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Adapting Shakespeare

Adaptations of books and plays into film and TV series often result in debate. Like marmite, it's common you either love it or hate it! Especially when taking a classic work from famous figures like Shakespeare. There have been many adaptations of his work, and Hamlet is one of the most adapted to exist, alongside other works like Dracula🧛 and Sherlock Holmes🔍.

Creating an adaptation often offers another dimension for the audience. A film interpretation often allows the watcher to perceive the story in a way they might not have thought to. It can be both enlightening or frustrating! Each adaptation differs as the director chooses to focus on different themes - a scene of great importance to one may be entirely excluded by another to fit the narrative they depict. Directors have to make a lot of active decisions about what to keep and what to cut, especially when a play like Hamlet can run for over four hours when played in its entirety.

Hamlet, written around 1601, has been performed in theatres for centuries and has also been adapted for film on numerous occasions. Some film adaptations exist as a means of preserving stage productions, but other films deliberately adapt the story to the medium of film. Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 adaptation is an example of this and had an atypical approach to its production. He used dynamic filming techniques typically used for action films, and the script controversially added scenes that were not originally present in Shakespeare's text.

Comparatively, Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation sought to produce a faithful film version without any cuts! This put the finished product at over four hours... This production emphasised the theme of reality versus appearance and used mirrors as an important symbol of this.

The use of mirrors is also seen in the 2008 Gregory Doran theatre production. In Robert Jones' set, there were huge full-height mirrors at the back of the stage and all the grisly action was reflected in the glossy, black mirror-like floor. This production was later filmed for broadcast in 2008, and the film continued the theme of observation heavily featured in the theatre production. The action is occasionally viewed as images on a CCTV monitor and David Tennant's Hamlet films the players' performances with a Super-8 camera.

Surveillance is a key theme often picked up across many adaptations; Laurence Olivier's 1948 version was significant for its use of the camera as a character that seems to explore the Castle at Elsinore throughout the film...

A direct contrast to these quite traditional adaptations is the Michael Almereyda 2000 adaptation. It is a modern take on the play and is set in New York, it makes far more changes to the setting and text of the play than most other versions. For example, Elsinore Castle is turned into Hotel Elsinore, and new scenes are added that were not in the original play. The film resonates with the modern audience that views it, and the portrayal of changing technology and cultural forms speak to us directly.

It's clear to see that despite being written over four hundred years ago, Shakespeare remains a classic that is adapted for the modern audience. I wonder what an adaptation of Hamlet would be like in a hundred years!

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