The actors’ physical appearance in Hamlet helps to show the spectators the emotional state of the characters. When the main character looks clean and neat, it shows that he is not insane. The rationality of the character’s actions is depicted through the looks.
Visual presentation of William Shakespeare’s play reveals the characters’ personalities via appearance. Theatrical performance shows general appearance via outfit or makeup. However, film adaptations have more options in relating appearances and natures or moods. Close-ups provide a chance to give specific features in the actors’ appearance. Actors portray Shakespeare’s characters differently in adaptations. Since they have various looks, the impressions they have on viewers vary. The message related to the plot differs depending on the actors’ physical appearance.
Two most acclaimed film adaptations of Hamlet are Laurence Olivier’s 1948 and Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 films. Both directors use cinematography to deliver the plot of the tragedy using visual means. They include the way actors look and what they are wearing. The versions have some similar and varying features in the main character’s physical appearance:
- Olivier uses the benefits of black-and-white filmmaking. This way, he tries to emphasize the importance of looks. Hamlet wears black clothes, which is harmonious with the Gothic setting of the film. It denotes his grief and suffering for the lost father.
- Branagh’s 1996 adaptation portrays Hamlet as a 19-century aristocrat. Like Olivier’s version, in the beginning, Hamlet is dressed in black clothes and shoes. In Branagh’s one, his look is strict. The protagonist looks neat; the hair and outfit are spotless and well-kept. The actor’s physical expression makes the viewer perceive Hamlet as a grieving character. His frustrated appearance reflects his inner spiritual state.
- Hamlet’s appearance reflects the development of the plot in both versions. An untangled shirt and unbuttoned vest in Olivier’s film demonstrate the character’s madness. The viewers can see the drops of sweat in a close-up scene. These elements show his sufferings and genuine concern.
- Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Hamlet in his film is also based on the changes in appearance. Instead of a stern look from the beginning, Hamlet’s madness reveals itself through a much less stiff look. A white shirt sticks out from beneath the black coat. His clothes are unbuttoned. The actor’s hair is not brushed, which shows a lack of rational decisions.
- Both directors use visuals as a tool for message delivery. They substitute some verbal descriptions with visual presentation. For example, Olivier cuts out many lines from the Shakespearean text. He emphasizes Hamlet’s disheveled looks on the screen.
- Branagh does not cut the lines so much. However, he eliminates descriptive parts of the text. For example, the director substitutes Ophelia’s words about Hamlet’s disheveled appearance. He includes a scene portraying Hamlet in madness.
The difference between the two versions of mad Hamlet is that Branagh’s character is portrayed more playfully than tragic. This provokes the difference in viewers’ perception of Hamlet’s sensations and the tragedy’s plot in general.