Hamlet: Laurence Olivier and Hamlet Essay

Submitted By mkmollmann
Words: 1073
Pages: 5

Sir Laurence Olivier

While not being the most recent of versions, Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1948 version of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy was able to capture the loneliness and helplessness that Hamlet is feeling at this point in the play. Stemming from the betrayal from his friends and his rejection from Ophelia, Hamlet feels he is completely alone with no one to turn to. Olivier’s version captures this best, using symbolism to represent Hamlet’s options and feelings, voiceover to break up the soliloquy into out loud vs. narration to reflect Hamlet’s thoughts, and the use of setting to reflect Hamlet’s motivation.
The first point that makes Olivier’s version the best reflector of the soliloquy is the use of symbolism in this scene. The first symbol to appear in the scene is the recurring stairs that seem to go up until we reach the top where Hamlet is waiting to deliver the soliloquy. These stairs are representative of the only option that Hamlet seems to have, which is on top of the cliff. This shows that he has no other option besides death, or at least that is something major that he is considering. Also these stairs represent the path that Hamlet is on. To get revenge on the King of a country, let alone his own uncle, is without a doubt quite a daunting task. So, the stairs show the effort and lack of a return Hamlet has to go through. Another symbol I noticed that was more prominent and recurring through the scene was was the ocean. While looking down from the cliff, the waves crashed and Hamlet overlooked the expanse of the ocean. Obviously, Hamlet is viewing the cliff as a method of suicide. But the ocean represents the unknown. However in this case it represents the unknown of the dying as opposed to the unknown of living, which is what the mist later shown represents. After contemplating the ocean, or making the decision between suicide and living, Hamlet chooses to continue on with his plan. Turning away from the ocean and cliffside, Hamlet walks into a mist surrounding him. Like mentioned earlier, this mist represents the unknown of the future, and what will happen to Hamlet in the coming times. So by Hamlet walking in to the mist he is showing his willingness to take on the unknown as opposed to his earlier thoughts of suicide. With Olivier’s version, the inclusion of symbolism is used most effectively with the stairs, mist, and ocean.
In many of the soliloquies we watched, the entirety of them were spoken aloud, for instance in Branagh’s and Gibson’s. One of the strengths I found in Olivier’s was that certain parts were not spoken aloud, and instead were presented with voice over. This detail was crucial to the overall meaning of the soliloquy. While there was no technology during Hamlet’s time capable of a voiceover, the results of it on the movie screen stand out. The first and most well-known line of the soliloquy isn’t voiced aloud, which is important because it is the overarching theme of the soliloquy and represents the decision Hamlet has to make. By restraining it to his thoughts, it shows the audience that this is what is driving him in this scene. He speaks aloud the rest until he gets to the lines: “To die, to sleep -- no more -- and by a sleep to say…” until several lines down when he finishes with a sarcastic remark on the difficulty of the decision to commit suicide: “ay there’s the rub” which he speaks aloud. The lines inbetween these two parts I find important that he doesn’t speak aloud, because it is him actually contemplating his actions. The rest of the soliloquy are examples, for both arguments that he is considering. However the idea, and the comparison of sleeping with dreaming are used in a voice over because they are most central to the argument being presented in the soliloquy. With this voice over it not only makes Hamlet seem more conflicted about his choice, but it also demonstrates