Franco Zefferelli's film Hamlet
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 pawn in this plot only serves to send him further into suicidal thoughts. Hamlet proves his sanity to himself after “The Mousetrap” scene. The play within a play succeeds at catching “the conscience of the King” (3.1.582). In the film, Hamlet dances exultantly with the players and says to Horatio joyfully, “I’ll take the Ghost’s word for a thousand pound” (3.2.263-4). Claudius’ reaction to the play of running out and then going to confession makes Hamlet believe that Claudius did, in fact, murder King Hamlet. In the final two acts of the film, Mel Gibson rarely descends into fits of rage and depression. Instead, he puts on the act of madness by appearing playful or irrational around other characters to help him in the process of revenge.
Hamlet abuses Polonius’ assumption that Hamlet is “mad” by constantly behaving as such around him. In the film, he appears disheveled, engages in wordplay, and even throws Polonius off a ladder. Mel Gibson’s acting choices make it clear that Hamlet is merely pretending...