Friday, January 27, 2006

Reader's Diary #20- William Shakespeare: Hamlet (Reason for Choosing and My Approach)

My first introduction to Shakespeare was probably the same as everyone else's born in the 20th century: highschool. We did Romeo and Juliet in grade nine and I thought it was great. As most of us did. For an entire grade nine class to show acceptance of Shakespeare was no small accomplishment for Mr. Howard Butt, our teacher. Truly a gifted teacher, he got us through the dated language and into the actual story. After that we covered Julius Caesar and we were almost equally entranced- "almost" because Romeo and Juliet still had that teenage appeal going for it.
After that Mr. Butt retired and the next teacher (with all due respect) didn't quite enamour us with Macbeth. I didn't read another Shakespeare play until a summer drive to Ontario in my university years. That was A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was looking to read a comedy by him and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually a little bit funny. That brings me to Hamlet. Hamlet and King Lear were two of those major ones that I felt I had missed out on.

I wasn't sure how to approach Hamlet at first. I considered using An Approach to Hamlet by L.C. Knights (it was sitting on our bookshelf anyway), to help guide me through it- a la Mr. Butt. But looking through it, it seems to make its points by comparing Hamlet to the other plays. I don't think I have enough exposure to the other Shakespeare plays to use such a text, so I'm on my own. I'm not too intimidated though as I have a rough idea of the plot (not through watching any of the myriad Hamlet movies but through the Simpsons' Tales From The Public Domain episode). And of course I knew the "To be or not to be" quote. Who hasn't? So knowing the basic, dummies version of the plot should help me focus on the intricacies a little better. And according to the opening of An Approach To Hamlet, "Hamlet is...that play of Shakespeare's about which there is most disagreement." So if I interpret something wrong, screw it- I'm not the only one. And besides I'm writing a blog, not working on an English degree.


Rebecca said...

Have you seen Tom Stoppard's Rozencratz and Guilderstern Are Dead? It's an unusual approach to Hamlet, from the perspectives of relative strangers, but also a keen look at the nature of madness and questions and answers.

John Mutford said...

Sounds intriguing. Would you recommend the book or DVD ?

Christina said...

Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play. I did it in grade 13 English, and I have loved it ever since. Steve bought me tickets for Christmas two years ago to see it at the NAC. It was wonderful. It's got some pretty funny moments, too, for a tragedy!

Funny you should be reading Shakespeare...your blog actually has motivated me to get back into reading something a little more intense than the Saturday comics page. I borrowed a copy of "Much Ado About Nothing", which I had never read, and I am enjoying it immensely! It's pretty hilarious!

Thanks for the inspiration!!!

John Mutford said...

I haven't read "Much Ado About Nothing" yet but I was really surprised at how funny "A Midsummer Night's Dream was.

Glad I've inspired you!

John Mutford said...

Hi Christina, I checked out the NAC link that you included in your comments. I see they're running the Henrik Ibsen play "When We Dead Awaken" tonight. I wish I could have gone to see that. A few years ago I read Four Great Plays of Henrik Ibsen and while "When We Dead Awaken" wasn't one of the four, I really enjoyed the ones included.

Rebecca said...

I don't really have an opinion on the book because, alas, I haven't read it. However, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are brilliant in the movie version.

John Mutford said...

Hi Rebecca,
Who knows? Maybe the movie is terrible. Some people claim "the book is always better than the movie." Though, I don't think that's always the case. I think the movie versions of Francis Coppola's Dracula , Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy were all superior to the books. Anyone want to disagree or suggest other examples?