Friday, 25 January 2013



Imagine you are a young university student ... Imagine you love Philosophy and Poetry ... You've got friends as well as  a beautiful girl you start fancying about...But your happy ordinary world is suddenly turned upside down by the news of your father's death. You grieve and mourn but you can cope with it...What you really can't stand is ... your mother's behaviour...After just few weeks,  she gets married again, with your uncle, your father's brother...You find it unbearable but nobody else seems to notice that unacceptable exhibition of joy and love. Then something even worse happens: your father's ghost comes back from hell, reveals you the tragic truth of his death and orders you to avenge him! Your uncle Claudius has murdered him and now he is your mother's new husband!

What would you do? Would you respect your father's will? 

This is what happens in the first act of Shakespeare's "Hamlet", one of  the most popular tragedies of all times.
Written during the first part of the seventeenth century (probably in 1600 or 1601), Hamlet was probably first performed in July 1602. It was first published in printed form in 1603 and appeared in an enlarged edition in 1604. As was common practice during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Shakespeare borrowed for his plays ideas and stories from earlier literary works. He could have taken the story of Hamlet from several possible sources, including a twelfth-century Latin history of Denmark compiled by Saxo Grammaticus and a prose work by the French writer François de Belleforest, entitled Histoires Tragiques.
The raw material that Shakespeare appropriated in writing Hamlet is the story of a Danish prince whose uncle murders the prince’s father, marries his mother, and claims the throne. The prince pretends to be feeble-minded to throw his uncle off guard, then manages to kill his uncle in revenge. Shakespeare changed the emphasis of this story entirely, making his Hamlet a philosophically-minded prince who delays taking action because his knowledge of his uncle’s crime is so uncertain. Shakespeare went far beyond making uncertainty a personal quirk of Hamlet’s, introducing a number of important ambiguities into the play that even the audience cannot resolve with certainty. For instance, whether Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, shares in Claudius’s guilt; whether Hamlet continues to love Ophelia even as he spurns her, in Act III; whether Ophelia’s death is suicide or accident; whether the ghost offers reliable knowledge, or seeks to deceive and tempt Hamlet; and, perhaps most importantly, whether Hamlet would be morally justified in taking revenge on his uncle. Shakespeare makes it clear that the stakes riding on some of these questions are enormous—the actions of these characters bring disaster upon an entire kingdom. At the play’s end it is not even clear whether justice has been achieved.

  • F. Zeffirelli HAMLET (1990)  starring Mel Gibson (Hamlet), Glen Close (Gertrude), Alan Bates (Claudius), Helena Bonham Carter (Ophelia)
  • K. Branagh  HAMLET (1996) starring Julie Christie (Gertrude), Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Kate Winslet (Ophelia)
  • M. Almereyda, HAMLET 2000 (2000) with Ethan Hawke as Hamlet
  • RSC /BBC , HAMLET, 2010 with David Tennant as Hamlet
    Time Links

    Link 1. The American novelist John Updike based his novel "Gertrude and Claudius" (2000) on the tragedy of Hamlet, shifting the focus on to the prince's parents and uncle. 

    Read an excerpt 
    (Gertrude explains to Claudius Hamlet's behaviour towards her after  his father's death)
    "Do you really", he went on, in a tyrannical accusatory vein that reminded her sadly of his predecessor on the throne, "think he is in Wittenberg?
    We have no idea if he is or not. Wittenberg is just his word for "elsewhere" - elsewhere than Elsinore!
    Gertrude blurted, "It is not you he's avoiding. It's me".
    "You. His own mother? Why?"
    "He hates me, for wishing his father dead".
    The king blinked, "Did you?"
    His voice was thickening; the habit of tears had been re-established in her eyes these two weeks, and now she felt them warmly gathering once more. "My grief wasn't enough to suit him. I didn't want to die myself - to throw myself on his father's pyre, so to speak, though of course they don't have pyres any more, that was barbaric, these drugged slave girls ... And I couldn't stop myself from thinking that now there was no chance of Hamlet's, my husband Hamlet's, finding out about us. I dreaded that, though I pretended not to, I didn't want to worry you. I was relieved. I hate myself, admitting it. Even dead, Hamlet has a way of making me feel guilty, for being less and public-spirited than he was."

    Link 2. The English dramatist Tom Stoppard  wrote the comedy "Rosencratz and Guildestern are dead " (1966)  in which two peripheral characters, Hamlet's unfaithful friends, are placed at the centre with Hamlet as a minor character. They are predestined victims of the play; their existence finds its justification in what happens around them, over which they have no control.

    You cand find lots of other interesting materials about Shakespeare's HAMLET HERE

    Now watch act III, scene i, Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be" in different adaptations

    1. Mel Gibson, Hamlet (Zeffirelli, 1990)

    2. Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet, 1996

    3. David Tennant, Hamlet, RSC 2010

    What is your favourite version? 
    Who's the best Hamlet in your opinion?

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