Friday, March 13, 2015

Classics Club : 8. Hamlet

Of all the Shakespearean plays that I have read so far, Hamlet is the most complex, challenging and haunting. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark  loses everything over the course of the play  - his father (dead), his mother (she has married her husband's brother with indecent haste), his girlfriend (convinced by her family to break things off with him), his studies (his uncle denies him permission to return to university), many of his friends (Horatio remains true but Hamlet realises others are being paid to spy on him), the throne (at least temporarily - he expected to succeed his father but his uncle has won the post and Hamlet will now have to wait). Complicating matters even further is that his father's ghost appears, tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother - the new king) and charges Hamlet with extracting revenge. Hamlet is initially reluctant to comply, at least partly because he is uncertain as to how reliable the ghost's information is. Eventually he proves to his own satisfaction that his father was murdered by his uncle and extracts revenge but the the cost is high. Hamlet loses his sanity and then, after most others have died, own life as well.

After reading the play and watching several different versions I'm left with many questions. Did Hamlet's mother know about the murder? Did Ophelia's madness drive her to commit suicide or did something more sinister occur? When (if at all) did Hamlet cease pretending to be mad and actually start suffering from a mental illness? And exactly what did he suffer from? All sorts of morally ambiguous questions arise throughout the play as well. Is murder ever justified? Should people interfere in the lives of others - even with the best of intentions?

Technically this was an easy play to read but emotionally it was more challenging. The story is one that will stick with me for a long.


  1. I really wanted to teach Hamlet this year for my lit classes, but we ended up doing Macbeth because a Shakespeare troupe was doing it fairly locally. I loved teaching Macbeth but really wish we had a chance to do Hamlet, too!

  2. I give you so much credit. I wish I could read Shakespeare. I love seeing it acted out live, but I have such a hard time getting through reading it.