Hamlet is one of the greatest plays ever written. It’s not easy to explain why it is such a great play. Many people think that the plot is so flawed that it is amazing it works at all. It seems to trundle along then comes to a climax very quickly. Given that it is a lot longer than most other tragedies audiences may wonder when it will end.
Yet Hamlet transcends these problems. Because at the centre of Hamlet stands one of the most mysterious and fascinating characters in all of literature is Hamlet himself. Hamlet, the son of a murdered King, the son of an unfaithful mother, the cruel lover of Ophelia, the murderer of Polonius and the melancholic, self-doubting, conspiring agent of vengeance against Claudius – just exactly who is Hamlet?
Millions of words have been spent by literary critics explaining Hamlet’s character and a few hundred word blog will not resolve the mysteries surrounding him. It is probably this fact, the contradiction of Hamlet’s personality, that fascinates people. His flaws and his strengths reflect so many of our own. He is as difficult and inconsistent as we all are. Faced with the task of vengeance, many of us would baulk at its demands. We would doubt ourselves, question the task and rationalise excuses: Hamlet does all this. He is a masterwork of psychological insight.
But he does it more so. Or Shakespeare does. Or, if you agree with the Shakespearean critic Harold Bloom, Hamlet does it. Hamlet not only questions the task he is given; he questions everything; he questions life itself. His deep mind and over-wrought feelings lead him into a series of psychological states where he wrestles with the meaninglessness of life.
In our braver moments we may face-up to and try to deal with some of the questions Hamlet raises. Will we be as articulate as Hamlet? Hamlet speaks those vague ideas and feelings that we often do not have the time or the inclination to explore – those feelings, ideas and limitations that make us truly human…possibly.