Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

January Books 9) Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

This is pretty much the pinnacle of Shakespeare's literary powers, and has been regarded as such for centuries. A lot of this is because of the fascination of the central character, advised of his father's murder by his father's ghost, and then taking a troubled but compelling path to vengeance, which ends up not only with his own death but also those of his father's murderer, his mother, Polonius and both his children, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Also, of course, the language is amazing. This play surely has more famous quotes per page than any other, most of them short phrases that neatly bracket some concept - "a consummation devoutly to be wished", or "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". It's occasionally rather startling to hear the original context of some commonplace line, though it doesn't really jar the play.

Apart from the main plot, I found two interesting themes in the play. One, not surprisingly, is death. Everyone is talking about it, from the king to the gravedigger. Depending on how you count Julius Caesar, this is the first non-historical play with a ghost. We end up with the stage littered with corpses, and I think there are more on-stage killings than in Titus Andronicus - and unlike Titus Andronicus it isn't over the top. (It's also difficult to deny that there must have been some connection in the author's mind between the title character and his own son Hamnet, who had died a few years earlier aged eleven.)

The other theme I picked up was the theatre. It's not just the play-within-a-play (though that is more interesting here than the comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream, let alone the peculiar unfinished framing narrative of The Taming of the Shrew); it's the conversation of the players with Hamlet before the show, and the final discussion between Fortinbras and Horatio about telling the story and displaying the bodies. Shakespeare isn't overdoing it, but he does seem to want to make us think about what the theatre is and what is happening when we are watching (or in this case listening).

This must have been one of Arkangel's earlier productions, as Bob Peck, who fluffs some of his lines as Claudius, died in 1999. The other key parts are excellent - Imogen Stubbs as Ophelia, Norman Rodway as Polonius, Jane Lapotaire as Gertrude, and of course Simon Russell Beale as Hamlet. It all hangs together neatly.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)
Tags: bookblog 2009, writer: shakespeare
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