Less of a book I’m in love with and more of a constant revelation (that forces me to remain in love), Hamlet is a complex work with copious amounts of intrigue, terror, sword fights and puns.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare at an uncertain date between 1599 and 1602. Set in the Kingdom of Denmark, the play dramatises the revenge Prince Hamlet is instructed to enact on his uncle Claudius. Claudius had murdered his own brother, Hamlet’s father King Hamlet, and subsequently seized the throne, marrying his deceased brother’s widow, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude.
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in English literature, with a story capable of “seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others.”
An infinite number of academics, linguists, students and even politicians have dissected, discussed and criticised Hamlet to the point of redundancy, and yet 400 years after its first interpretation, the story of Hamlet is still going strong. It must have some brilliant quality. How else would it remain a regular favorite today, when so many others have been deemed irrelevant?
I can’t define Hamlet’s exceptional quality (even I know that that is an ambitious blogging goal). But I can define how the story has changed me –not just because it was the assigned Shakespearean text (and academic toil) for our third year high school class.
I fell in love firstly with its imagery. I have laughed at Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, mocked Polonius at every turn, hated Claudius and Gertrude for their miseries. They are funny; they are infuriating. The characters and the events, once I learned to follow them, became things that felt real to me. I kept falling in love with the tragedy and agency of Ophelia, that somber river, and with the sturdiness of Horatio who outlived them all. And in every telling of the story I found ways to attach myself to these characters even more, to be entertained. I was so invested.
I fell in love next with the many things in between: the illustrious lines (“To be or not to be… [how many times have I recited those lines for fun, as a challenge?]” or “Frailty…!” or “To thine own self…”) which provided irony-induced laughter or wordlust in turns; the charisma of Hamlet (broken in half, dead in the end); the genius of the literary devices juxtaposed with mockery of caricatures; the actual plot. But.
I fell in love lastly –and yet most profoundly– with its complexity. It was through Hamlet that I truly discovered the sensation of finding a new story to consider at every line, and it was exhilarating.
In other texts that came before Hamlet in my reading career, I already found multiple interpretations to consider. Feminist criticism has been a favorite; new crit, religious analysis and the derivation of moral values are not far behind. And yet it’s strange that it feels like reading Hamlet offers greater leaps in reinvention compared to anything else I have ever or will ever read. Hamlet is that story (for me) that can be put into any context, and yet it will deliver completely different shades of the same concepts. How many times have I read the play? (Many, many times). And yet it never gets old.
Hamlet will never cease rewriting itself, and I cannot get enough of it.