How well do you remember Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet?

Torrance Grey

Image: TMDB

About This Quiz

Theater and film wunderkind Kenneth Branagh made Shakespeare a hot property again, back in the 1990s. With lavish sets, an unabridged script, and star power to spare, his Hamlet set the bar for future adaptations. Now test your recall of this 1996 film with our quiz!

In what country does Hamlet take place?

Shakespeare adapted the play from The Legend of Amleth. This is about a prince who catches out murderers and evades being killed himself by feigning insanity -- it's a comic tale of a trickster, unlike Shakespeare's version.

Though the film's script was faithful to the Elizabethan-era play, the visuals were designed to evoke a later historical period. What was it?

The effect was achieved through costumes and sets. This is seen most notably in Ophelia's madwoman costume, late in the movie.

What is the name of the Danish palace where the film's events take place?

Blenheim Palace, in England, stands in for Elsinore -- well, its exterior -- in the movie. Blenheim Palace is not a royal residence, but it is the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Not a bad pedigree!

As the movie opens, palace guards are discussing a ghost. Whose ghost is it said to be?

Hamlet's father died while sleeping in his garden. The ghost has returned to tell Hamlet it wasn't accidental.

Who, according to the Ghost, killed him?

Claudius and Hamlet's mother have married with unseemly haste. As Hamlet puts it, "The funeral-baked meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding table." That is, the wedding banquet used leftovers from the wake. (We hope Hamlet wasn't being literal here).

Which nation is a military threat to Denmark?

The first scene of the film is taken up with a description of military skirmishes between the two countries. Talk then turns to the unsettling problem of the Ghost.

What is the name of Hamlet's truly loyal friend?

Horatio is evidently so fond of Hamlet that he wants to commit suicide when Hamlet is killed. The dying Hamlet admonishes him not to, so that he might live to tell Hamlet's story.

What is Hamlet's mother's name?

Gertrude has sunk to the lower reaches of popular baby-name lists. We don't think, though, it's because people don't like Hamlet's passive, morally-flexible mother.

Which British actress came out of retirement to play Gertrude?

Judi Dench had a small role, too. But she's never been retired, instead working steadily to the present day, playing roles like James Bond's boss, "M."

Who played Claudius, Hamlet's treacherous uncle?

Jacobi directed Branagh as Hamlet on the London stage. Branagh repaid the favor by casting him as the villain in this version of Hamlet.

If old King Hamlet was asleep, how did Claudius poison him?

The fact that Claudius killed the King in his sleep reveals him as a coward. Likewise, he tried to pawn off the task of killing Hamlet onto an ally, the King of England, and later Laertes.

Who played Ophelia, Hamlet's doomed love interest?

Helena Bonham Carter had just played the role in the 1990 Hamlet. Emma Thompson, who previously acted in Branagh's Henry V, would have been too old at age 36.

How is Laertes related to Ophelia?

Before he returns to school, Laertes gives her some parting advice. Ophelia teasingly tells him to watch his own behavior, and not to give moral counsel while following the "primose path" to sin.

When Hamlet begins to behave oddly, what does Polonius think is the reason?

Both Polonius and Laertes warned Ophelia against taking Hamlet's affection too seriously. Now Polonius tells Ophelia to return the Prince's love letters and gifts, thinking that carrying on the relationship is unwise.

Where does Hamlet advise Ophelia to go?

Critics have made much of Hamlet's rejection of female sexuality here. They've also implied that Hamlet's true desire is for his mother, not Ophelia, hence his scornful dismissal here.

What American actor, known for epic roles, played the Player King?

The Player King and Queen are unknowing pawns in Hamlet's plan to discern Claudius's guilt. In the play-within-a-play, a king is killed in much the same way as King Hamlet. This upsets Claudius, confirming his guilt to Hamlet.

Whom does Hamlet stab through an arras?

Hamlet thought it was Claudius in hiding. Bonus points if you know what an "arras" is: it's a decorative floor-to-ceiling tapestry.

Who causes the deaths of Rosencranz and Guildenstern?

In his defense, these two supposed friends of Hamlet were carrying a letter, which Hamlet found, instructing the king of England to have Hamlet executed on his arrival. Whether the pair knew what was in the letter is not clear, but Hamlet presumably thinks they knew, hence his disregard for their lives.

