External sounds emerge from the film’s fictional world and are heard by the characters. In contrast, internal sounds represent a character’s private thoughts. In adaptations of classical literature, soliloquys (one talking to themselves) are often presented as internal sounds.


     In his Hamlet (1948), Laurence Olivier delivers the Danish prince’s famous “to be, or not to be” soliloquy in a unique combination of external and internal sounds while perched on a rock on the castle rampart. He speaks the lines and, later, presents other lines as voice over. On the soundtrack are music as well as sounds of lapping ocean waves.

     Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000) features Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet contemplating his destiny as he strolls down an aisle in the film rental store Blockbuster in modern-day New York.

     Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” speech, as internal sound, parallels, not without irony, the external sounds in the store, including sounds and music from a nearby television set playing trailers of action flicks. The soliloquy focuses on non-action, while the action flicks seem to urge him to take some action.


     Inaction versus action. Internal versus external sounds. Almereyda’s Hamlet plays with, and contrasts, these oppositional elements to add ironic distance to and a modern take of the clichéd soliloquy of “to be, or not to be.”

     Your Turn:     Watch the following scene twice. Analyze the use of, and contrast between, external and internal sounds, thought processes, and conflicting messages from the soliloquy and from the film trailers playing on the television set within this scene.