[Hamlet]: A Review

Hi y’all!

Today I am here with a review of a recent Classics Club reread of mine: Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

I decided a few years ago to add a bit more Shakespeare to my Classics Club list because I am one of those nerds that actually really loves Shakespeare. I am so glad I did! Rereading Hamlet was a lot of fun (see? super nerd!) as I remembered the details of the story and development of the characters.

Initial Thoughts:

  • I’ve read Hamlet several times before for school and have seen it most recently at the Utah Shakespearean Festival 2019 where it was performed in truly fantastic fashion. There is a reason this is such a classic play. Loved experiencing it again!
  • Denmark is high on my list of places I want to travel to in part because I have family that raved about Hamlet’s castle outside of Copenhagen! One day I hope to see it too.

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According to Goodreads, “When Prince Hamlet returns home to Elsinore Castle for his father’s funeral, he discovers that his uncle Claudius has already crowned himself king. Hamlet begins to suspect something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark, and a visit from his father’s ghost confirms it. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s murder, but his consuming obsession yields only crushing grief, overwhelming rage, and a descent into madness.

Resonating with every generation over the centuries, Shakespeare’s profoundly chilling family drama is among the most quoted works from the Shakespearean canon.

I think the first thing to mention in a Shakespeare review is that his plays are meant to be seen. Reading Shakespeare is not as good as seeing it performed. You lose so much in only reading the words. The stage directions only give us so much. We miss the emotion of the words or the intricacies of the interactions between characters on stage. We miss the irony in how a line is spoken or the humor in a particular exchange. We don’t see what characters are doing when they are on stage but not speaking. Hamlet is a perfect example of this drawback in reading rather than seeing a Shakespearean play. So much of the genius of this story and of Hamlet’s character especially is in the unwritten interpretations of individual directors and actors. Seeing a play performed is a much richer experience.

Hamlet is a fantastic, complex protagonist. His monologues are famous for so many reasons. Is there a more famous line in Shakespeare than “To be or not to be?” Hamlet is such a memorable character because he faces such complex problems and asks such intriguing questions about human nature and conscience. His grapple with revenge, death, conscience and madness is truly fascinating. In the show I saw performed last summer, Hamlet was remarkable! He was brilliant in being both mad and sane, angry and calm, hilarious and serious. I felt like he really embodied the struggle within Hamlet while also portraying his wit and humor. This must be a difficult character to master and perform well.

There is so much happening in this play and the plot twists never end until the final line. What a plot line! I think it would be hard to be bored in this story. While there are extended monologues a few times, there is far more action and planning of action. This story has everything from ghosts to poisoned drinks to fencing to people going mad and (of course) plenty of death. It’s a classic Shakespearean tragedy because at the end, there are only few characters still alive. And the fall of the monarchy is impressive and tragic.

Why read Shakespeare?
I know I am in a minority of people who love Shakespeare. So why is it it important to read more (or better yet see) at least few plays by the Bard?

  • He explores themes that connect with audiences from his time all the way to today. I don’t think there are many literary works that more powerfully explore the themes of madness, revenge, power, and truth than Hamlet.
  • He pairs humor and tragedy together in compelling ways. Even in a play that is clearly a tragedy overall, there are many moments of wit and humor.
  • Fascinating characters: Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, Polonius. So many interesting portrayals of human nature and personality
  • See the plays to experience the whole story (plus, again, I think it’s easier to follow along that way)
  • If the language is overwhelming or confusing…
    • Read a copy with explanatory notes or cliff notes
    • Read a summary so you know the big picture plot lines
    • Read a simplified version of the story so you can be sure you get the main points
    • Read literature about the characters/themes/etc to understand the ways they interact, connect, and/or transcend time.

Overall, so glad I read this play for my Classics Club list. There is no one more classic than Shakespeare so I’m glad I added a bit more from him to this list.

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What are your favorite Shakespeare plays?
Any tips for reading difficult to understand literature?

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This is my 43rd classic finished on my list for The Classics Club!
Check out my full list here. For more info on the club, click here.

12 thoughts on “[Hamlet]: A Review

  1. Jillian

    I am one of those nerds that actually really loves Shakespeare.

    I see this kind of self-dismissal all the time on book blogs when it come to reading. People dismiss themselves as geeks and nerds because they enjoy reading. I don’t find people who enjoy reading Shakespeare nerds at all. I consider them deeply alive. When you suggest that you are a nerd for liking some of the greatest works of literature in the Western world, consider what you are suggesting to any prospective future readers of Shakespeare who have yet to try him…

    That said, I appreciate your tips and your remarks on this play! This one isn’t personally my favorite, but that’s only because I seem to prefer the Histories. My favorite by Shakespeare is Henry V. I also ADORE Richard III, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, & The Taming of the Shrew. 🙂

    (I hope I don’t insult you with my remark. I mean it merely as friendly food for thought from a fellow fan of Shakespeare & classic lit.) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jillian! You’ve really made me think about how I portray myself as a “Shakespeare Nerd” True, I also deeply enjoy the classics because they make me think deeply about life and human nature. Shakespeare absolutely does that for me!

