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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Branagh's Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0506  Wednesday, 27 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Kristine Batey <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 May 1998 14:35:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Branagh Hamlet

[2]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 May 1998 19:45:35 -0400
        Subj:   Branagh's Hamlet

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 May 1998 21:25:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0501  Branaugh and Jennings as Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristine Batey <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 May 1998 14:35:41 -0500
Subject:        Re: Branagh Hamlet

>I haven't been following the ins and outs of this thread-but has anyone
>noted the similarity of Branagh at his best to Jacobi's interpretation?
>Also, to my mind, Jacobi is the best Claudius I've ever seen, just as
>Jack Lemmon's Bernardo and Crystal's Gravedigger were the worst takes on
>those characters I've ever seen.

I agree, enthusiastically, about Jacobi as Claudius: he was fantastic.
And I was stunned at Jack Lemmon's terrible performance-he didn't seem
to have any sense of what he was doing at all. I'm a big fan of his, and
I was really disappointed. Billy Crystal-I dunno, his pacing was really
off, or something. My husband complains that Billy Crystal keeps
reverting to standup in all of his movies. That might have been what was
happening in Hamlet. Actually, my impression was that he was reading
each line. In general, the cameos didn't seem like they were integrated
into the whole.

Kristine Batey
Northwestern University

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[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 May 1998 19:45:35 -0400
Subject:        Branagh's Hamlet

Here are my original thoughts on Branagh's abortion, posted to the
now-defunct Shakespeare Web over a year ago.  Time and the re-viewing of
selected half-hour segments on cable have not altered my opinion in the
slightest.

Branagh's Hamlet is quite bad:  badly-staged, badly-scored, badly-shot,
badly-designed and (worst of all) badly-acted.  I couldn't find a single
decent performance in the entire film.  Branagh himself is a ranting
child; Derek Jacobi soft, effete and fumbling; Julie Christie virtually
invisible; Kate Winslett nothing but gush and baby-fat; Richard Briers
neither funny nor formidable; Michael Maloney an unsightly runt; Jack
Lemmon and Billy Crystal simply embarrassing; Robin Williams
surprisingly dull; Horatio a total pill; Charlton Heston inappropriately
granitic (the First Player is supposed to be an emotive actor,
remember?); and so forth.  The film was clearly under-budgeted:  the
sets are cheap and tacky (that graveyard!); the editing jerky and
abrupt; the process shots (such as the one that precedes the
intermission) are appalling; and most of the action is confined to a
single room: that absurd Hall of Mirrors,  which is probably the most
inflexible set that I have seen in any Hamlet production.  Branagh uses
every cheap trick in the book to hold our (presumably flagging)
attentions and goose his lumbering white elephant along:  pointlessly
swirling camera movements; equally pointless flashbacks and inserts
(Priam and Hecuba?); racing through his lines double-time till their
sense becomes garbled; playing Patrick Doyle's oppressive score almost
constantly beneath the dialogue.  His own performance is trivial when
isn't grating.  He plays Hamlet as a nice, ordinary young chap who's
gotten in a little over his head-which is a pretty good description of
Branagh.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 May 1998 21:25:13 -0400
Subject: 9.0501  Branaugh and Jennings as Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0501  Branaugh and Jennings as Hamlet

Justin Bacon wrote:

> Larry Weiss also wrote:
> ...
> > Jennings' deletion of Fortinbras (and his deliberate expurgation of  any
> > explanation for Hamlet's conduct other than madness) also leads him to
> > omit the "How all occasions..." soliloquy [IV.iv.32-ff], which I
> > consider the most important in the play, containing the central sentence
> > of 26 consecutive monosyllabic words which sum up the main theme
> > [ll.43-46].
>
> Are you speaking of "I do not know why I have yet..."?

Thank you for support, Justin.  And yes, I am referring to the sentence
"I do not know why yet I live to say this thing's to do...".  The sheer
virtuosity of 26 consecutive monosyllabic words (27 if you consider
"do't" as two) is remarkable in itself.  It makes emphasis of the
passage by even the dullest of actors unavoidable.  Add to that the fact
that it sums up the central mystery of the play, and does so in a
fashion that invites profounder analysis.  Thus, I don't think it is
coincidental that the gravedigger begins Act V by alluding (albeit
inaccurately) to the common philosophical conceit that an act has three
distinct components.  As I recall, they are motive, intention and
performance, not "to act, to do [and] to perform."  Hamlet has just
reminded us that, in his opinion, all three of the necessary components
are satisfied ("since I have cause, and will, and strength"), and adds
for good measure that he could not be hindered by external lets ("and
means").  Why, therefore, was he unable "to do't," Hamlet wonders.  So
do we.  Perhaps an answer can be discerned by applying the conventions
of the soliloquy.  I leave that for others to comment on for the nonce.
 

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