Worst Literary Characters to Sit Beside at Dinner

As autumn arrives and winter sneaks ever closer, the seasonal changes seem to bring lots of opportunity for family meals and friendly get-togethers. It’s a time for Thanksgiving and making lots of things with apples and inviting people over to eat them. The idea of big holiday gatherings got me thinking about which characters from literature would be the worst to sit with at a formal dinner, and why. I came up with a few examples, where if I was seated next to them, I’d certainly be thinking of excuses to move.

Mr. Collins

Ever wondered if Lady Catherine de Bourgh enjoys poached salmon or glazed carrots? Well, you’d be bound to find out, willingly or not. Mr. Collins would delight in regaling his supper captives companions with all the details of meal preferences at Rosings. Of course, the dishes in that beautiful house are also much finer, as he’d describe in detail, adding that Lizzie Bennett could have been basking in the generous favour of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, being served meals on her porcelain supper dishes almost every week! What regret she must feel.
(On the opposite of this list, Lizzie Bennett is definitely on the list of people I’d like to sit beside at an imaginary dinner of literary characters).

Hamlet

David Tennant is the only way Hamlet is slightly bearable

You knew he’d be on this list, didn’t you? My dislike of Hamlet as a character is pretty well documented on my blog. No doubt he’d sigh and push his food around his plate without really eating it, probably splashing you with soup and not even noticing. Even that would be better than if he launched into a mournful soliloquy about how he’s the only one who’s ever had an emotional crisis – he’d stare at you so intensely that you wouldn’t be able to keep eating until he finally concluded his speech. Just sitting there, waiting, with your soup hovering in the air. And it would probably be even worse if Ophelia was present – his remarks to her would doubtlessly be uncomfortable for the whole table.

The one bright side, you could possibly fashion your napkin into a little ghost and see how he reacts.

Miss Trunchbull

Pity the poor person stuck sitting beside Miss Truchbull at a dinner party, particularly if cake is served at dessert. She’s also described as a “gigantic holy terror” and is known to be cruel, so I’m sure she would bash her elbows into your sides quite vigorously, probably waiting until an opportune moment when your knife is poised over your plate.

However, she’s also very superstitious and frightened of ghosts – perhaps banishing her and Hamlet to the ‘awful dinner guest’ version of the kids’ table could be interesting!

Hercule Poirot

Look, Hercule Poirot is a nice man, overall. He’d have some fascinating stories to regale the group with at supper, and I think anyone sitting near him would automatically feel safer. “No chance of me accidentally ingesting poison or ground glass,” you might think, blithely scooping stew into your spoon. “Monsieur Poirot would certainly notice, save my life, and solve the crime before cake.” But his obsession with symmetry and his, frankly, kind of judging attitude, could spark a lot of self-consciousness while you’re trying to slice a tough bit of beef or spear a carrot with your fork or spoon a little sugar in your coffee.

Mrs. Danvers

She might actually be a great dinner companion if you’re on a diet, because I can’t imagine having any appetite with the sinister, gloomy presence of Mrs. Danvers looming over my shoulder. I also can’t imagine her remaining in her seat for the duration of the meal. “Does anyone need more coffee?” she’d intone ominously, already rising to her feet. “I’ll just fetch some more. My dear Rebecca always had a cup after the dessert course. She was like coffee itself, in a way. Vital and irresistible.” Her cold breath would skim the back of your neck. “Oh, look at that. There’s none left for you.”

Miss Havisham

Poor Miss Havisham. And poor you, if she was hosting the dinner! After being jilted, she stopped her clocks at the precise time she received the letter from her ex-fiancé, and left all the wedding food and the cake out on the table. Sounds appetizing…for maggots. Ugh!

And if someone else hosted this theoretical dinner, I still wouldn’t much fancy sitting next to Miss Havisham, since she also wore her wedding dress ever since that fateful day. Based on this dedication to preserving the moment, and her lack of hygiene where the food is concerned, I’m guessing laundry isn’t high on her list of priorities.  Although, she did repent of her ways (and their effect on Estella and Pip) later on, so perhaps she might offer some surprisingly deep conversation.

