What is a man,Hamlet, Act 4
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do;’
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
Over time, I have come to love a lot of things I used to dislike strongly – opera, Debussy, Moby-Dick, and poetry. Perhaps Shakespeare will grow on me, too – perhaps.
The plot starts out with some exposition explaining that the king of Denmark has recently died and his brother Claudius is serving the office in his stead. Part of this “office,” according to Claudius, is marrying his brother’s wife, Queen Gertrude. (Wiki would have you think this is a Levirate marriage; however, since Hamlet is the son of Gertrude and the late king, this does not appear to qualify as such, by Old Testament standards.) Hamlet is grief-stricken and angry at his mother for what he sees as her betrayal. This is only worsened by a seeming visit from the ghost of his father, who says his death was no accident and urges him to take vengeance on Claudius, “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life.”
One of my biggest questions is whether the Ghost is real. I have yet to read what others think about that, but it seems possible that Claudius’s guilt could have been found out by Hamlet’s intuition, much like how some detectives would extract a confession. I also went back and re-read o’s post on Ophelia, which reconfirms my feeling that more could have been said about her plotline. Even Horatio is given little description of his own, while there is everything to indicate he is Hamlet’s only friend and very emotionally attached. Finally, I wonder which side of Hamlet is realer – his former, confident, lovestruck youthfulness, or his bitter, misogynistic, self-destructive “madness.” I will probably spend some time reading this Wiki article…
It’s a dark story, but well worth it if you want to read a giant of English literature and culture. I recommend reading it all the way through before you think of giving up on Shakespeare. 4 out of 5 stars.