Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Hamlet by Shakespeare

Published 1599-1601
English Play

This is my fifth or sixth Shakespeare play that I read aloud with my kids, ages 11 and 12. I admit that we read the right hand side of No Fear Shakespeare, which, if you are familiar with this edition, gives you the option to read a modern translation. Frankly, in some cases, it probably would have been safer to read the left hand side instead because there were some parts I would stop and say, "Just skip that!" when they were reading their lines out loud. 

And sometimes -- no, all the time, my 12-year old insisted on reading all of his lines in a terrible British accent that just made the reading take a lot longer; but other than that, it went fairly smoothly. And I was always Hamlet and enjoyed immensely reading his famous soliloquy. 

Side note: we are also reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I was able to read to my kids the duke's version of Hamlet's soliloquy. Such perfect timing. So hysterical. 

Anyway, back to Hamlet. This play really bothers me because so much does not seem fair or right. Everything is a mess. Hamlet's father was "murdered," or at least Hamlet had good reason to suspect that Uncle Claudius murdered his father, the King, because that's what the ghost of Hamlet's father told him. To complicate things, Hamlet's mother married King Uncle Claudius.

Throughout the play, Hamlet's plots of revenge change often, and at one point he accidentally murdered his girlfriend Ophelia's father. That's not a good way to get in with the family. He spent much of the time professing madness or behaving rudely toward everyone, including his girlfriend. At one point, she literally went off the deep end and probably killed herself. 

Millais: Ophelia 1851-52

Now Ophelia's brother, Laertes, sought revenge on Hamlet. Thus, he challenged Hamlet to a dual, and in good Shakespearean fashion, this tragedy did not end well for anyone. Except Horatio.

What is this play about?

Life and death. To be...or not to be. Life, on the one hand brings pain, sorrows, and struggles that can be more burdensome than the joys and pleasures; however, the alternative is death, and being an unknown, cause great internal conflict.

Conscience. Hamlet struggled with following through with his plots to avenge his father. He knew what he wanted to do, but conscience always pulled him back.

Reality and Madness. Was Hamlet really mad, or was he feigning madness? I could not confirm.

Consequences. Choices have consequences. Oh, so many bad decisions made by one character that hurt another. Like a vicious cycle.

There are many other ideas and themes to explore, and one day I hope to read this play in its original so I can enjoy it and understand it more. For now, I'm sharing my favorite clip of Hamlet's soliloquy right here:

See a discussion about Hamlet on Prager U: HERE


  1. Hi Ruth, Hamlet is a masterpiece, plain and simple. I hope you do read the original because despite the mess (and they always were a mess) the language is beautiful and the philosophy enlightening. Although I find there are some Shakespeare plays that are unfairly underrated (Cymbeline), I am in general agreement with the Shakespeare purists that Hamlet is the greatest play, but each to their own of course.

  2. PETE: Did Shakespeare say that, "To each his own?" Sounds like something he invented. I will definitely read this in its original someday. I look forward to it.

  3. Haha! I can only imagine that reading the modern translation of quite a few parts was not especially suitable for kids. Oh man. I remember the first time a read a version with lots of explanatory notes (after I'd already read the original a couple times and watched a t least one movie version) and being absolutely shocked to learn what phrases like "thing" and "no thing" and "country matters" and "long purples" meant. Double entendres are rife in all of Shakespeare, and sometimes he can be pretty raw.

    Did you watch any filmed versions? I can recommend some, if you're interested.

  4. I would love recommendations. I've seen the Mel Gibson version, but thinking it is suitable for young ones. I won't watch the 1996 version and probably not 2011. Both 1948 and 1969 versions are unavailable! So tell me which ones are worthy.

  5. HAMLET....I mean the Mel Gibson version may be UNsuitable!

  6. I figured out what you meant ;-) Yeah, the Gibson version goes the Freudian route and might be a bit much.

    You can rent Olivier's 1948 version on Amazon Prime for $4 -- his is kinda stagey, but it's a solid adaptation. Nothing unsuitable for kids there. Jean Simmons is a gorgeous Ophelia. Might not work so hot if they're not used to b&w movies.