Tigger

Have you seen Tigger? His propensity for constant motion means that all the explanation you’d need to imagine the results of a dinner with Tigger at your side can be summed up with gifs.

Have I missed anyone? Which character from literature would you hate to be stuck beside at dinner?

Imaginary Interview: Ophelia

Recently, I was watching Upstart Crow, a funny, reference-filled show about Shakespeare before he becomes famous and it inspired me to write another ‘Imaginary Interview‘ post, this time featuring Ophelia. She seems like an especially fitting character to write about since my dislike of Hamlet is well documented here on my blog.

So, let’s imagine that we’re sitting in expensive, squashy chairs and sipping artisan chamomile tea or something, listening to Ophelia open up about her brief teenage crush on Hamlet and how it changed her life forever.

Ophelia sits primly in the chair. It’s really lovely to be here, chatting. I’ve never been interviewed before. No has ever been interested in my opinions before. She smiles, but lets her long hair swing forward to hide half her face.

It’s about time then. Would you like to talk about Hamlet?

I suppose. I mean, he definitely had, like, a profound effect on my life. Falling silent, she gnaws her lower lip and stares off in the distance.

Did you love Hamlet?

Ophelia blinks, gaze focuses again. Love him? I don’t think so…I thought at one time that I did. At least, I wanted to. I guess I tried to, like, convince myself that I did. Look, growing up, I’d always had this idea that Hamlet and I would be married. He talked about it sometimes, and my father my brother Laertes also thought we were a couple. I think my father approved at first, because of course Hamlet was a Prince, and it would be a good match for me. Her voice drops a bit. A better match than I expected. I mean, I could have been Queen someday if I married Hamlet, and that seemed, like, too good to be true.

But Laertes didn’t want you to marry Hamlet, right?

Right. He told me that Hamlet’s love was fleeting, that he would never be able to commit to me. It really hurt, actually. Maybe I was just being insecure or something, but it made me feel like he wasn’t saying that Hamlet couldn’t love anybody. It felt like he was saying Hamlet couldn’t love me. Like no one could, like I wasn’t good enough. Ophelia curls up in the chair, tucking her feet under her. So, I broke things off with Hamlet. I had to. My father and my brother told me too, and I couldn’t go against them. I was always very obedient to them – after all, my father was the head of the household. But then Hamlet came to see me, and he seemed just, like, completely stricken. He was all pale and disheveled and kept saying weird things.

And your father believed your rejection of Hamlet had driven him insane?

Yeah. And I won’t lie, that was a bit of a confidence boost after what Laertes said. He made me feel like Hamlet would hardly even notice if I stopped talking to him, and now he was clearly having issues. When my dad sent me to talk to Hamlet, I thought maybe I could cheer him up, that we could work things out. I thought maybe I’d still end up marrying him. She sighs, and irritation sparks in her eyes. But then Hamlet was sooo rude. Like, he was such a poisonous hunch-backed toad. Ophelia flushes scarlet. I’m so sorry. I know I shouldn’t use language like that – it just slipped out. I guess I have a lot of anger about this still. But Hamlet said some really cruel things. He basically called me a (her voice drops to a whisper) whore. And, for propriety’s sake, I felt like I had to pretend I didn’t quite understand all his double meanings, but come on. I’ve been to plays and heard poetry. That Shakespeare guy is super inappropriate sometimes. And, another time, Laertes made this whole speech about virtue and kept going on and on about flowers – it was actually kind of disgusting. I knew what he was talking about and I didn’t need this lecture from my brother, of all people. I never did anything wrong, really, and I always just wanted to please everyone…She trails off, and seems agitated.

Anyway, Hamlet kept saying awful, crude things to me, even during a play. He seemed like a totally different person, although I guess to be honest, I didn’t know him all that well before. I mean, how well can you really know someone? But now he was someone I didn’t like. Ophelia straightens in the chair, twisting her fingers together so hard that her knuckles look white. And then he murdered my father! I know dad shouldn’t have been hiding behind the curtain, but it was a small deception. Not worth killing over. Hamlet ran him through with a sword without even checking behind the curtain to see who it was! Can you imagine? Her voice rises. I can’t even. What a horrible, stupid man.

