The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0558  Friday, 27 February 2004

From:           Kenneth Meaney <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 26 Feb 2004 18:06:02 +0200
Subject: 15.0546 Hamlet on Film Query
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0546 Hamlet on Film Query

The British National Film and TV Archive has a copy of the Johnston
Forbes-Robinson Hamlet (1913) that is 5,344ft long and runs for 59
minutes. According to Luke McKernan and Olwen Terris (Walking Shadows:
Shakespeare in the National Film and Television Archive), this is a
faulty copy that is partially out of order and contains some repeated
scenes. There is a shorter copy (4,846ft) correcting these features. The
running length is not given, but I estimate that must be about 54 minutes.

The film is described as "a record of Sir Johnston Forbes-Robinson and
the Drury Lane Company's production of the play. The action is
substantially that of the play, with some reduced Shakespearean

There is also an Italian version, Amleto (1917), which runs for 50
minutes. ("A largely complete rendition of the play.")

McKernan and Terris describe the Asta Nielsen Film (6,610ft, 73mins) as
"based not so much on Shakespeare as on the original Danish legend, with
the added twist of a Princess Hamlet who is obliged to masquerade as a
prince While the King of Denmark is seriously ill his wife gives birth
to a daughter, telling the court that a son has been born to safeguard
the crown. The King recovers and the baby is brought up as a boy. Hamlet
grows up and at college encounters Horatio, Laertes and Fortinbras.
Hamlet's uncle Claudius and the Queen plot to kill the King. Hamlet
returns to find her father dead and the Queen and Claudius married. A
voice within tells her to revenge the death and she feigns madness the
better to observe Claudius. Ophelia is taken to meet Hamlet, but Hamlet
falls in love with Horatio, who is himself in love with Ophelia. Hamlet
feigns a love for Ophelia to thwart Horatio. Hamlet instructs a group of
players to re-enact her father's murder to the court. Hamlet fails to
kill a praying Claudius but kills Ophelia's father Polonius. Claudius
sends Hamlet to Norway with secret instructions for her to be killed,
which she discovers. In Norway she is greeted by Fortinbras. Ophelia
drowns. The Norwegian army approaches Denmark. Hamlet starts a fire at
Elsinore and kills her father. The Queen and Laertes plan Hamlet's
death. During a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes, the Queen
inadvertently drinks poison and dies, Hamlet is struck by a poisoned
rapier and as she dies Horatio learns of her secret and her love for him."

The first recitation of "To be or not to be" seems likely to have been
that by Donald Calthrop in a feature film of variety acts in revue
called Elstree Calling (1930) (McKernan and Terris). It was also
performed in The Immortal Gentleman (1935).

Ken Meaney
University of Joensuu, Finland.

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