Hamlet. What’s new about him?

Oh yes, Hamlet. What’s new about him?

I always had difficulty in relating to Shakespeare’s most famous character. One of my friends, however, seems to identify with him quite well. So here I was, discussing the man’s characters, and being on the critical side, for I must admit – I never liked him much. He might have been a man of action, but I considered the way that he broke down to grief a weakness. I disapproved. After airing this opinion a time or two, I paused. By what authority? What did I know about him – Hamlet, I mean, not my friend – anyway? Why was I making judgements based on a person I had read about over two years ago, when I am no longer the person that I was then? The way my friend looked at it made me think that my view was shallow, because he certainly saw depth in the man.

I did not have the knowledge fresh at the top of my head, and what I remembered of Hamlet was a little more than what every man knows – Father killed by his brother to marry his mother and take the Throne of Denmark. His sweetheart death by his hand – an accident. His two friends – Fortinbras and Laertes, who suffer a similar fate but react differently.

So I picked up my fat brown bound volume of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’, opened Othello by habit, flipped back to Hamlet and began to read.

Rediscovering all the small things that one forgets with time is a beautiful feeling, seeing lines and thinking, “Wow, I remember this, and it’s beautiful!” is rewarding. It is impossible to approach a book like Hamlet without preconceived notions of everything that happens and everyone in it. I cannot say that I succeeded in casting aside those prejudices, because I did not. For instance, I was surprised in the very first act – one assumes that Hamlet always was melancholy, but the way everyone keeps harping on “Hamlet is changed” – it is obvious that the man was once very cheerful, though we do not see this side of him in the play. I still found it beautiful, and that I understood a great deal more than I did before. The intelligence that read it before was the same, perhaps the immaturity made me appreciate it less.

It is a work of passion, and… frankly, I was reminded on Túrin Turambar. Turin is a character out of Tolkien’s world (the ‘Lay of the Children of Hurin’ in BOLT3 and ‘The Silmarillion’) – ‘I am Agarwaen the son of Úmarth (which is the Bloodstained, son of Ill-fate), a hunter in the woods’ says Túrin in the Silmarillion, and perhaps a comparison of these two is in the offing. I know I want to do it.

A few days back, as I was walking down the English section of my library, I found ‘Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes – Slaves of Passion’ by Lily B. Campbell. Curious me picked it up, checked it out and went back to the hostel. I skipped the parts where she analyses Lear, Macbeth and Othello (not reading the Othello section first took a lot of self control) and finished the book as far as Hamlet was concerned. ( I have since finished all those sections as well – fascinating analysis)

She mentioned ‘Shakespearean Tragedy’ – A C Bradley, and I went out again, got my hands on that, came back and read it.

Bradley and Campbell present the ‘tragic hero’ in different ways. While Campbell prefers to try to think of Shakespeare’s characters as he would have thought of them by studying the Elizabethan philosophy, Bradley seems to forget the fact that these were plays, not books. Several devices that Shakespeare used – for instance when Iago talks to the audience – Bradley interprets as Iago trying to convince the audience. Perhaps. I think that Iago is merely informing the audience of what is happening, what he feels and what he plots, because there is no other way of doing it. The author cannot write narratives in a play like he can in a novel. Anyone who has tried a play with too much narration knows that the audience gets restless. I’ve seen some who nod off.

The point to the whole exercise was that given these two totally different interpretations of Hamlet, I accept Campbell’s. Occam’s Razor does have its uses after all.

I am no student of literature.
So yes, Hamlet. What’s new about him?
I still like Othello better than Hamlet, but now, I think I see more to Hamlet than I did before. 🙂 Just goes to show that even what is “done” is a tresure trove of more information… if you just look

13 responses to “Hamlet. What’s new about him?

  1. nice one indeed…me not a literary buff, yet i found your experience interesting…off to the shop to get the big brown book of complete shakespeare works !!

  2. Ah.. HAMLET..

    So this is how you kept yourself occupied the entire day.. :p

    I like long posts.. :D.. The quote that comes to my mind when I think of Hamlet..

    “To be or not to be that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing them, end them.”

    I love it.. 🙂

  3. Hamlet The Prince of Denmark,
    Well he did seem interesting to me. I have used “To be or not to be” often. Of course i did like Othello better. It was much more tragic.

