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