Research (Part Two)

Shakespeare is Dead Research

Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais


Hamlet By William Shakespeare

Ophelia Character Analysis:

Through out Hamlet, Ophelia is torn between her duty to her father and her love for Hamlet. Despite her father's warnings that he does not love her and wishes to only use her for sex, Ophelia convinces her heart that he loves her- though he swears he never did. To her father and brother, Ophelia is the eternal virgin, the vessel of morality whose purpose is to be a dutiful wife and steadfast mother. To Hamlet, she is a sexual object, a corrupt and deceitful lover. With no mother to guide her, she has no way of deciphering the contradictory expectations.

The dilemma forces her into madness and thus her death. She has no way to reconcile the contradictory selves her men demand that she be and still retain an equilibrium. Ophelia's desperation literally drives her crazy, and she has no means with which to heal herself.


Drowning Scene of Ophelia:


There is a willow grows aslant a brook,

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;

There with fantastic garlands did she come

Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples

That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:

There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds

Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;

When down her weedy trophies and herself

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;

And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:

Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;

As one incapable of her own distress,

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element: but long it could not be

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay

To muddy death.


Initial Inspiration:

When given the play Hamlet I was immediately drawn to the character of Ophelia, in particular the scene in which she drowns (as described by Queen Gertrude).

There is a beauty and uniqueness to her death in the play which fascinated me. Firstly she is one of the few characters in in Hamlet who is not poisoned. Secondly Gertrude, when reporting her death, said that she appeared at home in the water in which she drowned, as if it was where she belonged. She is fluid, intangible, insubstantial. Ophelia, like water, is without definite shape. We don't have a clear idea of who she is. Water takes the shape of its container. It's difficult to assume anything about Ophelia or the nature of her relationship with Hamlet. Being a less-than-solid character, Ophelia, like water, slips through analytical fingers and eludes interpretation.

Hamlet Character Analysis:

"Hamlet is an enigma. No matter how many ways critics examine him, no absolute truth emerges. Hamlet breathes with the multiple dimensions of a living human being. The conundrum that is Hamlet stems from the fact that every time we look at him, he is different. In understanding literary characters, just as in understanding real people, our perceptions depend on what we bring to the investigation. Hamlet is so complete a character that, like an old friend or relative, our relationship to him changes each time we visit him, and he never ceases to surprise us. Therein lies the secret to the enduring love affair audiences have with him. They never tire of the intrigue... He is angry, dejected, depressed, and brooding; he is manic, elated, enthusiastic, and energetic. He is dark and suicidal, a man who loathes himself and his fate. Yet, at the same time, he is an existential thinker who accepts that he must deal with life on its own terms, that he must choose to meet it head on."

Play with in the Play Scene:

The play-within-a-play tells the story of Gonzago, the Duke of Vienna, and his wife, Baptista, who marries his murdering nephew, Lucianus. Hamlet believes that the play is an opportunity to establish a more reliable basis for Claudius’s guilt than the claims of the ghost. He tries to determine whether Claudius is guilty by reading his behavior for signs of a psychological state of guilt. Although Hamlet exults at the success of his stratagem, interpreting Claudius’s interruption isn’t as simple as it seems. In the first place, Claudius does not react to the dumb show, which exactly mimics the actions of which the ghost accuses Claudius. 


Haider Bismil

Paul Brown The Tempest Set Design


Paul Brown Set Design

Title: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Director: Jonathan Kent

Theatre Venue: Almeida

Stage and Costume designer: Paul Brown

For Jonathon Kent's production of The Tempest in 2000, at the Almeida, Paul Brown transformed the theatre into a lagoon. Brown took advantage of the rebuilding and had a hole punched in the roof. On entering the theatre you are confronted by an inlet filled with rocks, crags, planks, fallen beams and even an upstage gangway. For the opening tempest the heavens open. Ariel later descends from the skies upside down and spends much of the evening submerged in the stage lagoon. Banquets magically emerge from under water and hydraulic lifts allow platforms to arise bearing chairs from which Ferdinand and Miranda watch Prospero's harmonious vision.

I am inspired by the way Paul Brown manipulated the element of water in his set desin and the way in which the actors/ characters interact with it. I find this set design informative towards how I could incorporate water into my designs for Ophelia.


German Expressionist Theatre


German Expressionist Theatre

Expressionist theatre did not adhere to the rules of the "well made play". Poetry, prose, and visual art bled into one another in an aesthetically intense effort to attain the "essence".

The first expressionist films "Kammerspiel film" were created between the wars. Films were highly symbolic and deliberately surrealistic portrayals or filmed stories. Sets were wildly non-realistic and geometrically absurd, with designs painted on walls and floors to represent lights, shadows, and objects. The plots and stories often dealt with madness, insanity, betrayal, and other "intellectual" topics.

Theatre, with its accessibility to the masses, and its embedment in group experience, was a particularly favoured form for expressionist practitioners.


Dreamlike and surreal (nightmarish and eerie)

Things to do to achieve this:

  • Shadowy, unrealistic lighting.
  • visual distortions in the set.
  • use of pauses for long time in counterpoint to speech.
  • Closely linked to Play's theme or structure.


