A Time-traveller Reviews Hamlet

I’ve been studying Hamlet with the University of Birmingham, through FutureLearn. One of this week’s tasks was to write an imaginary blog post up to 500 words in length in the person of an Elizabethan spectator who has just seen a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. So here it is:

To the Globe Theatre last night to hear The Lord Chamberlain’s Men perform Mr William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet’ with Mr Richard Burbage playing the leading role once again. And what a spectacle it was! So many unexpected twists and turns in the story, I quite forgot to mourn the surprising lack of dramatic violence by which I would have expected Hamlet to exact his revenge on his usurping uncle at his soonest opportunity after he found out what the villain had done.

Surprising too was the person of the ghost, which chose to address itself only to Hamlet and not to its murderer, unfaithful wife, or even the audience. A much underused role, I feel, and wish we could have seen more of it at the end of the play when all save Horatio – the very good friend of Hamlet – are killed by their own or other’s hands.

Indeed, the ghost could have urged Hamlet on much earlier in the story, when he had the opportunity – but not, it seems, the inclination – to kill his uncle as he knelt at prayers. This Hamlet, compared to many revengers, had a strong moral heart, although that seemed to fail towards later parts of the play, when he killed his uncle’s advisor – the father of one he seemed to hope to marry – and then sent two more of his uncle’s men – supposedly his friends to their certain deaths.

But I did like the final death scenes. The brother of Hamlet’s dead ladylove, wishing to avenge his sister and their father, challenges Hamlet to a fencing bout – but with a poisoned sword. A riotous fight ensued, taking in all of the stage, before both were pierced with the fatal blade and Hamlet’s uncle and mother died also.

A most remarkable spectacle, and one I should like to revisit with my kinsfolk when they visit me in London next month.

What fun! I can definitely recommend this method of study, and have several other courses that I want to join at intervals throughout the year.

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