Saturday, January 29, 2011

book review: Hamlet by Shakespeare

Hamlet (Modern Library Classics)The backstory: One of my 2011 reading goals is to read one Shakespeare play each month. I chose Hamlet to start. As Hamlet himself says, "let me not burst in ignorance."

The basics: Hamlet's father, the King of Denmark, dies and his mother immediately remarries his father's brother.

My thoughts: Going in, I thought I was generally familiar with the story of Hamlet and could answer basic trivia questions about its characters. I was amazed at how little of the spirit of the play I knew. I was immediately intrigued by the pace and complexity of the dialogue. It's been quite some time since I've read a play, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. It was easy to lose myself in the dialogue without glancing at the characters name, and despite never having seen a stage production of Hamlet, I found myself picturing one in my head.

The play itself was a relatively quick read, but I was glad to have an annotated edition to dig a little deeper into the text, both before and after reading it. (a note on edition: after perusing the library, I selected the The Modern Library's edition, which is annotated by The Royal Shakespeare Company. Their introduction, background information, annotations and descriptions of characters helped me jump right into the text, and it's an edition I highly recommend.) In this edition, following the text was a scene-by-scene analysis. There were a few scenes I wish I had read the analysis after the scene, and it's a trick I may use with future plays. There was also a history of performance of Hamlet, both at the Royal Shakespeare Company and beyond. I hope to see a film version of Hamlet soon.

Favorite passage: "Give every man thine ear, but few they voice: Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. This above all: to thine own self be true."

The verdict: I'm so glad I finally took the time to read the classic play. Although quotes and characters were familiar to me, you simply can't know a play without experiencing it in its entirety, either on the page, in person or on a screen.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 238 pages (including other material)
Publication date: August 12, 2008 (this edition); the play is dated to 1599-1601
Source: my local public library

What film version would you recommend? The 2009 BBC version with David Tenant, the 2000 version with Ethan Hawke or the 1996 Kenneth Branagh version? (Please not the Mel Gibson one unless it really is the best!)

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  1. I always struggled with Shakespeare, but my son loves his work. He even has his girlfriend reading Shakespeare's plays.

  2. Oh man this play brings back some memories for me. I took a Shakespeare class while I studied in London for a semester and we got to go see most of the plays as well that we read. It really helped bring them alive and I have to say Hamlet was one of my faves - so much drama!

  3. Hamlet is one of my favorites!!! I always have a hard time choosing between it and Othello. I read it in high school, though, so it's well overdue for a re-read. My stepdaughter is reading Romeo and Juliet in school right now, so I'm curious how she'll like it once she's all done.

  4. I have watched numerous movie versions and read a few retakes on this play, but have never actually read the play itself. It does sound like something I would really like though. If you are interested in taking it a little further, I would highly recommend The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet by Merlyn Hermes to you. it was an incredible book!


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!