I hail from Shakespeare country, yet my total knowledge of the Bard’s work only really consists of Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet (and they were only because they were the choices at GCSE English). To me Othello is a game played with black and white counters and the Tempest is an arcade game by Atari. Didn’t Iambic Pentameter play Rugby for Wales?
So recently when it was suggested that I should read Hamlet I thought why not, I’d heard The Lion King was loosely based on the play and I love that film. So off to a bookshop to find a copy of the tragic tale of the Prince of Denmark.
Unbeknownst to me there are apparently many different versions of Hamlet, each taking a different approach to the text. The reason I found out was that the original penned script by Will S. doesn’t exist. What we see of his plays today are the recollections of the actors years after the performance, and as a result there are a number of copies of the play sometimes with conflicting edits in them. I discovered this by checking out the Wikipedia page. This may be considered cheating, but I like to think of it as getting up to speed.
For those not familiar with the plot, spoilers ahead (although come on people, it’s been around for 400 years…how long do spoiler warnings have to be in place?).
Boy’s Father is killed by Boy’s Uncle, Boy’s Uncle assumes the throne that Boy should get and rubs in Boy’s Mum (who may be the focus of an Oedipal crush by Boy), Boy’s Father’s Ghost appears and demands vengeance, Boy swears “I shall have my revenge”, Boy meets Girl, Girl likes Boy, Boy may or may not like Girl, Boy falls out with Girl, Boy pretends to be mad, Boy’s Uncle thinks Boy is mad, Boy puts on thinly veiled allegorical play depicting an ‘Uncle killing a King’, Boy’s Uncle sees through thinly veiled allegorical play, Boy kills Girl’s Father, Boy gets sent to England, Girl goes mad and may or may not commit suicide because Boy is being sent to England and Girl’s father is dead.
Girl’s Brother returns and swears “I shall have my revenge”, Boy returns and gets all up in the face of Girl’s Brother, Boy’s Uncle sees the chance to rid himself of Boy and organises a duel between Boy and Girl’s Brother where boy will be poisoned in a foolproof plan, foolproof plan fails ad Boy, Boy’s Mother, Boy’s Uncle and Girl’s Brother all end up dead.
All of this, and not a single lion or Elton John song in sight.
There are plenty of ways to interpret what is going on in the play, is it about justice, revenge, family, madness, redemption? Is Horatio real or part of Hamlet’s sub-conscious (like an anti-Tyler Durden)? Is Hamlet mean to Ophelia as he is trying to protect her? Is Hamlet really insane and just things he is sane pretending to be mad?
The answers to these questions, like who Yorrick was, are still a mystery to me. Mostly because by this time the store clerks were starting to think that maybe I wasn’t going to be buying the Dummies guide to Hamlet and was just a wastrel who was after the free WIFi.