What script notes for Shakespeare would have said if Hamlet were in movie development. 772 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
FROM: DENISE MEZZOGIORNO, KEVIN OKRA
TO: BUZZ KAPLAN
RE: HAMLET, 9TH DRAFT (April 23, 1599)
Though we think the writer has moved forward in this draft, there are still a number of problems with the script. In the next pass the following points need to be addressed:
1. STATIC ACTION. The narrative flow is consistently staunched by a series of pointless digressions, unresolved subplots and superfluous dialogue.
2. LACK OF JEOPARDY. At no point is Hamlet in actual jeopardy. What jeopardy there is is manufactured by a series of murky and over-written monologues.
3. INCONSISTENT CHARACTER ARCS. The leading characters suffer from lack of clear motivation and resolution. In the end, no one seems to have learned anything.
4. THE LOVE STORY DYNAMIC IS MUDDLED. We think we have to take a serious look at Ophelia’s suicide. Having the principal love interest check out before the end is, frankly, a bummer. What if Hamlet, at the eleventh hour, saved her from drowning? We could maintain the pathos (she could still sing and act distracted) but avoid a downbeat and emotionally-unsatisfying resolution.
5. UNSAVORY ETHNIC STEREOTYPING AND LATENT SEXISM. Please delete the references to "Polacks" and dimensualize Ophelia’s character with greater self-esteem.
1. What if instead of having Fortinbras merely ask permission to cross Denmark to subdue the Polish we had him demand some sort of unjust tribute from the Danes and, when rebuffed, declare war on Denmark? This way we could cut away at regular intervals to Fortinbras and his army approaching and create a ticking clock.
2. In order to get into the story more quickly, consolidate Acts I and II. We suggest starting with Laertes already in France, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern present at the castle, and the Ambassadors sent off on what will now be a perilous trip to Norway.
3. What if either Marcellus or Bernardo is actually working for Claudius? This would be a terrific way of ratcheting up the jeopardy for Hamlet.
4. Gertrude’s arc (can we do anything about that name?) needs to be retracked. How much does she actually know about the murder? Has she blocked it out entirely, or is she merely being disingenuous? What if she suffered from severe, perhaps menopausal, mood swings?
5. Why does Hamlet not kill Claudius when he comes upon him praying and then kill Polonius, thinking he’s Claudius, through the arras? Perhaps Hamlet should be thwarted the first time by the arrival of Gertrude, who has started to have hot flashes of unblocked memory and wants some clarity about what actually happened to her late husband.
6. When Claudius ships Hamlet off to England, Hamlet should be proactive in arranging his escape. Instead of there being a storm at sea, let’s have Hamlet, with the aid of a small group of faithful men, take over the ship in closely-fought, hand-to-hand battle.
7. Lose the graveyard scene in Act V. It completely torpedoes the action. Just when we have created some climactic momentum, we stop the action dead to have a couple of characters we’ve never met before debate theology and Hamlet obsess over a skull (Who is Yoric? Who cares?)
8. Why does Gertrude drink the poisoned goblet? This seems like a contrivance. Could Hamlet do something clever to get Claudius to drink the goblet instead of Gertrude?
9. Pay off Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We never know what happens to them. Why not have Hamlet deal with them personally on the ship instead of there being some vague retribution in store for them when they reach England?
10. Fortinbras should arrive at the height of the action instead of when it’s over. If we have cut away to him approaching, as we’ve suggested above, his arrival will not come out of left field, as it does now. Hamlet should have to deal with him after he deals with Laertes, Claudius and the-now treacherous Marcellus or Bernardo. At this point we don’t think the audience will accept Hamlet getting pricked with the poisoned sword. Why not go for it — why not have Hamlet — shirt ripped, face dripping with perspiration, hands stained with the blood of his enemies — walk slowly through the carnage, sweep Ophelia up in his weary arms, and ride off with her into the sunset? Doesn’t the audience deserve that moment?
Buzz, I hope these notes resonate with you and with the writer. Entre nous, however, if you feel Bill Shakespeare can’t deliver, we should think of bringing another writer on the picture. On the short list we could go to Frank Bacon, Chris Marlowe or Earl Oxford. What do you think?
This short story first posted here on March 15, 2016.