Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hamlet Performance Analysis

Share it Please
At the risk of stating the obvious, this version of the play was fantastic. I was excited to watch this performance to take note of how the different director and actors interpreted the play. I saw Hamlet live in Stratford-upon-Avon this summer. The cast of that play was almost entirely black (with the exception of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) and they incorporated many African elements into that play, from the costumes to the music. Hamlet was a brooding, intense character who honestly didn't seem to love anyone, in this version. It was beautifully executed. I also have spent a lot of time in the last week watching David Tennant's version of Hamlet in small segments on YouTube. That version was incredibly done. Tennant's artistic interpretation of Hamlet's descent into madness was tantalizing. His madness seeped into every line, facial expression, and movement that Tennant made from the time that Hamlet saw the ghost of his father until the end of the play. In short, the two Hamlets that I had seen before last night's viewing lead me to understand that Hamlet can be interpreted in thousands of different ways. This got me excited to see what Cumberbatch and his corresponding cast and crew had to offer.
I loved it. While Tennant's Hamlet was terrifying and African Hamlet (sorry, I can't remember the actor's name and it probably sounds bad to call him African Hamlet but I don't know how else to specify him) was moody, Cumberbatch's Hamlet actually seemed like a conflicted, confused character. I thought he seemed very kind, which is probably an unusual way to see Hamlet, but I think that's what Cumberbatch was going for. I especially loved the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia, with Polonius and the King looking on. He seemed genuinely heartbroken as a result of what she was saying. It wasn't him breaking her heart in this scene (as I've seen played out so many times), it was her breaking his. Even his infamous slamming line, "Get thee to a nunnery", wasn't cruel. Somehow, Cumberbatch made it sound like a suggestion rather than a command. He seemed genuinely happy to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and was understanding upon their admittance to being there at the request of the King. His madness was more innocent. He played with toys, marched with a drum, and rather respectfully requested his part in the play. Cumberbatch managed to turn Hamlet into a sympathetic character, not just in the beginning, but up until the bitter, bloody end.
The colors were obviously and boldly symbolic (Hamlet in black, everyone else in white in the first scene, and inverse in the last). The use of the set was also intricate. The act of leaving the dirt on the floor as the scenes flashed between the outdoors and the innards of the castle was telling. Not only had Hamlet been reduced to the dirt upon his expulsion from the castle, but all others were dirtied as well, even as they attempted to say safe and secluded in their castle. Ophelia as a photographer was a great addition (it reminded me of the frequent use of cameras in the Tennant version), and I think that has a lot to do with the theme of seeing/spying in the play.
Overall, I loved this version of the play. I found myself laughing in several scenes, which I'm sure Shakespeare would have been pleased with (humor was one of his best weapons). I discovered a sympathy for characters that I've never connected with before, namely the Queen and Ophelia (Ophelia has always driven me crazy, but I loved the way she was portrayed here). I almost wish I could change my paper topic to explore a few things that I noticed last night, but it's probably too late. All in all, I was glad that I got to go.


  1. Sam, I need to see the David Tenant version! I've never seen it but I've seen many others and I think that now is the time. I loved your analysis of the dirt coming in between the acts. Hamlet's dirtiness affects not only him but the entire cast of characters. I loved the visual of Ophelia cleaning off the dust from the piano, as if she's trying to go back to a place before the dirt came, before everything went wrong. Obviously, you can't go back. And in a revenge tragedy, it only gets worse.

  2. I really liked how you compared the different versions of the play. This is the only one that I've seen (embarrassing) but now I want to go watch a few others to view their interpretations.