Today we embark on our study of what is (arguably) Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. This will probably be the longest post of the semester, but for good reason. We’ll start by getting to know the characters, then discuss just what makes Shakespeare and his great tragedy so very relevant over 400 years after his death.
To start, please use your handy cue card to complete the Dramatis Bookmarkis (or, to commoners,) the Dramatis Personae, found below:
By William Shakespeare (c. 1591)
Setting: Elsinore Castle, Denmark
Hamlet — Prince of Denmark
Gertrude — Hamlet’s Mother, queen
Claudius — Hamlet’s Uncle, king of Denmark
Horatio — Hamlet’s trusted friend
The Ghost — Hamlet’s Father, dead king
Polonius — King’s counselor
Laertes — Polonius’ son
Ophelia — Polonius’ daughter
Fortinbras — Prince of Norway
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern — Hamlet’s childhood friends
Marcellus — Officers on watch
Reynaldo — Servant of Polonius
Francisco, Cornelius — Ambassadors to Norway
Players — A group of travelling actors
First & Second Clowns — Gravediggers
Osric, Lords, Gentlemen — Courtiers at Elsinore
Next, please watch this video, kindly provided by Mr. Pedrech.
Hamlet is the only play that has inspired its own cult, and there’s even a name for it: Hamletology, the study of all things Hamlet. Hamletologists can readily cite every record-breaking statistic about the play. Here is a brief encounter with some of their findings about Hamlet:
- It has been performed more than any other play in the world, and more has been written about it than any other literary work.
- It’s been translated more than any other play and has inspired more spoofs, spin-offs, offshoots, sendups, burlesques, and adaptations than any other work of literature. There is even a Popeye version of the play.
- There are more than 46 movie versions of the play, ranging from Italian to Indian to French. Here’s the trailer for the newest, Bollywood style:
- The line “to be or not to be” is the most quoted phrase in the English language.
- The actors that have portrayed Hamlet are as varied as can be: hippies, dwarfs, fat men, tiny men, women (one with a wooden leg) and twins. It`s been performed by the five-year-old prodigy hailed as `Master Betty, the Infant Phenomenon of the Regency Period and by the octogenarian Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson.
- It has inspired twenty-six ballets, six operas, and dozens of musical works.
- Hamlet is the longest play Shakespeare wrote. The uncut version, rarely performed in its entirety, takes four and a half to five hours to perform.
- The play’s first performance outside England occurred in 1607, when a group of sailors enacted it off the Cape of Good Hope. The performance was entered in the ship’s log as “this popular play now running in England.”
- From “Hamletology” by Norrie Epstein
With a partner (and then in your own notes), discuss different life situations that may be traumatic, using the information gathered from the poll and your own ideas and experiences. In your discussion, describe some of the characteristics of people who are grieving. Try to give reasons for their attitudes or actions.