It is clear Hamlet can be interpreted from a multitude of perspectives on numerous levels. I cannot quite grasp Mr. Bloom’s contention that this is a work of near biblical importance nor can I accept his allusions to Jesus or the Buddha. “Hamlet remains apart; something transcendent about him places him more aptly with the biblical King David, or with even more exalted scriptural figures.”(Bloom, 384). My immediate response is that when Mr. Bloom shuffles off this mortal coil, I don’t believe Billy Shakespeare will be waiting with a pint of ale.
Professor Schechner’s enjoyable production increased my appreciation of the value of wardrobe and inflection of voice. Prior to this performance I did not see Polonius as a buffoon (as portrayed by Mr. Shapli), nor the incestuous nature of Ophelia’s familial relationships (Ms. Cole’s ability to transform from coquette to lunatic was shocking). Doubtless there are near as many interpretations of Hamlet as there are Shakespearean aficionados.
My own expertise lies in the political arena. I believe Hamlet could be construed as a treatise on aggressive, imperialist behavior.
Throughout the Dramaturgic Analysis of Hamlet Prince of Denmark the indecisiveness of Hamlet is noted. He does not immediately seek vengeance but continually schemes, rants and raves (both in his rational and insane moments). Whether cowardice, caution, or simply indifference dominate his persona is unclear – what is clear is his distaste for his own behavior: “How stand I then, That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,…And let all sleep, while to my shame I see The imminent death of twenty thousand men… (sic).” (Shakespeare, 116).
The impending doom of the twenty thousand men alludes to a campaign waged by Fortinbas, the Prince of Norway. Though the battleground is said to be of little value, Fortinbas is warring on principles of honor and the subsequent expansion of Norway.
An enraged Hamlet mistakenly slays Polonius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to their inconsequential deaths only when he is inspired by pirates to save his own life. These murders involved no elaborate schemes but were simply enacted. Yet with all his planning, his opportunities, his justification, why can he not kill Claudius?
The portrayal of the pirates as “merciful thieves” (Shakespeare, 124) and the fact that warlike Fortinbras succeeds in Poland and obtains the Kingdom of Denmark by play’s end – may be a commentary on decisive, imperialistic behavior. Hamlet and all save the scholarly Horatio lie dead due to inaction.
A dying Hamlet states “On Fortinbras, he has my dying voice.” (Shakespeare, 152). Fortinbas is thus rewarded with Hamlet’s adulation (considering his disdain for his contemporaries – quite an accomplishment), and by the acquisition of new lands. In my mind, Shakespeare clearly condones strong aggressive action to further one’s ends – a viewpoint more in line with the burgeoning British Empire rather that the teachings of the Buddha or Christ.
1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
2. Kitchen, Jeffrey. Dramaturgic Analysis of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. 1991.
3. Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare The Invention Of The Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.