Posts Tagged ‘Hamlet’
Definitely, poor Yorick, it’s a fairly well known line from Hamlet and often misquoted. This doesn’t mean I’m reviewing Hamlet, far from it. I am going to make quick mention of the storyline and then talk a little about the numerous essays and creative responses that I’ve had to read as part of my studies.
One of the problems I have with Hamlet is that it’s supposedly set in Denmark but it has English values and thoughts in it. I know this is because Shakespeare was not widely travelled and didn’t know a great deal about other countries. He was widely educated about legends and used them in his stories, but he very loosely based them in Denmark or Verona or wherever while overlaying English society into the play. That worries me.
Hamlet’s father dies and his mother marries his uncle within a couple of months. Not too good you reckon? I quite agree, Hamlet’s father was the king of Denmark and although it was an elected position, if Hamlet had been in Denmark at the time then there’s a fair chance he’d have been elected. Fat chance he has now, then to add insult to injury a ghost appears claiming to be his father and tells Hamlet he was really murdered by his brother. Awesome work, now he just has to unmask his uncle, Claudius, then kill him and then take over the crown. Doesn’t happen, he manages to unmask Claudius just at the very end and kill him but everyone else dies too and he recommends Fortinbras, the nephew of the king of Norway, take over the throne with his dying breath. There you go, how’s that for spoilers?
The play is a very complex one, I’ve simplified it substantially and put in some of the interpretation I feel necessary to make sense of the whole thing. Freud would most likely have words to say about the whole ‘mother issue’ Hamlet seems to have and so many other people have had their say. The overwhelming thread that comes through all these pieces of writing is that they’re looking from the point of view of their training. Freud…no, I’ve already mentioned Freud. Asimov wrote a very sensible piece which detailed the entire play complete with history attached and with the political ramifications fully intact making it really easy to put the play in context.
A 19th Century piece of prose by someone called Fox was very nice. We were told to be aware of when it was written and how that would colour the thinking. I bore that in mind and just enjoyed the turn of phrase. Ann Blake gave us an essay on Hamlet’s state of mind. Sue Tweg wrote A Dream of Passion which brings in Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, and also Mona Lisa. Jan Fox discusses the many soliloquies by Hamlet in Now I am alone…, it’s not terribly long considering Hamlet has so many soliloquies. In Graeme Henry’s essay, The poison of deep grief he talks about how ingrained into society Hamlet is.
Hamlet: Dying as an Art by Fintan O’Toole is a lovely article on the character of Hamlet and why he’s never going to do what he needs to do. I have one page full of paragraphs from different people including: Coleridge (1818), A. C. Bradley (1904), T. S. Eliot (1919) and G. Wilson Knight (1930).
Blood and Madness by Bob Carr
Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode
Essays and Soliloquies from A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro
Hamlet Returns from What Happens in “Hamlet” by John Dover Wilson
Hamlet from The Romantics on Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum
Cross Cultural Reflections on Mortality: Hamlet and Chuang Tzu by F. Gonzalez Crussi
Word-games and Hamlet by David Crystal
An interesting essay by Carolyn Heilbrun gives a different view of Hamlet’s mother. Most people look on her as being ineffective and brainless, Heilbrun details how astute she feels Gertude really was and why. Edith Sitwell wrote a few ‘notes’ on Hamlet, she felt she was unworthy to write on this topic and so only wrote a few notes.
I really enjoyed some of these. Clive James wrote a poem called Angels over Elsinore which I found rather interesting as it’s been written in fairly modern language but you can see the style of Shakespeare and he’s referenced Hamlet a number of times using some of Shakespeare’s phrases.
The one I enjoyed the most was written by Margaret Attwood, called Gertrude Talks Back it’s written from Gertrude’s point of view and basically tells Hamlet to stop agonising over what to do and to go away. Awesome stuff!
I also enjoyed John Updike’s take on Hamlet with Gertrude and Claudius. A very nice little story from Gertrude and Claudius’ point of view giving us a great deal of probable background into their relationship before Hamlet senior’s death. Most enjoyable.
The one I didn’t enjoy was not given to me as homework but recommended by my eldest. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde is the fourth book in the Thursday Next series, it was interesting to read how he took the popular line with Hamlet’s character. I’ll scribble a few more words about this another time.
Other creative responses included are:
Wife to Horatio by Jennifer Strauss
An Island Cemetery by W. H. Auden
Hamlet in the movies
Having read over 200 pages about Hamlet I feel I would be forgiven for not having read the play as there’s enough in all of that to detail the play in it’s entirety. I have not cheated, I have read the play and also watched the entire three hour film by the Royal Shakespeare Company with David Tennant in the lead role and also watched a good deal of the four hour film by Kenneth Brannagh with himself in the lead role. I like different things from the films, Tennant was good but I preferred Derek Jacobi in the role of Claudius. I’ll just digress briefly, it’s interesting how Derek Jacobi has played two different people by the name of Claudius, he’s done both of them very nicely.
We were shown one scene from a Russian version by Grigori Kozintsev produced in 1964. I would very much like to see more of it as it had the atmosphere that matched how I viewed the play. Hamlet has been produced so many different times including the one in 1948 with Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud produced the play on stage in 1964.
With 1,000+ words this article could only ever be a summary and I’ve really only skimmed the surface of the essays and creative responses I’ve read. Hamlet is so complex and so widely studied I suggest it’s impossible to do more than summarise a handful of them in such a short post. I have tried to at least list the names of the article and the author.