Author: William Shakespeare
Published: 2016 (originally somewhere between 1599 and 1602)
Two weeks ago I wrote about the beautiful new Pelican Shakespeare series and today I will ‘review’ Hamlet. I struggle with the word review, because most of them only contain my thoughts on the book and my own humble reading experience – just a small part of what a good, full review should be. I don’t really mind, but when it comes to these kind of classics, I find myself uncomfortable with the word. How can you call anything you write about classics – books that have been out there for decades, or even ages – a review? But for want of a better word I will be using ‘review’ to refer to these musings.
So. Hamlet. Just to be clear: this was my first ever play and first ever Shakespeare. Lot of firsts here. I had ordered a bunch of the Pelican Shakespeare series after thinking (for years, actually) that I should try one of Shakespeare’s plays at least once. We had read Shakespeare in class when I was younger (mostly sonnets), our school performed one of his plays every single year and I went to at least one staging and a few movie adaptations, so I didn’t came wholly unprepared for my first actual read. Nevertheless, the whole idea of ‘reading Shakespeare’ is kind of daunting. And then again: I hadn’t read a play before as well.
But … I loved it! I really enjoyed the experience of reading a play and I enjoyed the story of Hamlet. Of course, the story is rather straightforward and well-known: the Danish king has passed away and his son, prince Hamlet, suspects his uncle of murdering him and marrying his wife, Hamlets mother, instead. In order to unravel the mystery and unmask his uncle as a traitor, Hamlet feigns insanity. Things get worse from then on: love is thwarted, the wrong persons are murdered and driven to insanity (real this time) and one way or another the whole Danish court ends up dead. Surprise!
Well, not really of course, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read. It creates a delightful historic consciousness when you finally read the famous lines ‘to be or not to be’ yourself and discover what they actually mean.
To be, or not to be – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them
Or when you feel Hamlet’s love (‘Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love’), laugh at his pretended insanity (‘I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handshaw’) and flinch at his sorrow (‘I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers / Could not with all their quantity of love / Make up my sum …’).
It was dramatic, incredibly funny (even though I think I still have missed a lot of jokes and wordplay) and very well crafted. I am in awe of Shakespeare’s use of language and I can very well imagine that this is one of his most often performed plays. Hamlet still isn’t the easiest text to read – it took me a while to get into the story and language. But then again, when you do, you’re submerged in a wonderful world of Shakespearian puns, beautifully crafted lines that touch your very soul and characters that will remain with you for the rest of your life.
When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions …
I’m looking forward to reading more of Shakespeare’s tragedies. After Hamlet I’ve read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night so I’m in for some more tears, murders and mystery. Did I hear you whisper ‘Macbeth?’ Hmm … We shall see!