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A Reader posted a review at 2009-03-04 07:38:33 for Hamlet (The New Folger Library Shakespeare).
Far from being an "artistic failure" as my favourite poet T. S. Eliot describes it, Hamlet is my favourite play of all time. Perhaps the best thing about this masterpiece, in addition to Shakespeare's very well-known mastery of language and fantastic characterization, remains to be how it raises an endless number of questions. And, contrary to what one might expect, the more you read it, the more questions you end up with. I always remember certain lines of it, and every time I read it or watch it I cry when Horatio says: "Good night, sweet prince,/And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"
I still repeat to myself the famous soliloquy "To be, or not to be" when I'm bored. Perhaps one of the best characteristics of Shakespeare's works is universality, and there are many examples of it in Hamlet. The soliloquy which talks about making a choice between life and suicide is one example, but there are many others that I can never forget. One of my favourite examples is when Guildenstern tries to tell Hamlet what to do and the latter replies: "Will you play upon this pipe?" Although Guildenstern says very clearly that he does not know how to play this instrument, Hamlet insists annoyingly. When Guildenstern finally says that he doesnot have the skill, Hamlet shows him what a big mistake he is committing when he assumes to know how the mind of another human being works, while he cannot even know how to play a simple instrument. Sometimes I cannot believe that this play was written between 1599 and 1601; I think this masterpiece is an example of how dramatists can be more creative than any inventor.
Another astonishing example is how Hamlet explains to the King everything about diet, after he kills Polonius by mistake. The Prince shows how a man may eat a fish that has eaten a worm which actually fed on the corpse of a king. Thus he reaches the conclusion that: "a king may go a progress through/the guts of a beggar."
But let me go back to the questions that reading this play raise, for these are the main reason why so many studies have been written with numerous theories to justify them. In the play, a ghost appears to tell the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, that he is actually the spirit of his late father, and that he should take revenge, because the King's brother killed Hamlet's father to marry his wife and become King. The ghost serves as what is called a catalyst in the play, for he is the one that causes action to move forward. The ghost imposes on Hamlet the line of action that he should follow, although the Prince appears to be the kind that would never kill anybody. This is the first question that you will be faced with as you read or watch the play: would you accept, as a modern reader, to have a supernatural element in the play? Would you prefer to think of the ghost as a reality, or simply consider it to be imaginary? How was Hamlet and the guards able to see it, while the Queen couldn't? Where was the ghost at the time of the play, and how was he able to come back although Hamlet says clearly in his soliloquy that death is "The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns"?
These are only some of the numerous questions and complications you will be faced with when you read the play, and now let me mention something about the theories based on it. The most famous theory has to be what Freud wrote in his The Interpretation of Dreams when he connected Hamlet with Oedipus Complex: "Hamlet is able to do anything--except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father's place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized." In other words, because Hamlet associated himself with his uncle who made his dreams come true, when he killed the father and married the mother, Hamlet hesitates to kill him. This association was later developed by several psychoanalysts, and it actually explains certain mysteries like the bedroom scene in which Hamlet attacks his mother using sexual terms.
Again, that was only an example of the countless theories on Hamlet, but let's move from the point when Hamlet attacks his mother to the famous nunnery scene, and ask: was Hamlet a misogynist? As Hamlet's beloved one, Ophelia, tries to talk some sense into the apparently confused Prince, he insults her by saying: "Get thee to a nunnery" and he keeps repeating this to the meek girl whose only fault, for me, was not knowing how to tame him. A feminist approach to the play might raise questions like: Can we attribute Hamlet's misogynistic statements to his confused state of mind? And, what are the features of the mysterious character of Gertrude? Do we tend to accuse her of unfaithfulness basing our conclusions on nothing but Hamlet's point of view?
To conclude, all these complications are the reason why this play remains to be the best play ever written for many people. I add to that another aspect which not many readers are aware of; namely, the true story of Prince Hamlet. The plot of Shakespeare's play is based on the true story of a Prince called Amleth. It would be interesting for the reader to find out how Shakespeare transformed the Prince who not only stabs the courtier (as Hamlet stabs Polonius) but also dismembers him and throws the pieces into the sewer, and how he (Shakespeare) then created the probably neurotic character called Hamlet which we all identify ourselves with.
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