Introduction: Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays. A tragedy, it is the story of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. When the play opens, Hamlet's father, the king, has recently died, and the queen has married Hamlet's uncle, the deceased king's brother. Hamlet is grieving and resentful. (Spoilers) We meet the king's ghost, who claims to have been murdered by his brother and charges Hamlet with seeking his revenge. The rest of the play follows Hamlet trying to grapple with that charge. He appears to become insane (or possibly actually does go mad), which is one of the central elements of the plot, and which different productions have presented differently - is he pretending to be mad, or is he actually out of his mind?
My Review: Undoubtedly, my perception of the play is influenced by the recent production by the Royal Shakespeare Company with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart (which is excellent and very accessible). I read the play because I saw the film and liked it. Nonetheless, reading the play is a different experience, in part because the production does cut out some pieces for the sake of time.
Overall, I really, really enjoyed the play. I think Hamlet himself is a fascinating character. He seems to be sane, to me - he thinks circles around his peers when he's behaving madly, he actually says in the beginning that he will be putting on this behavior, and in his darker, more self-critical moments, he seems quite sane, if not quite stable. Not to mention the good sense of trying to verify the ghost's story before taking action.
The thing that used to bother me is the question of why he would pretend to be mad - what's the motive for that? But I think it makes perfect sense if you look at the insanity plea in courts of law. Hamlet can't just kill his uncle, however popular he may be with the people - he'd be committing murder and treason at the same time. But if he's considered mad at the time that he takes his revenge, his popularity and status may see him through - he can't really be held responsible for doing something while not in possession of his wits. All he has to do is play mad, kill the king, be excused, and make a recovery.
But of course, that's not what happens. He never quite manages to find an opportunity to do the deed. The one time he thinks he has, he ends up killing a more-or-less innocent bystander by mistake. It's easy to scoff at his ineffectiveness, and before I read the play I did. But he really is in a difficult position, and as much as he wants to avenge his father and as much as he despises his uncle, Hamlet doesn't seem to be the murderous type - I can't really fault him for that.
It's also easy to roll my eyes at his emotional state through much of the play - Hamlet is a fellow who wears his heart on his sleeve. But reading the play gave me a different opinion on this, as well. He's overcome with grief at the beginning, but his father, who he was obviously close to, recently died, and along with that life-changing event, his mother's gone and married his uncle, which distresses him greatly. The only thing I didn't really understand was his scene with Ophelia. But then, again, I've only read it once.
Probably whole books have been written about the character Hamlet. For my part, I'll stop there. The actual plot of the play is pretty good. There were some things that didn't make sense to me in the Tennant/Stewart production that made sense after I read the script, due to some things that the production cut out. I definitely thought the last act of the play was more choppy and confusing than it actually is. In the complete written play,* things tied together more.
Anyway! I could ramble on forever about this piece - it's pretty complex. Basically, you can follow it just fine, but you can really sink your literary teeth into it. Good stuff.
Author: William Shakespeare
Copyright Date: End of the 1500s/beginning of the 1600s - A long time ago.**
Length: Depends on the version. Generally split into 5 acts.
My Rating: 5 stars.
*Actually, there are multiple versions...
**Now public domain.