Hamlet dies?

I haven’t blogged in over a week because my Mac failed and it took me a while to get it fixed. One day it just wouldn’t start -- all I got was the Grey Screen of Indeterminacy. Eventually the problem was solved -- a cable inside the machine had failed and was easily replaced. But in the meantime I got sick, and that, combined with no computer, kept me from writing anything -- or feeling like writing anything -- for this blog.

So now I’ve got the Mac back and I’m feeling better, too, but after almost two weeks with no blogging I discover I’ve gotten out of the habit and I have no ideas, no inspiration. I’m sitting at the table yesterday evening with a blank word document staring me in the face, and my son comes home from his job at a restaurant and I say, “Conor, I need an idea for a blog post. You got anything?”

He thinks it over, and says, “You should blog about how no one reads books anymore.”

“I can’t blog about that,” I say, “because it isn’t true. People still read books. Maybe more books than ever now.”

That gets him started on his English class. They’ve been studying Hamlet. He hates the play. Absolutely hates it.

“There must be a reason why it’s the most famous play in the history of English literature,” I say. “There must be something you liked about it.”

He ponders that. He liked Horatio’s line “Good night, sweet prince,” but only because John Goodman’s character quotes it in the movie The Big Lebowski, so now he knows where the line originally came from.

Anything else? He mulls it over and his face brightens and he says he likes the fact that the play has flaws in it. He grew up believing Hamlet is this GREAT work he should be in awe of, and it was a surprise to discover that there are some really dumb things in it. Like the fact that Hamlet doesn’t do anything for half the play, even though he believes his uncle killed his father, and then when he suddenly decides to act, he kills the wrong guy, stabbing Polonius through the arras. I agree with him. It’s not a perfect play, whatever a perfect play might be.

Conor goes on to talk about reading the play out loud in class, and how half the students can’t even pronounce the words that are still current in English, let alone the Elizabethan words they’ve never seen before. It’s painful, he says, to listen to them stumble over their lines. And then there were the two girls who missed a class and asked Conor to tell them what happened at the end of the play. He told them the ending and they were shocked.

“Hamlet dies? But he’s the hero.”

There’s something almost hopeful about that kind of ignorance. To not know how the most famous play in the English language ends. So that you can discover it for yourself, with no preconceptions. Which means that it still has the power to shock and captivate readers. 

I remember when I first read Hamlet in high school. I didn’t much care for it either. The language was just so hard. A few years later I read it again, for a university class, and I heard something I recognized in Hamlet’s speeches, something familiar and close to home despite the antiquated language. I heard someone speaking of doubt and indecision and pointlessness. Someone who didn’t know what his place was in the world, or why he was here at all, or what he should do with his life. The voice of someone who could have lived in my own time. Someone who could be me.


Stephy said...

Reminds me about how last year we went over Hamlet in our grade 11/12 split English class. We went over quite a few of the points that you discussed here, and applied it to both the gr 12's survival/space/place theme, and the gr 11 theme of distopian society. Ehee...

Now for off-topic stuff.

I am a gr.12 student who is presently doing a research project about an author/novel of their choice that is written by a Canadian author. I have chosen your book, Salamander as my novel. I have been looking around and I noticed that it was influenced off of a scrapbook that you put together while attempting to work on it. I am curious; what else inspired you to bring Salamader to its final form? Is there any information that you would like to share about the novel itself?

Thomas Wharton said...

Salamander was a novel I wrote with the idea in mind that I didn't want to know anything about the story as I worked on it -- I wanted to be the first reader of the book, so to speak, and discover its story as I wrote it, page by page.

All I knew was that it would be set in the 18th century and involve a printer trying to print an infinite book. This meant that I was often stuck and uncertain how the story should proceed. The collages I made in a scrapbook helped me by kickstarting my imagination with possibilities.