[Book Review] Hamlet

Hamlet_coverTitle: Hamlet
Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Drama, Tragedy, Classics
Published: 1600’s
Source: Borrowed from a friend

WHAT’S THE BOOK ABOUT?

Here’s a synopsis from the Folger Shakespeare Library:

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular, and most puzzling, play. It follows the form of a “revenge tragedy,” in which the hero, Hamlet, seeks vengeance against his father’s murderer, his uncle Claudius, now the king of Denmark. Much of its fascination, however, lies in its uncertainties.

WHAT DID I THINK OF THE BOOK?

Warning: Ramblings incoming… I’m sure there are more things to discuss regarding the play, like the deeper meaning of stuff and such. But I won’t go into the details (or maybe I can’t). I just made a few notes based on how I felt about the characters and story as I went along.

Everyone knows about Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. I was just a wee lass when I first read it, and I honestly had no inkling as to what the fudge brownies it was really all about (other than most of the characters had either gone mad or died).

I thought Polonius was kind of a conniving jerk, and he died because he was a meddlesome jerk who listens in to other people’s conversations. He and Laertes thought Ophelia was feeling such and such because of Hamlet, or Hamlet was behaving like such and such because of Ophelia. Assumptions, assumptions.

Ophelia had gone insane because of grief and rejection. When she died, her brother and the man who rejected her were trying to one-up each other on who loved her more. They should have let her know when she was alive. Too late now.

I’ve always been a bit fascinated with Ophelia, though. I felt sorry for her. Nobody seemed to take her seriously in the story. In a patriarchal society as is the norm at the time the story is set, she is expected to be obedient to her father and she is torn between being a dutiful daughter and being in love with the Prince of Denmark. Hamlet says he loves her (in a letter, but then denies writing it) then says he doesn’t love her (to her face); but when she’s dead, he later tells Laertes he loved her much more than forty brothers could, or something to that effect. He loves me… He loves me not? Make up your mind, dude. Oops! Too late; she’s dead.

Hamlet and Ophelia’s father wittingly (or unwittingly?) manipulated  her for their own nefarious plans. When you think about it, it’s no wonder Ophelia succumbed to insanity. Heaps of bottled emotions and uber confusion can get the best of anyone.

“Oh, woe is me, / T’have seen what I have seen, see what I see” – Ophelia (Act 3, scene 1)

Polonius died as he was eavesdropping, Ophelia was driven to madness because of her grief and died by accident (or did she? many theories exist). Laertes was left to avenge them. And he blamed Hamlet, so he was easily manipulated by King Claudius.

Claudius (who poisoned Hamlet’s father, who is Claudius’ brother) was stabbed by Hamlet with a poisoned sword, then ordered to drink the poisoned beverage he concocted for Hamlet (but before he had a chance to drink it, Queen Gertrude took a sip from that goblet and died, that’s why everyone knew it was poisoned). With all of Claudius’ murderous plots, I can’t really blame Hamlet if he sure wanted him dead!

Laertes died because of the sword that he poisoned to wound Hamlet with, and he does wound Hamlet so he died as well. Horatio wanted to join the death-by-poison party too, but Hamlet refused and left him with the task to tell their story. If I were Horatio, I’d probably be a tiny bit insulted (What?! Am I not good enough to die with you lot?) but a little bit thankful (whew! I almost died there when I blurted out I wanted to have some poison too) and honored, perhaps (wow, Hamlet trusted me enough to tell his story!)

Did I get anything wrong with the characters or the story? (I hope not, though I may have misunderstood some parts 😀 )

So, after all that transpired, Prince Fortinbras of Norway gets the throne in the end, as Hamlet instructed Horatio. (If for some twisty twist of story this Prince was the one who plotted the whole poison-Hamlet’s-father-and-maybe-they’d-all-try-and-kill-each-other thing, I wouldn’t be too surprised. All the important people died and he had everything to gain!)

QUOTABLE QUOTES:

  • Doubt thou the stars are fireDoubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love. O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have not art to reckon my groans, but that I love thee best, oh, most best, believe it. Adieu. Thine evermore, most dear ladywhilst this machine is to him.” – Hamlet (Act 2, scene 5 – letter to Ophelia)
  • “… for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet (Act 2, scene 2)
  • “To be, or not to be? That is the question— / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/ And, by opposing, end them? … “ – Hamlet (Act 3, scene 1)
  • “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” – Polonius (Act 2, scene 2)
  • “This above all: to thine own self be true, /And it must follow, as the night the day, /Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Polonius (Act 1, scene 3)
  • “Oh, woe is me, / T’have seen what I have seen, see what I see” – Ophelia (Act 3, scene 1)
  • “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” – Queen Gertrude (Act 3, scene 2)
  • “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.” – Hamlet (Act 5 , scene 2)

TO WRAP THINGS UP…

Shakespeare is not for everyone. That’s for sure. I think one should willingly read his works to appreciate them better. It took me years! Now that I’m re-reading (and reading for the first time) some of his works of my own volition, I can say that I appreciate his works much more now than I did when I was forced to study them in school (though that doesn’t mean I’ll go about reading Shakespeare’s works more often now. I have my limits.)

I recently saw a DVD of the stage production of Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, and a good supporting cast. As much as I like Hamlet and think the story is  interesting (betrayal! death! love! grief! madness! deception! swords! poison! revenge!), and as much as I adore Tennant and admire his skills as an actor, even his excellent portrayal of Hamlet could not charm me into fully embracing this tragic story. I kinda dozed off in some parts, even more so when reading the text of the play. I tend to favor the comedies over the tragedies (though I still get a little sleepy even with reading the comedies).

It’s not you, Hamlet. It’s me. Perhaps we just weren’t meant to like each other that much.

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10 thoughts on “[Book Review] Hamlet

  1. Haha! You know, it’s one of the stories that make me laugh a bits. I actually saw some movie adaption. Hamlet was a wreck. I think she was better off away from him, but she shouldn’t have killed herself!

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