An Interpretation of Hamlet

Meghan O’Rourke has an interesting take on Hamlet:

I had a hard time sleeping right after my mother died. The nights were long and had their share of what C.S. Lewis, in his memoir A Grief Observed, calls “mad, midnight … entreaties spoken into the empty air.” One of the things I did was read. I read lots of books about death and loss. But one said more to me about grieving than any other: Hamlet. I’m not alone in this. A colleague recently told me that after his mother died he listened over and over to a tape recording he’d made of the Kenneth Branagh film version.

I had always thought of Hamlet’s melancholy as existential. I saw his sense that “the world is out of joint” as vague and philosophical. He’s a depressive, self-obsessed young man who can’t stop chewing at big metaphysical questions. But reading the play after my mother’s death, I felt differently. Hamlet’s moodiness and irascibility suddenly seemed deeply connected to the fact that his father has just died, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. He is radically dislocated, stumbling through the world, trying to figure out where the walls are while the rest of the world acts as if nothing important has changed.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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