Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Hamlet on Film (part 2)

As I mentioned yesterday, not every filmic presentation of HAMLET is wholly the play by Shakespeare, just like the play and novel adaptations are not!

 The first is The Lion King.  While not so clear at first (and certainly with much happier music), the plot of the prince usurped by his evil uncle is a none-too-clear adaptation of the Revenge Tragedy (turned comedy).  Would Hamlet have trusted Rosencrantz and Guildenstern more if they had been more like Timon and Puumba?

 Next, I grew up with the BBC Animated Tales of Shakespeare (some now found on YouTube).  These 25 minute adaptations starring some pretty famous folks (Tilda Swinton is Ophelia) are incredibly artistic presentations.  Each animation decision has a clear purpose – especially for this Hamlet. The team decided to utilize stop-motion-like oil painting on glass, a technique at once both precise in shape and blurry in action. The world is full of Escher-like passages and stairwells, and occasionally we cannot see the character speaking – only hear their voice echoing down the cavernous hallways with their footsteps. It is understated and eerie, and – to me – perfect for Elsinore.  I’ll be discussing more of these animated tales in future posts.

 Briefly I’d like to mention Hamlet 2 – while really not an adaptation of the play, you’ve got to admit that a sequel to the tragedy involving a time machine, musical numbers, and Jesus is… well it’s something.

 Also briefly, the RSC’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abrgd) spends all of Act 2 in Elsinore. And it’s from them that we get our 32 second Hamlet for the Festival!

I also have to mention Slings & Arrows – an incredible Canadian TV series that looks at how a large theatre works from the inside. Season 1 is all about Hamlet (and the actors themselves), and how even with nothing, and almost no rehearsal time, the magic of Shakespeare’s words in the Theatre is a beautiful and inspirational experience.  However, due to many adult situations and bad language, please do not show this in your classroom!

A Midwinter's Tale

 Finally, another recommendation from Megan Reichelt that is now a Christmas staple: A Midwinter’s Tale (or In the Bleak Midwinter).  Written and Directed by Kenneth Branagh, this independent comedy follows a small troupe of desperate and woefully under-prepared actors for a performance of HAMLET… at Christmastime. Each actor brings their own personal issues to the rehearsal table, and must work through them in order to perform the hopeless show.  There are some wonderful rehearsal scenes where the director and actors really delve into the text and have intelligent discussions about how to perform it, and how it is relatable to an audience.  (Also, not recommended as a whole for classrooms for bad language.)

These are wonderful examples of how this play can be seen and discussed from different angles.  If your students are performing a scene, encourage them to film their rehearsals, and see how their discussions might mirror those in Slings or Midwinter.  How do we adapt stories to fit what we know today? How might we perform this play taking inspiration from these films?

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