I remember in High School in literature class, Mrs. McClaine teaching Sheakespear. I should say try to teach because Sheakespear is written in a foreign language called old english. The words are english but you try to understand a line like “Thrift, thrift Horatio! The funeral bak’d meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”. I, like many other students squeeked by with a C minus…I think.
Well, it was around 1990 that I saw Mel Gibson and Glen Close in a production of Hamlet that got me really interested in that little piglet. I did not understand the language but I could follow the plot from the intensity of the acting. So I bought the play and read it. No help there so I bought the Cliff Notes. That helped a little more so I watched it again then read the college Cliff Notes. All in all I watched it several times, read it several times and finally began to understand the nuances of the play.
Well, it has been well over 20 years and I wanted to see the unabridged production made in 1996 which was over 4 hours long. I have an appreciation for that play and for the plots, sub plots and quips in the play. After watching it again, I focused in on a couple of themes. Hamlet was a smart man that would have been a good leader as his father was. This point was made by Fortinbras at the end of the play. However, Hamlet became obsesed with revenge. Once the ghost of his father told Hamlet that he was murdered by Hamlets uncle, Claudius, and then married Hamlets mother, Hamlet became obsessed with his own idea of justice which was nothing more than revenge. Hamlet himself even fought the idea that the ghost may not have been the ghost of his father but the devil himself sent to distract Hamlet. Confusing isn’t it? But Hamlets thirst for revenge so obsessed him that he sacrificed the woman he loved, the fair Ophelia and his two school friends Guildenstern and Rosencranz (who I think got what they deserved).
The lesson is that revenge becomes an all encompassing cancerous obsession that occupies the mind and saps all of your energy as you sacrifice those that you love and eventually, yourself as well. It isn’t until the end that Hamlet realizes that as he dies from the poisonous bite from the sword of Laertes. We see revenge has also engulfed Laertes as well because he wanted revenge for the death of his father and sister, Polonius and Ophelia (who was driven mad as she saw the man she loved apparently go insane and kill her father, so she committed suicide in her madness).
I also noticed the theme of greed and jealousy. Claudius is the younger brother of the slain King Hamlet. While the King was a leader, his younger brother was a politician who knew how to use eloquent words to persuade people to do things they ought not do. He was so jealous of his brothers power and his wife Queen Gertrude that he murdered his brother the King and married his sister in law so he would become the new leader. His greed and jealousy caused him to fail as a leader and focus only on getting away with his subterfuge, even to finally setting a trap to kill his nephew, Prince Hamlet.
Evil cascades into more evil. The more you get away with, the more you continue to do to cover up what you have done. Think of the energy expelled in maintaining the cover up instead of watching over the country. It can be argued that Fortinbras may not have been able to conquer Denmark had a real leader occupied the thrown, but everyone was focused on Prince Hamlet, Claudius and Queen Gertrude.
Lastly, the idea that death is the great equalizer. How Hamlet observes that the worm cares not weather it dines on the corpse of a lawyer or land owner, king or peasant. We all, at some time die and become dust again. Prince Hamlet wonders if the dust used to make the clay to plug up the bunghole of beer barrels might have been the dust of the great Alexander or Caesar.
We were all born and as such, we will all die. Nobody escapes death. Once dead, you will only be remembered for what you have done and who you have helped. Prince Hamlet remembered fondly the court jester Yorick. The entertainer was not a leader of men or a politician nor a lawyer. Yet Hamlet remembered him with great fondness.
Treat people well and fairly. Do not cheat them or use them but put a smile on their face.
All in all, great lessons for life if you can get past the language. Mrs. McClaine might be proud that I finally read the play or maybe disappointed it took so long to do so. What? Othello? No! One Sheakespearean play is enough, thank you.
Oh, that verse “Thrift, thrift Horatio! The funeral bak’d meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables”, I think it means that Prince Hamlet is mad that his father has just died and his mother is already marrying his uncle. There was no mourning period. Literally saying that the leftovers from his fathers funeral is being used at his mothers wedding. Hey, I think I get it.