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