For three decades, I taught William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, to seniors in several independent secondary schools. It was popular with the students who were headed to Ivy League schools to major in English. It was unexpectedly embraced by students who wore leather jackets, weren’t applying to college anywhere, and would rather be caught dead than liking Shakespeare.
They were all bright students and I think they would have a field day with it in today’s world.
It is the unlikely story of the young Hamlet whose father, the King, has been murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle. The murderous brother, Claudius, immediately takes the throne and marries the widowed queen. Hamlet spends a good portion of the play worrying and trying to decide whether to kill Claudius. It is the play that contains the soliloquy, famous even among those who don’t read Shakespeare, that begins, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
But, to be fair, Hamlet is in a bad situation and he laments, “The times are out of joint. Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set them right.” He takes his responsibility seriously.
The belief at that time was that, if human beings did something terrible, like murder, the whole universe was knocked out of balance. There were storms and comets and all sorts of natural mayhem, until someone righted the wrong. Hamlet believes he’s the man.
My own favorite passage from the play is this one. Without further explanation, I will say only that I believe it is a near-perfect description of where we find ourselves today. We need to be ready.
a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be
now, ‘tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be
now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the
readiness is all” (Hamlet, V, ii)
If you want a visual treat, go to Google Images and just type in Hamlet.