The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet, from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

There’s so little I can say about Hamlet that hasn’t been said by writers far more knowledgeable than myself, and there’s a good reason for that. This is the most quoted, borrowed-from, acted play of Shakespeare’s that I’ve come across. Hundreds of writers, actors, directors have used this play as a platform for fame or other ideas.

In short, it’s practically perfect in its basic plot. And at the same time, it’s rather complex. Films simplify the action a bit, but reading the play takes some serious thinking.

If you’re one of the handful of Western humans who haven’t heard of Hamlet before, or get Shakespeare’s plays mixed up sometimes, this is the one where it starts out with a dead king, his grieving son, and the queen who ends up marrying the dead king’s brother, making HIM the new king. The son, Hamlet, is angry at how quickly his mother turned around and married his uncle, and guards tell him about seeing the ghostly apparition of his father walking the grounds at night as if he wants to speak. Hamlet sees the ghost and goes to talk to it, only to find that his father had been murdered by his uncle, and the dead king’s spirit cannot rest because of it.

This sets the whole story in motion. Hamlet has to figure out how to avenge his father while being watched all the time…so he plays at being mad, which gives him some space to figure out where loyalties lie and find a way to expose the murder.

It seems overly complex the way he does it, and I’m sure there may have been better, less painful ways to pursue his aims, but I don’t know. There is so much in this one, and the wordplay is very, very complex. I had to go back and read slowly in several parts. This is one that I’m glad I read, but I think I’d definitely rather see it in the theater a few times, then tackle it again.

I’ve never seen the Hamlet films, or performances before.

O wait, I DID watch the surprisingly un-salvageable (even with Maximillian Schell in the lead) German TV version made super-amusing only with the MST3K treatment.

Well, other than that one, I guess. I’ve just heard so damn much about this play that I figured I ought to read it and see it sometime.

I also grew up watching the 90s Danny De Vito movie Renaissance Man where he’s out of work and becomes a teacher to some “low-achieving” basic training recruits at an Army base. They end up studying Hamlet and learn a lot from each other at the same time. Pretty good movie, actually.

But the monologues, heavens–there is so much here. I can’t pick out any particular quotes, either, because so many have been heard, parodied, sampled, etc. This is THE play of Shakespeare’s that is probably the most quotable and known thing, even by those who haven’t seen performances.

I will have to read this again after seeing some great performances, to really get the gist. I could probably nab the Branagh version, and a few others…but I think I’d like to give this a shot with the stage, just to get the feel.

I think of all the characters I’ve read in Shakespeare so far, Hamlet’s definitely the most emo, and clever…but I’d love to smack him upside the head over his treatment of Ophelia. Though I have to admit, she doesn’t seem like much of a character herself–too many men in her life directing her this way and that–no wonder she goes mad!

I really wanna understand Hamlet better, and Laertes, and Ophelia, and all those around him, so I’ll revisit this one. After all, stories of ghosts and revenge are timeless, and this one deserves several readings. I think the more I go on with Shakespeare, the more I’ll get out of this one each time I read it. But that’s for later.

Preferably when my brain’s not mush and I can really appreciate the wordplay and get more out of it…been a crazy month, but I promised myself it would be Hamlet this week…oh well. That’s why I buy books anyway, to revisit ’em!

One thought on “The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet, from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

  1. TheChattyIntrovert says:

    ADDENDUM: roughly half the original post got cut off when I was trying to upload it last night and I only noticed it this morning. I think my internet connection broke off and an early save of the post was what went through. I didn’t think to re-check before publishing because i had to get home ASAP (oops!) So, this is the lengthier version.


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