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Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet For Today Essay

1809 words - 7 pages

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 of the ghost, and the bravery and learnedness of Horatio (as he is the one called upon to "speak to it". (1.1.45)), while simultaneously predicating the impending arrival of young Fortenbras. In Zeffirelli's version these are neither established in the opening scene, nor at all. Horatio becomes more of a background character, rather than the well established, strong character found in Shakespeare. The existence of Fortenbras, as well as the entire sub-plot concerning Norway has been similarly omitted. It seems to be Zeffirelli's intent to remove as much diversion as he can from the actual quest of Hamlet, and what he sees as Hamlet's end. Zeffirelli lessens the character of Horatio to force this Hamlet into the stance of a loner as opposed to Shakespeare's Hamlet, who has a strong (if not ever-present) sidekick. Likewise, Zeffirelli removes the Norwegian element so that this subplot cannot interfere with the plight of Hamlet, or with Zeffirelli's version of his ultimate end.

The director's personal interpretation is seen again soon after the opening. Act one, scene two, containing the scene during which Claudius hold's court, commenting on the events which have so recently transpired, has been altered to fit...

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