, and the rest are either in cahoots with him, or plotting to kill him. In the Zefferelli film, Hamlet behaves foolishly because he is playing to the crowd. There are no textual allusions to madness. He is sound of mind and clear-headed; as soon as his mother dies, he springs into action and suddenly kills Claudius. Therefore, Hamlet, though he fears for his own sanity at first, eventually turns his alleged madness to his own advantage and succeeds at his task of revenge. Hamlet is an everyman character who must use his dramatic conflict to help define himself. He emerges from his strife not as a madman or ineffectual pawn, but as a hero can act for his own and his country’s safety. The tragedy is that, even though Hamlet succeeds at revenge, he must sacrifice his own life and with it, his country falls.
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