Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy demonstrates Hamlet’s nature the best with his use of tone, detailed facial expressions, and distinct movements. With the choices that Kenneth makes, he portrays Hamlet’s thoughts clearly and in a subtle way.
The scene starts with Hamlet standing still in front of a large mirror that reflects his whole body. The room is quiet, no music is played in the background, and the only voice heard is Hamlet’s. It grabs the viewer’s attention when Hamlet is the only one speaking because this allows for the reader to fully concentrate on Hamlet’s words. It also gives the impression that Hamlet is telling a secret as he whispers the words in a subtle tone. This subtle tone serves Hamlet well because Hamlet’s character is crafty and scheming.
March 11, 2008
Then he begins to recite the famous line “To be or not to be, that is the question…” (55) as he gazes deeply into the mirror. At this moment, Hamlet questions himself whether he shall live or die. Compared to the other two versions, this is the only version in which Hamlet actually looks at himself rather than at the camera when he speaks his soliloquy. It clearly shows that he is talking to himself because he looks at nothing but himself. He disregards everything, but his own thoughts. Even the room that he is in is filled with mirrors. Where ever he may look, Hamlet is trapped within his body and mind. The first two versions show Hamlet speaking to the camera so this conflicts with what a soliloquy should be because it is as if Hamlet is now speaking to the viewer and that there is someone there.
As Hamlet speaks more of his thoughts, he slowly steps closer and closer towards the mirror without ever taking a glimpse away. As he walks closer to the mirror, it signifies his path into discovering his intentions and the truth. He looks deeper into his eyes as he walks closer. Eyes are a symbol of truth and his thoughts become clearer when he walks closer to the mirror to focus on his eyes. First he questions whether he shall live or die, but then he talks about the pros and cons of life and death when he says “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?” (56-59). Hamlet struggles to choose whether to put up with all the downfalls of life or to just simply put an end to it by dying. Then his thoughts become more specific as he walks even closer to the mirror. Hamlet begins to discuss the meaning of death when he says “to die, to sleep- no more- and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to-”(59-62). Death is like sleeping when all seems quiet and at end, but “to sleep, [there is a] perchance to dream” (64). Even though dying may appear to be a solution to the end of all the humiliation that life brings, it is still uncertain what happens when one is dead and that is why humans fear death.
After Hamlet speaks about death, music starts playing in the background. The music plays the sound of evil cries and the mood of Hamlet’s soliloquy starts to switch. Hamlet focuses more on the negatives of life. He describes examples of human humiliations like “th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th’unworthy takes” (70-73). Hamlet’s tone gets louder and he appears angry when he says this. When he takes out his dagger, Claudius’s face appears for a split second. Hamlet has always planned to seek revenge for his father and with the appearance of Claudius in a fearful posture and Hamlet with his small dagger tightly gripped in his hands; it foreshadows Hamlet’s desire to kill Claudius and the true intentions of Hamlet. However, when Hamlet takes out his dagger, he points it toward the mirror where his reflection is. It symbolizes Hamlet challenging himself because he is still afraid of the “dread of something after death” (77) and the “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns” (78-79), which means hell or the world of the dead.
He gives an evil smirks at the thought of taking revenge for his father and his eyes narrow with anger. He points at his head with the dagger. The thought of death still frightens him as it “puzzles the will” (79) to revenge. While pointing at his head, he says that “conscience does make cowards of us all” (82). Hamlet uses the dagger to point out the evils of his mind and conscience because at times Hamlet thinks too much and this weakens him, causing him to be in doubt. Finally Ophelia appears, and Hamlet makes a flawless transition from his evil smirk to a smile, demonstrating Hamlet’s ability to “act.”
In conclusion, Kenneth Branagh is able to achieve Hamlet’s character for being the manipulative character that he is by using a subtle tone to speak the soliloquy, a reflective setting, and the proper expression for each line.