Hamlet – Not much of a Hero

While critics everywhere agree that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, those same scholars find little to admire in the title character. He seems plagued by a “lack of will to act,” they say.

While watching the 1996 Branagh version of Hamlet, I followed the text in my weighty textbook. A few additions (from another version of the text apparently) were the only variations from what Shakespeare penned hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the film. While lengthy soliloquies covered a page in the book, the filmmaker gave visual flashbacks or cutaway scenes to explain what was being rambled on about in the tiresome speeches. It helped me understand the depths of plot that Shakespeare layered in this play.

Hamlet, in a deep state of grief over the sudden death of his father, resents the marriage of his mother and uncle less than a month after the funeral. A visit by the ghost of his father directs him to wreak vengeance on his murderous uncle. Hamlet voices his own moral quandary for carrying out this revenge.

It is this constant questioning and his need for verification of his uncle’s guilt that immobilizes him. What right does he have to be the executioner of this sentence? Won’t his vengeful retribution make him as much a murderer as his uncle?

In the film, it was easy to see that Ophelia and Hamlet had a preexisting love relationship, but it’s nonexistent in Shakespeare’s manuscript. What motivated the only suicide in this play?

Is it strange that I find the multiple murders at the end of the play preferable to the suicidal body count in the other three plays I’ve read this term? In fact, the true tragedy of this play is that a country is left without a monarch. An invader walks in at the end to claim the throne, the conquest for it accomplished by the royal family he deposes.

Even though I enjoyed reading (and watching) this play enormously, I have to admit that Hamlet’s character isn’t the compelling ingredient. So many famous sayings and familiar quotes are in this play, it’s obvious The Bard outdid himself with the turns of phrase in this story.

What do you think of Hamlet? Is he a hero? Who do you think was the hero in this play?

4 thoughts on “Hamlet – Not much of a Hero”

  1. Hamlet is my all time favourite play.
    I recently wrote in my own blog about my first experience of a live Shakespearean play and it was Hamlet that I saw at the age of 10 accompanied by my Father.
    I totally understand your point about Kenneth Brannaghs film version providing flashback sequences to accompany the lengthy soliloquies and the benefit to a modern audience. In Shakespeare’s day plays were something you went to “hear” not to “see”, in an age obsessed with visual stimuli with scenes on TV shows and films lasting about 3 minutes we are simply not used to listening and engaging with the text without moving on quickly to the next bit.
    I love the fact that Hamlet asks the bog question – what is the point? He is exploring the human condition and our quest to find answers to lifes big questions.
    The quest for justice is also at the heart of the play and as you commented the guilt associated with becoming both jury and executioner. This is a theme still very relevant today. How much or how little should we be personally get involved with righting the wrongs in the world and standing up to injustice. Hamlet struggles to make the right decision but he does ultimately take action to right the wrongs surrounding his fathers death and with that in mind I believe he is a hero of sorts.
    I hope you grow to love this play and the central character as I do, its heavy but a very rewarding read.

    1. Thanks for adding so much to my post.
      I didn’t mean for it to sound like I didn’t adore this play because I did. It is the first of Shakespeare’s tragedies that seemed to be about more than jealousy, insanity, payback and looking honorable (by committing suicide, a more DIShonorable act I can hardly think of) and it’s packed with awesome truisms and famous quotes.
      There’s always more going on than meets the eye (or ear) in Shakespeare’s plays and that’s a big reason the film version really helped me. They didn’t add any extra text, which I also appreciated.

      1. Really enjoyed reading your post! And as a huge Ken Bran fan I also love the film version although prefer Mel Gibson one if I am honest!
        Great to be able to discuss Shakespeare with a fellow reader even via the internet, will definitely look forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

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