My review of Hamlet for the Back to Basics Challenge 2017
SPOILER ALERT: This analysis of Hamlet is written for those already familiar with the play in its entirety or don’t mind me giving away the ending.
I have been trying to read Hamlet for quite some time, but was unable to “get into” the story. So, I forced myself. I’d heard it was the greatest play ever written and felt I should know more than the image of some guy holding a skull, saying “To be or not to be.” Which didn’t happen in the play. The skull came later.
A major issue is that I’m not one of those who can read Shakespeare as though it is my second language. I struggle. So, I admit I bought the No Fear Shakespeare version with the original play on the left and the modern translation on the right. I could not have understood the plot without it.
Alright, so what do I think? Sigh. My first thought went to Old Hamlet’s ghost. “Are you happy now?” I wanted to ask him. “Is this what you’d hoped would happen?” It seems the death of his widow and heir along with his brother/murderer was, so to speak, overkill.
And what of Young Hamlet? He was hurt and angry by his mother’s remarriage to his Uncle Claudius, but the revenge his father’s ghost required seemed more an unwelcome burden than an undying passion. (More death words, reflecting the major theme) He basically knew he was charged to kill his uncle, but found a myriad of ways to avoid the actual act.
That’s when I realized. This is a parody of the popular genre of the day, the revenge tragedy. Not in the sense of making a mockery of it, per se. To me, it explores the shallowness of the stereotypical drama. Shakespeare himself must have been, like Hamlet, very introspective to develop the deep, layered characters he did. I can imagine him in the audience of one of these plays and asking, “What’s the point? Is making revenge your life’s goal really productive?”
Hamlet spends most of the play ruminating on such dilemmas, all while feeling hogtied to a doctrine of honor killings. Eventually, he goes about his life, letting it slide. Only through the unintended chaos of a sword fight—designed to murder Hamlet—did he follow through on his father’s command to kill Claudius. With disastrous results all around.
I’ve read analysis on Hamlet‘s themes and learned that experts believe this exploration of the play itself is a factor. To me, it’s a major takeaway. Perhaps because I feel the same whenever I watch an action movie. Really? I want to ask. Was all this destruction necessary? Why are the characters so dumb? A little forethought, please.
I believe Shakespeare was pleading for just such reflection and depth of character when he wrote this classic play.