Review– Classic Favorite: Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Review by Pauline Creeden

When I decided to reread and review a Shakespeare play for this series, I was torn between Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Both of these tragedies are love stories of sorts, but R & J is so overdone, don’t you think?

Both stories are my favorites of Shakespeare’s, and are etched in my memory from reading them both in high school and in college.

R & J is so easily adapted into today’s culture. Star-crossed lovers, families who hate one another like the Hatfields and McCoys, and even the overly dramatic teen love is so easily adapted and relatable.

But what about Hamlet? Is it easy to relate to a man who is losing his mind because his uncle has killed his father and married his mother? A man who treats his beloved as a traitor and drives her to madness as well? How does this adapt to today’s culture?

Pretty good, actually. Watch a show of Jerry Springer sometime.

But another modern adaptation comes to mind. The Oprah book of the month selection back in 2009, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, adapted Hamlet for modern audiences. In fact, many who had never read the original picked up this book because Oprah said so.

And what was the modern reaction? Outrage. Look up the reviews at Amazon, and you’ll see this bestseller’s average review is 3 stars. American audiences of today do not want a tragedy. Just as Shakespeare didn’t pull punches and allow a happy ending, neither did David Wroblewski. I read this book myself back in 2009 and must say it is memorable, and in the end I was outraged, too.

American audiences can hold the Denmark prince at arms length, shake our heads and say, “too bad,” when things fall apart. But make the Denmark prince an American deaf boy, and it becomes difficult not to get involved.

So what about you? How do you think American audiences should treat tragedies?