Hamlet: A Guide to the Play

Hamlet: A Guide to the Play

Hamlet: A Guide to the Play

Hamlet: A Guide to the Play

Synopsis

Often regarded as Shakespeare's most complex and difficult play, Hamlet is also one of his most popular. It has been performed countless times on the stage and has been produced in many film and television versions. It continues to be studied by high school students and scholars alike and has elicited enormous amounts of criticism. This reference book is a succinct but comprehensive guide to the play. The volume overviews the textual history of the play and the historical and cultural contexts in which it emerged. Special attention is given to the religious, philosophical, and psychological aspects of the text. The book also examines the themes, language, and imagery of Hamlet and provides an extensive summary of the critical response to the drama. Throughout, an attempt is made to visualize the play in performance, and constant reference is made to the staging conventions in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Excerpt

Hamlet is always with us. Even those who have never read the complete play or seen a performance know a few lines of "To be or not to be" and recognize the image of a young man contemplating the skull of his dead friend Yorick. Hamlet thus exists in three dimensions: as text, performance, and cultural icon. In the chapters that follow, these three different Hamlets will be distinguished but also considered together. If the elements of this play have become clichés, that is because the play as a whole continues to fascinate us all, defining some essential aspect of our own experience. The relation between the play itself and the popular conception of its hero is like the relation between tragedy and myth in the ancient Greek experience: the Greek audience would enter the theatre to seeSophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos for the first time already knowing the myth, or plot, of the play. We do the same too. Freud has made the experience of Oedipus so familiar to us that we know him before we see his play. And, of course, during the hundred years of the psychoanalytic movement, Hamlet has been compared with Oedipus: the young man seeks vengeance for his father's murder but somehow feels conflicted, as if he himself were complicitous in that murder rather than purely and simply his father's avenger.

RecentlyDisney produced The Lion King, an animated feature that traces the adventures of a lion cub's coming to maturity and taking his place at the head of his pride, as his father had done before him. The authors of this screenplay knew Hamlet well. They provide an evil uncle, who convinces the young hero that he is responsible for his father's death; this sends him into a deep depression, and he wastes away his adolescence with companions who have no purpose in life other than pleasure. Finally, under the influence of a wise, old prophet, the hero returns to the pride, takes vengeance on his uncle -- who has been revealed as his father's actual murderer and is now ruling in his place -- and assumes his rightful role as Lion King. One would not . . .

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