|Kronberg Castle, photo by Yair Haklai|
My husband and I are getting ready for our annual visit to Prague. We fly from Orlando to Copenhagen, spending a few days there before heading on to the Czech Republic. One of the biggest tourist sites in Denmark is Kronberg Castle, said to be the home of Hamlet. At Kronberg Castle, you can see a performance of the play: http://kongeligeslotte.dk/en/palaces-and-gardens/kronborg-castle.html
Shakespeare took an older legend about Amleth, Prince of Denmark, and updated it: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/amleth.html.
Here's a summary of Shakespeare's Hamlet:"Events before the start of Hamlet set the stage for tragedy. When the king of Denmark, Prince Hamlet's father, suddenly dies, Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, marries his uncle Claudius, who becomes the new king.
A spirit who claims to be the ghost of Hamlet's father describes his murder at the hands of Claudius and demands that Hamlet avenge the killing. When the councilor Polonius learns from his daughter, Ophelia, that Hamlet has visited her in an apparently distracted state, Polonius attributes the prince's condition to lovesickness, and he sets a trap for Hamlet using Ophelia as bait.
To confirm Claudius's guilt, Hamlet arranges for a play that mimics the murder; Claudius’s reaction is that of a guilty man. Hamlet, now free to act, mistakenly kills Polonius, thinking he is Claudius. Claudius sends Hamlet away as part of a deadly plot.
After Polonius's death, Ophelia goes mad and later drowns. Hamlet, who has returned safely to confront the king, agrees to a fencing match with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, who secretly poisons his own rapier. At the match, Claudius prepares poisoned wine for Hamlet, which Gertrude unknowingly drinks; as she dies, she accuses Claudius, whom Hamlet kills. Then first Laertes and then Hamlet die, both victims of Laertes's rapier." from http://www.folger.edu/hamlet
I love the character or Hamlet, so different from the decisive, bloodthirsty men who populate most of Shakespeare's works. Hamlet is a modern man in the sense that he is unsure of any absolutes and is left without compelling reasons to choose this course of action rather than another. He is having the kind of "crisis of faith" that marks the 21st century.
This very famous speech conveys some of his anguished hesitation and uncertainty:
Hamlet, Act III, Scene I [To be, or not to be] by William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616
To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes,