William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1602. It has been performed and directed more times with more interpretations than perhaps any other work in the English canon. The focus of the plot is on the young Prince of Denmark, who suffers from an "antic disposition,"" or madness, after the realization that his uncle Claudius has murdered his father and usurped the throne. However, this madness is not genuine. "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw- (2.2, 378-379). Hamlet feigns insanity in order to manipulate those around him and discover the truth about his father's murder.
Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in his own version of Hamlet in 1996. His version contained the text in its entirety without any exclusion, clocking in at a full 238 minutes. Branagh's film version of Hamlet contributed to the play's understanding of Hamlet's "antic disposition- by its portrayal of Old Hamlet's Ghost, the famous "to be or not to be- soliloquy, the love scenes between Hamlet and Ophelia, the confessional scene, and the play within the play. Branagh shows that Hamlet is not overwhelmed by madness, but rather focused with rage and vengeance for the death of his father.
Branagh's version of the film also lifted the incestuous stigma from the tragedy, and gave it a refreshing new view of Hamlet's character. Previous versions of Hamlet have portrayed the young Dane quite differently from Branagh's version. Lawrence Olivier and Franco Zeffirelli staged their productions with a focus on the Oedipal conflict of Hamlet and Gertrude. While this interpretation would be warmly received by those sympathetic with Sigmund Freud, it radically distorts the play. In these two previous versions of Hamlet, the opening scene with the ghost of Old Hamlet is eliminated from the film. As a result, the Ghost becomes a hallucination of Hamlet's madness, and the play begins with an insane Hamlet and ends with an unjustified slaughter.