Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Act 3 Scene 1 Hamlet's Soliloquy (Kenneth Branagh)

Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1 is one of the most momentous instances in the play. Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Hamlet’s words brings to life the deeper meaning of this famous passage. By making specific decisions in his movements and tone, Branagh facilitates the understanding of Shakespeare’s writing.

The passage begins with the infamous lines, “to be, or not to be, that is the question;” (55). Hamlet is trying to decide weather it would be easier to kill himself or live his life. As he does so, he is looking at himself in a mirror and speaks almost in a constant tone. The fact that Branagh is speaking in front of a mirror reveals that perhaps Hamlet is so insecure with himself that he needs the comfort of his own image to encourage him to take action. But Branagh’s decision to deliver this line in monotone suggests that Hamlet does not care about his life. However, this it contradicted when he asks himself if it would be better to just “suffer” (56) from all of his problems or “to take arm against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them” (58-59). Branagh shows that Hamlet does indeed care but his life, but his madness will not allow him to think lucidly. At the moment when he delivers this line, Branagh bends his elbow and makes a fist with his right hand, and then takes a step forward. His actions suggest that he will actually take action and stop his suffering. The fist evokes a sense of violence, which may imply that Hamlet will use violence to deal with his problems. The fact that Branagh takes a step forward after he makes a fist is another sign of Hamlet’s insecurity. It shows that he will act violently before thinking about his actions, which might lead him to even greater problems.

The passage continues with Hamlet wondering if it were better to sleep or to dye. He confuses himself even more by coming to the conclusion that dying is sleeping; therefore dreams are a part of dying. Branagh shows Hamlet’s agitation by breathing heavier while delivering the line “-ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dream may come” (64-65). Hamlet is afraid that he will not be able to get rid of his problems even after death. Also, while he is delivering the line, suspense classical music begins to play in the background, which acts as an emphasis on Hamlet’s confusion. The music evokes a sense of loneliness that has taken over Hamlet. He is unable to share his troubles with anyone causing him to drown in a sea of thought. The movement in the music symbolizes that turbulence that is happening in Hamlet’s mind.

Further on, Branagh stops and says, “When he himself might his quietus make” (74). Hamlet says that it would be easy to just end one’s own life, which is correspondingly portrayed by the stop in the actor’s motion. By instantly stopping the movement of his legs, Branagh is symbolizing the easiness with which he could stop the movement of his heart. At this moment, he also takes out a sword and places it in front of him. Once again, the idea of violence to end Hamlet’s problems is portrayed. But soon enough, Hamlet realizes that the reason why people don’t just kill themselves is because they are afraid of what will happen to their souls after death. At this point, Branagh places the sword on the left side of his face and says, “puzzles the will” (79). Hamlet thinks that the dead will be unable to use their self-control. They will be paralyzed from attaining any form of freedom and taking action. As the sword is placed on his face and he is looking at his reflection, Branagh says, “Thus conscience does make cowards [of us all]” (82). This suggests that “reflection” brings sanity to the human mind. As the actor is looking at his face in the mirror and the sword on his left cheek, he realizes that he is a coward for not killing himself, but a sane human being for not committing such foul act.

Finally, Branagh takes the sword off his face while saying, “With this regard their currents turn awry” (86) and touches the mirror with the tip of his sword. Branagh’s actions suggest that now that Hamlet has seen his reflection and is sane, his urge to kill will twist. He will no longer want to kill himself, but the person in his way. As soon as he finishes his statement, Ophelia’s footsteps are heard from a far. The fact that she is the first person to appear after Hamlet’s soliloquy indicates that perhaps she will be the person in his way. Ophelia may be the one that is killed as a result of Hamlet’s “currents” twisting.

Hamlet’s Soliloquy by Kenny Branagh is an outstanding representation of the event. By moving cautiously he allows the reader and the viewer to understand Shakespeare’s words while foreshadowing future events. His choice in tone and control over his breathing reveal Hamlet’s thoughts and emotions throughout his soliloquy.