When do you know a work of literature has stood th
e test of time? When William Shakespeare wrote it. But why are his works so respected and cherished? One of his most famous works, Hamlet, is still a favorite among actors and occasional readers, alike, but why? Why is Shakespeares work still able to challenge and inspire people, four hundred years after it was written? The answer is simple. Shakespeares work, though complicated, will never have just one meaning, it will always be up to the interpretation of the people of the time that is interpreting the drama. And with this reason, Shakespeare will always be powerful and applicable to the day.
One of the first reasons why Hamlet will never lose importance is because of the incestuous relationship between Hamlets mother, Queen Gertrude, and uncle, King Claudius. Even in Elizabethan times, Hamlet was disturbed by his mothers new love. In scene II of the first act, Hamlets disgust with his mothers incestuous relationship and pain over his own fathers death is no more clear then in the lines of his speech:
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: so excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him, as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on: and yet, within a monthlet me not think ontfrailty, thy name is woman! a little month, or ere those shoes were old with which she followed my poor fathers body, like Niobe, all tear:–why she, even sheo God! A beast, that wants discourse of reason, would have mournd longermarried with my uncle, my fathers brother, but no more like my father than I to Hercules: within a month: ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, she married. O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheet! It is not nor it cannot come to good: but break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue. (Act I, Scene II, line 138-158)
As shown by Hamlets words, his feelings are very clear. He is ashamed of his mothers bed hopping. However, what hes most hurt by is the fact that his mother was able to move on so quickly. To him, it appeared as if one day she was living on his fathers each and every word, and then the next sleeping with his uncle. The unusual thing about this situation though, was how accepting the people of Denmark were to their new king.
In todays society, there would be no difference in how the son of a mother might feel, but definitely a distinct difference in how all other people would feel. Incestuous relationships are taboo and not accepted as normal and healthy relationships. Not only the son of the Queen of Denmark but the people as well would be much less accepting of their Queen marrying her brother-in-law only two months after the death of her husband, the King. There would be endless rumors and problems arising from such a relationship, so the rest of the government would never allow Claudius to become King. But since this play is staged four hundred years ago, such modern inconveniences, like the media, and magazines, such as the Globe, would not have to be considered when love decisions were made. Lucky for us today, we do have these inconveniences, even though many people think theyre useless and a waste of paper. If they existed four hundred years ago, Shakespeare would never have been able to write such a play. The fact that incest will never go away and always be an issue in whatever time Hamlet is read in, people will never grow tired of the play and always argue about the incest element to the play.
Another reason why Hamlet will always be well read is the character Hamlets indecisiveness. No matter who is reading it, the reader will always have some type of memory in which he or she was indecisive and because of his or her inability to make a decision, a whole string of events occurred that never should have. In Hamlets case, the fact that he had a chance to murder Claudius but didnt, could be seen as a huge mistake and the climax of the play. If Hamlet had been able to make the decision to murder his uncle there, instead of waiting until later on in the play in which ultimately every one of the main characters died, the whole play would have ended before it truly had begun, hence that would have been the climax of the play and no one else would have died.
Now might I do it pat, now he is praying: and now Ill dot. And so a goes to heaven; and so am I revengd. That would be scannd: a villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heave. Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge. (Act III, Scene IV, 73-79)
But Hamlet, true to his character, was unable to make that decision fearing his Uncle going to Heaven instead of Hell where he felt he deserve to be. The instance where Hamlet is deciding between murdering his uncle/father or not murdering him is not the only time he was indecisive. Even in the last scene of the first act, Hamlet shows his deathly flaw.
Angels and ministers of grace defend us! Be thou a spirit of health or goblin dammd, bring with thee airs from heave or blasts from hell, be thy intents wicked or charitable, thou comst in such a questionable shape that I will speak to thee: Ill call thee Hamlet, King, Father, royal Dane: O, answer me! (Act I, Scene IV, Line 39-45)
In this speech by Hamlet, it is quite clear that he is unable to make a decision. Even though this spirit is right in front of him and has done nothing to either Horatio or the other men who have seen him, Hamlet is still unable to automatically assume that this spirit is a good spirit. Even though the spirit comes in the form of his own father, he still questions the validity of the spirit, which sets the precedent of how Hamlet will react to all the situations of conflict that arise in the play.
Many people today, can relate to Hamlets indecisiveness. In todays society, many people do not rely on their instincts, but go against them. It always depends on the case whether or not this practice of not being able to decide what is right and wrong is good. In Hamlets case, he waited too long to make a decision and readers and actors can learn from Hamlets mistake and apply it into their own lives. If you wait too long to make a decision, you can usually cause more bad then good. However, if you wait a little while just so you are able to reflect back on the situation before making your decision that usually will end up helping you.
The other side of the coin, making a decision too quickly, is also a very clear reason why this play is so cherished. In the play itself, three very important characters made a decision too quickly. The first, and most disastrous one, would be the Queens marriage to her brother-in-law only two months after King Hamlet had been murdered. Because of this marriage, all the other events occur. The other two characters were making the same decision, with very different outcomes, because of similar situations. Laertes and Fortinbras both wanted to avenge their fathers deaths without truly thinking about the consequences of their actions. In the play, Laertes ends up being killed because of his need to avenge his fathers death, which brought him into a death dual with Hamlet. Fortinbras risks his own life to come to Denmark to fight for his land back, a decision made without the backing of his own government, no less. Both of these men, made decisions without really thinking about them. They acted on emotions, instead of intelligence. In Laertes case, he ended up being murdered by Hamlet because of his foolishness. In Fortinbras case, however, he ended up getting his land back, as well as having his fathers murderer killed, but all of this was only because of the fact that the King, Hamlet, was murdered by his brother; which all leads back to Claudius and his jealousy of his brother, which is also another very prominent theme in this play.
All of these issues of either indecisiveness or making decisions without intelligence, will never go away, no matter what time their discussed in. Hamlet, the play, is a wonderful outlet to teach readers that your decisions or inability to make decisions can really cause more problems then good.
If you read through the play, you will always find something to take from it. Whether its a lesson on how to behave when in a tough situation or a new found love for Shakespeares ability to intertwine so many different themes and ideas into one play. Or, its just the fact that something written so long ago, could still be cherished today, is all your own interpretation of his work. It is amazing how all of Shakespeares works have stood the test of time, the test of people, and the test of the present. But, do you really see a reason why they wouldnt have? I honestly, dont.