Was he very remorseful, do you think?

I don’t think so. Well, I don’t know. It was very upsetting to me. I confess that I wasn’t paying much attention to Hamlet or anyone after that. I felt quite mad with grief. Like, I was so crazy that I wandered around singing these crude songs and handing out flowers. Her voice cracks. Father would have hated those songs – that’s why I sang them. I kept thinking that maybe, if I said enough bad things, he’d just show up and scold me, like old times. Crazy, right?

And then you went to the river…

Ophelia nods. Yeah. I didn’t have a specific purpose in mind when I walked there, but as I stared down into the water from a tree branch – I climbed it because I knew Father and Laertes would disapprove – I kind of realized that I would never be free. Hamlet and Laertes would just keep dictating my life and I couldn’t stand either of them at the moment. I thought about jumping into the river. I’m not sure I would have gone through with it, but then the branch broke – I know, convenient, right? And then the river was pretty fast, and my dress got quite heavy, and suddenly I didn’t have a choice anymore. She looks very sad.

What’s your greatest regret?

I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but honestly, sometimes I feel upset that I drowned before Hamlet died. He died from my brother’s poisoned-tipped sword. My brother died too, but first he and Hamlet forgave each other. I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, if my life would have been better if I lived and Hamlet didn’t. She scowls. Did you know that, after I died, he went on and on about how much he loved me? I was dead, and he still made it about him! You know, I think my biggest regret is that I had no agency at all. I know this was a play – I’m not totally oblivious – but why couldn’t I have been given more exciting lines? Like Juliet – she died too, but at least she tried to take charge of her future. She made plans, even if they went wrong. I didn’t get to do anything. Shakespeare could have done better, you know?
 

2016 Reading Challenge – Three Poems

My 2016 Reading Challenge item of “at least three poems” – I picked the number somewhat arbitrarily, since I already knew I’d be likely to choose short ones – ended up being one of the most interesting of the batch. First, I put it off for eight months. That’s some dedicated procrastination, I think. Second, I ended up reading closer to ten poems in my search for three to write about. I could have just chosen the first three, but not every poem I read moved me, or at least left me with something to say, and that’s the point of poetry, isn’t it?

I think it’ll become clear through this post that I actually have no idea what the point of poetry is, if there is a singular one. However, the exercise of purposefully reading poetry turned out to be quite nice.

Ever since my last Reading Challenge item, when I re-read Anne of Green Gables, I’ve been wanting to read some Tennyson. I can thank Anne Shirley’s adoration for his lyricism, particularly for ‘The Lady of Shalott’, which she acts out with friends. I selected something a little shorter, though, and went with ‘The Eagle’, a short but beautiful piece written in the 1830s and published in 1851.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

I majestically declaimed the poem to my cat, who remained unimpressed. I, however, enjoyed the sounds of the words, and the feel of them in my mouth as I read the poem aloud. The syntax is beautiful, and while the poem is brief, it creates vivid imagery. One might expect an eagle to perch, rather than stand, but the height of his position is better conveyed through ‘stands’, as high and unreachable as the mountains, near to the sun. The eagle is powerful, so free in his wide-open word of sky that even the vastness of the ocean seems wrinkly and slow-moving beneath him.

I liked this poem, both the imagery and the cadence of the iambic tetrameter. Nature in art has always been fairly appealing to me; I like pictures of mountains and trees. When I was twelve, I wrote a short story about a wolf pack, and I wrote a couple of (thankfully lost) poems about rivers during my teens as well. The simple elegance of this poem made me feel calm. Poetry doesn’t have to be about the meaning of life to be powerful. Although, maybe this eagle is a metaphor for life, and having the strength to reach for your goals. Maybe it is about the meaning of life. Oh no… Now I have no idea. I’ve reached a crisis of doubt.

