Hamlet requires patience and concentration. The play’s language is at times difficult to follow. If you find yourself trying to fit in a scene or two when you have only a few minutes to spare, you probably won’t make much meaningful headway. As Hamlet says in Act II, Scene 2, when Polonius asks him what he is reading, it will just seem like “Words, words, words.” But you can help yourself if you bear the following in mind as you “watch” the play unfold.
We learn initially that Hamlet is deeply distrustful of Claudius and angry at his mother for remarrying so soon after her husband’s death. Hamlet is still in mourning even though his father has been dead almost two months; at this point, however, he doesn’t know that his father was murdered. One reason for his prolonged period of mourning is due no doubt to how quickly Gertrude and Claudius, as well as the subjects of Denmark, have moved on. This perplexes Hamlet; he feels isolated in his grief. He also senses that the most basic propriety of honoring a recently deceased king, who also happened to be his father, has been sacrificed to political expediency and lust.
Hamlet is highly intelligent and introspective. Consistent with his deep sadness, or melancholy, and the anger he feels toward Claudius and Gertrude, he is also deeply disillusioned. The impassioned soliloquy he delivers in Act I is characteristically intellectual and soul-searching (as are many of his speeches in the play):
O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ‘tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. (l. 129 - 137)
The world in Hamlet’s view, or at least that part of it represented by Elsinore and Denmark, is a...