On The Occasion Of The Bard's Birthday

On The Occasion Of The Bard’s Birthday


Today is the birthday of William Shakespeare, who would have been — well, pretty damn old. In pondering a post in his honor I thought of the film adaptations, and the first one that came to mind was Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of “Hamlet,” with its grand yet stark interior whose black, white and red color scheme suggests the Third Reich.

If you haven’t seen it, the trailer below will give you a sense of the set decoration. Exteriors for Elsinore Castle were shot at Blenheim Palace, and interiors were done at Shepperton Studios.

This second clip is the duel between Hamlet and Laertes at the climax of the film and play. As a fencer, I can say it’s a pretty good scene. There are some real fencing movements, the kind that are entirely absent in, say, the “Pirates Of The Carribean” movies, which use fight choreographers rather than fencing masters (who are all but extinct in Hollywood). Martial-arts style sword fights in films are all forgettable flash, while ones that use real fencing footwork, thrusts and parries have an entirely different rhythm, and as a result are far more memorable. To wit, the main duel in “The Princess Bride,” which everyone remembers not only for its clever dialogue, but the engrossing swordplay.

In addition to recognizable fencing moves, the actors actually look like they’re trying to hit each other, which is sadly lacking in the kind of unrealistic swashbuckling in which the bucklers of swash look like they’re trying to hit the enemy’s sword rather than the enemy himself.

The most realistic dramatization of a duel, of course, happens in Ridley Scott’s “The Duel,” unfolding at a cautious snail’s pace and with the swords barely meeting at all.

Since this site was launched it’s been on the list do a post about fencing salles. In the meantime, I raise a goblet of hopefully-unpoisoned wine to the greatest writer who ever lived.