When in doubt, turn to Google, which tells me that some scholars interpret the poem, and it’s brevity, as the eagle being a part of the mountain’s identity, and breaking away as it strikes. It begs the question of what happens to the eagle after the poem. To be honest, I kind of liked my panicky interpretation better!

eagle mountain

I also read Christina Rossetti’s poem, ‘One Sea-Side Grave.’ An English poet who wrote during the 1800s, Rossetti is probably best known for her poem, ‘The Goblin Market’, which is a very cool title for a kind of strange poem that I only read the synopsis of. (Sorry). I hadn’t previously been very familiar with her work, and the melancholy yearning of ‘One Sea-Side Grave’ really struck me. First published in 1884, though written about thirty years earlier, the poem embodies mourning, death, love, and remembrance, which are common themes through Rossetti’s other work.

Unmindful of the roses,
Unmindful of the thorn,
A reaper tired reposes
Among his gathered corn:
So might I, till the morn!

Cold as the cold Decembers,
Past as the days that set,
While only one remembers
And all the rest forget, –
But one remembers yet.

 

Reading aloud again, this poem didn’t flow as smoothly as the Tennyson on the first read-through, but I suspect that’s intentional. The weariness of a cold grave isn’t supposed to be comfortable. I am no poetry expert (clearly), but I will admit that the punctuation stood out to me in this poem, whereas I didn’t notice it much during Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’, and that seems to me something that is not desired. I think the exclamation mark is what really brought the punctuation to my notice.

This poem better fit with my vague notion that poetry is often about sad things, which makes it sombre and important. However, this poem also felt cold and depressing to read. I like the eagle one better.

hopeless sea

 

I had to include one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, because in spite of my loathing for Hamlet, I am still a fan of The Bard and his trademark eloquence. There’s a reason his works have endured, after all. I came across Sonnet XXXIII in a curated list of poems about morning. ‘That sounds perfect,’ I thought. ‘Much more cheerful than a poem about a grim seaside grave.’

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace: 
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

The opening description of a ‘glorious morning’ made me feel confident I’d chosen the right poem. I’m a morning person. I regularly get up as soon as it’s light to walk the dog. Rambling along the path while the sunrise glazes the horizon like stained glass, enjoying the near-solitude of the early hour and the freshness of the air is one of my favourite things ever.

Mountain Sunset Wide Desktop Background

However, it soon became clear that this poem is not simply about a beautiful morning. The metaphorical nature of poetry strikes again! This poem is actually about Shakespeare (probably – it’s generally assumed this sonnet is autobiographical) having his feelings hurt by his friend, leaving him feeling isolated and lonely. The friend in question is often believed to be the Earl of Southampton, who was Shakespeare’s patron at the time.

I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed when I made the realization that the cheerful morning poem was concealing a heart of bitterness. Evidently I am not deep enough for poetry. However, the sonnet ends on a positive note, suggesting that the poet will forgive his friend, and that disappointment is a natural aspect of life, and can be overcome. It’s a nice way to close it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chance to Stop Hamlet from Screwing Up

You guys, I just found out about a video game being developed that takes place during the events of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s called Elsinore and you get to play as Ophelia, who must gather information and interact with other characters in order to prevent the tragic events of the story.

I am super excited about this, because as you know from my last 2016 Reading Challenge post, I ended up hating Hamlet the character. His moping was tolerable at first, and his philosophizing was thought-provoking. But then he unrepentantly murdered someone, which should be bad enough, but the reader knows Hamlet is seeking to avenge his father, plus it’s one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. There’s bound to be a body count, so the murder isn’t a big surprise. Hamlet murdering the wrong guy because he couldn’t be bothered to check behind the curtain is a bit tougher to forgive. As is his choice to punish Ophelia for his mother’s remarriage. As are pretty much all of his actions for the rest of the play.

I mean

Can you imagine if Hamlet’s mom divorced his dad, instead of remarrying after being widowed? The nunnery (aka brothel) talk would have increased exponentially for sure. 

That’s partly why I think it’s cool that the game’s playable character is Ophelia. She doesn’t get a very good deal in the original play. She mostly gets called a whore, and then she dies. It’s a terrible life. But now, she has a chance to solve everything and be someone who takes action. She’s also a character on the fringes of most of the action, which makes her the perfect character to explore the story, but I like the poetic justice of giving her a better role. Instead of being sad and drowning, she gets to be a badass detective. I approve.

