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Hamlet - Book Review

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Published December 31st 2013
More deaths than Game of Thrones
ophelia hamlet prince of denmark play
Mignon Nevada as Ophelia, 1910


One of my favourite lines in the movie Clueless (and there are oh-so-many to choose from) is when Cher corrects Josh's stuck-up college girlfriend regarding the famous 'to thine own self be true' line, which The Girlfriend claims is said by Hamlet. Cher responds "Well I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn't say that." You tell her Cher.

However the origin of your love for one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, it's a love that can never die. If you're as yet uninitiated into this club, read on for everything you need to know to correct the college snobs in your life though you should just read the play yourself, of course.

Hamlet is the story (okay, play) of a young prince of Denmark (yup, that's Hamlet) and his struggles with his mother's new marriage that is, her marriage to his uncle, who incidentally killed his father in order to take the throne. Can Simba I mean, Hamlet rise to the challenge of taking back the kingdom that is rightfully his?

In a classic play-within-a-play (I'm sure there's a proper word for that) scene, Hamlet seeks to expose his mother's potential feelings of guilt; "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" says Gertude, of the play-mother's promise to never remarry should her husband die (note that to protest something did, in Shakespearean times, mean to vow or promise it, not to refute it).

As if the whole thing weren't dramatic enough, you can also add a scorned lover (Ophelia) and vengeful ghost (the ghost of the dead King) into the mix.

Often mistaken for his 'to be or not to be' monologue, Hamlet's now famous holding of the skull actually has him saying "Alas, poor Yorick." This image has been parodied countless times and can now stand to represent dramatic theatre in general.

The famous 'to be, or not to be' monologue is a famous soliloquy in which Hamlet contemplates suicide - 'to be', in this case, literally means being, to be alive. He is persuaded not to attempt it, however, for fear of an afterlife in Hell - 'For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?'

Hamlet's introspection has not gone unnoticed, by both his friends and his former love interest Ophelia. Hamlet's feigned madness is contrasted with Ophelia's genuine madness, culminating in Ophelia's apparent suicide.

After much flapping about and soliloquising, Shakespeare brings about a dramatic ending involving a few poisoned blades and some poisoned wine. I won't tell you how it all goes down but I will say that Shakespeare paved the way for George R R Martin in terms of the killing off of main characters.

Hamlet, or The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is widely available in single editions as well as part of compilations. You'll have no trouble sourcing it at a local second-hand store, or you can pick up a deliciously new copy. Once that's devoured, the movie, play, and book adaptations are endless.
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