Hamlet (1599-1601), one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragic plays, is a rhetorical narrative on the inherently destructive nature of struggles for power. The story picks up right after the King of Denmark dies. Presuming the death to be a homicide, his son and rightful heir, Hamlet, spends the entirety of the plot seeking revenge and leaving a trail of broken hearts and dead bodies in his wake.
This above all: to thine own self be true,Hamlet | Act 1, Scene 3
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
While towards the beginning, Hamlet preaches honesty and integrity, his and other character’s motives manifest in rather evil actions, prompting a few questions.
Would seeking reconciliation instead of revenge have yielded a more positive outcome? Maybe. The main characters are developed enough to show their capacities to be reasoned with. However, tunnel vision and a thirst for blood proves to be overpowering. Also given the historical context, there likely would have been a fatal sword fight involved anyway. Does any one person possess enough influence to sway other people’s convictions? According to Shakespeare, not really. Ophelia (Hamlet’s spurned love interest) and Horatio (his loyal friend) both try to supportively persuade Hamlet to more healthy ambitions, but are rather unsuccessful. Can usurped power ever peacefully prevail? At least not in fictional Denmark. King Hamlet is murdered by his brother. Prince Hamlet attempts to murder his Uncle Claudius, while Uncle Claudius plans to murder Prince Hamlet. Eventually Norway’s Prince Fortinbras succeeds to the crown and no one is happy.
From a modern perspective, Hamlet also significantly speaks on the importance of properly addressing mental health issues. Many of the characters project real or imagined declines in mental faculties, but are largely written off as attention seekers. Unfortunately, the ignorance of the truth leads to multiple untimely and unnecessary deaths.
This book is for you if you also like: Outlaw King, Lord of the Rings, the country of Denmark, The Lion King (basically the kids version of the plot), the Lumineer’s song “Ophelia”
Pro-tip: Find an annotated copy for contextual help, preferably with notes on the left and the play on the right. I started reading a copy with notes on the bottom of every page, which was very distracting to constantly move my eye line up & down the pages.