  4. karthigeyan ~ I hope you enjoy them. Shakespeare is a joy.

    leon ~ I wrote other stuff that day. This was written on Friday. 🙂

    Vibha ~ Nice to see similar tasts. 🙂

  5. my favourite is king lear…and to a certain extent brutus….

  6. Hamlet…I remember Mel Gibson as Hamlet and I remember being dissapointed with my first brush with the tragedy. I must confess I am dissapointed with all of Shakespeare’s works.
    I liked “Shakespeare in Love” though 😛

  7. There are new shades I discover everytime I read Hamlet. Much as you did this time. And the next time you read it, may be after a few years, you will probably love him more 🙂
    I had read the Bradley version of Hamlet criticism at one point of time. I haven’t revisited it since and have forgotten most of it.

    It is when you realize that a person is a shade of gray that you appreciate the essense of Hamlet. I have begun to understand his inaction, his brooding and his incessant contemplation. I understand his sudden impulsiveness, and spurt of action (alas only too late, and isn’t that why the tragedy is so sublime).I have seen glimpses of him in people and at times in myself.

    It is his human nature that endears him to me. It is his imperfection that draws me to him. It his inaction that I find so akin to action, such as that of a coiled spring. It is his brooding that seeks resurgence and resilience, a volcano waiting to erupt, the lull before a storm.

    Realization is so much stronger than intellectualism. To understand Hamlet, Camphor, you have to realize him, not criticize him 🙂

  8. the Monk ~ I like Brutus too. 🙂 But the whole Julius Caeser deal is not written all that well. Give me the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ anytime.

    Apoorv ~ Shakespeare plots might not have been airtight, but his characterisations were great. Maybe you should try it again sometime? None of the movies have come close to books. But I think that about all movies and all books. 🙂

    Wriju ~ I ferverntly hope I do not realise him in me.

    Every great book has hidden shades, just waiting to be discovered. Any book I read enough times, I will proabably love, becuase I am sure I will not read it repeatedly if I cannot relate to it at all. Hamlet stands on it’s own merits, and not just the force of familiarity. In fact, it is the familiarity that is it’s enemy – I take it and him for granted.

    It is when you realize that a person is a shade of gray that you appreciate the essense of Hamlet.
    Indeed – but every single other of Shakespeare’s major characters portray the shades of gray… with differnt emotions.
    Grief, loss, these are things I do not understand. God has been nice enough to leave me untouched (almost) there. Whatever it is, my friend – to you Hamlet remains something like what the Lord of the Rings is to me. There can be no comparion at all, becuase you see Hamlet everywhere, while I see him as just another intriguing character and wonderful book.

  9. hmmmm…I wonder if reading them again would help. But I agree with Wriju about the shades of grey thingy.

  10. Reading them again might help. Nothing like a fresh perspective to appreciate anything that is good. 🙂

  11. Hmmm. All zis takes me back to my college days. More than anything, i think i miss the exalted aura and atmosphere of intellectualism.

    Dunno abt AC Bradley. He’s almost as canonical as Shakespeare himself. kosher to read him alongwith Shakespeare. But i haven’t recommended it to any junior of mine.

    I somehow think the most fascinating character created by Shakespeare has been Iago. far more interesting than hamlet or othello.

    You obviously dont know me. Allow me – Karanjeet/f/Delhi/soon to be 22

    good luck with your literary pursuits!

  12. Karanjeet, thank you for dropping by on my blog, and for your opinion! Iago certainly is fascinating, as it happens, I do like him better tha Othello – it’s just that I like the book Othello better than the book Hamlet. 🙂 I guess the qualifier is ncessary when the lead and the book have the same name. 🙂

  13. I remember the time I read ‘A Stone for Danny Fisher’ the second and then third and then a lot more times. It leaves me with a different resolve everytime.

    Shakesperean works that I have enjoyed the most would be ‘Taming Of the Shrew’, ‘A Midsummer nights dream’ and ‘The tempest’.

    Your post on Hamlet, was actually inspiring enough to go and reach out for the book to revise it again..(my pen rests till then)

  14. incognito ~ 😀 That was a huge compliment, that you went back and brushed up. 🙂 thanks!

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