“Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is a play by William Shakespeare that gives a tremendous opportunity to observe a women’s life in the patriarchal world. Both Gertrude’s and Ophelia, the only female characters, are mysterious. Ophelia does not have many lines in the play, she hardly expresses her thoughts and emotions, and other characters do not often talk of her. Gertrude seems to be a background for Hamlet and Claudius. Therefore, there are different ways of how female figures can be interpreted and played on the scene. The example of such interpretation is “Hamlet” screened by Franco Zeffirelli and released in 1990. He focused on “Hamlet” as a family romance, removed the political side of the play with the accent on the human nature.
Any film employs three looks that enhances or diminishes the power of the character – the look of the camera, the look of the spectator and the look of each character within the film on other people and objects. High angle shots reduce the personal strength and significance of characters, while low angle shots make them seem more powerful and important. By occupying up and middle sectors of the screen, characters demonstrate significance and might. The initiator of the gaze possesses more power and dominates a person he or she is looking at. Close-up shots increase the intensity of the look and decrease the power of the object(Mou). From this point of view it is curiously to observe how Zeffirelli places actors and cameras, giving more or less strength to the characters of the film.
Queen Gertrude seems to occupy the center of the film and thus possesses more power than in the play. She is often placed in the center of the shot, and this increases her significance and strength. Her bright luxurious gowns and vivacious, active behavior draw the viewers’ attention. On the other hand, she is much weaker than male characters and they dominate her. Gertrude is extremely sensual and naïve. The queen is in constant struggle with herself, trying to be a loving wife and a caring mother, but as Claudius lies to her and Hamlet condemns her marriage and behavior, she cannot reach her goals. In the film she is lively and sexual and her son feels indignant and resentful about her. In the scene in her bedroom Hamlet uses his superiority in strength, behaves very rude, and his accusations hurt Gertrude greatly. When Hamlet and his mother appear together, we always see the Queen from Hamlet’s side, and that diminishes her influence.
Gertrude is very trusting and cannot see the real motives of Claudius. In the first act of the play the new king asks Hamlet to stay in Denmark only because he wants to keep the prince under his constant surveillance. Gertrude sincerely supports this idea, not realizing the real purpose of the request. When Hamlet he stays alone, he reveals his abhor to the early marriage and Gertrude’s moral degradation: “Frailty, thy name is woman! / -A little month, or ere those shoes were old / With which she followed my poor father's body / Like Niobe, all tears- why she, even she / (O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason / Would have mourn'd longer) married with my uncle; / My father's brother, but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules” (I.2.350-357). These words express Hamlet’s disgust and rage (Rahman, 33). Therefore, he behaves roughly – he cannot trust his mother, moreover, he despises her.
On the one hand, this monologue gives an explanation why Gertrude is so innocent: “…so loving to my mother / That he might not beteem the winds of heaven / Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! / Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him / As if increase of appetite had grown / By what it fed on…” (I.2.344-349). Being protected by her king, Gertrude lived in an artificial world that has made her gentle and trusting. Consequently, she cannot recognize lie and entrusts herself to the King’s brother.
In the movie Gertrude is more naïve. Her behavior is sometimes childish. From the first scenes we see how lighthearted she is – she kisses Claudius gladly; in the scene with actors, when everyone are waiting for the play to start, she claps her hands like a little girl, waiting for the entertainment; at the beginning of the scene, where Hamlet meets Ophelia, and the king, queen and Polonius are spying, Claudius touches Gertrude’s face as an adult would touch a child. When mad Ophelia comes to speak to Gertrude, the woman cannot stand the tension and runs to hide on the husband’s chest, just like a little scared child would search a shelter in farter’s arms. She is completely helpless in the world, where the husband manipulates her and the son is disappointed with her.
Male characters easily dominate Gertrude. In the scene with the play “Mousetrap” Hamlet insults his mother bitterly several times, yet Gertrude has few chances to defend. At the beginning of the play Hamlet publicly accuses her: “For look you how cheerfully my mother looks, and my father died / within's two hours” (III.2.2006,2007). He implies that his mother’s sorrow was too short and the marriage with the husband’s brother was incestuous and disgraceful. Hamlet continues to shame the queen: “O heavens! die two months ago, and not forgotten yet?” (III.2.2010-2011). Then Zeffirellis takes Ophelia’s words and gives them to Gertrude:
“Gertrude. Tis brief, my lord.
Hamlet. As woman's love” (III.2.2043, 2044).
