Hamlet Soliloquy (Laurence Olivier)
In the 1948 version of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, Sir Laurence Olivier captures the heart and soul of the title character during his famous soliloquy while often not even talking. As an established actor of the twentieth century, Olivier has had a variety of roles that portray him as a tragic hero, Spartacus and Othello come to mind, that accurately prepare him for the role of importance. It is his seemingly fluent understanding of Hamlet’s importance and eloquence in his soliloquy.
To open the scene, there is a rustle of waves that hit up against the stones upon which Hamlet graces to set up for an opportune setting later in the scene. Olivier captures the tone and emotion that Hamlet is experiencing as he begins his speech. “To be or not to be, that is the question,” (line 55) implicates that Hamlet is at a standstill because he does not know whether there is an ultimate goal to the existence given his own situation. What is being questioned can be clarified in lines 56-59, “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer….Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.” The ultimate debate is whether Hamlet should use the “arms against his sea of troubles” in order to act swiftly to King Claudius or rather to suffer from guilt. The setting proves to be all too fitting in context to the play as the ocean waves are attacking the shore an image that represents the crisis Hamlet endures. It is important to note that Hamlet at this time is still in a state of depression over not being able to cope with his father’s death and Olivier does an accurate job of portraying doubt and how Hamlet should feel about the revelry Denmark has to endure.
In a more philosophical approach, Hamlet uses the lines, “To die, to sleep” (58,63) repetitively in order to branch off of the emotions he looks to pass off during his soliloquy. “in that sleep of death what dreams may come,” implies a feeling that if death is but a prolonged moment of silence and vacancy of the mind, or a clean slate. The act of death may be an entrance way to the cleansing of these evil thoughts. Hamlet further prolongs the feelings of suicide by “bearing those ills we have, than to fly to others that we know not of,” (80-81) acting as if we are cowards for considering the notion of suicide.
The scene within the play is a representation of the most literal form of a soliloquy in which he is all to himself. While in the play he is still surrounded by Ophelia, Hamlet is assessing his thoughts all by himself. The interpretation of the speech leaves the viewer to a mystery, is this scene really at the seashore or is this occurring in the actual mind of Hamlet. At this point in the play, the readers much like the characters are not sure whether or not Hamlet is going insane or faking. By the acted, or overacted, version of the speech it appears he is still insane, but is conflicted with all these unfortunate images of suicide and the “undiscover’d country” (78) of the post-life.
Though there are a few inaccuracies in the scene, the portrayal is stunning in the capturing of emotions. What is lost in text is realized in thoroughness of acting. Olivier’s version relies more on the lack of a special effect element and by using a natural setting creates a deeper meaning.