In both Hawke’s and Gibson’s versions of Hamlet, the original text is used for dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia as she is sent to trap the reasons for Hamlet’s insanity out of him. Although the scene is the same, the characters are the same and the text is the same, there are significant differences between the two adaptations.
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The Gibson film is set in medieval times in the large stone room of the Denmark castle. Ophelia’s father and the king are seen just exiting the main area up a long staircase to one side of the room into the orchestra balcony where they will be able to see and hear everything that happens. Ophelia is dressed in period costume with a long dress and overdress in plain homespun and with her long hair braided down her back nearly reaching to her knees. Because it isn’t up in a bun, she is pictured as being a young maiden rather than an older woman ready to be married. Hamlet enters the room down another stairway for the scene also dressed in period costume but every article of his clothing is black, as is directed in the play by Shakespeare. He finds Ophelia pacing back and forth across the otherwise empty hall appearing to be reading a book.
The Hawke film is set in a plush New York apartment, or rather, the dining room of a plush New York apartment for the segment between Ophelia and Hamlet. The opening part of the scene, though, takes place in Claudius’ board room as Polonius rigs surveillance equipment on Ophelia. Ophelia, in modern clothing, is standing on a chair while her father, without any pretense or respect for her modesty, attaches devices to her waist and runs a microphone up through her clothes to near her neckline while Claudius, on the phone, and Gertrude look on. Polonius, Claudius and Gertrude discuss among themselves their plan to catch Hamlet while Ophelia on the chair cries silently. She then is sent to Hamlet, which is a significant switch and sits down at his table to try to return the letters and things that he has given her. Hamlet, when he appears, is again dressed all in black, but in completely modern and fashionable clothing.
The actions of the scene occur in much the same way in both films once Hamlet and Ophelia are in the same room. Following the original text, both films feature Ophelia attempting to return to Hamlet the tokens that he’s given her, his denial of having given her anything, his assertion that he never loved her and Ophelia’s obvious hurt at hearing that news. This provokes a response in Hamlet revealing, in both cases, that he does love her. In the Gibson film, this is demonstrated through a tender touch of the hands. In the Hawke film, this is demonstrated through a passionate kiss that reveals the wire Ophelia is wearing. In both cases, Hamlet discovers the men spying – Gibson’s character sees the shadow on the wall of one of the men moving in the gallery – and he launches into a harsh accusation toward Ophelia as just another false woman. Both scenes end with Hamlet urge Ophelia to get to a nunnery.
Again, the text of the original play is used in both plays, but one scene is nearly two full minutes shorter than the other, indicating how many lines have been cut from the production. While the meanings remain the same, the Hawke scene is more emphatic, more explanatory regarding Hamlet’s distress and more revealing regarding both characters’ inner emotions. While both films are adequate for conveying Shakespeare’s play to an audience, it turns out Hawke’s film is more deeply felt and understood even though it has been brought into modern times in its setting and use of technology.