The theme of death in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Hamlet

In Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Hamlet, the theme of death is unmistakably recognizable. This is particularly true in Act III, scene I, where Hamlet is seen presenting a monologue in front of double mirrors, and reveals the fourth soliloquy of the play. Although a majority of the soliloquy, “To Be or Not To Be”, generally centers on the everlasting battle between the morality of life over death, much of this soliloquy, and speech, is greatly emphasized on death.

When “To be or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer, The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles” (Shakespeare, 3.1.59-61) , is raised in Act III, scene I, it is overbearingly obvious that this is in reference to death. As though speaking on behalf of an audience, Hamlet poses this question for the entirety of humanity, rather than just himself. He ponders whether it is greater to endure the pain life brings, or to take active measures to escape the struggle of life through suicide. This soliloquy is presented with a prominence in the balance between alive and being dead. It refers to the way one manages the morality between living and dying.

Living with the cruelty of enduring the wavering hills of fortune, luck, and happiness, whereas death presents itself as an escape from the misfortunes life brings. Death seemingly the only resort one has to avoid facing the implications of life, thus proving itself to be desirable for those looking to defeat the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Hamlet introduces his argument that resorting to death would be preferable in his circumstance. He compares death to a deep slumber, appealing to his vision of death. However, he soon comes to fear dreams may arise from the slumber and will disguise themselves as the pain that the afterlife may bring.

There is no definitive answer that ensures Hamlet’s death will be a positive escape from his sufferings, and he urges himself to rethink this view on death. He comments that this realization of his is what pushes him to reconsider suicide as an open option when it comes to the struggle between life and death. After this grim realization, Hamlet begins to list the suffering humans are susceptible to in the journey through life, perhaps indicating his bias towards death. Towards the end of his monologue,

he finally becomes aware that many lean towards living due to the uncertainty of life after death, and thus, this heavy soliloquy is left unanswered.

The deep and unveiling wonder of this soliloquy paints Hamlet as confused and uncertain. Hamlet is unsure of himself and his actions, and often races between the two extremes as a result of his overly observant personality. This monologue displays his contemplation between living his life, or ending it completely. There is no doubt this soliloquy speaks for his consideration of committing suicide. Hamlet shows his belief that life is synonymous with misfortune. He extends his belief through a list of the suffering in life. “whips and scorn of time, Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’unworthy takes” (Shakespeare, 3.1.70-74). This is the list Hamlet provides of the suffering mankind has to endure, and he wonders, is life truly worth persisting through these endless pains?

If Hamlet were to accept death, his suffering would be laid to rest. Hamlet would no longer have to endure his uncle ruling the kingdom unrightfully, and would no longer feel responsible to avenge his father’s death. Additionally, Hamlet would not have to watch the relationship of his mother and uncle, which he believes to be incestuous. However, this would mean Hamlet would have to abandon his mission to avenge his father. Throughout the progression of the play, Hamlet constantly makes excuses for not killing Claudie, his uncle and father’s murderer, when the opportunity persists. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” (Shakespeare, 3.1.84). Hamlet infers that one’s awareness of a situation, or of life, can make one cowards. Hamlet also tates that his mission demands he kill Claudius, but alas, murder is a sin, and this clashes against him immensely.

In the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Hamlet, he places Hamlet in a brightly lit, checkered, ballroom, that is encircled with double sided mirrors. It can be inferred that Hamlet is in the process of self reflection and questioning his very existence. While presenting his monologue, Hamlet controls his voice to be soft and sincere, with the occasional rise in volume to give emphasis on his words. Hamlet allows his overwhelming emotions to spill through his words and his pondering of life and death.

The softness of Hamlet’s voice allows for viewers to connect with the deep emotions that coat his monologue while he contemplates death. Hamlet makes eye contact with himself in the mirror, as if attempting to find the insanity others have claimed he has. Hamlet also analyzes himself in attempts to debunk his own growing suspicion of his sanity, as the lines between the two are smudged as the play progresses. The camera work in the adaptation of Hamlet focuses on the reflection of Hamlet, rather than Hamlet himself. This may be to showcase Hamlet’s pain and true emotions that he keeps hidden from others but himself. Hamlet then retrieves his knife and seemingly threatens his reflection with death. This action emphasizes how close Hamlet is to embracing death and the afterlife.

This soliloquy brings about a deeper analysis and view into the controversial moral split between life, death, and existing in its entirety. “To be or not to be” begs the answerless question between living and dying. Although Hamlet thoroughly contemplates this question, he is never able to reach a conclusion, even though his bias leans towards death. This heavy contemplation spotlights Hamlet’s uncertainty in himself, his actions, and his life. He is often unsure of what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Further, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Hamlet wonderfully accentuates the emotion Hamlet carries through the play, and the heaviness of his predicament. In Hamlet’s view, although death is something that controls the mind in times of despair, life will eventually prevail.