    Also available for rent on Amazon Prime is the 2000 version starring Campbell Scott. It's set in America in the early 20th century, and it's very accessible. No nudity or love scenes, or anything non-kid-friendly that I can recall (but it's been like a decade since I watched it -- might want to check some online places for content). It's an excellent version.

    The 2009 David Tennant version is also on Amazon Prime to rent. It's a really cool adaptation you might really dig yourself, but I'm not sure it's kid-friendly -- Patrick Stewart is a genuinely scary Claudius, and the play-within-the-play gets pretty suggestive. You could just fast-forward through that bit though.

    The 2015 stage version with Benedict Cumberbatch is really good, and definitely not iffy, content-wise, but it's never been legally released to DVD or streaming. However, you can sometimes find bootleg copies on ebay, but you didn't hear that from me.

    I've got a whole page on my main blog about all the versions I've seen, if you want to know about others that are out there. I've reviewed some of them, and that page has links to those reviews.

    Hope that helps!

  7. That video is adorable!

    I also thought "what a mess" when I finished Hamlet (I read it last year for the Back to the Classics Challenge). The outcomes aren't fair and everyone dies. My take away was that Hamlet was a mopey teenager plagued by indecision. But there are so many ways the play can be interpreted and played which is fascinating. But I haven't ever seen it performed either on the stage or in film (yet).

  8. RACHEL: WOW! Thank you for this invaluable info. I will research these and check out your post. I would have loved to see the Cumberbatch version, but like you said...and I think for fun, I may look at that 2000 version. I like a modern twist on a Shakespeare play. Human nature is universal.
    I also think I want to watch the Mel Gibson version (by myself) just bc I now know the story, and it has been years since I watched it.
    Thanks, again!

    RUTHIELA: This is true...that you can interpret the play differently. It exposes so many character flaws and conflicts that no one is exempt.

  9. Every now and then, the Cumberbatch version gets shown on the big screen again thanks to Fathom Events. I've seen it at the theater twice, and I know it was there another time that I couldn't go. So keep an eye out for that to happen again when theaters reopen. Usually it's in the fall for some reason.

    You're welcome! This is a subject I never tire of.

    I've seen one more adaptation that's not on my list yet cuz I only just saw it recently: Ophelia starring Daisy Ridley. It is AWESOME, but earns its PG-13 rating for suggestive content and violence, and it's a retelling from her perspective that changes some things, so not a straight-up performance of the play. Doesn't use most of the original language, for example. Very good, though. Gorgeous costuming, wonderful acting. Definitely see it yourself if you're in the mood for a different take on the story.

  10. RACHEL: Ophelia looks like a perfectly dramatic version I would like to watch. By myself, of course. Coincidently, my husband and I just watched 1917 for the first time, and I recognized the actor who plays Hamlet. So this will be on my list to watch. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. And I'll keep my eye out for the Cumberbatch film. : ) In fact, I should ask my friend if she has a bootleg copy! LOL! She's a big time Cumberbatch fan.

  11. Ophelia is a beautiful retelling. I intend to give it a thorough review on my movie blog once I've seen it a second time. And yes, a Cumberbatch fan just might have such a thing ;-) I mean, not that I would know...

  12. RACHEL: Well, my Cumberbatch fan friends DO NOT have a copy, but did say they were eager to find one. Darn!

    P.S. I think I'm going to watch Ophelia by myself tonight. Thanks!

  13. Do any of your friends have a birthday coming up? I'm just sayin'...

    I hope you dig Ophelia!!!

  14. OH, WOW! My Cumberbatch fan friend JUST had her birthday last week...but I am really tempted to think about this. She would --- her whole family would love it.

    And I decided not to watch Ophelia this weekend bc other things came up, but maybe next weekend.

  15. Bootlegs of it tend to disappear pretty fast, and that's cheaper than I've seen it before, so if you're at all considering it, I'd advise you jump on it.

    I didn't get everything done this weekend that I planned either. It happens!