This is by far my favorite Shakespeare play (and probably my favorite play of all time). I think why I enjoy this play so much is how mentally ambiguous Hamlet is throughout the play. Is he only faking his crazy to find out who murdered his father, or is he slowly losing his mind in the process? I also enjoy how you interpret the play can be totally in the hands of how it is acted out through its various stage, TV and film interpretations. The first time I dealt with Hamlet was in a high school classroom setting and at first I didn’t understand the themes behind the story, but grew to love this play after analyzing it further in my Shakespeare college course and watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version.
I am a big fan of any version of Hamlet that takes care for Orphelia’s character and fleshes out her madness as much as it does for Hamlet’s. My favorite scene is his exchange with his beloved Orphelia in Act III Scene I where he goes completely bonkers on her (go thee to a NUNNERY!) simply because of the many ways you can interpret the scene in regards to how much of the exchange and the emotions behind it is fabricated and how much is real. If this scene didn’t make you cry, you need to re-read the scene until you DO CRY!
Anyways, read this and love it as much as I do.
— Kirstin Swartz
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular, and most puzzling, play. It follows the form of a “revenge tragedy,” in which the hero, Hamlet, seeks vengeance against his father’s murderer, his uncle Claudius, now the king of Denmark. Much of its fascination, however, lies in its uncertainties.
Among them: What is the Ghost—Hamlet’s father demanding justice, a tempting demon, an angelic messenger? Does Hamlet go mad, or merely pretend to? Once he is sure that Claudius is a murderer, why does he not act? Was his mother, Gertrude, unfaithful to her husband or complicit in his murder?
The authoritative edition of Hamlet from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play -Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play -Scene-by-scene plot summaries -A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases -An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language -An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play -Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books -An up-to-date annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Michael Neill
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
About the Author
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.