chapter  5
24 Pages

Madness by Design: Hamlet’s State as Defined Through Music∗

ByErik Heine

Grigorii Kozintsev’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet [Гамлет/Gamlet] was released in 1964 to worldwide critical acclaim. Dmitrii Shostakovich’s score for the film was his eighth and penultimate collaboration with Kozintsev. Kozintsev’s intent was to show how the world could be seen through the lens of the play. The film is highly politically charged, and many of the characters portray different qualities from those that a standard interpretation of the play might suggest, particularly Hamlet, who already knows what he must do following his encounter with the Ghost. Shostakovich’s music reflects Hamlet’s desire to act, but also allows the character to have periods of doubt. It achieves this through a global interaction of key relations used for Hamlet’s music, initiating the film (in the dominant) with the need for resolution via the vengeance he must take, and concluding it (in the tonic) with the final resolution, vengeance having been taken and self-sacrifice achieved. Additional cues that use Hamlet’s music in the film embody harmonic functions that need, following common-practice harmonic progressions, to resolve in specific ways. Hamlet’s action, or outward inaction, is presented clearly through Shostakovich’s music.