Great Performances

Hamlet (1990)

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A Danish prince and university student avenges his father's murder by his uncle, who stole the crown and married his mother.



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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
MacIntyre Dixon ...
Francisco / Gravedigger / Player
Marcellus / Sailor / Player
Robert Murch ...
Ghost / Priest
Michael Cumpsty ...
Philip Goodwin ...
Reg E. Cathey ...
Clement Fowler ...
Tanny McDonald ...


This is a Great Performances presentation of Joseph Papp's 1990 New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play. Hamlet returns from university for his father's funeral to find his uncle married to his mother. Prompted by his father's ghost, Hamlet carries out his investigation and revenge. Written by Kathy Li

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Plot Keywords:

student | play | funeral | revenge | prince | See All (90) »





Release Date:

1990 (USA)  »

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Version of Hamlet (1964) See more »

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User Reviews

Three Closed Doors
11 July 2005 | by (Virginia Beach) – See all my reviews

Hamlet is such a complex world of layers that at a certain level of maturity one develops doorways into it.

For me, these are three, and I bring them to every production, both as a pathway into the universe as it is woven and as a way of evaluating how well the interpreters do.

The name of the play comes not from the son, but the father. It is his thoughts that drive everything. All of young Hamlet's "extra" levels of introspection are generated externally and inserted into an otherwise average soul. If the players don't understand the externally of the reflection, all is lost. Trustworthy legend has it that Shakespeare himself played the Ghost. Naturally.

The second touchstone is Ophelia. As the King enchants his son, so the son enchants his lover. Imagine the situation just before the play begins. We all know the gentle softness of fresh love. We all know the reciprocated obsession of sex, indeed she may be pregnant. We enter the already ruined coupling. For me, if proper attention is given to how she anchors the thing. Especially key is the "flowers" speech. Branaugh got it right and so did Almereyda (for whom this Ophelia was his Gertrude!).

Alas, this play is one that is often hijacked by actors who believe the soul of the thing is in the characters first. Then we get modern notions of inflating a soul who speaks, the exact opposite of how Shakespeare imagined it. And so it is with this production. Actors rarely handle Shakespeare effectively, though I suppose they can produce effective speeches, disconnected from the whole. They actually believe in the story, you see.

Done right, one can enter the splitted layers of consciousness through furcated lust, but not here.

The third touchstone is understanding Wittenberg, the college from whence our hero comes. Elizabethan audiences would know it as the place one would go to study supernatural science. Indeed, most students believe the book Hamlet reads when approached by Polonius shows signs of being such a treatise. The four schoolmates would all have been students of fate and influence. The nutshell gateway, such as it is.

Kline is a fine man. He at least manages the part better than Mel Gibson of the same year, but he never grasps any of the complexities of the play.

I found the camera particularly primitive. Yes, I know this is a stage production into which a camera was invited. But this business of having a camera look at every speaker every time he or she speaks in full face is excessively primitive. Have we learned nothing at all about putting the eye BEHIND the language?

Ted's Evaluation: 1 of 3 -- You can probably find something better to with this part of your life.

6 of 17 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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