That was done on purpose, to highlight one more time how fleeting the queen’s love was. One more hint on Gertrude’s betrayal is a Player Queen’s replica: “If, once a widow, ever I be wife!” (III.2.2115), which suggested, that Gertrude should have remained lonely forever. Then Hamlet addresses the Queen with a direct question: “Madam, how like you this play?” (III.2.2124) to ensure whether she understood what was implied in the play. This is the only chance for Gertrude to defend herself: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (III.2.2125). By stressing the word “protest” she makes it clear that the Player Queen deserves happiness but should not have promised too much. This answer definitely cannot satisfy Hamlet and he stings his mother again: “O, but she'll keep her word” (III.2.2126). The stress on “she” reminds the queen how she breached the social norm (Mou). In this scene of the movie Hamlet is more merciless, and Gertrude is weaker than in the original play.
On the screen and in the play Gertrude is an unhappy woman, whose expectations do not meet the reality. She firmly believes that everyone can leave in love and cannot find her place in a cruel world, where men rule. It seems that in the end she cannot bear the brutality she has to live in. When Claudius warns her not to drink poisoned wine, she says: “I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me” (V.2.3943) as if she feels that a sip from this cup will help her to release from the burdens of life.
On the other hand, Ophelia has even less freedom. She is completely dependent from her father Polonius, brother Laertes and Hamlet. She definitely lacks her personality and cannot express her wills or state her point of view. Polonius easily controls her behavior even when it comes to her love: “This is for all: / I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth / Have you so slander any moment leisure / As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. / Look to't, I charge you. Come your ways.” (I.3.618-622). Her only answer is: “I shall obey, my lord» (I.3.623). Although she loves Hamlet dearly, she is unable to confront the father’s authority. This obedience leads Ophelia to self-destruction. Shakespeare shows that when a woman’s life is guided by person like cynical Polonius or unperceptive Laertes, her fate is threatened (Lewis).
Polonius and Claudius easily manipulate Ophelia and use her to spy Hamlet. In Zeffirelli’s interpretation her weak characters becomes more vulnerable because Hamlet sees and hears how Ophelia is used by her father and the king. First, he notices her speaking to Polonius and hears that she betray their feelings. After that, in the scene where she is trying to find out the reason of his madness, the prince sees how Polonius, Claudius and Gertrude hide to overhear the conversation. When looking at Ophelia, Hamlet always sees her from the higher point. The viewers always see Ophelia from Hamlet’s point of view and that makes him a more powerful figure. This position diminishes Ophelia’s personality - she seems smaller and more helpless. Besides, her gowns are far from being rich: they are of dull colors, with minimum ornaments and rather baggy in contrast with Gertrude’s dresses. Thus, she becomes an inexpressive and weak character. In the scene in the watchtower Hamlet uses his strength and presses Ophelia to the stone wall, demonstrating his superiority.
Zeffirelli gives Ophelia an opportunity to express her attitude in the scene with the play. In the respond to Hamlet’s “Do you think I meant country matters?” she responses: “I think nothing, my lord” (III.2.1997-1998). Instead of “nothing” she stresses “I” to show that it is her personal point of view. She expresses sympathy to Gertrude when correcting Hamlet: “Nay 'tis twice two months, my lord” (III.2.2008). Although her courage cannot stand Hamlet’s pressure.
When Hamlet kills Polonius and runs, Ophelia leaves alone. Laertes cannot support her as he has left to France. Ophelia used to be told what to do and this sudden loneliness drives her mad. She goes insane because of grief about the father’s death, lost love of Hamlet and complete uncertainty. Ophelia’s place in the society becomes blurred, and leads to death. Her madness is an illustration that in the patriarchal world females cannot be left unsheltered. Ophelia’s life was even more complicated as she was deprived of mother’s care. Her suicide through drowning in the stream shows, that the female character is as unstable as streaming water, and lacks stability (Reakes).
Nonetheless, this madness sets Ophelia free from the constant control and society norms. She is able to express her real feelings and emotions, behave how she feels. It seems that the courtiers are not willing to contact her because she mirrors their own insanity. She does not need to disguise and her scrappy mind seems to capture the very essence. The bouquet she gathers is highly symbolical. In the movie Ophelia seems more insane as she walks barefoot and gives straws and nails instead of herbs.
Zeffirelli wanted to screen the play as Shakespeare “meant” it to be performed (Mou). His female characters are dramatic and vivid, although some accents were shifted – Gertrude is more sensual and Ophelia is more vulnerable. Both the play and the film depict how hard for a woman to live in a patriarchal society as this leads to male dominance and female weakness. The unstable and dependant position of a woman leads to sad consequences, even to death.