Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Shakespeare's Hamlet


Hamlet without any shadow of doubt is considered as one of the renowned works of modern European culture, probably thought and written about more than any other play. In a comprehensive sense it is by now William Shakespeare's text plus its world-wide reverberations through centuries of theatrical interpretation, critical analysis, and reshaping by other creative authors, a vast body of ``commentary'' ranging from pious exegesis to malicious mockery. Hamlet's intensity and complexity evoke seemingly infinite responses which say as much about their authors and periods as about the play. Thesis statement

The characters in Hamlet represent different characteristics in a society, which clash against each other, leading to the society's downfall.

Discussion and Analysis

The story derives from a 12th-century Danish history by Saxo Grammaticus. Some English playwright probably Thomas Kyd used the Belleforest story for a play which is now lost. The critics call it the ur-Hamlet and assume that this was Shakespeare's immediate source. The references related to it began in 1589, and the promptbook may have belonged to Shakespeare's company. All people know for certain is that it introduced the ghost. However, Kyd's very successful The Spanish Tragedy (1589), another early revenge play, is extant. It has a revenger, Hieronimo, who doubts and delays, and a woman who goes mad and commits suicide; furthermore it has some comic elements, a mixture of prose and verse, and a play-within-the-play. Presumably the lost ur-Hamlet shared such popular features (Bevington, 1623).

The very text of Hamlet presents grave problems. There exist three early, fault-riddled prints differing in hundreds of details apart from major divergences: the First, ``bad'' Quarto (Q1) of 1603, a pirated version based on memorial reconstruction; the Second or ``good'' Quarto (Q2) of 1604/05, based on Shakespeare's rough copy and the collected First Folio's (F) edition's Hamlet text of 1623, based on something like a promptbook transcript. The three texts are not quite discreet, Q1 was to some extent consulted for Q2 and Q2 for F. Q1, mutilated and garbled, contains about half the lines of Q2; Q2 is the longest text, containing about 230 lines not present in F (among them Hamlet's soliloquy in IV.4. For long, editors used F as copy text, variously emended from Q2; John Dover Wilson's edition of 1934 inaugurated an inversion of this procedure; the mid-1980 saw an Oxford-led return to privileging F as (possibly) embodying Shakespeare's revisions (McCormick, 47). However, even the F version is far too long for normal Elizabethan (or modern) performance; Shakespeare may have envisaged variable, but substantial cuts in the theatre. From its beginnings in the earlier 18th century, criticism has concentrated on the hero, Hamlet. This is not surprising, since he speaks nearly half the lines and the story is shown mainly from his point of view. Moreover, people can share Hamlet's innermost thoughts, in the first four acts through his soliloquies, in act V through the intimate talks with Horatio which replace them. The explanations of the delay include his being too tender for such a rough task ...
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