Hopefully, I don’t need to even give you the title of today’s work, being you know the location and that I’m working on a Shakespeare series. Any guesses?
If you guessed Hamlet, you win. Today I’m writing about my (second) experience with Shakespeare’s longest play. My first reading of this took place in my high school Advanced Placement English class. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I like to read it a third time? No… At least, not for a bit.
Hamlet (the nephew of King Claudius and son of the King Hamlet who is deceased) is struggling with the evil he sees within his family and Denmark. His uncle Claudius has usurped his throne and married his mother, Gertrude, only a few months after the sudden death of his father. Hamlet’s depression over these circumstances is depressing him, and his depression turns to anger and vengeance when the ghost of his father returns to reveal how he really died: poison. Claudius poisoned the former King Hamlet and stole his throne. Hamlet sets out on a desperate search for truth, justice, and revenge while faking insanity to cover his tracks.
Such a short synopsis can hardly contain all the details of a play the length of Hamlet, but for the sake of keeping out spoilers (although, if you haven’t read Hamlet by now, you should work on that) and writer’s cramp, I must stop there. Shakespeare took a tale from Europe’s legendary histories and spun it into blank verse rich with details, dilemmas, and symbolism.
Out of his 38 plays, I have only read 10… A pitiful number, although if seeing a Seussification of A Midsummer Night’s Dream counts, I’m at 11. Hamlet is one of my favorites. The play utilizes soliloquies well, especially through Hamlet’s character. Several of these refer to Hamlet’s desire to die. “To be, or not to be…” and “To die, to sleep- // To sleep, perchance to dream…” are only two such references. Hamlet also struggles with suicide, knowing it goes against his belief in God and Scripture, but desiring his suffering to come to an end.
Deception also plays a significant role in Hamlet. Claudius, Polonius, Hamlet, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern all practice deception to try to achieve their ends, but ultimately none are successful. True, Claudius’ murder of King Hamlet does get him the crown, but he pays for it, and Hamlet’s deceptions don’t work. It is when he finally stops trying to force an opportunity for vengeance that one arises.
I wrote in my previous post that I believe plays from this time period are better watched than read because the language is easier to understand when accompanied by action. For Hamlet, there are several quality adaptations. Branagh’s Hamlet, the first version I saw, is excellent. Kenneth Branagh plays Hamlet and Kate Winslet is Ophelia. I feel as though this play really captures the essence of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, although I’m sure their staging is quite a bit more elaborate than his ever was. The second version I recommend stars David Tennant as Hamlet. For any Doctor Who fans who desperately are missing the 10th Doctor, he dramatically captures Hamlet’s struggles. The rest of the cast is the Royal Shakespeare Company, so there is no doubt of the quality of acting. This version is more like a stage production the Branagh’s, and Tennant delivers his soliloquies directly to the camera, something I appreciate and think adds intensity. Both versions keep Shakespeare’s blank verse, but the second modernizes the setting and costuming somewhat.
So, if you don’t have the time to sit down and read Hamlet, which many people don’t, I suggest you watch an adaptation of it because it is excellently written. I will read it again eventually, but Hamlet is heavy, as well as sad, so for now I think I’ll just watch it if I get the itch for some Shakespeare.