We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Download PDF

Reviewed by
Shakespeare on Screen: “Hamlet.” Edited by Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin. Mont-Saint-Aignan, France: Publications des Universités de Rouen and du Havre, 2011. Illus. Pp. 550. €27.00 Paper.

Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin’s latest Shakespeare on Screen addresses one of Shakespeare’s most frequently filmed plays, Hamlet, with a broad array of scholarly approaches to several different dimensions of film. The essays range beyond analyses of feature films to include several studies of televised Hamlets, Hamlet adaptations, and work on documentary, as in Patricia Lennox’s “Joseph Papp and Diane Venora Rehearsing Hamlet.” Of the volume’s seventeen essays, only one was previously published; there are numerous illustrative screen images of varying quality, an expanded variation on José Ramón Díaz Fernández’s already useful filmography, and abstracts in English and French for all contributions. Hatchuel and Vienne-Guerrin have introduced and organized the articles effectively in order “to offer readers and viewers a large scope of approaches to the [End Page 126] play on screen worldwide” (17). While some essays principally review archival materials, many build rich insights into the cinematic and cultural contexts for Hamlet, in both formal films and adaptations.

Several essays adopt a comparatist approach while themselves inspiring comparison. For example, not only do the essays by Samuel Crowl and the late Bernice W. Kliman address a range of Hamlet films, but both invite the reader to contemplate Hamlet within combined chronological and filmic contexts. Crowl’s cinematically and historically sensitive framing of Olivier’s and Branagh’s Hamlets serves as a neat partner to Kliman’s archival work on televised productions in “Hallmark Hall of Fame: Three Go’s at Hamlet (1953, 1970, 2000).” Similarly, Jacek Fabiszak’s “To Cut or Not to Cut?” and Russell Jackson’s “The Gaps in Gertrude” treat several productions and complement each other’s very different textual interests within these films; Fabiszak surveys actual representations of texts in several films of the play, while Jackson builds on the ambiguity originating in early textual variations of Gertrude’s character to study differing film characterizations.

The volume’s complementary pairings are richest when studying filmic interpretations of the ghost and analyzing Hamlet’s film noir influences. In “The Ghost and the Skull,” Victoria Bladen’s provocative exploration of “the ways in which the border between life and death in film versions of Hamlet is imagined and presented” illuminates the interplay across boundaries in several modes, but stops just short of fully delving into how those breaches illuminate “the spectral medium of film” (171). Pierre Kapitaniak’s “Hamlet’s Ghost on Screen” directly engages the cinematic implications of these boundaries. He dates double-exposed ghostly Old Hamlets from Hay Plumb’s 1913 Hamlet, tracks the “distancing and ironic value” (178) that the old technique carries forward, and identifies the impact of new special-effects technologies.

Extending the work on Hamlet and film noir memorably initiated by Linda Charnes, Anne-Marie Costantini-Cornède and Douglas Lanier contribute essays that delve into intertwined cinematic and cultural uses of Hamlet in non-Anglo-American films. Costantini-Cornède compares Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960) to Aki Kaurismäki’s Hamlet Goes Business (1987) in order to distinguish between their common relocation of Hamlet within a corporatized noir aesthetic: Kurosawa’s project embraces film noir’s cynical take on flawed social and economic structures, while Kaurismäki embraces neo-noir, which foregrounds the superficiality of the flaws so atmospherically present in film noir. Lanier’s “Nouveau Noir: Claude Chabrol’s Ophélia, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the Nouvelle Vague” unpacks Chabrol’s richly ironic version of Hamlet by tracing the resistance to bourgeois conformity that underpins the Nouvelle Vague French film style he helped to foster. While the mutual illumination created between these new contexts and revisions and Hamlet offers valuable insights, the authors carefully attend to noir cinematic style evolving within social and historical constraints. Although not concerned with film noir style, Dominique Goy-Blanquet makes an analogous and comparably intriguing argument in her analysis of cultural contexts for Grigori Kozintsev’s Hamlet, filmed during the thaw of the Khrushchev era and featuring the work of three great Russian artists—Kozintsev, [End Page 127] Pasternak, and Shostakovich—who resisted political repression while finding it within Hamlet.

As these three articles suggest, one of this volume’s great strengths is its broad survey of Hamlet’s appearances in world cinema and television. Mark Thornton Burnett’s reprinted “Hamlet and World Cinema” makes the case for this play as an important site for interaction and revision in global Shakespearean cinema. Several articles address non-English adaptations of Hamlet in ways that elaborate and test this idea. In “‘I’ve been killed, but I’m not dead’: Remains of Hamlet in the French Telefilm L’Embrumé (1980),” Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin introduce not only French televisual Hamlet but also the effects of generic translation of the play into television detective format. Frédéric Delord and Gaëlle Ginestet, respectively, look at films that incorporate partial stage portrayals of Hamlet. Delord examines André Téchiné’s reiterated representations of imperfect actors struggling with the roles in the play to interrogate the limits of citing Hamlet, while Ginestet explores how the film’s depiction of a staged scene resonates with the subtle, even indirect connections to Ophelia in the title character and her suicide.

