Ryusenshi wrote:By the way: I finished reading Hamlet ages ago, and forgot to share my thoughts on it.
Mostly, I'm puzzled.
Yep. It's confused people ever since. Several of his plays do that - The Winter's Tale
is downright weird, and King Lear
is pretty peculiar too. I think we need to remember we're dealing not just with a genius, but a genius from another world - another time, another culture - whose work is sometimes strange in the way that genuinely alien storytelling often is. We also need to remember that we largely lack the context for his works. In the case of Hamlet, for instance, he's adapting a very old, well-known story, and a story that it's believed had already been staged in London not long before, so he's dealing with an audience who may come to the story with preconceptions different from ours. For instance, the idea of Hamlet feigning madness is in the earlier versions, so he may have felt that he could deal with the reasoning behind it in shorthand, as it were.
But regarding Hamlet in particular: yes, it's seen as a very disorderly play, and its reputation has soared and plummeted according to how different eras have reacted to disorderliness in their fiction. For some, it's badly-written and inelegant; for others, it's Gothic and sublime and terrifying.
Sure, it's very well-written and endlessly quotable (the number of lines from this play that became cliches is astonishing). Some of the soliloquies cut pretty deep. But the plot seems weird and disjointed. Like, there's a letter saying that Hamlet has been kidnapped by pirates, then he comes back as if nothing had happened.
He does this in several plays - creates this sense of randomness and confusion. Which is, of course, pretty true to life, particularly in an era in which everything outside your own line of sight existed in a Schroedingerian fog of unreality.
The ending comes out of nowhere, a far cry from the terrifying sense of logic that runs through Macbeth or even Romeo and Juliet.
Yep. Confusing or disorienting. And the idea of having so much of the key action occur off-screen, in another country! It's incredibly bold. Is that good, or bad? Well, your mileage may vary.
Hamlet pretends to be mad as part of a plot, but it's unclear what was the point: Claudius, the main target, isn't fooled, and this plot only ends up alienating all of Hamlet's allies save Horatio.
Well, who knows? Some people think that he's mad all along - either he's pretending to be pretending to be mad, or because he's mad he thinks he's only pretending. Is pretending to be mad different from being mad, if you don't always remember you're pretending? Some think, I think, that Hamlet uses madness as an excuse for inaction - he pretends he's doing it for a reason but really it's a form of escape. It's also a cloak that lets him say things he wouldn't otherwise be allowed to say - which is a big theme of a lot of writing from around this time (remember, Shakespeare is living in essentially a brutal dictatorship with a terrifying secret police and a culture of concealing your thoughts at all times; Hamlet manages to conceal his thoughts by speaking them openly). And on a practical level, Claudius may suspect that something is up, but he doesn't have him executed, so it may be that the ruse works just well enough.
Hamlet's feelings towards Ophelia are also a complete mystery. He never mentions her in all of his soliloquies; one scene he gives her the cold shoulder, and the very next he makes crude passes at her. When she dies, he hams it up as the tragic lover, only to completely forget her the next moment. It seems he has no feelings for her at all, but then what's the point of pretending to have them?
Indeed! Does he have feelings, or doesn't he? Does he know whether he does? How much of his behaviour to her is his ruse of madness, and how much a reflection of his real thoughts? If you see Hamlet as mad, this makes sense. Likewise, if you see him as someone driven by the imposed belief
in duty rather than by the actual passion for it, this makes sense. [in this version, Hamlet's constant delaying of his vengeance comes from a conflict between his knowledge that he OUGHT to be willing to throw his life away to revenge his father, and his actual lack of the passion that would drive him to do so, for which he sometimes overcompensates.]
So, overall, color me skeptical.
I think it's a very interesting play. Personally, though, I agree that it's not my favourite. I think Shakespeare probably just had an itch to scratch to make something weird and disorienting, and it's intentionally ambiguous in many ways, without all those ways necessarily being planned. But it's worth noting that it was his most popular play with contemporary audiences.
Then again, I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan. I like Macbeth even less, for instance. The Shakespeares I like best are the more rooted, historical works, where he tends to stick more closely to conventional narrative - elsewhere, he often goes for a more, as it were, impressionistic style, while I prefer tightly-planned affairs. This was, incidentally, a big part of the Jonson vs Shakespeare dispute for centuries after: the chaotic, weird Shakespeare vs the classical, skillfull Jonson. [And, of course, the blockbuster, lowest-common-denominator Shakespeare vs the intellectual, artistic Jonson. Shakespeare was, let's say, the Game of Thrones of his era, where Jonson was (it was thought for a long time) The Wire.]