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In perhaps one of the most riveting scenes from Shakespeare’s classic play, Hamlet, protagonist Hamlet and Ophelia share an encounter that explores and brings into question the essence of masculinity. Beyond the textual exterior of Hamlet’s blatant bashing of Ophelia- the question of his genuine intentions is brought into light. Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 cinematic version of Hamlet depicts Hamlet as more than a lover jaded by the opposite sex, but perhaps a deeply troubled young man unable to overtly express himself with the burden of revenge on his shoulders. The complexity of the scene explores Hamlet’s sublime message of loath- not for Ophelia, but for himself. Jilted by the cowardice he finds within himself, Hamlet puts on a façade of strength and resolve in front of Ophelia (and her father) to counter his internal struggle to preserve what ever is left of his fragmented manhood- consequently denying himself love. The scene opens with Hamlet- eyes wide open and glimmering with intrigue as the sight of Ophelia catches his attention from across the room. He smiles, and slowly walks over to the vision of his lady against the backdrop of a majestic foyer. As he approaches Ophelia, the sweet melodramatic sounds of music warms up the movie picture- indicating to the audience the undeniable romantic spark that ignites between Hamlet and Ophelia at the sight of each other. As Hamlet and Ophelia stand face to face- their eyes gleaming
with softness for each other, Opelia asks, “How does your honor for this many a day (90)?” A rather general “How do you do” question, but it was in the manner in which Ophelia asked Hamlet, so soft and whispery- so intimate. The longing in Ophelia’s voice is amplified rather ironically by the intimacy manifested in her speech. And if it wasn’t already obvious that the two characters share a romantic bond- Hamlet answers Ophelia’s (general) question with a few fumbles in his voice. Perhaps stricken by his feelings for the lady, young Hamlet finds himself stuttering to give her a proper answer. The exchange carried with a few awkward laughs are subtle implications of innocent ‘puppy love’. To intensify the burning flames of romance further, Hamlet stops his fumbling speech to reach out to Ophelia and hold her in a tight embrace- followed by a passionate and romantic kiss. This opening act is symbolic- for it shows a more vulnerable side to Hamlet- his apparent weakness for Ophelia. A weakness that later he tries to combat with words of spite and hate. The scene takes a turn for the worst as Hamlet stuns Ophelia with complete flip of emotion. As Ophelia hands over the “remembrances (93)” of Hamlet’s, he quickly smacks the item out of her hand. Stunned, Ophelia stands as Hamlet assumes a bitter and nasty persona, he snaps at her, “Are you honest (102)?” and “Are you fair (104)?”without even a moment to let Ophelia answer the question fully. The rapid pace in which Hamlet interrogates Ophelia indicates that the questions are rather directed more so to himself than Ophelia. Branagh manifests a whole new interpretation of the text, on the surface Hamlet seems to be fuming- however his voice is cracking, as if he were on the verge of tears. The question of his entire dialogue with Ophelia centers around weather or not Hamlet is being entirely sincere with his emotions as portrayed by his shifting tides of
rage and calm. The hesitancy and discrepancy within Hamlet’s voice and words allude to the suggestion that perhaps Hamlet is not being entirely truthful with his sentiments towards Ophelia, thus reinstating his fickle nature to essentially be ‘masculine’ and have a solid resolve. Ophelia’s complete shock at the belligerent nature of Hamlet’s speech indicates that this cruel side of Hamlet is something that is completely new to her. As Hamlet continues with how Ophelia’s “beauty (110)” has “transformed (111)” into “his likeness (112)”- suggesting how one’s beauty can easily turn one into a ‘whore’ but it can be contrary to it eliciting goodness. Hamlet’s rambling takes a dramatic pause as the scene is drowned out by powerful piano chords that consume the silence. In the duration of the dramatic pause- Hamlet’s facial expression resumes a gentler, more docile look as his voice cracks again confessing that “I did love you once (114).” Once more, the decision to resume back to a more tender temperament is Hamlet’s way of subtly communicating to Ophelia that perhaps the ‘love’ is still there, it just cannot work out. Hamlet’s efforts to be cruel to Ophelia is rather a defensive mechanism in which he uses spite and scorn to convince himself that he is not in love. The incessant nature of immature ‘name-calling’ reveals a layer of juvenile tactics that little boys utilize to boost their own ego and conceal their own insecurity. Thus, Hamlet confirming his ‘love’ for Ophelia would be supporting his weakness and insecurity, which is why he must let her go despite his heart’s contrary feelings. Weakness is a total obstruction to Hamlet’s absolute objective of masculinity and vengeance. Continuing on his tirade of how he was never in love with Ophelia- Hamlet begins to profusely articulate why he is completely wrong for her. Hamlet states that he is “very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts
to put them in (124-125).” All of those flawed qualities should more or less convince Ophelia that she must not love him. Essentially he is creating a list of faults to convince himself as well. Painting the portrait of a ‘proud’ and ‘revengeful’ man creates the illusion of masculinity. It is also a clear indication that Shakesphere uses to critique society’s emphasis on pride and ignorance over less masculine traits as ‘forgiveness’ and ‘humbleness’. While he rambles about his faults, Hamlet grabs Ophelia- almost jolting her as he screams in her face. His actions implying as if he were warning her- to shake some sense into her that he is indeed bad for her. His screams more or less come across as more like ‘pleas’- pleas to please get away from him and perhaps seek refuge “in a nunnery (120)”, anywhere but to be with him. He asks Ophelia “why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners (121)?” the question implying that if the two of them were to ever wed, she would give birth to babies of sinners. On the surface, Hamlet seems to insinuate that Ophelia is the sinner, but underneath it all, Hamlet is really saying, “Do not fall in love with me, our babies would be sinners, like me.” If anything the scene indicates that Hamlet’s malice towards Ophelia is derived from his concern for her own welfare. However, Hamlet’s inability to fully convince Ophelia that indeed he no feelings for her is demonstrated by the fickleness of his resolve to end things, at some points he remains stern and at others his voice cracks as he is swept by his own emotions. Hamlet’s speech is cut short as a disturbance caused by Polonius and Claudius which makes Hamlet aware that he is being watched. At the realization that such an intimate moment has been encroached upon by people he has disdain for, Hamlet suddenly becomes emotionally distraught. As he cups his hand into his face- visibly crying and trembling with anguish, he utters “farewell (132).” The farewell is the final
word of tenderness that Hamlet must reach Ophelia with before he must really be cruel to her. Realizing that he must continue to act ‘mad’ so he could seek revenge on Claudius. Hamlet’s emotionally fragile state is the final show of his vulnerability. As depicted in the movie where Hamlet now must out on a ‘show of madness’ for Claudius and Polonius, Hamlet starts belligerently screaming, dragging and pulling Ophelia (with much violence) across the foyer, opening doors to find the King and Polonius. In a dramatic scene Hamlet pushes Ophelia’s face against the final door in the foyer (knowing that Claudius and Polonius are behind it)