  • Unrealistic.
  • Simplified images the theme of the play called for.
  • Bizarre shapes and Garish Colours.
  • Bare Stage (few props).
  • Props normally symbolic.
  • Use of masks.
  • Deliberate use of shadows.
  • Lighting stark (illuminating key areas of the stage space).

Across the Universe - Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite

Mexican Day of the Dead


Mexican Day of the Dead


The Cabinet of Dr Caligari


The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist who uses a somnambulist to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets.

"The visual style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari included deliberately distorted forms, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets.

The visual style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is dark, twisted and bizarre; radical and deliberate distortions in perspective, form, dimension and scale create a chaotic and unhinged appearance. The sets are dominated by sharp-pointed forms and oblique and curving lines, with narrow and spiraling streets, and structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, giving the impression they could collapse or explode at any given moment. Film critic Rodger Ebert described it as "a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows, staircases climbing crazy diagonals, trees with spiky leaves, grass that looks like knives". The sets are characterized by strokes of bold, black paint. The landscape of Holstenwall is painted on canvas, as opposed to a constructed set, and shadows and streaks of light are painted directly onto the sets, further distorting the viewer's sense of perspective and three-dimensionality. Buildings are clustered and interconnected in a cubist-like architecture, surrounded by dark and twisted back alleys. Lotte Eisner, author of The Haunted Screen, writes that objects in the film appear as if they are coming alive and "seem to vibrate with an extraordinary spirituality". Likewise, Expressionismus und Filmwriter Rudolf Kurtz wrote "the dynamic force of objects howls their desire to be created". The rooms have radically offset windows with distorted frames, doors that are not squared, and chairs that are too tall. Strange designs and figures are painted on the walls of corridors and rooms, and trees outside have twisted branches that sometimes resemble tentacles.

As German film professor Anton Kaes wrote, "The style of German Expressionism allowed the filmmakers to experiment with filmic technology and special effects and to explore the twisted realm of repressed desires, unconscious fears, and deranged fixations". The visual style of Caligari conveys a sense of anxiety and terror to the viewer, giving the impression of a nightmare or deranged sensibility, or a place transformed by evil, in a more effective way than realistic locations or conventional design concepts could. Siegfried Kracauer wrote that the settings "amounted to a perfect transformation of material objects into emotional ornaments". The majority of the film's story and scenes are memories recalled by an insane narrator, and as a result the distorted visual style takes on the quality of his mental breakdown, giving the viewers the impression that they are inside the mind of a madman. As with German Expressionist paintings, the visual style of Caligarireflects an emotional reaction to world, and in the case of the film's characters represents an emotional response to the terror of society that Dr. Caligari and Cesare represent. Often in the film, set pieces are emblematic of the emotional state of the characters in the scene. For example, the courtyard of the insane asylum during the frame story is vastly out of proportion. The characters seem too big for the small building, and the courtyard floor features a bizarre pattern, all of which represent the patients' damaged frames of mind. Likewise, the scene with the criminal in a prison cell features a set with long vertical painted shadows resembling arrowheads, pointing down at the squatting prisoner in an oppressive effect that symbolizes his broken-down state.

Stephen Brockmann argues the fact that Caligari was filmed entirely in a studio enhances the madness portrayed by the film's visuals because "there is no access to a natural world beyond the realm of the tortured human psyche". The sets occasionally feature circular images that reflect the chaos of the film, presenting patterns of movement that seem to be going nowhere, such as the merry-go-round at the fair, moving at a titled angle that makes it appear at risk of collapsing.

Other elements of the film convey the same visual motifs as the sets, including the costumes and make-up design for Dr. Caligari and Cesare, both of which are highly exaggerated and grotesque. Even the hair of the characters is an Expressionistic design element, especially Cesare's black, spiky, jagged locks.They are the only two characters in the film with Expressionistic make-up and costumes, making them appear as if they are the only ones who truly belong in this distorted world. Despite their apparent normalcy, however, Francis and the other characters never appear disturbed by the madness around them reflected in the sets; they instead react as if they are parts of a normal background.

A select few scenes disrupt the Expressionistic style of the film, such as in Jane's and Alan's home, which include normal backgrounds and bourgeois furniture that convey a sense of security and tranquility otherwise absent from the film.Eisner called this a "fatal" continuity error, but John D. Barlow disagrees, arguing it is a common characteristic for dream narratives to have some normal elements in them, and that the normalcy of Jane's house in particular could represent the feeling of comfort and refuge Francis feels in her presence. Mike Budd argues while the Expressionistic visual style is jarring and off-putting at first, the characters start to blend more harmoniously as the film progresses, and the setting becomes more relegated into the background.

Robinson suggested Caligari is not a true example of Expressionism at all, but simply a conventional story with some elements of the art form applied to it. He argues the story itself is not Expressionistic, and the film could have easily been produced in a traditional style, but that Expressionist-inspired visuals were applied to it as decoration. Similarly, Budd has called the film a conventional, classical narrative, resembling a detective story in Francis's search to expose Alan's killer, and said it is only the film's Expressionist settings that make the film transgressive.Hans Janowitz has entertained similar thoughts as well: "Was this particular style of painting only a garment in which to dress the drama? Was it only an accident? Would it not have been possible to change this garment, without injury to the deep effect of the drama? I do not know."



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