From what I’ve read there will be complicated and numerous problems for her to solve in this game. It isn’t just about stopping Hamlet from killing Polonius, and subsequently a whole bunch of other characters. Apparently every action game-Ophelia takes will have a consequence. In a change from the play, Norwegian Prince Fortinbras, rather than being named Hamlet’s heir, is planning to invade Denmark, so there are some intense political ramifications if Ophelia makes the wrong choice.

d

A screen shot from the in-development game. I like this Ophelia much better than the drowned one. 

I don’t play a lot of video games, but I will probably check this one out. I will probably curse at Hamlet the whole time, that culpable whiner. I will eagerly seek out a chance to gain revenge upon him and foil all his plans – I mean, to save everyone. Yeah. It’s about saving everyone else.

Sorry. I just really didn’t like Hamlet.

While I was reading up on Elsinore, I came across another Hamlet-based game for your phone. It’s just called Hamlet and…it sounds hilarious. Maybe fun, but still ludicrous. In this version, Hamlet is a swashbuckling hero (!!!!) and actually cares about Ophelia, who is about to be married against her will to Claudius (in the play, he is Hamlet’s uncle / stepdad, and the new king of Denmark). Polonius is Claudius’ henchman, and turns out to be A WITHERED ALIEN OBSESSED WITH CHEMISTRY.

Other insane game plots include Hamlet and Ophelia being swallowed by a giant fish, but they are able to escape with the help of AN ELDERLY MAN LIVING IN THE FISH’S STOMACH, before they make it to Claudius’ castle and confront him. The best part: CLAUDIUS IS A WANNA-BE ROCK GOD AND HEROIC HAMLET RUINS HIS GUITAR SOLO.

You guys, I didn’t even explain it all. There’s also a giant octopus, exploding potions, Laertes as a giant, and a death machine. I’m so confused and intrigued. I lost control of caps, even, which is the typing equivalent of shouting with excitement and shock.

Damnit. I’m totally downloading this. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

2016 Reading Challenge: Hamlet

You guys, I finally read Hamlet!

This checks off the reading challenge for February, a bit belated, but at least it’s for a good reason because I did in fact finish my WIP, and my agent and I have already had an awesome chat about it, and I’m diving into revisions.

Anyway…Hamlet. One of my 2016 Reading Challenge items is a Shakespearean play, and I selected Hamlet because I hadn’t read it before. In high school and university, I studied a couple others, but Hamlet’s story always got missed for me.

Before I get into my impressions on reading the play, I think I should probably include a quick plot summary, because I plan to discuss some of the details. There will be spoilers if you read further, but it’s almost five hundred years old, there has to be a limit on the spoiler warnings, right?

Plot Summary:

Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. His father, King Hamlet, has recently died, and his mother, Gertrude, married her brother-in-law, Claudius, who is now crowned as the new King even though Hamlet should be the heir. Returning home from studies abroad, Hamlet is distraught by all this, understandably. The Ghost of his father appears and entreats him to enact revenge upon Claudius, who murdered him.

Vowing to feign madness so that he can roam the castle at will, and observe everyone, Hamlet agrees to help the Ghost, but finds himself confused. He questions whether the Ghost is truly his father, or if it is a devilish creature sent to test him. To seek the truth, he arranges for a troupe of actors to perform a play called The Murder of Gonzago, which Hamlet has rewritten portions of to mirror the murder as described by the Ghost. Claudius does react in a way that shows he is conscience-stricken, so Hamlet concludes he is guilty and resolves to kill him in order to avenge his father.

