5 of 5 stars
bookshelves: classics, challenging-literature, buddy-read, dfw, favorites, british, want-to-own, tbr-in-2015
Recommended for: Everyone
Read from November 26, 2014 to January 14, 2015, read count: 1

“So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause
And, in thus upshot, purposes mistook
Fall in on th’ inventors heads. All this can I
Truly deliver.”

The basis of Hamlet is archaic. Even in Shakespeare’s time. Its unique origin is believed by scholars and critics alike to have stemmed from various family quarrels throughout history in the North. From there, many a sailor conveyed the tale to Ireland, which-in turn– added a certain Celtic legend. It reached Scandinavia years later, thus becoming an integral part of Denmark’s history. In the second half of the 12th century, a gentleman by the name of Saxo Grammaticus brought it the light (his version, at least, which was quite graphic, even barbaric, compared to the playwright’s classic,) with the publication of Historiae Danicae, or Historia Danica.
Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s play retained all of the basic ingredients: the death of a Danish ruler, resulting in a marriage to the former king’s brother and widowed queen, a son’s feigned madness, etc.. For those of you lovelies that are familiar with it, you know the rest..

And though I can’t speak for its predecessors, it’s my opinion that William Shakespeare brought much, much more to the forefront of our minds. From Act 1, the audience is treated to a surprisingly bleak atmosphere which grows increasingly dark. Beginning with the introduction to the Ghost, said escalation is, like much of the play, very subtle. There are many ambiguities thrown in, as well as several riddles (riddles atop riddles,) many of which are never answered. To me, this is utter brilliance, as Shakespeare leaves it up to the individual to form their own conclusions. It’s more life-like, too, because how many of walk through life knowing everything there is TO know?
There’s also an incredibly wide-range of mystery surrounding this impressive opening. More to the point, the supernatural elements work well, it was loads of fun to read, and it serves an even bigger purpose: propelling the story forward, things in Elsinore are eternally altered.

Which brings me to prince Hamlet’s character. When we first meet him, he’s the essence of melancholy, bitterness seems to rule him, and he’s wracked with grief and madness(?) His father, the late King Hamlet, has recently died, the queen entered an “o’er-hasty marriage,” political unrest looms, and amongst other factors, young Hamlet cannot let the past go. Similar to all of us, he can’t comprehend why death has to be inevitable.
It’s a universal, age-old question.

The odds are clearly against him, and this playwright explores them with an unprecedented beauty, respect, and urgency. At the same time, he retains the utmost believability and honesty. Most impressive of all (for me, anyway,) is that almost all of his character development occurs below the surface. I hadn’t realized the extent of this until much later.

Critic Maynard Mack had the following to say about Shakespeare’s amazing ability to make his vision(s) a very compelling reality:

“Great plays, as we know, do present us with something that can be called a world, a microcosm- a world like our own in being made of people, actions, situations, thoughts, feelings, and much more, but unlike our own in being perfectly, or almost perfectly, significant and coherent. In a play’s world, each part implies the other parts, and each lives, each means, with the life and meaning of the rest.”

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?”

The ending, however, defied my expectations. And then some. Which is quite shocking knowing in advance that this is a tragedy. Yet, weeks later, part of me still can’t get all the carnage, manipulation, backstabbing, and visceral images out of my head.

I cannot stress enough that my review barely scratches the surface. There is soo much more to it that I’d love to go into, but won’t for spoiler’s sake. Especially with a work such as this, I think it’s best to go into it with as little preconceived notions as possible. Fiction’s enjoyed best that way.


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