A Multitude of Hamlets

PBS is airing the televised version of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet as part of its Great Performances series.  Starring David Tennant as the tragic Prince of Denmark and Patrick Stewart as Claudius, it is one of a long list of many interpretations of the classic play. 

Many have played the role of the man who seeks vengeance against his usurping uncle who murdered Hamlet's father, the king, and married Hamlet's mother.  It is Shakespeare's longest play and one of his most popular.  Here are some of the more famous portrayals of the character:

Laurence Olivier - One of the greatest actors of all time does a fine job depicting the emotional Dane.  A friend of mine gave me a copy of the 1948 movie as a gift back in high school.  The choice to depict the "To be or not to be" monologue as a voice-over may have been a gimmick to differentiate the film version from the many theatrical stage productions, but Olivier manages to pull it off.

Mel Gibson - Director Franco Zeffirelli created one of the better versions of the tale, in my opinion.  Maybe it is not as esteemed as Zeffirelli's previous masterpieces, Romeo and Juliet or Jesus of Nazareth, but it's still a great piece of entertainment.

Kenneth Branagh - I am a big Branagh fan, but even I admit that this was an over-indulgent mess.  It still had some good moments, but it was too long and often too over-the-top to be successful.

Ethan Hawke - I did not like this portrayal when I first saw it in movie theaters, but repeat viewings have turned me around.  The modern setting provides many imaginative moments.

How do Doctor Who and Captain Jean-Luc Picard measure up?  Check your local listings and watch the newest version to judge for yourself.  And if you miss it, don't worry -- there will be other versions soon enough.