Headscratchers Hamlet Discussion

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01:07:50 PM Apr 27th 2011
edited by KorKhan
Here is a long segment I removed from the IJBM/Headscratchers page, since as far as I can tell, such criticism is not the purpose of this section. If the mods feel I was out of line in doing so, then please tell me and re-add the below text.

"* Am I the only person that feels that the character of Hamlet is a bit badly written. It always give the impression that Shakespeare is cobbling every plot point he can find into a character, which made him a bit all over the place. He's mad! He's faking! He's thirsting for revenge! He's hesitant! He loves Ophelia! He hates her! He's suicidal (the "to be" speech is so out of place)! He's a man on a mission! I don't think most copy editors today would have approved of him.
  • You are far from the only person, fortunately. I defy anyone to read this article all the way through and still believe Hamlet is a well-written character, or even a well-written play.
    • I read it. The fool a) doesn't know a thing about the court system and Denmark of the time, b) avoided proper research of the play itself, and c) obviously lacks any experience with real theater. He simply made a contrary opinion to get notice and found as many examples as he could to try to make fit THAT instead of looking at the play on its own and thinking about the characters as PEOPLE. He also ruins any credibility as a journalist he may have had by not bothering to check his quotes. There's a reason "Methinks the lady doth protest too much" is listed under Beam Me Up, Scotty!, yet he claims it's an actual line in the play.
    • *headdesk* Why do I even bother trying?
    • He also has no knowledge of Shakespearean conventions, although criticizing the movies should have been a dead giveaway of that. He has the same attitude I had towards Shakespeare in High School just because I couldn't understand Early Modern English...
    • All right, I hear a lot of general talk, but pray, let's go further: explain specifically the errors in research and/or logic in his article. Or better yet, explain how, even should those errors be real, his problems with the play are made at all illegitimate because of it. Is what we see of Claudius not in complete contrast to the drunken, lecherous oaf Hamlet sees him to be? Isn't Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech completely nonsensical coming from a character who not only was just in the excitement of launching his "mousetrap" plan, but also has actually met a traveler returned from "the undiscovered country"? Does the play not make pointless and random detours in the progression of the plot just so Hamlet can snipe wittily at one of his designated pin cushions (Polonious, R + G)? Is it not a complete Wall Banger that in the first scene the sun is about to rise when it's 1 AM? Yeah, I know that's a small point, but it's still ridiculous writing. I'm not even gonna get into the absurdity of Hamlet's age, as that's a topic all of it's own.
    • The link no longer works, so I can't read the article, but I would like to address some of your specific points here. 1) Hamlet's view of Claudius makes absolute sense and is, in fact, very well-written. Yes, Claudius is not actually anywhere near as bad as Hamlet describes him, but the fact is that Hamlet is not only pissed at Claudius, he is repulsed by what he percieves as being an incestuous interloper. It is natural for this to severely color his view of his uncle. I've seen enough of this kind of thing to know this is extremely realistic behavior. 2) Hamlet is more or less the original Anti-Hero. Yes, he's got a plan, but he's not the unwavering, determined hero who never gives up and always gets what he wants. The "To be or not to be" speech is him contemplating not just suicide, but giving up. The road before him is beginning to feel too painful, to difficult, too intimidating. And he doesn't have that Determinator will you see in most heroes; he's basically a coddled fop who's not had to deal with any real hardship until relatively recently. This also is a major reason for his seemingly inconsistent behavior: Hamlet, unlike most protagonists, is not a strong person and is constantly waffling as to his mission and purpose. Only after seeing Fortinbras going to war does he finally acquire the determination to do whatever he needs to do to get his revenge. Before that, it took him ages just to convince himself killing his uncle was even a good idea, and he winds up even blowing his best opportunity because he won't stop making excuses long enough to actually act. 3) Remember the audience. The play was meant to appeal to multiple levels; he more or less had to insert comic interludes if he wanted the play to be a commercial success, as he needs even the groundlings to pay attention throughout the entire play. Yeah, the little digressions aren't always very apropos, but he needed to keep people's attention.
