Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Neil Babra

Rating: WORTHY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A web version of Hamlet done in this way can be found here.

I'm familiar Hamlet from its general reputation, and from the Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson movie versions, but I've never read the original play. I will be setting that right at some point since reading this gave me an idea for a novel! Those who have no familiarity with this story (the full title of which is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but shorted merely to Hamlet for this book) might be surprised to discover how many quite well-known English catch-phrases were derived from this play. It seems like it's full of them. This was Shakespeare's longest work and was derived from the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth which in the beginning is very much like the Hamlet we know, although the ending is rather more convoluted (Amleth ends up with two wives!).

This graphic novel follows the 'No Fear' text, and the black and white line drawings are rudimentary (and predictably shaded dark in many places!), so the artwork was no great shakes (peer!), but overall I liked the way this was done. I found it eminently readable and easy follow (although frankly the text could have been more legibly printed, especially in the reversed panels where it was white text on a black background).

The story is of course that Hamlet's uncle, with the rather un-Danish name of Claudius, murdered Hamlet's father and took over the throne, but disguised the murder and got away with it. This never made any sense to me. Hamlet was old enough to be king, so if his father was king but died (whether murdered or through natural causes), why was Hamlet not king? I think Shakespeare screwed up!

Whether Hamlet was insane or merely faking it to achieve the end result of exposing his uncle is a much debated question. I think at first there is no doubt of his sanity, but certain later actions of his, such as his lack of remorse at slaying the father of the woman he purportedly loved, and his callous rejection of this same woman and lack of concern over her becoming unhinged suggest to me that while he wasn't exactly what I'd term missing a few planks from his stage, he was certainly a folio short of a play!

So in the end, as is the wont in Shakespeare's tragedies, there's a slaughter and, as Prince Escalus might have it, "all are punish'd." Denmark falls to Norway, the very nation which was lost a war with it before the play begins. This part made no sense to me either. Did Shakespeare not know his Europe? It made zero sense that Norwegian armies would need to March across Denmark to get to Poland! Why did they not go directly through Sweden (a country with which they had not been at war recently), or simply sail though the Baltic? That Shakespeare, I tell you! But let's take a page out of Shakespeare's book on this: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"! So it's all good and I recommend this one.