Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

Hamlet by William Shakespeare 

What a piece of work is man ~ Hamlet

Hamlet, apart from Romeo and Juliet, is probably William Shakespeare’s best known play.  It is a tragedy, written very late 16thor very early 17thcentury, taking place in Denmark. It is also one of Shakespeare’s longest plays.

You probably know, that Shakespeare wrote: comedies and tragedies. Now comedies are not precisely what we may think of as comedies today – but goodness is Hamlet a tragedy.

There is almost nothing to feel good about at the end of this. The innocent die, the guilty die, the virtuous driven mad die, the sort of middlin die.

But it is, powerful. It is the story of the villainous king of Denmark – Hamlet’s uncle – who murders his brother, usurps the throne, and marries his brother’s wife.

Fortunately, the victim king, Hamlet’s father, returns in spirit form to charge Hamlet with vengeance. Hamlet of course complies, but well, it is pretty tragic.

          Hamlet – Now mother, what’s the matter
          Queen – Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
          Hamlet – Mother, you have my father much offended.
          Queen – Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
          Hamlet – Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.

I’ve seen Hamlet, as Shakespeare is intended, portrayed as a play, so I was not in suspense as to the outcome, but still I was captivated from the beginning. It is not surprising this is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Excerpts and Shakespearean phrases now part of English vernacular

Frailty, thy name is woman ~ Hamlet to his mother

I shall not look upon his like again ~ Hamlet regarding his father

Angels and ministers of grace defend us ~ Hamlet

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. ~ Marcellus

There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy ~ Hamlet

Though this be madness, yet there be method in’t ~ Polonius

What a piece of work is man ~ Hamlet

…the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape ~ Hamlet

…the play’s the thing – Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king ~ Hamlet

To be, or not to be, – that is the question ~ Hamlet

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind ~ Ophelia

The lady protests too much, methinks. ~ The queen, Hamlet’s mother

The cat will mew, and dog will have his day ~ Hamlet



  1. I would say "Unfortunately, the victim king returns as a ghost." Because Hamlet was melancholy and broody before the Ghost arrives, suspicious of his uncle, angry about his mom's remarriage... but not vengeance-driven. Every bloody deed for the rest of the play results from Hamlet believing the Ghost.

  2. It's certainly one of his memorable plays & possibly has some of the best phrases. I'm listening to Richard III with my 13 yr old but we'd read Josephine Tey's 'The Daughter of Time' beforehand & the contrast between the two different portrayals of Richard makes it hard to enjoy Shakespeare's version.

    1. I can definitely see that. Shakespeare is best watched on the stage vs read, or even audio.

  3. It is a supreme work—I think it is one of the classic classics—definitely one that has withstood the test of time and can still make us think. I’ve seen many stage productions, and I think most of the film versions. The Kenneth Branagh is magnificent, but it took me five nights to watch it. It was so intense and long that I couldn’t handle more than an act per night.

    1. I'll take that as a recommendation (Branagh rendition). Thanks Jane.

  4. If you want recommendations of various performed versions of Hamlet, I've devoted this whole page to that very thing.


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