Character Analysis of Hamlet Based on Kenneth Branagh’s Adapted Screenplay M.D. Hasan High School The character of Hamlet, in accordance to Kenneth Branagh’s adapted screenplay, is a multi-dimensional one. Hamlet is a complicated man. He is a protagonist who possesses intrinsic virtues and inherent flaws, both of which are brought to the fore, under the dramatic circumstances that fate has placed him in. Hamlet is a powerful Prince by birthright; but in essence, a vulnerable man, driven to the brink of insanity, both by external circumstances and by his own choosing; a human being that holds our attention and our heart strings, throughout the course of the entire story. Therein lies the beauty of the script; for time and again, over the span of many a year, different people have different interpretations of Hamlet’s character, who at best, is still an enigma; but wherever opinions differ, there is a universal consensus on one point, and that is Hamlet’s humanity, which we can all indeed, relate to.
Hamlet is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s most dramatic plays, with compelling, complex characters that bestir our imagination. Perhaps, it is this, which entices so many actors, directors and producers to re-enact this tragedy, time after time, as best as they see fit. Kenneth Branagh has indeed, carried out this task, admirably; as is readily apparent by the fact that his interpretation of Hamlet, has been nominated for numerous accolades and received innumerable rave reviews. In one such review, McCarthy (1996) glowingly stated “Kenneth Branagh has mounted a full-bodied, clear-headed, resplendently staged rendition of “Hamlet” that rewards the time required to experience it.”
From the very beginning, Hamlet comes across as an intense person, with deep-seated feelings, which is readily apparent when we witness the love, loyalty and admiration he displays towards his late father. His mother, Gertrude, provides an ample foil to Hamlet’s deeper, brooding emotions, with her superficial platitudes and her materialistic attitude. The stark contrast between mother and son are brought to attention in Act 1 when Gertrude addressed Hamlet thus:
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou knowst tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity (p.9).
Hamlet is also an essentially philosophical man, who attempts to consider the totality of his actions and its perceived repercussions. His wish to avenge his father’s death, together with the knowledge that by doing so, he himself, will become what he despises most – a murderer, creates a moral dilemma for him. His philosophical bent is also readily apparent when he contemplates suicide as a means to end his earthly woes, the impact of such an action in the after-life, and other such innumerable pressing issues; which his questioning mind can see no ready answer to. A troubled Hamlet thus engaged in his infamous soliloquy:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
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? To die: to sleep (p.53).
However, a contemplative man can also be a determined one, once he has made up his mind to carry out a task. This is readily apparent; when in Act V Hamlet decides to go ahead with the murder of Claudius, with calculated, self-justification that was hitherto almost unimaginable in a character such as his. The following speech made by Hamlet bears ample testimony to this:
Not a whit, we defy augury: theres a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all (p.119).
Another facet in Hamlet’s character that merits attention is his response to women. Understandably, he does not hold his mother in high esteem, in all probability, due to her fickleness in forgetting his father, without much ado. However, his treatment of Ophelia cannot be as easily condoned, as he is unnecessarily harsh towards her without any aggravation on her part, to merit such actions. Hamlet’s uncalled for callousness to her is readily apparent, when he said:
I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God
has given you one face, and you make yourselves
another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and
nick-name Gods creatures, and make your wantonness
your ignorance. (p.55).
In all probability, it is Hamlet’s feelings of suppressed resentment which he holds towards his mother that he vents out on Ophelia, but that says little for his sense of justice and fair-play, which hitherto, so readily came into play, when he contemplates the fate that befell his father.
Hamlet is such a complex and contradictory man, that he adopts different personas and characteristics that directly clash with each other, over the very course of the play. In fact, Kadivar (2011) stated “in the scenes in which Hamlet pretends to be insane, Branagh portrayed the Prince as manic.” Indeed, sometimes, Hamlet comes across as being cool and calculating, whilst on other occasions, he is irrational and contemplative. He feels deeply, yet he hurts others deeply, too. He is a self-absorbed protagonist at times, whilst at other times, he is the very essence of selfless loyalty.
Hamlet is indeed, a mass of contradictions, and perhaps this is his character’s universal appeal. Despite everything; we feel for him, we understand him and we live vicariously through him. Hamlet, whether he is good or bad is up for debate, but none can argue that he is indeed, human, and that makes this tragedy very real and all the more tragic.
Kadivar, D. (2011, January 26). ROYALTY ON SCREEN: Kenneth Branagh And
An All Star Cast in “Hamlet” (1996). Persian Realm.
McCarthy, T. (1996, December 5). Hamlet. Variety Film Reviews.