The Two Sides of Hamlet In Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 and Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh, respectively, portray the title character very differently. Gibson emphasizes the Oedipeidal complexity of Hamlet’s character, thereby injecting a childlike manner into his acting. Branagh ignores that aspect, opting to stress the revenge element. This approach makes Hamlet more of a very angry man rather than a petulant boy. These two contrasting portrayals demonstrate the two main positions concerning the source of Hamlet’s madness held by Shakespeare experts. In Gibson’s first speaking scene, he sits in the dark sulking about the recent turn of events. His lost expression turns into bewilderment and confusion when his mother and uncle come in. He cannot comprehend why thing have changed in the manner they had. The whims of his parents affect him as deeply as it would a child despite being a full grown man. He stubbornly refuses to stop his behavior in spite of his mother and uncle’s entreaties. These actions reflect those of a child who has been denied something he or she wants. Children, especially those who are cosseted their entire lives, often engage in such behavior so as to promote guilt in the parent and to hopefully get what it was they originally wanted.In the same scene, Branagh looks at his mother and uncle in disdain and allows his disapproval to color his words. These actions speak of an extremely angry man. Branagh’s Hamlet knows that his uncle’s ascent to the throne and hasty marriage to his mother constitutes as a violation of some trust. He does not sit idly by, waiting for fate to make things happen. Branagh’s military clothing also lends him a more commanding, masculine bearing which carries throughout the movie.In a later scene, Gibson’s Hamlet hopes to exploit the play, “Murder of Gonzago,” in order to get a confession of murder from his uncle. However throughout the scene, Gibson acts very energetic, bouncing from place to place, unable to stay focused for very long like a young child. He also bites his nails, a nervous habit often seen as immature. Gibson’s childish behavior indicate his unpreparedness for the full implications of his conduct.Branagh, on the other hand, demonstrates that the set up between the play and his uncle is exactly that: a set up. Branagh carefully orchestrates every facet. He enlists Horatio’s aid, asking him to carefully watch the king’s face for any betraying expression. He also takes the time to coach the players on how to play their roles so as to achieve the desired reaction from his uncle. During the play, he purposefully peppers the players lines with his own additions so as to ensure that his uncle make the correct connection between the Player King’s murder and that of his father’s. At all times, Branagh maintains control of his well-constructed plan, unlike Gibson who sets the ball rolling yet does nothing to tilt it in his favor.
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During the famous closet scene, Gibson works himself into vicious display of emotion as he torments himself and his mother with thoughts of the events surrounding her recent marriage and all that it implies. In his anger and confusion, he throws himself and his mother upon her bed and starts making rape-like motions in her while yelling at her for her fickleness. These raping motions suggest that his attachment to her is so strong that he resents the intrusion that his uncle presents. He cannot relinquish his obsession of her despite her likely innocence in his father’s marriage.Branagh plays this scene slightly cooler in that he does not attack his mother in the same manner as did Gibson. Instead, he controls his anger and uses it to his advantage against his mother in order to convince her of all that had transpired and her part in it all. While he forces her to acknowledge the truth, he does not allow his anger to become more than it is and cloud his judgment. His only goal is to expose his father’s murder and exact his revenge.In the final scene where Hamlet fences with Laertes, Gibson plays it lightheartedly. He laughs and jokes with the surrounding spectators, eliciting laughs by acting the fool. Hamlet fails to realize the severity of the situation. Completely unaware of the undercurrents of the court, Laertes surprises him when he fatally wounds him with a poisoned sword tip. His unawareness signals his downfall in the end.Branagh, however, shows that Hamlet realizes that danger and accepts it in the preceding conversation he has with Horatio. He knows he has enemies, but Hamlet is determined to fulfill his promise to his father. His decision indicate him to be very focused and adult. Mel Gibson’s Hamlet further explores the argument that Hamlet’s obsessive love for his mother drove him to madness. Yet, in his efforts to do so, Gibson loses sight of the fact that Hamlet is a fully grown man. His childlike behavior throughout the movie serves only to portray Hamlet as a weak character deeply affected by the actions of others. Only at the end when Hamlet kills his uncle does he do something for himself instead of leaving it in the hands of fate. Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Hamlet demonstrates the character’s strength and maturity. Hamlet understandable anger of the recent events manifests into a calculated madness so as to sniff out his father’s murderer. His deliberateness contrasts sharply with Gibson’s laissez-faire attitude. These two actors portray two very different, unique sides of Hamlet. One childish, one mature, but both still enjoyable to watch.