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Just vengeance or righteous follies; which Hamlet did you see?

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  1. Introduction.
    1. G. B. Harrison's explaination of various facets of Hamlet.
    2. Harrison's analysis of Hamlet's character.
  2. Fredson Bowers focus on one line of Hamlet's after he has killed Polonius.
    1. The specific use of the word 'scourge'.
  3. The film productions of the play Hamlet directed by Lawrence Olivier and Franco Zeffirelli.
    1. Olivers decision to cast himself as Hamlet.
    2. The decision to not cast a 'too old' Vivien.
    3. Olivier's performance and direction of this lead role.
    4. The cadenced, lyrical way Olivier handles Hamlet's dialogue and monologues.
    5. Olivier's use of verticality in the film.
    6. The duel scene.
    7. The scene in Ophelia's bedchamber.
  4. The verticality in Zeffirelli's version of Hamlet.
  5. Hamlet's chase of the ghost.
  6. Conclusion.

William Richardson describes Hamlet's character as one ?moved by finer principles, by an exquisite sense of virtue, of moral beauty and turpitude.? (Hoy 147) Richardson goes on to say that a man like Hamlet ?will find [his sense of moral excellence] a source of pleasure and of pain in his commerce with mankind.? (147) The deployment of the word turpitude is a perplexing one given the rest of the modifiers used. Turpitude means depravity or baseness. Coupled with the more complimentary terms applied to Hamlet, Richardson's use of this word suggests that he believes there to be a certain complexity to Hamlet's character that compels an audience member to question his actions and feelings. This complexity should also allow the audience member to be able to better relate to Hamlet than they would be if he were simply depicted as infallibly in the right. G. B. Harrison explains Hamlet's various facets in simpler terms by defining Hamlet's prevailing at the beginning of the play as a ?young man's unreasonable disgust when he discovers that his elders are as strongly sexed as himself.? (Hoy 242) This childish disgust is then justified when Hamlet sees the ghost and is charged with its vengeance. However, Harrison notes that in the second part of the play Hamlet is in the same situation ?but worse?still he can do nothing.?

[...] As a result, rather than being disgusted with or sympathetic to either character, the viewer leaves the scene confused about what just happened in arguably the most pivotal scene of the play. Olivier's performance and direction of this lead role also make it difficult for the audience to relate to Hamlet's problematic situation. However, it appears that making a highbrow, ?difficult? film was the opposite of Olivier's intention. In Donald Spoto's biography, he writes ?Olivier had the audience in mind every moment? with the ultimate goal that the play would ?become comprehensible to the moviegoing public.? He even advised fellow actor Terence Morgan to be afraid of playing a role as broadly as possible.? Despite these good intentions, Olivier's acting and direction leave the audience feeling detached and separate from the issues present in this play. [...]


[...] Olivier's use of verticality in this film fails to allow for the complexity of Hamlet's character in that we see Hamlet either always moving upward or being above those around him. The shot of the opening scene of the play a shot of a steep staircase sets up the importance of stairs in this production. During the scene in which Horatio tells Hamlet of the ghost's visitations, there is usually a staircase in the shot behind Hamlet, indicating what he's going to have to climb before the end. [...]


[...] We then have three instances in a row of Gibson's Hamlet placed in judgmental positions above other characters much like Olivier's version in this regard. He looks on as Gertrude goes out to welcome Claudius and gives the speech that ends with ?frailty thy name is woman!? Then he overhears Polonius advising Ophelia against encouraging his affections. Last comes the scene directly pulled from Olivier in which Hamlet and the guards look down in judgment on the revelers of the court. [...]

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