Act III-IV and Freudian Madness: Comparing Postmodern Performances of the Women of Hamlet

Posted: April 1, 2017 in English 12 AP, Shakespeare and Drama

all the worlds a stageThe advent of feminism and psychoanalytic criticism in the 20th century has forever influenced the way we look at Hamlet; therefore, we’ll be looking at the women of Hamlet through these lenses and discussing the retroactive interpretation many directors have placed on the play as a result.

We’ll be looking at the 1990 Zeffirelli, 1996 Branagh, and 2010 RSC/Doran versions of act 3, scene 1, “Get thee to a nunnery”; act 3, scene 4, Gertrude’s closet; and act 4, scene 5, Ophelia’s madness.

Hit more to see the handout and some of the videos.

The handout for taking notes can be found here: Women of Hamlet Scene Comparison

If you were absent for one of these days, do your best to find at least two versions of each scene.  There’s also a 2000 Ethan Hawke version and an old Olivier version you could use in a pinch.

Nunnery Scene. Act 3, Scene 1:

get thee to a nunnery
Zeffirelli/Gibson/Bonham Carter

The 1996 Kenneth Branagh/Kate Winslett version is at 34 minutes in this clip

Royal Shakespeare Company 2009 version 

The Closet Scene, Act 3, Scene 4:

Note: the closet would not have had a bed in it.  It would have had a chair, maybe a table, vanity, trunks, etc., and would be adjacent to the bedroom, but it was not the bedroom and had no bed.  Freud, what have you done to us!!!

I haven’t found an online clip of the Zeffirelli (which is downright scary)version yet, but you can watch the RSC version or Branagh version (starts 11 minutes in)

Ophelia’s Madness, Act 4, Scene 5:

Helena Bonham Carterophelia omfg does madness like no other!  Mariah Gale’s RSC performance online and Kate Winslet is here.

For various reasons, the least of which is the fact that this part would have been played by a young boy, I’m going to go out on a limb and say these examples are probably not how it was originally played, but they do a great job of portraying how Ophelia, and many women of the time, was stuck in an impossible situation and in trying to please everyone, was stripped of her rights, dignity, identity, and ultimately, reason.  This depiction also displays the link between sexuality and madness believed at the time as well as the supposition that women were more susceptible to sin and could not control their desires (being the original sinners and all).  This is the very reason why women weren’t allowed to speak in Puritan churches and thought more likely to be witches.  They had all kinds of crazy ideas back then, I mean, just check out the humours.

And for tons of fun, you can even check out your own imbalances with a humoural personality test.


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