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Some of the toughest questions in life remain unanswered. No matter how much you brood over them, twist and twirl them in your head, they just don’t seem to get solved. What’s worse is that they can get even more complicated and entangle your little head deeper and deeper into its mystery. Many real life people have broken their heads pondering over these tough questions. But this scenario is true of many literary characters as well-the most famous of them being Hamlet. He is ridden with thoughts of revenge but also conflicted with how to execute this task. And we will all unanimously agree that the question of revenge is undeniably a tough one. Revenge can prick your conscience, corrupt your soul, foster evil etc, but if your father’s ghost orders you to do it, then what can one do but carry out the task? Poor Hamlet was indeed in one problematic quandary.
For those who are not in the know, ‘Hamlet‘ by William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest tragedies written by him. The play begins with a couple of guards on the night duty watch who come across a mysterious ghostly apparition while on duty. The latter doesn’t talk to them, doesn’t reveal anything to them. Horatio, one of Hamlet’s loyal friends, who witnesses this scene with the guards, then decides to inform Hamlet about the ghost. Till now, Hamlet is gravely mourning his father’s death and is greatly perturbed by his mother, Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle, Claudius, who is now the King of Denmark. Hamlet’s disgust with this incestuous relationship reveals itself in his first, masterfully delivered soliloquy. But when Horatio informs him about the ghost and Hamlet decides to see for himself what the apparition is, the play takes a turn because the ghost is none other than Hamlet’s father who tells him about the actual cause of his death(which was murder) and also instructs Hamlet to take revenge of his death. So now Hamlet is not just grief stricken but also burdened by an immense task and a knowledge of a murder that few are aware of. It is not easy to take revenge against a King who is comfortably on the throne with public support. Murdering the King would amount to treason and further, Hamlet himself is worried about the moral implications on his soul if he does commit the crime. Hamlet is thus very much alone in his dilemma. Everyone in the court (with the exception of Horatio) seems against him or plotting against him. Though he is swift in establishing the guilt of Claudius by staging the play,The Murder of Gonzago, that also has a murder of the King by his brother by similar means, his inaction in carrying out revenge says a lot about his conflicted attitude towards the whole business of revenge. Does he finally carry out the task his father’s ghost set out for him? Or does he simply ruminate over it throughout the play without any conclusive answers being revealed to him? Now these are questions that can be solved if you read the whole play. If only Hamlet could have had such an easy way out of his conundrum.
‘Hamlet‘ is a thoroughly enjoyable play to read. Hamlet himself is a complex, many layered character. However, the entire play itself is constructed with much ingenuity to create Hamlet’s complexity of character. His inactivity is contrasted with both Laertes and Prince Fortinbras’ hot blooded desire to take revenge. The play has many sub plots as well-Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, Ophelia’s eventual madness, Polonius’ assumption about Hamlet’s madness, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s guise of friendship to get Hamlet to reveal his plans to them, the plot to kill Hamlet etc. ‘Hamlet ‘ is not a regular revenge tragedy which had flooded the Elizabethan and Jacobean literary periods. Instead, Shakespeare uses the themes of this genre to create a play that goes beyond the normative to create a character study, to show the influence of a corrupting society and court of Denmark on an individual, to show the politics and construction of power and many other aspects.
Melancholy and tragedies and brooding protagonists may not appeal to you any more in the 21st century, but ‘Hamlet’ has a universality in its story and themes that makes the play such an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating read. And here’s another reason to read the play: you can then boast about having read the oft quoted soliloquy, ‘to be or not to be,’ the famous fatherly advice by Polonius to his son, Laertes; Ophelia’s suicide which has been the subject of many paintings etc. and then pretend to be an intellectual.
I am sure everyone and I mean EVERYONE knows about Romeo and Juliet, the famous balcony scene in Verona,their cute, puppy love and their tragic deaths. But how many have actually experienced this renowned story by actually reading the play written by Shakespeare. And, no, reading a summary or a Charles Lamb version does not count as having read the play. In order to really understand these two eternal lovers’ story and cry over their tragic fate, one must read Shakespeare’s play, ‘Romeo And Juliet‘ that has immortalized them and made it one of the greatest love story ever told. No pitiful synopsis can compare reading the actual play.
So if everyone knows the plot of this play, why bother going in details? Nonetheless, there may be some ignorant souls in this world still. So lets enlighten them. Romeo and Juliet belong to the two different, wealthy families in Verona- Montagues and Capulets respectively. Both the families have the same social standing in the city. And both for reasons that Shakespeare does not elaborate hate each other. So once the Montague men crash the Capulet feast and ball wherein Romeo sets eyes on Juliet and falls in love with her. Later the famous balcony scene occurs where both pour out beautiful, lyrical verses to profess their love for each other and Juliet puts the proposition of marriage.Later, both are happily married by Friar Lawrence. However, their family feud is one of the problems in their marriage. Later, Mercutio, one of the Montagues, is killed by Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin, in a street brawl. Therefore, Romeo sets out to kill Tybalt and succeeds whereupon he is banished from Verona by the Prince. Another complication is that Juliet’s parents want her to marry a fellow named Paris. They know nothing of her marriage to Romeo and now that he is a killer and is banished(not to mention that he is a Montague), Juliet cannot talk about it either. Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris is not accepted. So now both the lovers are in a pickle. How they try to get themselves out of this mess is for you to find out by reading the whole play.
Quite frankly, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ does not have much in terms of story. It seems like a game of Fate and a bunch of chance encounters and missed ones that takes the play forward. The tragedy could have been easily averted (but then there wouldn’t be a story, you might rebuff!). What makes the play memorable is the effusive verse with very quotable quotes and not to mention the use of the then popular sonnet tradition. This last feature makes the play quintessentially an Elizabethan romance(although the story existed much before Shakespeare immortalized it).
Like many of his other plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ also have a mixture of comedy and tragedy. Initially, the story is so comic that you would scoff at the thought of it ending tragically. It is only the numerous foreshadowing in terms of the prologue, dreams and visions that the play is peppered with that makes one think otherwise. Only after Mercutio’s death and Romeo’s banishment does the play become wholly serious and gravity of the lovers’ situation becomes apparent. From here onwards, even the lines become more intense with passion and gravity.
Apart from the tragic lovers, there are other unforgettable characters as well, chiefly: Mercutio, Nurse(to Juliet), Friar Lawrence and to some extent the lovers’ parents and Tybalt. Their part in either hastening or stalling the tragedy is also very important.
So, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ may have a silly, even stupid plot (The play within a play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ staged in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ can be considered as a parody of ‘Romeo and Juliet’) but stands out because of the wonderfully elegant verse, the splendid imagery, the beautiful depiction of light and dark, and last but not the least: the innocent and fated love of the young Romeo and Juliet.It is a beautiful play, undoubtedly a must read that exalts love and the idea of love. Watching a good stage adaptation is a bonus and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version goes a long way to bring the Shakespearean magic on the screen. It is more or less faithful to the plot and uses the cinematic space to its advantage to elaborate many famous scenes of the play. It is an excellent film adaptation. A must watch!