What event, specifically, seems to drive Ophelia mad?

Critics who favor a psychoanalytical approach to the play suggest that Ophelia's grief is driven by guilt. That is, she wanted her father to die so she and Hamlet could be together. Then, when it really happens, shame drives her crazy. Anything's possible!

How does Ophelia die?

Ophelia fell into the water while collecting flowers -- she climbed out on a branch and it broke. See, girls, this is where an excessive devotion to crafting will get you!

Which comedian played the gravedigger that Hamlet and Horatio meet?

Though Crystal might have seemed like a natural for the jester, Yorick, that was a smaller flashback role. It was played by British comic actor Ken Dodd.

Why is Ophelia not buried with full Christian ceremony?

Suicide has long been seen in Christianity as a serious sin, because it is the sin of despair and cannot be confessed and atoned for later. However, the dark days when suicides weren't given full funeral rites or buried on church grounds are, fortunately, mostly behind us.

Why does Laertes challenge Hamlet to a duel?

At this point, Laertes has legitimate grudges against the prince, and they've already fought at Ophelia's graveside. Claudius suggests a fencing match to avenge the deaths, with Laertes' blade tipped with poison.

Robin Williams appears briefly as a courtier who appears to give Hamlet news of Laertes' challenge to a fencing match. What was this courtier's name?

Perhaps because this character is such a dimwit, the name Osric has fallen out of favor. Bucking the trend were the parents of Osric Chau, whom you might know as Kevin Tran on Supernatural.

What is Claudius's backup plan if Hamlet wins the fencing match?

The assassins-in-the-forest plot was how Macbeth killed Banquo. That plot backfired on him -- as Claudius's poisoned-wine trick does.

Who drinks the poisoned wine?

Claudius sees what is about to happen and says, "Do not drink." But when Gertude defies him, he doesn't exactly lunge to knock the cup from her hands. This suggests that Claudius is more worried about his own reputation than his wife's survival.

Who kills Hamlet?

Laertes does succeed in stabbing Hamlet with the poisoned foil (blade). So Claudius's plan works ... just with a whole lot of collateral damage.

Who delivers the iconic line, "Good night, sweet prince / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"?

Is it just us, or is there something more than a "bro" vibe between these two? Horatio also contemplates suicide as his friend lies dying.

Which "thinking-woman's-sex-symbol" actor had a brief role at the end, as the Prince of Norway?

Though the role is small, it's attention-getting: his Prince Fortinbras strolls into a throne room still littered with bodies, perches casually on the throne, and starts giving orders to those still alive. O-kay!

Hamlet was one of American actor Jack Lemmon's last movie roles. Whom did he play?

You know your movie has star power when you can cast Jack Lemmon in a bit role. And he wasn't the only acting royalty to take a small part in Branagh's film.

Hamlet has given us many catchphrases, some of them later used as book or movie titles. Which of these is NOT from Hamlet?

The phrase, "a plague on both your houses," is from Romeo and Juliet" Mercutio curses the Montagues and Capulets with these words before he dies.

Which of the following actors has never played Hamlet in a major stage or screen production?

Other actors who have taken on the Melancholy Dane include Ben Whishaw, Jude Law, and David Tennant. Jacobi's connection to the role is particularly strong. He not only played Hamlet, but he also directed Branagh in the same role for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

One of the few words Branagh modernized for the film was "porpentine." What sort of thing is a porpentine?

Nowadays, we call it a "porcupine." The comic book writer Neil Gaiman had a porpentine in one of his Sandman comics, using the archaic name.

Kenneth Branagh, having done takes on Henry V, Othello, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, followed up with which Shakespeare adaptation in 2000?

Alicia Silverstone, before her second career as an advocacy for animal rights and veganism, had a leading role. So did Matthew Lillard, best known for his role in Scream.

Branagh's later role in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets couldn't have been a bigger change of pace from the Melancholy Dane. Whom did he play?

Lockhart is a good-looking, vain and incompetent teacher who briefly fills the Defense Against the Dark Arts slot. When he fills the classroom with malicious pixies, he can't control them, and it's up to Harry Potter and his friends to contain the damage.

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