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"But no more like my father than I to Hercules." Likewise, Lawrence Olivier's version of Hamlet is no more like Kenneth Branagh's than Othello to MacBeth. Nearly the only similarity is the script, and even that has been severely modified. In this quotation, the differences between the late King Hamlet and Claudius are displayed by Hamlet to his mother, Gertrude. In this paper, the differences between Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet are also shown. In comparing and contrasting Laurence Olivier's film(1940) and Kenneth Branagh's film(1996), the most obvious differences were setting, main speeches, and characters. The three main differences in setting between the two movies are time period, scenery, and technology.
The first major difference in setting, which is time period, can be reasonably explained. Lawrence Olivier's version is set in the 1600's, which corresponds with Shakespeare's writing of the play. However, Kenneth Branagh's version was created in 1996, a time in which most people have stereotyped all of Shakespeare to be confusing and misguided plots full of "thee's" and "thou's". Therefore, to prompt more people come see the movie, Branagh had to make it more relevant to the modern audience. He chose the nineteenth century for this reason, and so that the language of Hamlet would still seem appropriate. Another reason for the choosing of the 1800's is the fact that that time period held many courtly and royal scandals, illegitimate children, and hidden affairs.
The perfect backdrop for a film that contains everything that a twentieth century movie would have. Technology is the second major aspect of setting that differs between the films. For example, in Branagh's version, Ophelia, once stricken with madness, is put into a straight jacket. The royal family walks directly past a pool table. Laertes', as well as Fortinbras' men had modern guns and pistols. Olivier's version had none of these. Another difference is that Olivier's castle was lit only by candlelight, Branagh's had gas lamps.
Although none of these are technically idiosyncrasies, they affect the setting just as much. Scenery is another major contrast; it affects the mood of the characters, the audience, the play. Almost all of the scenes occur in the castle, and that is where the main difference lies. The castle in Lawrence Olivier's Hamlet is dreary and made of hard, cruel stone. Hence, the quotation by Hamlet, "Denmark's a prison." And no one can deny that the castle resembles a forbidden dungeon, with single lit candles shedding dismal light throughout each room. However, Kenneth Branagh's castle is made solely for the vanity of royalty.
Mirrored hallways and crystal chandeliers adorn the castle's halls. Painted candelabras give bright lighting, and fanciful ornamentation adds glitz to every doorway. It is more fit for nobility in every way. The second major difference found in comparing the two film versions is the portrayal of main speeches. "To be or not to be" is probably the most famous speech in Hamlet, if not in all of Shakespeare. The differences in the representation of this speech begin with setting.
In Lawrence Olivier's film, Hamlet ponders this question while sitting on a rock; in Branagh's, he is striding through the hall of mirrors. Also, in Olivier's, Ophelia is not present; in Branagh's, Hamlet goes so far as to grab her arm and press her face against the glass. Another difference in the interpretation of this speech is that Olivier does not know that Claudius and Polonius are lurking behind the curtains, and is saddened further as his soliloquy continues. Not only does Branagh know, he makes the speech entirely for their benefit, and his heart is filled with anger. Hamlet's heart is filled with anger at another turning point in the play. When he is lecturing his mother, several differences appear. First and foremost is the relationship between Hamlet and his mother.
In Olivier's version, his mother is practically younger than he is. In Branagh's, she is the appropriate age to be his mother, a widow, and a wife. Also in Branagh's version, Gertrude truly shows maternal love for Hamlet, whereas in Lawrence Olivier's there is a blatant appearance of the fact that they, too, are caught up in an incestuous affair. But besides the relationship, one particular difference stands out. In Branagh's Hamlet, when comparing the two pictures, he picks them up off a night stand to show her. However, in Olivier's, Gertrude has Claudius' pictured clasped around her neck, and Hamlet has his father's picture around his.
This clearly shows where each of their loyalties fall. The third speech that shows significant differences is the "Get thee to a nunnery" speech. As with the aforementioned speech, the first main difference is setting. Kenneth Branagh sets his speech in the hall of mirrors, and it directly follows the "To be or not to be" speech. Lawrence Olivier sets his in a barren room with curtained walls and only a small table in the center. Furthermore, Olivier's is set long after before the "To be or not to be" speech. Also, the delivery was different. Olivier delivered the speech with little enthusiasm.
He did not really love Ophelia, he was merely using her. Branagh delivered a heart wrenching speech with much passion. He truly did love her, but he had neither the time nor the inclination to hold a steady relationship. He had a job to do, an uncle to murder, and therefore he denied himself in the name of revenge. The final difference between the two films is characters. The first significant contrast is that Lawrence Olivier completely cut the Prince of Norway.
The Prince of Norway added another, more political level to Hamlet. It can also be said that, much like the "play within a play", the actions almost mirror each other. As Hamlet painstakingly plans to murder Claudius, so also Fortinbras plans the takeover of Denmark. And in the end, once Hamlet has killed his uncle, Fortinbras struts in and assumes the throne, with the premonitional blessing from a dying Hamlet. The next character that was altered was Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. There are only two prime differences in Branagh and Olivier's depiction of Gertrude. The first difference is that Lawrence Olivier's Gertrude was nearly Hamlet's age. Kenneth Branagh's was a much more appropriate age to be a mother, a wife, and a widow.
The other main variance is Gertrude's relationship with Hamlet. In Branagh's version, her love for Hamlet seems deeply and primarily, if not completely, maternal. In Olivier's, though, there is a clearly incestuous affair. The final contrasting character is Hamlet himself. Olivier plays the part of a moody young man. He does not portray his character to the fullest extent, and therefore his Hamlet is sometimes difficult to understand.
However, Branagh embraces his character and his emotions to their highest degree. So some see Hamlet as crazy, and some see him as rational, but trying to draw others into the truth. But all see him clearly and without doubt.The three main differences between Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh's film versions of Hamlet are setting, main speeches, and characters. The major differences in setting are time period, technology, and scenery. The contrasting main speeches are "To be or not to be", Hamlet to his mother in the scene where Polonius dies, and "Get thee to a nunnery". The characters that had been changed are Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, Gertrude, mother of Hamlet, and Hamlet himself.
Yet, although the two films were altered from one another, this great piece of Shakespearean literature lives on unlike its characters..
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