Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reader's Diary #26- William Shakespeare: Hamlet (FINISHED)

So, I'm finished what's been hailed as the greatest play ever written. I'm not sure who hailed it as such, but I'm sure someone has. And I'm okay with that. I enjoyed it. I haven't personally read every play, but who cares.

Shakespeare was a fantastic writer. He seemed to know that a good plot doesn't have to sacrifice good characters. In terms of fiction, that seems to be the border crossing between Canada and the U.S.. In Canada we get fiction with characters but no plot(I'll single out...hmmm....let's say Alice Munro) and in the U.S. we get fiction with plot but no character (I'll single out...hmmm...let's say Tom Clancy). Read Shakespeare people, it doesn't have to be one or the other!

In terms of character, the four I found the most compelling were Hamlet, Palonius, the king, and Ophelia. Hamlet I liked on so many levels. I'll start with his sarcastic wit. For instance, there were several times he complained about how fast his mother and uncle were married after his father's death. In almost every case he uses hyperbole to push the point, in one memorable instance saying that the food prepared for his father's funeral was used to cater his mother's wedding. Then there's his contemplations. Hamlet is definitely a man beginning to see the world in a different way. Being allowed access to his transition is worth the read. There's a slew of other reasons, but in the sake of brevity I'll digress.

I liked the three other characters that I mentioned as characters, but I can't say I'd like them as human beings. I'll begin with Palonius. While I can't say I found his murder humourous, I did find him quite comical. Here's a man who insists on sharing his wisdom with everyone who'll listen, feels superior enough to meddle in his childrens' lives, and his whole idea of a scheme is to hide behind a curtain. I felt at one point that he was going to say, "Oh wait, I have an idea!" and someone was going to turn to him and say, "I know, I know. Hide behind a curtain." What a fantastic idiot.

The king was just a great villain. Pure and simple. In the scenes where he convinces Laertes to go after Hamlet, you hate him, but at the same time you think, "damn, he's good."

Ophelia. Ophelia was interesting to read. But does she earn the artistic credibility thrust upon her in modern music? Hell no. I appreciated her character in terms of honesty, but in any other sense? No. Sure she lost her mind, but let's face it- there wasn't much to lose. Basically, she was a typical flaky teenage girl too easily led and influenced by others. Did she deserve to go crazy? No (though it was funny when she did).

And then there's the plot. I won't summarize further than I already have but I will add to a couple of comments I made in earlier posts. I still don't think Hamlet loved Ophelia. Though he jumps into her grave and professes his love for her, this could still be taken as shock. I'm not saying he definitely didn't and I get the impression that Shakespeare didn't want a definite answer. Likewise to the issue of Hamlet's sanity. I'm still not convinced that Hamlet went crazy. That's a part of Ophelia's role, I think, to show true insanity and juxtapose it with Hamlet.

Finally, I'd like to touch upon the labeling of this play as a "tragedy". Sure practically everyone dies at the end and that's tragic- yadee, yadee, yada. But by today's labeling, I think Hamlet
would be categorized as a "dark comedy". There's undeniably enough death in hear to warrant the "dark" tag. But even the death scenes at the end are a little over the top. After everyone murders each other, someone rushes into add that Rozencratz and Guilderstern were killed in England as well. Sorry to laugh at death, but come on. Shakespeare must have had a ball killing off almost all of his characters. But even if you don't see the humour in that, I still don't think you have to look too hard to find "comedy". Though to make sure we don't miss out on the pessimistic, gloomy side altogether, perhaps Shakespeare reminds us that we should pay more attention to Yorick. Alas, as illustrated by this poor jester's skull, even laughter dies eventually.


Robert Hiscock said...

I think literary tragedy is, by its very nature, darkly comedic. It's that key element of the protagonist unwittingly being architect of his own demise that so often lends itself to humour. In my opinion it's almost impossible to look upon the tragedy of Romeo & Juliet without chuckling. The misunderstanding is almost farcical -- a 16th century episode of Three's Company (if you think that's hard to take, ask me about my Mrs. Roper as Lady MacBeth argument).

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll bite: What is your Mrs Roper as Lady MacBeth argument?

John Mutford said...

Geez. I hate typos. I just reread my post and saw that I had written
"...enough death in hear to warrant...". Really? It's hard to be taken serious, about Shakespeare of all things, when you've got words spelled wrong. How embarrassing! (Is that two r's? two s's? -Oh, I suck)