Alex's Reviews > Hamlet

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
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Sep 02, 13

bookshelves: metafiction, books-about-hamlet, reading-through-history, 2013, top-100
Read on August 30, 2013

Shakespeare! The man himself! The best writer ever, or else that dude you had to read in high school and he didn't make any sense.

Did you know he didn't make any sense at the time either? I mean, he made more sense, but people didn't say shit like "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" in conversation back then any more than they do now. So when a new Shakespeare play came out, back then, you can assume that a significant number of people were like oh, man...that dude. I like the cunt jokes, but what a pain in the ass.

I like Shakespeare, myself. He's my desert island guy. You can read Shakespeare forever.

This is my third time through Hamlet, widely considered Shakespeare's best play, his longest, I'd say his weirdest. But it's fun, how much happens here. You can't swing a stick in here without hitting a great moment, right? "To be or not to be," says Hamlet. It's fun to get to these towering moments.

There's all this blather about how complicated and modern Hamlet is, and there's such a fuss made over it that I think there's a tendency - at least among people who are me - to be like what's the big deal? It's basically your formula tragedy, except the obstacles between the initial crime and the final bloodbath are that the protagonist talks too much, instead of whatever else the obstacles might be.

But it's true that Hamlet is an indelible character. He's terrific, in his wishy-washiness, and in his sleuthing, and his bizarre faux / not-faux craziness, and his wonderful speechifying, the slim black-clad Goth prince with skull in hand. He's quite an image.

And Shakespeare subverts the tragedy left and right. This is the meta tragedy! The tragedy to end all tragedies! You know what I love about Hamlet? I love the ending. Spoilers, in case you don't know how Hamlet ends - it's a tragedy, dude - the whole play is full of plays, of course. The Mousetrap, most obviously. But the tragic ending is also a play: a fencing match, on the surface, completely harmless. Nothing is as it seems anywhere, here, so when the final act happens with a poisoned foil here and the poison chalice there and everyone starts more or less accidentally stabbing and quaffing...oh, it's all just an awful lot of fun. And Hamlet has, in fact, failed to take action; it's his actual final breath (and his third killing) before he manages to do anything on purpose, by which time one has to question how much credit for proactivity you can honestly give him.

What I'm trying to say is that it's boring to call Hamlet so great, and it's easy to see the whole thing as fairly wanky, but it's actually - it's actually pretty great, man.

Best film adaptation: surprisingly, Mel Gibson's. Branagh's was way too long (yeah, I know, but still) and had Robin Williams in it; Ethan Hawke's is pretty good for a college term paper.
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Reading Progress

08/30/2013 marked as: currently-reading
08/30/2013 page 99
34.0% "Youth to itself rebels"
08/30/2013 page 121
41.0% "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain."
08/30/2013 page 129
44.0% "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
08/30/2013 page 163
56.0% "What do you read, my lord? Words, words, words."
08/30/2013 page 173
59.0% "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." 1 comment
08/30/2013 page 309
67.0% "When sorrows come, they come not single spies But in battalions."
08/30/2013 page 373
81.0% "Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew, and dog will have his day."
08/30/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Jason Most of my friends agree with you, but i just really liked Branagh's manic take on Hamlet himself. (But also, really, I just love Branagh).

You're right about Robin Williams, though.


Kristen What?! Were you just basing best film adapation on length? Because Branagh's Hamlet should totally win based on the soliloquies alone.


Lise Petrauskas Robin Williams was a tragedy.


Lise Petrauskas Brannagh's Hamlet wins my vote, but Mel's is very good, too. At least there are some good adaptations out there. So far, I've yet to see anything done with Lear that satisfies.


message 5: by Alex (last edited Aug 31, 2013 10:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex What, not Olivier's? I love Olivier's Lear! You probably know the legend that he was so old he kept falling asleep during takes, but whatever he's doing there, it totally works for me.

McKellen did it on stage a few years back, so I assume that was fucking balls, but it wasn't released on video last I checked.


Lise Petrauskas Hmmm...I'm pretty sure I haven't seem Olivier's! Major user error.


Lise Petrauskas And by fucking balls , you mean good, right? Or—


Alex Yes, good. Why does no one ever understand what I mean by balls? Just because I completely made up that usage. Weird.


message 9: by Ldygray (new)

Ldygray There's also an adaptation starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, directed by Gregory Doran. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1449175/ It's three hours long, but Stewart is fucking balls and watching Tennant descend into madness is creepy-as-hell.


message 10: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Oh hey, cool. I hadn't heard of that. And how've you been, Gray? I've been missing you, 'cause literary trivia is coming up here in Brooklyn and I don't have my team. Wanna come visit on Wednesday Sep. 18?


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