Hamlet is a revenge story that is perhaps like any other- a son's quest for avenging his father's murder. But it has been said that nothing is new under the sun. All stories are old and familiar, and it is the telling that raises it to the level of a masterpiece. Love, lust and hatred, those indispensable elements of every story, are discovered anew in this timeless classic. The drama pulls the reader into an intimate engagement and Hamlet's tragedy becomes the tragedy of every individual. No nation is a stranger to political intrigues and love affairs. Scandals in the court are scintillating without being surprising. With the words "something is rotten in the state of Denmark", Shakespeare underlines the universality of 'rotten'-ness. The king of Denmark is killed by his brother, who lusts after the crown and the queen. Hamlet, the prince, comes to know about this and vows revenge.Click here to know more about Literature and Fiction books.
Hamlet was probably written between 1599 and 1601. The story is based on popular legend, but in spite of being completely embedded in the 16th century, it is a tale that has a universal reach- across boundaries of time and space. Shakespeare tries to communicate a message- and thoughts of staging a performance with ease take a backseat, which is why this play is regarded as the ultimate challenge for any actor. Hamlet has even entered the English language and is a part of public memory- people quote from the play unknowingly. Shakespeare takes the old tale of a hero who sacrifices himself in the cause of justice and turns it on its head. Hamlet is hardly the popular hero- he is confused and indecisive, he is unable to act and he procrastinates. He achieves something only when some external calamity forces him to react. He is preoccupied with thoughts of death and suicide. His intellect and erudition are very unusual for a royal personage. He is no weakling- but his fencing skills are hardly of any use while his anger is misdirected. Hamlet is not a revenge story at heart, it is a quest for identity and self-knowledge.
It is unnecessary to say that the verse is superb- the fact that it stays with the reader for a long time is ample testimony. Shakespeare uses rhetoric to convey many kinds of meaning with just one line, which makes every line very intense and open to a variety of interpretations. Ample use of puns and metaphors put forward ideas about identity, female sexuality, etc. It is interesting to note how Shakespeare treats love. The oedipal overtones of Hamlet's love for his mother have been discussed for centuries. Queen Gertrude's ill-timed love affair has been dissected in the light of midlife crisis, menopause, etc. But there are other kinds of love that have received comparatively lesser attention. The extremely low-key treatment of the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is startling when one considers the tragedy of Ophelia, which is as magnificent as the love story of Desdemona or Juliet. Filial love forms the basis of the play, and ideas about parental supervision and imposition run as an undercurrent.
Hamlet changed the way I look at life. I cannot explain why I fell in love with the most flawed character in English literature. Perhaps because it is not easy to recognize flaws for what they are and accept them.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
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