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To be or not to be Essay

Branagh’s Hamlet is a version that sets the “to be or not to be” scene in a palace, in a room surrounded by mirrors (Eirion HyperApps, 2012). The choice of mirrors is a deliberate decision by the director to symbolize Hamlet’s internal conflict. He is contemplating suicide because his life has become difficult for him (Eirion HyperApps, 2012). The mirrors help Hamlet reflect on life and also see the advantages and disadvantages of whichever decision he would make.

Branagh uses the tone and gestures that make it possible for the audience to feel what he feels (Eirion HyperApps, 2012). He has to choose between life and death. He clenches and then raises his hand to threaten and express his anger in the way life is taking him. As the actor and the camera approach the mirror, his image also gets closer to it.

This brings out his emotions, which would be invisible in the real world. It is symbolic in the sense that dreams might come true. When Branagh jerks out his knife and directs it towards the reflection, it emerges that the desire to live overshadows that of dying (Eirion HyperApps, 2012).. He only taps the dagger at the mirror rather than using it on himself.

Laurence Olivier’s production of Hamlet presents this soliloquy in a different way. This scene displays Hamlet sitting on a cliff staring at the sea (Karldallas, 2010). He is in deep thoughts. This can be clearly seen on his face and in his voice. Initially, Hamlet seems to have totally made up his mind. He speaks in a pessimistic tone, and his facial expressions agree with his words. From the beginning to when he says ”To die: to sleep; to sleep,” we believe that he will die.

At the peak of his disillusionment, he pulls out a dagger to commit suicide, but realizes that his death will not help to solve his problems (Karldallas, 2010). The man suddenly drops his ambition to kill himself and raises his voice while reciting the remaining part of the soliloquy.

The words and performances that follow carry a somehow optimistic tone. Hamlet’s attitude to life has changed. Now he seems livelier than before, which shows his renewed readiness to live (Karldallas, 2010). Hamlet looks at his dagger and disposes it into the sea. Then, he stands up and walks to the edge of the cliff, looks into the sea and walks away from this point. This performance, therefore, takes the audience through the whole process of attitude transformation within Hamlet.

Hawke’s version takes a different setting. In this version, Hamlet walks aimlessly in a library looking very depressed (MarceloCordioli, 2008). He looks at the books on the shelves as he walks back and forth, but seems not to notice them. His choice of setting is appropriate as it helps to bring out the picture of Hamlet’s mind. His lack of concentration on the books shows that he is in trouble. At some point, he even stands in one position not knowing what to do next.

The turning point is when he sees a man shooting another man in a movie (MarceloCordioli, 2008). This makes him wake up from his “sleep”. Before this point, Hamlet thinks without speaking, which shows the audience that he is too depressed. Shortly after the movie incident, the man speaks out his thoughts loudly, thus, showing a transformed attitude to life (MarceloCordioli, 2008).

The performance I like most is the one presented by Olivier. The director chooses a very befitting setting. He puts Hamlet on top of a cliff near the sea (MarceloCordioli, 2008). He speaks in a resigned tone and his facial expression changes with the direction of his thoughts. Hamlet looks very depressed at the beginning, but becomes somehow lively when he makes up his mind to live.

This version brings out Shakespeare’s original idea better than the other two. The author wanted to bring out a very depressed Hamlet; a Hamlet who lost a father and intends to kill the person who murdered his father, and married his mother. He even ends up killing the wrong person in the process.

Olivier captures this state of mind by his choice of setting (a cliff near the sea), and Hamlet’s actions when he point a dagger at himself, throws it into the sea and walks away after deciding to spare his life (MarceloCordioli, 2008). The actor’s facial expressions are also appropriate in showing his state of mind.

The other two performances do not express Shakespeare’s ideas fully. The setting Branagh chooses is not the best as he uses too much symbolism, especially the mirrors. The palace he depicts also does not make this version bring out a vivid picture of somebody who wants to commit suicide. The palace would have done better in the scenes involving happy moments than melancholic ones.

Hawke’s version, on the other hand, only concentrates on movements, tone and facial expressions, but not on actions. It portrays Hamlet as a person in deep thought, who would not want to commit suicide or kill somebody. The use of actions would have complemented the facial expressions, movements and tone. The result would have enabled the audience to envision what Shakespeare wanted them to see.


Eirion HyperApps. (2012, September, 8). Hamlet, To be or not to be-Kenneth Branagh. [Video file]. Web.

Karldallas. (2010, January, 26). Olivier’s Hamlet Film. To be or not to be. [Video file]. Retrieved from

MarceloCordioli. (2008, April, 8). Hamlet-To be or not to be. [Video file]. Retrieved from

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1. IvyPanda. "To be or not to be." January 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/to-be-or-not-to-be/.


IvyPanda. "To be or not to be." January 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/to-be-or-not-to-be/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "To be or not to be." January 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/to-be-or-not-to-be/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'To be or not to be'. 17 January.

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