Hamlet and Hollywood: Using Film Adaptation to Analyze Ophelia and Gertrude

byKristen S. Kurzawski

Hamlet and Hollywood: Using Film Adaptation to Analyze Ophelia and Gertrude, by Kristen S. Kurzawski

After teaching English literature to high school students for ten years I have realized that film adaptations of literature can make an incredible difference to a student's basic comprehension of literature and aid in his/her analysis. However, I also realize that adaptations create a specific interpretation of a text. The students come to see this adaptation as the definitive interpretation of a piece of writing. I have had trouble helping students see that a director is doing the same thing as a reader of a text. The director is interpreting the text and transforming that text into a visual form. Students do this naturally. They have been programmed by modern society to think in pictures and sound bites. They are bombarded by sensory stimuli. I have noticed that students discuss literature in visual terms, and they respond well to visual writers. Therefore, I see the need for a unit that engages students while teaching them that film is a powerful interpretive tool, one that offers an interpretation, but not necessarily a definitive one.

With these things in mind I decided to create a unit which uses various interpretations of William Shakepeare's Hamlet to initiate the students into film analysis as well as aid their analysis of a staged text. Specifically this unit asks students to examine clips from Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet (1964), Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990), and Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000). These directors have adapted Shakespeare's work in three distinctly different ways that allow for a myriad of discussion opportunities, but my unit will focus our analysis on the opening scenes of the films and the portrayal of Ophelia and Gertrude within the films. I believe discussion of the adaptations will lead to interesting interpretations of the text as well as a new found way to examine film and Shakespeare.

(Recommended for English, grade 12.)


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