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“Hamlet” Ethan Hawke vs. Richard Burton

Michael Fernander Eng. 1302 April 20, 2010 Exercise 12: “Hamlet” The Views of Hamlet In terms of mise en scene and delivery, there are two directors that are on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. On one side you have a very modern interpretation in Ethan Hawke’s version of “Hamlet” (200) directed by Michael Almereyda, and on the other you have very strong and emotional performance given in Richard Burton’s version of “Hamlet” (1964) John Gielgud.

In each case the director uses delivery and mise en scene to create something unique in its own way that fits their own concept of “Hamlet”. Even though the two scenes are of the same famous speech, the use of mise en scene in each interpretation set them apart from each other. In Ethan Hawke’s “Hamlet” it is set in modern day of year 2000. The memorable “To be or not to be” speech takes place in a Blockbuster in New York City, a very uneventful place for such an important scene to the film. Unlike Richard Burton’s version there is sad music playing through out the scene to convey Hamlets discontent with life.

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In Richard Burton’s version the set was a simple empty stage with a few chairs, a table and two sets of stairs. The backdrop was a solid black curtain, there was no music the stage was completely silent, except for Hamlets powerful voice. However, the lack of props and scenery did not affect the performance and quality of the scene. The costume used in Hawke’s version of the play was again very modern. He has a young rugged look with long slicked back hair hidden under an out of place hat. He wears a black V-neck and a sports jacket; in this scene you never see his lower half because it is shot as mid range tracking shots.

However in Burton’s interpretation again is very simple, there is nothing extra or unneeded. He also wears a black V-neck shit, as did Ethan Hawke, with plain black pants and shinny black shoes. Yet again, spit the basic costume the performance is again not affected by this. In the two scenes it is not just the mise en scene that set them apart; it was also the delivery and performance given by the actors. Each actor played the role in their own way. It should be noted that in Act I Hamlet curses God for making suicide a mortal sin.

He states, “that this too solid flesh would melt, / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! / Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d / His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God! ” (Smith). The scenes played by Hawke and Burton later on in Act II and at this point in the play Hamlet is in moral turmoil over whether or not he should kill himself and commit a mortal sin. The interpretation of Hamlet given by Ethan Hawke was filmed as an internal monologue; the first minute was completely narrated. The delivery of the soliloquy was given to convey the feeling of deep depression and indecision.

Due to the fact that the scene is filmed as an internal monologue, Hawke does not make any grand gesture or motions; however he does make some subtle facial expressions. Hawke’s voice also delivers a very depressed message. His voice sounded like a man that did not know what to do, and had given up on life. There is no strong emphasis in his voice, as if he had stopped caring. Burton on the other plays the role in a very different way; he uses extravagant hand motions and gestures to express the complex emotions of Hamlet. An important difference between the delivery of Hawke and Burton is their voices.

Burton used his strong and powerful voice to dramatize the scene, creating a strong emotional connection to the character and the script. He used dramatic pauses and strongly emphasizes on important dramatic lines. It is interesting to see how two separate directors can take the same story and come up with two very different interpretations. The main difference between the two scenes is that in Richard Burton’s version the delivery of was more exaggerated and emphasized to express multiple emotions, unlike Hawke’s version. Both versions of Hamlets famous scene where unique and fit the concept of each interpretation.


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