Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Laurence Oliver”

Getting a Handle on Hamlet

Now that there is a little distance between my journey to DC for Hamlet Academy, I am in a very good place to reflect upon just how I will present the play to my students.

I have discovered exploring scenes through various reading techniques, paired with a cinematic clip, helps with clarity. But which film version to use? There is such a range.

For instance, when we study Hamlet’s quintessential  “To Be” speech, I can show the minimal setting of the stage with either Richard Burton or Kevin Kline. Then again, I might show it as the singular contemporary soliloquy of Ethan Hawke as he internalizes his inaction while walking through the action movie aisles of Blockbuster. There is also Branagh’s stylized mirrored reflection which contrasts with David Tennant’s sedate approach. I primarily feature Mel Gibson’s version because of its Renaissance setting. I am patiently waiting for Jude Law’s Broadway version to come out as a DVD. And then there is Benedict C’s London stage version, which I anticipate to be more than marvelous and hope it makes it onto DVD in the future. Because taking my students to London to see it, well–that would be an involved field trip request. For fun, I show Ahnold delivering the lines with swagger and CGI.

Yet with all these versions to select from, each has its own set of considerations when it comes which one to showcase in its entirety. Sir Larry’s is BW and my students aren’t keen on arcane classic. Tennant is clever, yet the juxtaposition of modern setting and classic Bard doesn’t always find favor. Ethan Hawk’s has a couple of awkward-in-the-classroom scenes. Branagh’s is way too long, and that leaves Mel, the popular choice, but with that problematic mother and son chat in her closet.

Every year I wrestle with the “which one” question. This year there is one more option. I recently discovered an amazing version I had no idea existed. A big thanks to LoMo, super Hamlet Academy mentor teacher, for the heads up on this new-to-me Hamlet.

Campbell Scott, son of George C. Scott, of Patton fame, might not be on everyone’s radar of well-known actors, but he definitely should be. I am looking into his other films, as I was quite impressed with his performance. In his version of Hamlet, which he co-directed, he sets the play in an Edwardian era that could either be east coast upper crust or Reconstruction South. This Hamlet family is one of tradition, power, wealth, and of course, one that has definite family issues.

There are many pluses to this version. For one, Scott’s Hamlet is of the appropriate age, many Hamlets are often pushing the 40 mark, which about 10 years older than the play age. The setting also lends credibility with the historical grandeur complementing the eloquence of the Bard’s language. Scott plays his Hamlet with intelligence without having to be eccentric, although there are moments that oddities pop up, such as wearing his mourning band as head band. His introspective interpretation helps the audience to feel the pain of indecision, as he flirts with madness, as he works out the conundrum of his avenge task: how crazy should crazy go?

Here’s a clip. What are your thoughts on Scott’s version? And while we are at it, which Hamlet version is your favorite?

Lost in Translation: Part Two–“The Play’s the Thing” or “How Now, Hamlet?”

Today we finished Hamlet and with the help Mel Gibson, David Tennant, and Danny DeVito I think my students understood (as Ben Jonson once said), “Shakespeare is not for an age, but for all time.”

Laurence Olivier is undoubtedly considered a master actor; however, his is not the version of choice when teaching Shakespeare’s Hamlet to a current generation.  Sifting through various versions, and there are numerous, I decided Ahnold would suffice in keeping their attention.

Overall opinion is this is how Hamlet should have handled stuff when he got home from college.  On the other hand, you can see how short the show became when he went from inaction to a “Last Action Hero” (how many recognized the clip?)

Yeah, teaching Hamlet, a four-hour play of a college kid who doesn’t know how to handle his dysfunctional family( one that would rival any modern reality television program) to a roomful of teenagers is a challenge.  Don’t get me wrong– Hamlet is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  My problem is how to get my students who thrive on the likes of 300 and Aliens and Cowboys as entertainment to appreciate the play as much as I do, or at least see the reason why it is still relevant for today, even though it is about 200 hundred years old.  So I gave it over to a master teacher to introduce my students to the likes of  the Elsinore gang.

Actually, the movie did help my students understand Hamlet better.  They saw how it improved the lives of the DDs, and comprehended that Shakespeare is a great way to sharpen critical thinking skills.  They may never read another Shakespeare play in their lives, yet, as I always I tell my students, if they can comprehend Old English they can comprehend anything they come across, from a diesel engine manual to putting together their new barbeue.

As we traveled through the emotions, intrigue, and the nitty-gritty of family life gone wrong, my students saw that the interests of the Elizabethan theater crowed wasn’t too much different from today: sex, violence, love and death.

Sometimes only a little is lost in translation.

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