lunes, 18 de abril de 2016

The Tragedy of Hamlet

A scene of Hamlet, by Eugène Delacroix
Hamlet has always been the most influential of William Shakespeare's fictional characters. The Prince of Denmark is a human symbol of doubt and madness, but he is also the token of love. His love for Ophelia is the only positive feeling in this tragedy full of death and hatred. This play is a must for anyone who wants to understand human feelings in depth, and students can approach it by carrying out the following activity based on a 25-minute animated video with some original dialogues from the play in subtitles. The tragedy of these characters will show us powerful human passions, and will also teach us to be more humane and thoughtful - that is Shakespeare's goal and the ultimate meaning of Art and Literature in all times.

1. The animated video

The Tragedy of Hamlet (1602) is one of the best-known stories in the world. An educated person must know it. You can read it on No Fear Shakespeare site, where you have the original text together with a translation into modern English. Shakespeare's English is a bit difficult to understand because it was written four centuries ago, and because of its poetical quality. To understand the old personal pronouns and possessive adjectives in the video, read the section 2 of my activity about Shakespeare's sonnets. This activity will also help you get to know Shakespeare's sense of love.

Now, watch the video with English subtitles and enjoy the real language of Shakespeare, because all the dialogues are composed of sentences taken from the original play. (You can also watch the video on Vimeo without English subtitles and in full HD.)

Now that you have enjoyed this wonderful story, you might feel as confused and moody as Hamlet himself. This tragedy leaves a lot of questions in our thoughts and hearts, and we have to spend some time of reflection. This always happens after we have just read or seen a great work of art. The following activities will help you remember and understand better the plot and the characters of this unforgettable story.

2. The characters and the setting of the play

Elsinore castle is the gloomy place where the characters develop this tragic story. The castle's real name is Kronborg and is located in the town of Helsingor (Denmark). People visit it as a tourist attraction.

Let's begin this educational activity by doing a test about the characters in the play. You can do it before you watch the video above, and in this case you will be able to know the characters with the help of your teacher or trying to guess the answers on your own, because it isn't difficult. In any case, the characters in this play are very famous, and it is worthwhile knowing them because they represent typical personalities that you may encounter everywhere.

3. The story of Hamlet

Death, revenge, hatred, doubt, murder, but also friendship and love are the main characteristics displayed in this tragedy. Hamlet isn't totally aware of his love for Ophelia, and he isn't sure about his father's murder. When he gets to know the real truth about the murder, it is already too late for him to love Ophelia, and the tragedy takes place with all its harshness.

In the following test, you have to put the story in chronological order by clicking on a number and then on a text in the column on the right. The story is divided in two blocks for you to do it easily.

4. Feelings and passions in the play

Human passions and feelings are dominant in these characters, as is evident. They love, hate and suffer. In the following test, you have to match those feelings with the characters who feel them. They are in chronological order so that you can understand the characters' motives in the play. Click on the left column and then on the right one.

Actors before Hamlet by Władysław Czachórski (1875)

5. Quotes by Hamlet

William Shakespeare wrote a lot of sentences that have become proverbs in English, and they are well-known by everybody. Some of them are in this test, and you have to remember them from the video. Just match the sentences in the two columns by clicking on the left and then on the right column.

Hamlet stabs Polonius, by Coke Smyth, 19th century

6. To be or not to be

And here it is, yes. The famous soliloquy of Hamlet. You can listen to it on YouTube recited by several actors, but I prefer the following recitation and presentation because it highlights Shakespeare's words.


You can also enjoy this video with a good Spanish version of the soliloquy, or this scene from a film dubbed in Spanish so that you can understand the profound thoughts and feelings behind Hamlet's soliloquy.


7. A quiz about Hamlet and some study topics

SparkNotes site offers a good quiz about Hamlet. Some of the questions can only be answered after reading the original play, not the video above, but the quiz is worth doing.

This site also offers Study Questions & Essay Topics about Hamlet, which is a good way of expressing our knowledge and our opinions about the play.

8. Opinions about Hamlet

  1. "In this way, this speech [the soliloquy] connects many of the play’s main themes, including the idea of suicide and death, the difficulty of knowing the truth in a spiritually ambiguous universe, and the connection between thought and action. In addition to its crucial thematic content, this speech is important for what it reveals about the quality of Hamlet’s mind. His deeply passionate nature is complemented by a relentlessly logical intellect, which works furiously to find a solution to his misery. He has turned to religion and found it inadequate to help him either kill himself or resolve to kill Claudius. Here, he turns to a logical philosophical inquiry and finds it equally frustrating." (SparkNotes.)
  2. Hamlet focuses on the complications arising from love, death, and betrayal, without offering the audience a decisive and positive resolution to these complications. This is due in part to the simple fact that for Hamlet, there can be no definitive answers to life's most daunting questions. Indeed, Hamlet's world is one of perpetual ambiguity." (Shakespeare online.)
  3. "When I first read this play, I was annoyed with Hamlet.  He seemed whiney and waffling and weak.  He iritated me, and I just wanted to shout at him, "Make a stinking decision already!" However, as I read it again and again (in college, graduate school, and now as a teacher of British literature), I have come to appreciate Hamlet's predicament.  He is young, in a tragic situation, and truly has no one to turn to that he can trust with whom he can discuss his thoughts and feelings...Horatio aside, that is. Hamlet is the quintessential teenager trying to find his place in the world.  Where do I fit in?  What the heck is going on here? What do I do next? He is a sympathetic character if not an adorable one.  Of course, I've always felt more for Ophelia than Hamlet, but that's another essay." (eNotes.)
  4. "The levity of Hamlet, his repetition of phrase, his puns, are not part of a deliberate plan of dissimulation, but a form of emotional relief. In the character Hamlet it is the buffoonery of an emotion which can find no outlet in action; in the dramatist it is the buffoonery of an emotion which he cannot express in art. The intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object or exceeding its object, is something which every person of sensibility has known; it is doubtless a study to pathologists. It often occurs in adolescence: the ordinary person puts these feelings to sleep, or trims down his feeling to fit the business world; the artist keeps it alive by his ability to intensify the world to his emotions." (T. S. Eliot.)

9. More reference websites

  1. Video SparkNotes: Shakespeare's Hamlet Summary
  2. Shakespeare Study Guides: Hamlet. On SparkNotes. 
  3. Hamlet on Shakespeare online
  4. Critical approaches to Hamlet. On Wikipedia.
  5. Hamlet: Personal Opinion. On Example Essays.  
  6. Shakespeare and Love. El blog de Ana Almarza.
  7. Six Shakespare's Sonnets. On this blog.

When one reads a story like this, one understands the real importance of Literature and Humanities in our lives. We can't do without this knowledge of human nature, without these thoughts or ideas, and without the beauty of words. All these things make us better people and increase our intelligence and our understanding of life. We can't build cities or create products or discover the unknown without reading great authors like William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. This and other educational activities are my humble contribution to the 400th anniversary of the deaths of these two great authors.

Hamlet, by William Morris Hunt, 1864

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