Michael Almereyda's Use of Technology in His 2000 Film Version of Hamlet Term Paper

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Almereyda's Hamlet

Term Paper on Michael Almereyda's Use of Technology in His 2000 Film Version of Hamlet Assignment

The play Hamlet is one of the most complicated and respected plays in all of theater. One reason for this is that Shakespeare's characters are written both powerfully and ambiguously. Therefore, the role of the director in a production of Hamlet is pivotal. It is the director that decides how the audience is to perceive the characters in Hamlet. For example, one of the central issues in Hamlet is whether Hamlet is truly mad or is feigning madness in order to entrap Claudius. It is the director that determines whether the audience sees a complicated and scheming Hamlet, or a Hamlet that has lost control of his own senses. The director's determines the actor's portrayal of Hamlet, which has a direct effect on the audience's perceptions of the supporting characters in the play. "Actors have traditionally struggled with this role [Hamlet], and it can be safely said that any one performance can only capture some facets of the creation" (Wikipedia). Ultimately, it is the director that determines what facets the actor captures, which, in turn, determines how the audience perceives the play. For example, if Hamlet is only feigning madness, then Ophelia is perceived as the ultimate victim, because it her perception of Hamlet's madness that has driven her mad. On the other hand, if Hamlet is truly mad, then Hamlet and Ophelia can be viewed as misguided soul mates. A director can use a variety of means in order to portray a story and characters. In his version of Hamlet, director Michael Almereyda uses technology and a modern setting to tell the story in Hamlet. Those who are accustomed to seeing Shakespeare's work in modern settings may not realize it at first, but there is something very striking about Almereyda's vision; almost every scene contains a piece of technology that is meant to either record events or replay those recordings. The most striking example is how Hamlet uses a video camera to set up his play within a play, but the more subtle examples are the cameras and other recording devices that have become a background to modern life. Almereyda's use of these devices, as well as other forms of technology, give Hamlet new relevance to an audience that may not understand or care much about the succession of monarchies, but does understand the consequences of corporate buy-outs. In addition, the fact that Almereyda has set Hamlet in modern times not only makes it more accessible to a modern audience, but also changes the image of Hamlet.

One of the most striking changes in Almereyda's film is the fact that Claudius is not a King and Denmark is not a country. Instead, Almereyda has chosen to make Denmark a corporation. Instead of usurping King Hamlet's throne, Claudius has taken over the corporation. This decision goes a long way towards making Hamlet more accessible to a modern audience. In the first place, the modern conception of succession in monarchy makes it counter-intuitive that Claudius, and not Hamlet, would be king after King Hamlet's death. Second, it makes easier to understand why Fortinbras gets to control Denmark. This issue is left somewhat fuzzy in the play; Fortinbras never wages war against Denmark, but comes in to take control at the end of the play. The audience is left to wonder why Fortinbras, rather than someone Danish, would get control of Denmark. However, in the context of a corporate setting, where levered buy-outs and hostile takeovers are commonplace, the idea of Fortinbras taking over Denmark Corporation is easy to explain and understand.

Furthermore, the fact that Almereyda has chosen to portray Denmark as a corporation reveals something about Almereyda's vision of modern America. One has only to watch one episode of the Apprentice to see how desperate many Americans are to become part of the upper echelon in corporate America. In fact, the American fascination with corporations has made those in power positions, like Jack Welch, Donald Trump, and Bill Gates, into celebrities, or modern royalty. Almereyda makes the point that:

There's still a class system in America, people who have things and people who don't, and people who have things tend to make sure they keep having them and controlling them, and that's aligned with corporate power, which is such an overarching power that you can't even attack it without becoming a part of it (Almereyda).

Therefore, the use of royal titles in Almereyda's Hamlet does not appear unusual; after all, love her or hate her; few people would disagree with a characterization of Paris Hilton as a princess. Why, then, would Hamlet not be a prince?

Finally, in light of the recent corporate scandals, a corporation may be the only place that can capture the corruption in Hamlet. The characters in Hamlet are notoriously corrupt. Of course, it is Polonius that is obviously corrupt, as he counsels his son to be dishonest, treats his daughter with contempt, and spies on Hamlet. While "Polonius may be the most obviously corrupt character...the centre of evil of the play's plot and of the kingdom is Claudius" (Moriarity). Only in corporate America does a character as obviously corrupt as Claudius seem at home.

After one has seen multiple productions of Hamlet, one comes to expect each production to place a different emphasis on Hamlet's madness. Therefore, one of the most striking things about Almereyda's Hamlet was that it completely de-emphasized Hamlet's madness. However, by taking emphasis away from the very scenes in which other directors have chosen to have their Hamlets act the most mad, Almereyda and actor Ethan Hawke have created something unusual: a Hamlet that is definitely mentally ill. While Hawke's Hamlet lacks the frantic lunacy of other Hamlets, the movie makes it clear that Hamlet is severely depressed. In fact, Hawke spoke of rock star Kurt Cobain, who ended his life by suicide, as his inspiration for Hamlet (Almereyda). By making Hamlet clinically depressed, Almereyda spanned three centuries in an instant, making Hamlet immediately accessible to a modern audience. Hamlet's indecision about how to avenge his father is automatically understandable to anyone who has suffered from depression or known someone suffering from depression. Actually, in a society where one is constantly bombarded with commercials for anti-depressants, one does not even need personal experience with depression in order to understand that one of the symptoms of clinical depression is a lack of initiative.

Ironically enough, Almereyda uses a showcase for technology to highlight Hamlet's utter lack of initiative. Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" speech is given while he is wandering through the action section at a Blockbuster video store. This scene is a wonderful example of how Almereyda has married the facets of modern everyday life with the story of Hamlet. Every member of the audience can connect with a man wandering somewhat aimlessly through a video store. In fact, there is a strong possibility that members of the audience were wandering aimlessly in the video store just prior to watching the movie. This connects the viewer with Hamlet in a way not possible in the original play. The audience, especially most members of an audience during Shakespeare's time, simply cannot identify with a prince whose uncle has interfered with his succession to the throne, and whose mother has married his father's brother a month after his father's death. However, every member of the audience can connect with someone, even a modern corporate prince, wandering through the video store. More so, the fact that Hamlet's famous speech about action vs. inaction occurs in the action section of the video store dramatically highlights the fact that, as of that point, Hamlet had failed to take any action.

In addition, as in any production of Hamlet, Hamlet's decisive and swift action against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern serves as a foil for his failure to take swift action against Claudius. However, in Almereyda's film, Hamlet's sentence of his friends is almost effortless. In fact, according to Alessandro Abbate:

Technological disembodiment also points to a psychological process that undermines the significance of one's actions, as the case of Rosencrantz's and Guildenstern's deaths illustrates. Almereyda hands down their sentence on disk: a word document locked into the memory of a Mac laptop replaces the King's letters, the deadly command they carry entrusted to the insubstantiality of digital space (Abbate).

In contrast, in the play, Hamlet has to "copy the letters, be careful to "write fair" (5.2.34), and seal them with his father's ring" (Abbate). The risk that Hamlet's deception will be uncovered has been eliminated, and murder has become as easy as a keystroke.

In a world where technology has made the elimination of two friends as easy as the press of a button, it is not hard to understand how Almereyda uses technology to emphasis Hamlet's loneliness and isolation. In Shakespeare's play, there are lines indicating that Hamlet was once a lively and engaged person. However, in Almereyda's Hamlet, one does not get the feeling that Hamlet has ever been fully plugged in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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