Thursday, August 16, 2007

Great Books and What They Have To Teach Us – Hamlet – Part 1

The following post is much briefer than I had originally intended, the reason being that I love the play so much that I want to take extra care in writing about it

Every semester that I taught a senior English class, I made certain to leave one book to the end, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It wasn’t that I dreaded teaching the play – quite the opposite. But my enthusiasm for the work meant that if I taught it at any other point, I would spend far too long on it. It is that rich a tragedy.

Very briefly, the plot of Hamlet revolves around the assertion by a ghost that he is the spirit of the late King Hamlet. He reveals to King Hamlet’s son, Prince Hamlet, that he was murdered by Claudius, the King’s brother, the man who has now claimed the throne and married the late Hamlet’s widow, Gertrude. Additionally, the ghost suggests that Claudius and Gertrude were carrying on a relationship while the king was still alive. His purpose in appearing to Prince Hamlet? He asks the lad to avenge his murder. The rest of the play revolves around the prince determining if the spirit’s story is true, and the impact on him of discovering the truth.

While the plot sounds simple, it is considered by many to be Shakespeare’s most complex play, and that complexity is found in both its themes and its imagery. But what has any of this got to do with today’s readers and audiences? Well, just like Macbeth, it has much to teach us, both as individuals and as a society. In my next post I'll begin to talk about its value.

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