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Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet for Today

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 filmic translation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a dramatic telling of the classic story which is as well acted as it is entertaining. Aside from these points, Zeffirelli’s (and co-scripter Christopher Devore’s) screenplay is an edited, and re-mixed version of the original which has many lines cut, as well as the entire sub plot concerning Fortenbras, completely removed. Franco Zefirelli’s private interpretation of Hamlet, although divergent in some ways from Shakespeare’s version, still remains a superior rendering, due to the continuity of the screenplay.

Zeffirelli’s divergence from the original script begins immediately. Rather than opening with the traditional sequence involving the first sighting of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Zeffirelli instead opens with a funeral sequence of his own design. In this scene the director establishes Hamlet’s distrust of Claudius as well Claudius’ desire to act as a father figure to Hamlet. To fully display this, Zeffirelli plucks these lines from a later scene, “think of us as of a father; for let the world take note you are the most immediate to our throne, And with no less nobility of love Than that which dearest father bears his son Do I impart toward you.” (1.2.113-119). These lines show Caudius’ attempt at good intentions, while Mel Gibson’s (as Hamlet) response shows the distrust the character holds for him. This also sets up the relationship between young Hamlet and Claudius excellently for both the familiar audience as well as the audience inexperienced in Shakespeare. Still the question remains of why Zeffirelli chose to eliminate the opening scene that Shakespeare intended. In Shakespeare’s version the opening scene establishes the existence …

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…e a version of Hamlet which was not seen in Shakespeare’s day. Primacy and recency would dictate that Shakespeare’s audience would, in some way, concentrate on Fortenbras, whose presence begins and ends this play. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a man with friends who is much more secretive, and conniving than one might think today. His Hamlet is tactful in his plans, but without tact interpersonally. Zeffirelli’s audience is forced to concentrate on the plight, and character of Hamlet, who is direct, and hostile, but a tactful loner when the time is right. Zeffirelli accomplishes this diversity while remaining loyal to his source by maintaining a solid screenplay with a continuous flow supporting his own take on the story. In short, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet is both a loose and a loyal interpretation of its source, which is, for today’s audiences, a Hamlet in its own right.

Movie Essays – Filming the Epic of Gilgamesh

Filming the Epic of Gilgamesh

In order to undertake a project of this epic magnitude, one must first consider the many differing ways the film could take hold. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an age old story whose main attractions will be it’s originality and antiquity. To cash in properly on Gilgamesh we must focus on bringing out the idea of Gilgamesh predating similar stories, casting actors who will capture the characters’ mannerisms while still being easy to relate to, and using optimal special effects to combat the preconceived notions an audience may have about movies of this kind (thanks to the likes of Kevin Sorbo and Steve Reeves).

Primarily the idea is to keep Gilgamesh pure. Naturally, after seeing my Hamlet, moviegoers will have ideas about what to expect from the introduction of a pre-classical work into main stream theater. Likely viewers and critics alike will be expecting an updating, or out and out displacement of the sequence of events in time. However, while we certainly cannot go line for line with the text, we must keep Gilgamesh loyal to the original tablets, and as close to Sumerian dress, language, and culture as we can simulate.

To preserve the storytelling style of the epic’s author(s), I plan to employ a narrator to guide the action. A recognizable, intelligent, regal, and yet not overpowering voice should be chosen. This voice should give an air of importance to the narration without being so enthralling that the action is missed. I plan to seek out such Englishmen as Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian Mckellan, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and John Geilgud, and to offer them the opportunity of auditioning for this essential role. The selected actor’s voice will begin and end the film, while covering breaks in the action and explaining confusing sections of the story.

The casting of the actual blocking actors is a bit more problematic. Gilgamesh himself is the most challenging character to play in this work. Gilgamesh should be strong (without evoking images of Kull the Conqueror, or Conan the Barbarian), and youngish, but with a weathered look to imply warriors traits. The actor must present the narcissistic nihilism of the early Gilgamesh and, later on, display the more humbled, post-anagnorosis Gilgamesh. For this range of whimsical egotism, to brooding, driven force, we should rely on the talents of Mel Gibson. Gibson gives a full range of acting abilities while looking weathered, and charming at the same time.

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