He delays, however, reluctant to have the death on his conscience. He turns down a prime opportunity to stick a knife in Claudius’ back, because the King is praying and Hamlet decides it would be better if he died while doing something less pious. Later, while having a private conversation with his mother, Queen Gertrude, in her rooms, he realises someone is hiding behind the curtain, and thinks it is Claudius. Without flinging the curtain aside to check, he runs a sword through the spy. It turns out to be Polonius, the father of Ophelia, who is Hamlet’s love interest.

hamlet stab

In punishment for killing Polonius, Claudius exiles Hamlet to England. He instructs Hamlet’s visiting school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to deliver the Prince to the English king for execution. (I never really understood why the English king would execute a foreign prince upon request, but that’s question for another time). Hamlet realises the plot, and arranges for his friends to be hanged instead.

In the meantime, Ophelia is drowning (ha, sorry) in sorrow because her father was murdered by Hamlet, the man she thought to marry, who has also been acting crazy and behaving quite cruelly toward her. Struggling with her own madness, she drowns while singing sad songs about unrequited love.

Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, wants to avenge his father’s death and sister’s demise. At her funeral, he and Hamlet fight about which of them loved her best. (Clearly, it’s Laertes –  frankly, Hamlet doesn’t seem to like anyone very much). Laertes and Claudius plot together to kill Hamlet, and both of them favour poison. Laertes poisons the blade of his sword, and during a duel with Hamlet, both of them are cut by that same blade. While Hamlet slices Laertes with the blade, Queen Gertrude thinks this means he’s winning, so she sips from a chalice of wine and immediately dies of poisoning.

Laertes confesses with his dying breath that the poisoned wine was actually set up by Claudius and was meant for Hamlet, so the King is responsible for Gertrude’s death. This enrages Hamlet into action and he stabs Claudius with the poisoned blade, and for good measure, pours the rest of the wine down his throat. Then, as Hamlet himself is dying of his poisoned wound, he declares that the Prince of Norway shall be his heir, and begs his friend Horatio (the only person he really seems to like) to accurately explain the events that led to all these deaths.

The new King of Denmark, after arriving from Norway, holds a funeral with full military honours for Hamlet. For some reason. Let’s be honest, Hamlet probably didn’t really deserve extra honours.

hamlet cover

 

I think my plot summary revealed that I did not actually enjoy this play very much. I did not know much of the plot beforehand, although I knew it was a tragedy, and I recognised some well-known quotations from it, such as “something rotten in Denmark.”

I had a rough start in my reading. It’s been a long time since I read any Shakespeare, and it takes a little time to get back into the cadence and rhythm of his words. It didn’t help me that the story begins with two soldiers, Bernardo and Francisco, exchanging pleasantries while on a night-guard duty. They are almost immediately joined by another soldier, Marcellus, and Horatio, who is Hamlet’s friend. When you can see them all on stage, it’s probably easier to keep them straight, but I kept forgetting who was who, especially when they are also immediately joined by a Ghost, who resembles the late king of Denmark (Hamlet’s father). On general principle, since it doesn’t speak yet, the Ghost is a lot more interesting than Bernardo and Francisco wishing each other a good evening.

By the middle of Act I, Scene II, I began to enjoy the story, however.  I got hooked when Horatio speaks to Hamlet about the ghost. Horatio basically says, “Hey Hamlet, for two nights in a row, Marcellus and Bernardo saw a ghost that looks like your dead father, so on the third night, I went to check it out too, and this apparition definitely resembles your dad. It wouldn’t speak though, even when we asked it to, although it did look like it had something to say. Unfortunately a crowing rooster made it rush off.” (Obviously, this is a hasty modern summary).

In response, Hamlet says, “’Tis very strange.”

Yes, my dear Hamlet, oh Captain Obvious, it is. I immediately grew fond of Hamlet.

hamlet ghost

 

I also enjoyed it when the Ghost tells Hamlet that his uncle Claudius was the murderer, and Hamlet cries, “O, my prophetic soul!” This is a very fancy way to say, “I knew it” and I am resolved to find a melodramatic opportunity to use it.

My fondness for Hamlet did not last long, however. His lines remain clever and gripping; indeed, the examples I chose here are brief quips, but he is a master of manipulating words. His speeches are eloquent and existential. Sometimes, he critiques himself, and his philosophical questions about morality are at odds with the shadows of his depression. He is able to view things broadly – for example, he equates Claudius’s love of merrymaking to the decay of Denmark, and yet, even understanding his own comparison, he seems simultaneously unable to fully separate the man from the greater social change.

