April 22, 2014

Review: Hamlet

by William Shakespeare
Kevin Stanton (Illustrations)
Jeff Dolven (Editor)

Release Date: November 6, 2012 
Publisher: Sterling Signature
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

To be or not to be? Hamlet is, arguably, Shakespeare's most well-known play, with its compelling lead character, stunning language, and philosophical underpinnings. This drama of the procrastinating Danish prince who ponders whether or not to revenge his father's death now appears in a beautifully illustrated edition with annotations by Princeton professor Jeff Dolven.   

My Review:

Cover: The cover is made from laser-cut paper art, like the five illustrations within the book. The blue part with the title can be taken off to see the full cover. Really love the cover. When I got my copy I couldn't stop staring at it.

Writing: (5/5) I think why Shakespeare's writing is so remembered is because every sentence, every word, is so well thought-out. You can't read it quickly, and it's not because it's old English. You're more likely to grasp the entire play and writing, if you savor every word. And it seems every time you read it, you gain more. I read Hamlet back in school, so this is my second time reading it and the experience is even more rewarding and enjoyable the second time. 

Hamlet is a play so, for the most part, the whole thing is dialogue. I was really fascinated by how much the dialogue got across the characters' personalities and gestures and with so much layers and depth too. And I mean really? All they were really doing was talking. 

Also no joke, I wanted to read it again as soon as I finished it. Lately I've been really fascinated with beautiful writing and language, so I thought I should probably read Shakespeare. When you give it a chance and carefully read it, you really see that Shakespeare is a master of language.

Setting: (5/5) Hamlet is set in Denmark, and for the most, in the royal castle of Elsinore. I've always wanted to read something that is mostly set in a castle and in court. Most fiction doesn't give you that, it's about an exiled or runaway prince or a peasant who discovers he's a prince and the castle and all the nobility are not that important besides being antagonists. Hamlet is the direct opposite of this.

Plot: (5/5) Hamlet probably has one of the best constructed plotlines I've ever seen. I always remember plot points, but I don't ever remember the entire plotline because they're not that memorable. 

Another thing I feel everyone forgets is that characters make a plot, not the other way around. The plot gets more intense because the characters themselves get more intense as the stakes get higher. The conflict is internal and caused from the characters themselves and not external (like war or a desolate setting), and that's what makes all this memorable. Because at the end of the day, plots are just plots, characters are what's memorable. Call it character driven, but things that are purely plot driven are cheap entertainment. There's a reason classics are remembered. 

Main Character: (5/5) OK, I didn't like Hamlet. He was my least favourite character. He's so indecisive that it's irritating, but he's such well constructed character that I can't bear to rate him any lower. Hamlet's not a hero in any sense of the word. He was so caught up with his revenge that I felt like he got really carried away and started to go insane. When Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, he wonders if this is indeed his father or a demon, meant to deceive him:

What if it [the ghost] tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
 Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff  
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,  
And there assume some other horrible form,  
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason  
And draw you into madness?  
Act I, Scene IV, Lines 75-80

And I think he was a demon actually (maybe even the devil) that caused Hamlet to fall. That's my current interpretation of this play. A prince who went astray because he believed too much in the whispers of the devil. So much that he kept throwing away his logic and reason, which he is so highly praised for.

That's my interpretation anyway. The thing about Hamlet, and all Shakespeare's plays, is that there are thousands of ways to interpret the characters. You can talk about them for hours and days because they're just that complex. 

Villain: (5/5) Claudius, Hamlet's uncle/step-father, is the King of Denmark and my favourite character. What I loved about him the most is his charisma that is really evident from his speech and language (some of my favourite lines from the play). 

I felt he was the opposite of Hamlet, where he's a people person and charismatic, Hamlet came off as a loner and even antisocial. He decides something and follows through with it (even if it's wrong) and Hamlet is just plain indecisive. 

He also seemed to genuinely love Gertrude (Hamlet's mother and his wife) and I even felt he tried with Hamlet. And yes, he is cunning and is willing to kill to get what he wants, but I see a lot of guilt. If Hamlet didn't become so reckless and melodramatic, I wonder if the situation could have been turned around. If he focused on Claudius' guilt for his actions, would the story have been different and even a happier one?

Other Characters: (5/5) 
Gertrude: Gertrude seems to love her son very dearly. But her love for Claudius really clouded her judgment. She doesn't seem to want to admit she's done anything wrong. She came off to me like she's trying very hard to pretend she didn't do anything wrong. The mother-son relationship with Hamlet was very interesting because I really don't see much of that (whether good or bad).  
Polonius: Polonius is clever and a snake of a royal adviser and although I've seen many of those, none have been pulled off as convincingly (or at all, actually) as Polonius. 
Ophelia: I'm still musing about Ophelia. I would say she's my second favourite after Claudius, but I'm still thinking about her. She doesn't really come off as a weak-minded maiden to me. There's more to that, I feel. And I really loved her air of femininity that fiction is so lacking because people feel it's inferior to masculinity or something. Maybe Ophelia is a bad example, but I hope you know what I mean. 
Laertes: Son of Polonius and brother to Ophelia. To me, Laertes was noble and honorable, but being a hot blooded youth, he didn't think clearly sometimes. 
Horatio: Horatio reminds me of Benvolio from Romeo and Juliet. He's by far the kindest character in the play and the most honorable. Beyond a loyal friend. He's wasted on Hamlet. Now when I think about it, he's probably my second favourite.

Artwork: (5/5) This edition has five beautiful laser-cut illustrations within each act:

The only thing I didn't like was that they're very fragile, so you have to handle them with care. It also has matching artwork throughout the book in blues and reds:

Other Comments: The edition has, on the left side (like the above picture), explanations for some words, phrases, and allusions that I found extremely helpful. It also includes essays that were very interesting to read if you want some background information on Hamlet.

Overall: (35/35) For anyone who likes words and beautiful language, read Hamlet. If you want characters with layers and layers of depth, read Hamlet. And if you want to read one of the best constructed plotlines I've ever seen, then read Hamlet. I even recommend reading Hamlet again. Every time you read it, it's like a complete different experience and I was tempted to read it again as soon as I finished it.

For collectors, Shakespeare lovers, and anyone who loves beautiful editions of books, I recommend Sterling's Hamlet Signature Shakespeare. The paper art is gorgeous. I would even recommend it to Shakespeare beginners as I found the explanations to old words, phrases, and allusions to be extremely helpful.   

1 comment:

  1. The artwork is definitely beautiful, I didn't know there were editions out there like that. I read Hamlet last semester with my english class and liked it, but I think the reason I wasn't amazed with it was because I didn't really understand the old English writing most of the time. :/
    Great review!