    • On the other hand, the sunrise happening at 1 AM has no excuse.
  • All the reasons you've listed are actually the reasons I think Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's best written characters. The harder a character is to understand, the more fans love them. It's the reason they take to the Emotionless Girl, The Spock, and The Quiet One types so often. It feels weird watching Hamlet as the character with Hidden Depths upon Hidden Depths because such characters are usually not the protagonist.
  • Hamlet is the best proof there is for the Stratfordian argument. Hamlet is a juicy role, an actor's role. You can't not have a lot of discretion in his presentation. He's a man in conflict. You need to hit all those points, or get to choose how you hit them.
  • The "to be" speech is not out of place! Hamlet mentions that he wants to die in Act 1 scene 2.
    • But in the scene before (act 2, scene 2), Hamlet was in a state of high energy and excitement as he conjures up the plot "to catch the conscience of the king" with the play. He has just found a purpose (to avenge his father) and looks as if he is about to charge into it on full steam, which seems odd when he shows up in the next scene sniveling about wanting to commit suicide. Either Shakespeare screwed up on page numbers or Hamlet has one heck of a case of bipolar disorder.
    • Which is exactly how he's played in the David Tennant version, at least.
    • That version also shuffles things up a bit, and puts the "to be" speech quite a bit before before he conjures up the plan (they put it in the next scene Hamlet appears in after seeing the ghost), which, with the aforementioned characterization issue in mind, makes a lot more sense.
  • Also, there's a difference between "badly written" and "I don't like/understand/buy-into/etc. it". Given the near universal acclaim for the play, you're either the only sane man, or just don't see that those who love the play do so for all of the intricacies and (apparent) contradictions - the things you dislike and think are "badly written". Hey, everyone else COULD be wrong.
    • original poster here. I do not hate, dislike (insert your adjective here) Shakespeare, I just feel that he can make honest mistakes in plotting, write passages that are unclear and prone to be misunderstood. I do not consider every quirk and obscure line to be another instance of Shakespeare's genius (there is being intricate, and then there is being confusing). I do somewhat think that the play is mostly a lot of excellent speeches strung on a set of plot holes.
      • It's possible that something of the character of Hamlet or the play itself was lost since the time Shakespeare wrote it. There are a lot of plays that we don't know exactly what he was going for, like The Taming of the Shrew. So we really can't know if Shakespeare meant the entire thing to be some brilliant parody of revenge plots and court life or if he just was trying to get his next meal and didn't think some things through when he wrote it. There's also the fact that Shakespeare's plays don't always mark what emotions are being expressed or exactly how much time has passed, so that could also account for some confusion (if something's meant to be sarcastic, genuinely sad, etc).
      • Another point, Shakespeare=/=Hamlet. Hamlet is a subset of Shakespeare, where "Shakespeare" is short for "the works of William Shakespeare". You can love Shakespeare in general and still think Hamlet sucked. The troper at two asterisks never mentioned Shakespeare, except by implicit way of Hamlet.
  • I think there's a reason Shakespeare liked to crib stories. He seems to be weakest at connecting the dots of a plot - getting everything to link up, cause-and-effect-like. You see it in all his plays. So most of "Hamlet" operates more on revenge tropes than a logical succession of events. Why does Hamlet pretend to be mad? Because that's what you do in a revenge play! If he had written Hamlet today, there'd be a scene where Hamlet stood cradling a dead body yelling "NOOOOO!" (or a subversion of that trope).
  • For Hamlet, I always think that that was the play that Shakespeare wrote on a really tight schedule. He didn't have enough time to edit and refine before it was staged, produced, and performed. Then it was a huge hit, so he wasn't able to change it as much as he'd've liked.
    • Interesting theory, but Hamlet was not a huge hit in Shakespeare's day. It was as modestly successful as most of his other plays. In fact when Shakespeare died, it's more likely that he was remembered for "That Titus Andronicus play with all the blood in it" (his most successful play in his lifetime) than Hamlet."
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