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Cinematic Hamlet

The Films of Olivier, Zeffirelli, Branagh, and Almereyda

Patrick J. Cook

Publication Year: 2011

Hamlet has inspired four outstanding film adaptations that continue to delight a wide and varied audience and to offer provocative new interpretations of Shakespeare’s most popular play. Cinematic Hamlet contains the first scene-by-scene analysis of the methods used by Laurence Olivier, Franco Zeffirelli, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Almereyda to translate Hamlet into highly distinctive and remarkably effective films.

Applying recent developments in neuroscience and psychology, Patrick J. Cook argues that film is a medium deploying an abundance of devices whose task it is to direct attention away from the film’s viewing processes and toward the object represented. Through careful analysis of each film’s devices, he explores the ways in which four brilliant directors rework the play into a radically different medium, engaging the viewer through powerful instinctive drives and creating audiovisual vehicles that support and complement Shakespeare’s words and story.
Cinematic Hamlet will prove to be indispensable for anyone wishing to understand how these films rework Shakespeare into the powerful medium of film.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Cover Page

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Title Page/Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v

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pp. 1-21

Cinematic Hamlet arose from two convictions. The first was a belief, confirmed by the responses of hundreds of university students with whom I have studied the films, that the Hamlets of Laurence Olivier, Franco Zeffirelli, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Almereyda are remarkably successful films.¹ Numerous film Hamlets have been made using Shakespeare’s language, but only the four included in this book...

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Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet: The Triumph of the Cinesthetic

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pp. 23-63

Olivier’s Hamlet has long been recognized as a formal hybrid. A common complaint among early reviewers was, in effect, that too much of the play was sacrificed in favor of the movie. Cutting the bard’s sacred words, indispensable characters, and crucial scenes and speeches to create an “essay in Hamlet” considerably shorter and less polysemic than the original produced predictable laments.¹ Less predictable are complaints...

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Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet: Modernizing Medievalism

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pp. 65-104

Franco Zeffirelli began his sixth feature film, which was also his third Shakespeare adaptation, confident that he knew how to reshape Hamlet into a powerful and popular film. In The Taming of the Shrew, he demonstrated an ability to adjust the play’s emphases to the abilities and personalities of his stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth...

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Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet: The Challenges of the Full-Text Screenplay

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pp. 105-159

The filmed Hamlet that Kenneth Branagh would have made in 1988–89, if Zeffirelli’s plans had not materialized more quickly than his own, would no doubt have been a shortened, essayistic version in the manner of Olivier and most subsequent Shakespeare films. Branagh’s comments on the film that took its place, Henry V, indicate that at the time he recognized a need for commercial...

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Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet: Uncanny Imagination

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pp. 161-216

Within a year of the release of the full-text Hamlet, Almereyda was pondering an adaptation that would define itself against Branagh’s lavishly produced historical film and dynamic, mature hero. In the preface to the published screenplay, Almereyda praises what Orson Welles called the “rough charcoal sketch” approach to his filmed Macbeth. Welles’s undeniably rough and...


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pp. 217-240


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pp. 241-251


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pp. 253-254


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pp. 255-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443651
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821419441

Page Count: 257
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 710814278
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cinematic Hamlet

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Subject Headings

  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Film adaptations.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Hamlet.
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