Should I admit that all didn’t go as planned, or try to bluff?
I’m not really a bluffer, so I’ll first say straight off that I did not read the entire play of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But do I consider the whole effort a failure? No, and here’s why:
The plays of Shakespeare are still read today — four-hundred years later. It’s not only because of the quality of the writing, or the fact that they are still performed as drama (and new productions and movies are still produced), but because of the strong themes: love, jealousy, revenge, sorrow as good versus evil battles out (but who is good? who is evil?). So, while I didn’t read the play, I experienced the theme.
To me, Hamlet is about lost chances, and the literally life and death permanent consequences of bad decisions (planned or unplanned). It’s about personalities — how good qualities such as compassion and self-sacrificing love can lead to very dire consequences taken to the extreme.
Hamlet is a tragedy, but there are moments of humor in it, and watching it on screen (which I will explore fully in Thursday’s Books on Screen column) made it easier to pick up on the humor in delivery — not only in intentional comedic moments, but in the madness of Hamlet himself.
Several resources helped me:
- The Sourcebooks Hamlet version. The text is laid out clearly with notes of explanation for difficult terms that are lost in translation, but what I enjoyed most was the introduction featuring performance notes, and the CD containing certain scenes as performed by the “Shakespeare greats.”
- Movie adaptations such as Kenneth’s Branagh’s 1996 edition so that I could see it and appreciate the beautiful melody of the language, even when the meaning sort of escaped me.
- Wikipedia’s entry on Hamlet (I should have read this first for a general overview and to help keep the characters straight)
- Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. The Hamlet section is twenty pages long. It details the plot, but as the name suggests, it shares the info as a tale. In the preface, the authors share that their intent is to use as much of the original language as possible, with the goal of exposing young children (and other brain-weary folks like me) to the beauty of Shakespeare in a simpler form that will whet the appetite for the real thing. This is not simply a synopsis of the play, but a retelling in which you can almost see the action. You can use amazon’s look inside feature to read their entry on the Tempest. I highly recommend this book, and am glad that I remembered I had it on my shelf.
- Shakespeare Stealer series — Two years ago I shared in this post about how these juvenile novels primed my interest in Shakespeare (and in the same post I mention the Lambs’ book, which answered my own question of how that book found its way to my bookshelves).
What about you? Did you fare any better? I posted some thought-starting questions in the Classics Preview, but you can link up whatever you would like in your review. And like me, don’t be afraid to admit failure, if that’s the case. If you didn’t finish it, why? And in spite of the fact that you didn’t finish it, did you learn anything? Are you done with Shakespeare for good?
In answer to that last question, I am not done with Shakespeare. In fact, I think that even though I “failed” in reading the play, it has increased my interest in Shakespeare, and I think that after being more aware of the intricacies of the plot, and more familiar with the characters, I might pick it up again, but I will certainly read more of the tales from Charles and Mary Lamb, and probably watch some more Branagh movies as well.
We are almost at the end of our published schedule for Classics Bookclub. Please take note of our titles for the next two months, and leave a comment here if you have a suggestion for future books.
February 3: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
March 3: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo — You are welcome to read all 1488 pages of an unabridged version, or you can check out a “shortened” version such as the one that I ordered, Les Miserables (Enriched Classics). I also ordered Les Miserables (A Stepping Stone Book) which is child-friendly in content and length, and I’m going to try to get Amanda (age 10) to read along as well.
But now it’s your turn! Link up your thoughts about William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.