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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: August ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1595  Thursday, 26 August 2004

From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Aug 2004 16:06:28 +0800
Subject:        The Meaning of Hamlet

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

I am presenting here, for your learned discussion and criticism, an
interpretation of Hamlet which I hope you will find worthy of
consideration. It explains, under a single coherent theme, practically
every puzzling aspect of the play. This understanding of Hamlet also
consistently fits what is openly presented in the play, and does not
rely on the need to read between the lines or to speculate on hidden
actions.

It appears to me that Shakespeare has meticulously crafted every part of
Hamlet to convey a profound spiritual message. This message
reverberates, scene after scene, throughout the play with unmistakable
consistency, and can be summarized as five inter-related themes:

1) The need to recognize the mystery world we are all in and the
importance of accepting the inevitability of death and facing the profound.

2) Our propensity, instead, to hide from the truth by indulging in
distractions and by artificially beautifying what is rotten inside.

3) How as a result of being false to ourselves in this way, we end up
being false to others.

4) The question we need to ask of whether we are not, in fact, mad in
doing all this.

5) Why revenge and condemnation of others is wrong, and how an
acceptance of reality and the inevitability of death, coupled with this
frame of mind, is a disaster.

These themes in Hamlet are repeated throughout the play like an endless
echo. Understanding the meaning of Hamlet in this way also explains
practically all the puzzling aspects of the play, including the following:

     * the reason for Hamlet's delay in exacting his revenge;
     * why Hamlet himself is unsure why he delays;
     * the purpose of the long swearing ritual at the end of Act I;
     * the reason for Polonius's long dialogue with Reynaldo;
     * why the status of Hamlet's madness is ambiguous;
     * the purpose of the long dramatic recitation on Pyrrhus;
     * the reason for Hamlet's savage treatment of Ophelia;
     * the meaning of the "To be" soliloquy;
     * the reason for Hamlet's advice (on acting) to the players;
     * why the King does not react to the dumb show;
     * why Hamlet lacks remorse after accidentally killing Polonius;
     * the meaning behind the nature of Ophelia's death;
     * the purpose of the long graveyard scene;
     * why Hamlet grapples in fury with Laertes at the gravesite;
     * the purpose of the prolonged dialogue with Osric;
     * the meaning behind the final duel scene.

All the above, and more, can be shown to be artistic means for imparting
the central message in Hamlet. I will be happy, on this Forum, to
elaborate further on this, and welcome any comments or discussion. I
believe it is important to understand the spiritual meaning of the play
because it reveals that Hamlet is nothing short of an artistic miracle,
reflected both in its poetic brilliance and in the profundity of its
message.

The points introduced here are largely taken from my book "Quintessence
of Dust."
(See http://www.hamlet.vze.com or the publisher's site at
http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=059531337X )

There is, however, no need to read the book for this discussion - I will
clarify what I mean above as required.

Regards
Kenneth Chan

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