Often, Hamlet is cruel in his masterful use of language. He twists the words of his so-called friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern so that they seem to be admiring beggars instead of a king. He does not trust them, and they hardly seem to be friends (they are hired by Claudius to spy on him, so Hamlet is justified in his mistrust) but he is cruel to other characters that he supposedly does care for, as well. He openly mocks old Polonius, who mostly seems to have Hamlet’s best interests at heart, worrying over the Prince in his feigned madness, which Polonius believes is real and caused by the loss of Ophelia’s love.

Ophelia bears the brunt of Hamlet’s cruelty, and she embodies another example of Hamlet’s inability to make separations in his mind. Although the audience is given to understand that Hamlet truly loved Ophelia previously, he finds his feelings for her utterly tainted by his mother’s actions in remarrying. The marriage is repulsive to Hamlet – not only did Claudius murder the King, his own brother, he then married his widow (Hamlet’s mother). It is a vaguely incestuous union, distasteful even if we leave out the murder, and it is understandable that Hamlet would struggle with the death of his father and his mother’s choice in partner. He thought his parents had a pure, loving union, and it seems not to have been true.

But the remarriage had nothing to do with Ophelia, who is a separate human being with her own feelings and beliefs and actions. Feeling betrayed by his mother, Hamlet shoves Ophelia into an ‘all women are untrustworthy’ category anyway. He persistently behaves inappropriately around her, making sexual innuendoes and obviously making her uncomfortable. While Polonius thinks Ophelia has stopped loving Hamlet, it is other way around, and Hamlet’s hostile words wound her.

hamlet nunnery

Ugh, nunnery is spelled wrong. But I’m keeping this meme, because Fry’s reaction is pretty perfect for basically everything that comes out of Hamlet’s mouth.

Hamlet also struggles with his desire for revenge. He wants to kill Claudius for the
murder of his father, but knows that doing so would make him guilty of the same crime. It is an interesting moral conundrum, particularly for a man who is literally being haunted by a Ghost urging the revenge. Hamlet remains indecisive, which ultimately does more harm than good. He kills Polonius, mistaking the man for Claudius, but Hamlet shows little remorse for this. While he acknowledges his part in the death, he blames Polonius for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He takes the body away with him, and doesn’t let anyone discover where it is hidden for some time, playing up his madness. Eventually he divulges the body’s location, and proper funeral rites can begin.

In the final Act, right before Hamlet and Laertes duel, Hamlet’s character improves slightly. He seems reconciled to the idea of mortality, and he wants Laertes’ forgiveness. He seems to be affected by Ophelia’s passing, but he still does not accept responsibility for Polonius’ death. To me, it felt like Hamlet had become exactly what he feared he would – a conscienceless murderer just like his uncle.

I can see why my husband told me I should read A Midsummer Night’s Dream instead.

O my prophetic soul!

O my prophetic soul! I should have heeded his advice.

Criticism of Hamlet as an unlikable character aside, though, I did enjoy reading the play overall. Shakespeare is still widely revered for a reason, and taking the time to read one of his plays reminded me how beautifully he crafts imagery and flowing sentence structure and puns. Maybe next time I’ll try a comedy instead, or Macbeth. I remember liking Macbeth a bit more.

In closing, here’s an update of the 2016 Reading Challenge (one book per month), if you’re following along!

2016 Reading Challenge: 

    • A National Book Award winner– complete, Fifteen Dogs
    • One of Shakespeare’s plays – complete, Hamlet
  • A mystery – next up is a mystery. I don’t know which one yet. Honestly, I picked this one because it seems like the easiest of the list and I’m super busy with my book revisions right now. 
  • Book you haven’t read since high school
  • A book translated to your native language
  • Non-fiction about a subject you’ve been curious about
  • Book about or set within a culture you’re unfamiliar with
  • A book that’s at least 100 years older than you
  • Book in a genre you usually avoid
  • A classic novel
  • A graphic novel
  • At least three poems