Shakespeare’s Hamlet is arguably the greatest play ever written. It is, however, also one of the most misread and misunderstood. One could write a book, or perhaps a whole shelf-full of books, on the way in which the play is misconstrued by critics, or the manner in which it is sacrificed to the latest literary fads. To give but one example of such Hamlet-abuse, a recent production of the play in England cast Hamlet primarily as the abusive boyfriend of the hapless Ophelia.
In the face of this latest provocative and slanderous assault on the Bard’s most sublime and elusive hero, let’s put the man and the play in perspective.
Before we get to the troubled relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, let’s begin by insisting that we need to place the play within the context of the political cauldron in which it was written. Doing so enables us to engage with the tragedy on a level of profundity which is simply not possible if we insist on reading it from the perspective of our twenty-first century ignorance and arrogance, judging it with the superciliousness of what C.S. Lewis would call our chronological snobbery.