Why does Hamlet still matter? Rebecca Glover
The play Hamlet composed by William Shakespeare approximately 400 years ago, remains relevant to the contemporary world due to its philosophical contemplations of the human condition, and what it is to be human. Hamlet explores the transience of life, and the consequences madness has in regard to suicidal tendencies and whether it is best “to be or not to be”. Further, Shakespeare integrates the concept of the revenge, tragedy, a factor Hamlet is renowned for; and the physical and psychological obstacles such a deceit one must conquer in their ultimate search for the truth, elements which remain pertinent to society today.
Shakespeare’s exploration of the complexity of the human condition is explored through his main character Hamlet’s divided consciousness, and the perpetual calculations of how he sees himself, or how others perceived him to be; all of which are notions present in the adolescent members of society today. It is through the exploration of themes such as filial relationships, Hamlet’s self-perception in regards to his inaction of revenge, Shakespeare’s soliloquies and various literary and drama techniques which demonstrate this to the contemporary audience.
Hamlet is contacted by his associates; Bernardo, Marcellus and Horatio who timidly enlighten the Prince of their encounter with a ghost who claims to be the revered King Hamlet. The presence of the ghost sets the play in motion as the well-known revenge tragedy society knows it as today, and establishes elements of the human condition which are still problematic in the modern world. The “goodly king… so majestical” and his unanticipated death to Hamlet and the entirety of Denmark has Hamlet melancholic to the extreme of suicide, exposed through the first soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2. This soliloquy reveals Hamlet’s divided consciousness as whether to commit such an unholy act, with knowledge that it is sinful. Hamlet protests to himself about God’s “cannon ‘gainst self-slaughter”, leading to Shakespeare’s reference to King Hamlet as Hyperion, contrasted against “my father’s brother” a satyr, by Hamlet himself to emphasise the psychological impact the hasty remarriage his mother had on Hamlet’s grieving over his father. Hamlet tortures himself over the newly forged relationship between his other and uncle, resulting in Hamlet blaming Gertrude for marriage of “such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. This establishes Hamlet’s obsession with Ophelia and Gertrude’s forced reactions to events due to the oppressive patriarchal nature of Hamlet’s time, rather than the deceitfulness of man, also exploring Hamlet’s division of consciousness of who is more to blame; the “breeders of sinners” or the “satyr” (Claudius) and fraudulence of old friends.