As I said in regard to the placement of Romeo and Juliet on the Amazon/Goodreads Lifetime Must-Read List (see thoughts here), I don’t believe Hamlet by William Shakespeare should be included. While the story is spectacular, the original intention was of a performance, not a reading experience.
The most profound central theme is the dynamic of coveting and justifying. After learning of his father’s death at the hands of his uncle, Hamlet spends the duration of the play plotting to avenge his father’s death. He decides that such a murder is vengeance, and thus justifiable. Meanwhile, Claudius capitalizes on his nephew’s seeming insanity and relishes his powers as king to send Hamlet away, lest Hamlet reveal the greed that led to Claudius taking the crown from his brother.
Both Claudius and Hamlet alike wanted something they couldn’t have, the crown and justice respectively. I think this dynamic of coveting and justifying is interesting, especially in today’s society and in America’s political realm. While one party slanders the other to make themselves look better, they simultaneously make themselves look worse. It’s like the adage says, “What you say about me says a lot more about you,” or whichever iteration you’ve heard. Hamlet believes (however sanely) that he has seen his father’s ghost and has thus learned the truth of Claudius’s fratricide, treason, and betrayal of the crown of Denmark. Hamlet may have learned the truth, but there’s no way he can reveal it without sounding mad. Similarly, in modern society, when one is aware of something but lacks concrete, tangible evidence, they’re trapped in a state of being unable to prove their point and make strides toward their goal without sounding unfairly accusatory.
Although the audience isn’t given much time to examine Claudius’s reasons for wanting the crown at the cost of his brother’s life, it is interesting to see how (seemingly) well he runs the country in light of the dastardly deeds he committed to sit on the throne.
All of that said, I feel as though the characters in Hamlet are far too complex to fully understand as Shakespeare intended by simply reading the work. Hamlet deserves to be observed as a play rather than read as a book. I feel there are aspects of Hamlet, Claudius, Ophelia (Hamlet’s love interest), and Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother/Queen of Denmark) that simply cannot be understood without the performance of well-trained actors. For this reason (and the technicality that Hamlet is a script, not a novel), I do not believe Hamlet by William Shakespeare belongs on this “100 Must-Read Books in a Lifetime” list. Furthermore, I am unsure if I would say Hamlet warrants the status of a must-read play, either, because although it is composed with excellence, I feel like many of the key aspects are lost to those who are not Tudorphiles or Elizabethan England nerds (like myself) or thespians (also me). Actually, as a Tudorphile and thespian, I am still relatively “meh” about the work as far as my personal enjoyment and entertainment of it are concerned.
Dear Readers, what do you think? Feel free to comment your thoughts below!