This mini-essay is a unique for plinyblog, in that it is a comment, regarding a great play, perhaps the greatest play written in the English canon, by the, inarguably, greatest playwright of the language, if not in history. More specifically, it is a criticism of the reviews, read and lectures heard, by us on William Shakespeare’s masterpiece, “Hamlet.”
We, are not, self-identified, experts on the subject, by any measure, and are, merely, lifelong lovers of great literature. Nevertheless, after much reservation and thought, we have decided to brave, the predictable criticism of, presumption and of reductive analysis, in this voicing of our long held, and possibly radical, opinion, of Shakespeare’s true, intended message, expressed in his greatest work of theater art, Hamlet.
As the reader may recall,in theplay, stated here, in precis form, a ghost claiming to be the ghost of his slain father, the King of Denmark, appears to the protagonist, Hamlet, with the demand that he exact revenge against the King’s brother, Claudius, his murderer and the usurper of his throne (and wife). Hamlet’s persona, portrayed as a thinker, more than a man of action, agonizes and perseverates, concerning this painful assignment throughout the play, and actually does postpone some opportunities to carry it out for personally, perceived reasons, as related.
Aside from the dynamics, and the action (and inaction) of the play, it may be agreed, by readers, that the most popularly known scene in the heavy dramatic work, is the quiet, “graveyard scene.” In this funeral scene, contrasted with the emotional atmosphere of the major portion of the play, Hamlet is physically handed the of the skull of a familiar, deceased, jester, “Yorick,” his beloved childhood playmate. Hamlet expresses intense grief at his past recollections of the deceased as a living, entertaining, and unforgettable personality.
We, humbly, and with great deference, to the recognized experts on Shakespeare, differ, regarding the many communicated analyses of Hamlet, expressed, at lectures on, and in the literature read by us, as to the play’s primary message.
The commonly recognized, intellectual analysis of Hamlet, deals with, the stark contrast between men of action, and the agony and internal conflict of those who simply and neurotically, perseverate. There exist psychological theories, aplenty, disputes between Freudians, neo- Freudians, and many literati, on the subject of Hamlet and of the various ascribed theories of neurosis, and of human persona and the like, which we have noted to our personal dismay, and to our, now confessed, sardonic reactions.
We bravely and candidly state, that our reading of Hamlet, leads us in an entirely different direction, and articulares a discerned, disparate message of the play. We see intentional purpose and especial significance in Shakespeare’s graveyard scene, above all others in the play. It will be noted such scene is independent and entirely unrelated to the play’s portrayal of action or inaction.
We are thoroughly convinced that the celebrated, “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well, Horatio” scene, is not a Shakespearean respite, from the play’s tragic drama, in the same way, that the Bard often inserts light scenes for comic relief, in his tragic canon. To us, it is, by far, the most articulate and meaningful moment in the play. Yorick, the late, beloved, talented and amusing jester, is, now, but a specter of the past, and the scene, an instructive reminder, to Hamlet (and humanity), that life is ephemeral and death certain, and accordingly, the quest for revenge is misguided and meaningless waste.
Stated, more precisely, Shakespeare’s, properly intended message to mankind, was, that man’s desire for revenge, is existentially, futile, relative to man’s, inevitable, mortality.
We, would confidently urge the above nuanced insight, on any reader of Shakespeare, and sincerely welcome the receipt of any opposed perceptions.