Text Type: Play, tragedy
Author: William Shakespeare
Time: Between 1599 and 1602
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet entails a timelessness and universality to which anyone can relate – even 400 years after the tragedy was written. Hamlet is the prince of Denmark who plans to avenge his father’s murder, but his madness and indecision lead the play to unravel in a way that neither Hamlet nor the audience would ever expect it to as his derangement takes a toll on all the characters in his surroundings. Shakespeare’s most well-known play explores the themes of love, desire and revenge and the aspects of life’s meaning and purpose. Shakespearian plays continue to amaze me, but to me personally Hamlet stands out; Shakespeare has allowed me to correlate with Hamlet and his deep thoughts that are divulged throughout the tragedy and I believe that everyone, in one way or another, can connect with the play’s protagonist and his ideas if given the chance to read this outstanding play.
An aspect of Hamlet that interested me especially was the main character’s continuous indecision towards a number of issues that unfold throughout the play and its consequences. After Hamlet’s dead father who recently passed away pays Hamlet a visit as a spirit in the beginning of the play to tell him that he was murdered by his brother, robbing him of his crown and even his wife, the ghost instructs Hamlet to earn revenge on Claudius: Hamlet’s uncle and his father’s brother. Throughout the play, a continuous debate is portrayed by Hamlet whether he should kill his father’s murderer or not, in fear of that the spirit that instructed him to do so, was the devil in disguise, wanting to ensure Hamlet’s damnation. The confusion that Hamlet experiences lead him to insanity and a progressing state of depression and the debate of his uncle’s guilt and the confusion Macbeth experiences after his dead father’s visit makes him debate life itself – contemplating whether it’s better to put up with endless misery or whether to put an end to your issues, all at once – a deep and profound thought demonstrated by Hamlet in the possibly most well-known quote of English literature: “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?” Hamlet’s contemplation and confusion reflect the character’s further indecision as it makes him continue to put off the task of avenging the murder of his father, the man that will bring upon the collapse the Danish Kingdom and its royal family, an event that arguably could have been prevented if Hamlet took revenge upon himself sooner.
Another theme presented in Hamlet that has generated significant impact on me is presented in Act V, Scene I. Hamlet, and his friend Horatio approach two gravediggers at a graveyard who are preparing a new grave, excavating skulls from the ground and Hamlet becomes fascinated by the fact that such a bony figure once had a face, hair, eyes, a brain – a life. Picking up a skull, Hamlet learns that the one that he holds belonged to Old Hamlet’s jester, Yorick. Hamlet is shaken as he knew Yorick as a child, and he begins to ponder on the idea that everyone will eventually become a worthless skull, buried in the ground or tossed out of the earth to prepare new graves for another dead person who has the same destiny: who too will eventually become a trivial skull. He states that finally, everyone will become the dust of insignificance, whether they’re a slave, a beggar or royalty.
This formulation of an idea that Shakespeare has developed has given me a new perspective on Hamlet as a person as well as the different classes that we label people in society with. Being important and being of more worth is truly just an illusion that humanity has painted for themselves, a divisor of mankind and society. I believe that we are all individuals with equal worth and potential and the labels that degrade people or illustrate them as of higher value is just rubbish that humans come up with out of boredom. No matter how important that we think we think we are, grading ourselves over or under others, the truth of the matter is that we all share the same fate – and Hamlet has helped me come to this realisation.
Through these two aspects portrayed in the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet: Hamlet’s confusion and indecision which makes him develop serious thoughts and questions of the meaning of life have had an unforgettable impact on me as the reader as the main character ponders upon life’s biggest and deepest questions. What amazes me as the reader, is the timelessness and universality of these thoughts, seeing that the play was written over 400 years ago and yet these ideas are ones that I, among many others understand, and questions that continue to be asked today. Hamlet has changed my perspective on how we think as humans and that we have much more in common than what we think. We all share the same questions and destiny, and without reading Hamlet, this is something that I would not have understood as thoroughly.