Beyond these forays into stage references, the volume also addresses quotations and loose adaptations. Although Mariangela Tempera’s “‘Not to Be’: Referencing the Rest of Hamlet on Screen” essentially lists quotations from Hamlet beyond the famous soliloquy in several films and television productions, Courtney Lehmann and Sylvaine Bataille offer nuanced arguments about the American adaptations that they address. Lehmann’s intriguing “2B or not 2B: The Elect(ed) and the Damned in Hamlet 2” exposes the antifeminist politics that emerge in a film that has little directly to do with the play beyond co-opting the title. In contrast, Bataille’s “‘Hamlet on Harleys’” convincingly maintains that the television series Sons of Anarchy invokes Hamlet, “never used as a precise scenario, but as a source of types, ideas and images” (338), by showing how the play both fits the dynastic struggles of a motorcycle club and challenges the conventions of series television.

To close out the volume, José Ramón Díaz Fernández has once more contributed his bibliographic expertise. In this case, he includes critical work and the films under the awkward, somewhat misleading title of “Hamlet on Screen: An Annotated Filmo-Bibliography.” Expanding the listed film adaptations to incorporate the important criticism on each film enriches the value of the bibliography and extends the cinematic scope. This bibliography offers sections on “Animated Versions,” “Derivatives and Selected Citations,” and “Educational Films”; the last is noteworthy because its forty-one films have garnered a single 1979 critical assessment. The critical entries themselves serve as annotations for the films, with limited commentary on content and relevant page numbers. Even so, the bibliography justifies Hatchuel and Vienne-Guerrin’s characterization as “almost a book within the book” (17) by taking up a full third of the volume, in part because the longstanding approach of addressing Hamlet films collectively necessarily leads to duplicate entries. For example, Alan Vanneman’s “Nine Hamlets: Olivier, Burton, Jacobi, Klein, Gibson, Branagh, Scott, Hawke, and Lester” has nine entries in the [End Page 128] bibliography, one for each screened Hamlet it mentions, two appearing on one page.1 This replication makes many relevant critical resources available for each production (for example, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet has almost two hundred critical entries), but both substantive and slight resources appear several times. This critical filmography would be much more valuable in searchable, on-line form, particularly since the book lacks an index.

Shakespeare on Screen: “Hamlet” will prove valuable to critics of Shakespearean film and of global performances of the play. The volume gathers critical approaches to filmed Hamlets, offers striking international diversity in its critical stances and its range of film genres, and closes with a very useful bibliography. The only screens neglected in this collection are computer screens, despite the growing importance of web-based performances. Perhaps MIT’s Hamlet on the Ramparts is too derivative with its film clips from other Hamlet performances, but Herbert Fritsch’s Hamlet_X internet installation offers streaming video of individual films clustered around the play in ways that deserve acknowledgment, at least in the bibliography. Shakespeare on screen now includes the blurring of genres occasioned by streaming video, in the online availability of PBS productions, Digital Theatre, MIT’s Global Shakespeares project, and YouTube’s ever-changing array of Shakespeare performances.2 As this array indicates, such collections will increasingly need to incorporate the new screen performances in order to earn the title of Shakespeare on Screen.

Laurie E. Osborne

Laurie E. Osborne is the NEH/Class of 1940 Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Colby College. Her recent work includes “Serial Shakespeare: Intermedial Performance and the Outrageous Fortunes of Slings & Arrows” (published in Borrowers and Lenders), “iShakespeare: Digital Art/Games, Intermediality, and the Future of Shakespearean Film” (Shakespeare Studies), and “‘The Marriage of True Minds’: Twinning, Amity and Comic Closure in Twelfth Night” in Twelfth Night: New Critical Essays (2011).


1. Alan Vanneman,“Nine Hamlets: Olivier, Burton, Jacobi, Kline, Gibson, Branagh, Scott, Hawke, and Lester All Take a Stab at the Original Man in Black,” Bright Lights Film Journal 51 (February 2006), www.brightlightsfilm.com/51/51hamlet.php (accessed 20 December 2012).

2. For Digital Theatre, see http://www.digitaltheatre.com/home; for the MIT Global Shakespeares Project, see globalshakespeares.mit.edu/# (accessed 20 December 2012).