Hamlet and Modernity

Of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet is often said to be the most popular and beloved due to its timelessness and “universal appeal”.

Hamlet is a modern prince, not a medieval one, a university scholar and a skeptic, one who dares to question religious authority in his private thoughts, in which he questions what happens to us after death.

Yet, he is charged with the task of the medieval warrior – to enact vengeance on his father’s murderer.

Hamlet’s tragedy appears as the quintessence of a moral and metaphysical instability, which can be associated  with the experience of modernity

Most of the characters observing Hamlet’s behaviour can’t agree whether it is fake and calculating or  a real mental illness. His madness has not only the effect of disturbing those around him, it also allows him the freedom to transgress the court’s rules of etiquette and obedience.

Hamlet gives  many  soliloquies, all centred on  important existential themes: the emptiness of existence, suicide, death, suffering, action, the  fear of death and of the beyond, the degradation of the flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of human beings, and the difficulty of acting under the weight of  thought. (It seems that Hamlet can act only when he has no time to think, as in the slaughter of Polonius).   These themes  represent the history of human thinking from the Renaissance to the existentialism of the twentieth century. The  soliloquies are pieces of pure poetry,  their  language is really beautiful.

To sum up, Hamlet is not simply a revenge tragedy because the theme of vengeance  is used to deal with  a series of themes central to humanity, such as:

  • relationships between father and son, mother and son, and Hamlet and his friends
  • love relationships
  • power  handling
  • madness, feigned madness,
  • youth and age
  • action and inaction
  • corrupt power and power corrupting
  • existential questions.

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