      Perhaps, I just want to assure my readers that we can all be nerds. We can all read and appreciate great classics like Shakespeare and we don’t have to feel intimidated.

      I also love the histories!! Henry V is also a favorite of mine. I saw Richard III on my study abroad in London almost 10 years ago and it was truly incredible. Actually I also saw Much Ado on that trip –David Tennant was Benedict and it was a fantastic show! I suppose if I had to pick one subgroup of plays as a favorite, I would say the tragedies. I love Hamlet and Macbeth but also find Othello fascinating.

      I read The Tempest for CC last year and now I aspire to see that performed as well.

      Again thanks for your comment, it’s a pleasure to discuss the classics 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jillian

        Wow, you’re so lucky to have seen so many performances! I saw Hamlet performed a few years ago & it was incredible. It really energized the play in a way reading it never had. 🙂

        Thanks for understanding the intent in my comment. 🙂

        You’re not the only one I see describing a love of reading as “nerd” or “geek” behavior. I see it everywhere, & it always bothers me. I guess I’m just suggesting we change the language. Words like “nerd” and “geek” have negative connotations which are suggestive of people who avoid life in favor of reading, while I find (within the classics community especially) that in reality reading is a way to engage in life more deeply, to see our fellow human and ourselves with more depth, and to live more electrically. It’s a courageous and worthy goal, this looking within, and ought to be held up as noble so others try it rather than humbly undermined by our language.

        Our era has it all wrong: we hold up the Kardashians as noble and single out readers as outcasts. Meanwhile, readers are doing the hard work humanity requires — contemplating our own history and philosophy in order to be better understand humanity and ourselves. We should celebrate that and not buy into the idea that it is awkward or strange. Emerson, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Lincoln — these people were readers and weren’t “geeks.” Look at Obama: the man reads constantly and nobody calls him a nerd? Why put a label on ourselves in order to placate our own era’s twisted ideals when we wouldn’t think to place such a label on them? Reading saves lives. 🙂

        I do see what you’re saying: you want to celebrate the label and change its meaning. And perhaps you’re right. I don’t personally like it but I do hear what you’re saying. I don’t like the label because I’ve never considered myself “a geek”
        is I guess my point. I’m extremely outgoing and socially confident: I just also enjoy reading. So the suggestion that to read automatically makes one a “geek” or a “nerd” doesn’t make me feel included — it makes me feel diminished and annoyed. Tossed into a box with the rest of our era’s worthy outcasts.

        If you’re speaking to someone who considers themselves a geek, then you’re being inclusive; otherwise you’re contributing (though with good intention) to the dismissal of reading as a strange and “less than” agenda.

        Only my thoughts, and I may be in the minority here. Cheers, Jane! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jillian, I so appreciate our conversation here! One of my favorite parts of the book blogging community is finding fellow readers who want to discuss topics like this in deeper, meaningful ways. I appreciate hearing your thoughts!

          First, I love seeing Shakespeare performed! I was lucky that my study abroad had so many worked into our schedule. And I really enjoy seeing them performed more locally now. It’s neat to see the characters and plots portrayed in different ways.

          I appreciate your thoughts about the negative connotations of words like geek and nerd. Its very true that our society has twisted those words. And suddenly, those of us who enjoy reading (for fun, in school, etc) are more of an outcast than mainstream.

          That being said, I don’t really call myself a geek either. I usually describe myself as a book lover or a book worm. And I have learned to celebrate my deep love of reading and literature–to own my passion for books and the stories they tell and the lessons they can teach.

          Grateful to rub shoulders with book lovers of all sorts. Thanks again for your comments 🙂

          Like

          1. Jillian

            Thank you for your comments as well, Jane! 🙂 ❤

            Speaking of bookworm, I have fifteen titles going right now! 😆 One Shakespeare (Henry V), a W.E.B. Du Bois (Black Reconstruction in America), an essay collection on female writers in the South after the American Civil War, three rereads, two historical fiction, the complete essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a biography (on Laura Ingalls WIlder), a book on writing, and the first book in a trilogy history on the American Civil War.

            I am the worst at actually completing books. I simply love to be surrounded by them and have stories in progress. I love to be challenged by language and surprised by a new idea. 🙂

            Enjoy your reading. xox

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I love that you have 15 titles going right now. I also have several books going at once. Although, I’m not usually so ambitious! I just read Emerson’s “Self Reliance” this year and found it surprisingly easy to connect with. Love me some Henry V.

              I can totally appreciate being surrounded by books. I just bought about 8 books on Amazon and can’t wait to hold them all. Haha.

              Thanks and enjoy yours too 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  2. We were forced to read a Shakespeare play at school, every year for 5 years from the age of 11. I think it puts people off! I’ve heard Spanish people say the same thing about Cervantes, and Italian people say the same thing about Dante.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. Sadly, reading books especially classics in school definitely can do that. How interesting about Cervantes and Dante–that makes sense! Of course, I read a bit of Don Quixote in college and I’m not a big fan now. Haha!

      Like

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