Reading Hamlet and Ophelia by John Marsden is the closest I’ve come to reading Shakespeare. I’m not even familiar with any of Shakespeare’s stories, except for Romeo and Juliet, and the only reason I know that plot is because of the gorgeous film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes which was directed by the fabulous Baz Luhrmann.
I tried reading Macbeth once, but couldn’t get past the first page. When I saw John Marsden’s name on this book, I had high hopes of learning to love Shakespeare’s work.
John Marsden is an Australian author who writes books for children and teenagers. My daughter introduced me to the ‘Tomorrow’ series and despite being an adult, I’ve enjoyed and appreciated a great many of his books. If you haven’t read any, get yourself to a bookshop and buy ‘Tomorrow, When the War Began’. John Marsden is a good writer who tells a good story (there is no higher praise than this).
Okay, back to Hamlet and Ophelia. The main character, Hamlet, is crazy. He is also the Prince of Denmark. In the opening pages, the reader learns that Hamlet’s father was recently murdered by his own brother, Claudius, as he wanted to become king. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, married Claudius just two months after Hamlet’s father’s death, and Hamlet strongly suspects her of carrying on with Claudius well before his father’s death (talk about sibling rivalry). Apparently, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
While Hamlet is struggling emotionally following his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage, Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost, demanding that Hamlet seek revenge for his death. Polonius, an adviser to Claudius, was so hungry for power that he was accidently killed by Hamlet while eavesdropping on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother. Hamlet is in love with Ophelia, Polonius’s daughter, but not surprisingly, after her father’s death she also suffers mental health issues and suicides.
This whole bunch of Danish royalty were a sad and sorry lot, and an extreme example of a dysfunctional family. The only character who appeared to be good, sane and honourable in this whole book was Horatio, Hamlet’s friend. Everyone speaks in riddles, from cryptic gravediggers to the main characters.
I did enjoy coming across phrases and quotes in Hamlet and Ophelia from Shakespeare which are in common use today, and I particularly liked Horatio’s advice to Hamlet, that “If your heart dislikes anything, obey it. Trust your instincts.”
“To be or not to be, that is the question,” is from Hamlet too. I never knew the meaning of this quote, but when he says this Hamlet is querying if it is better to live or die. Better to live, I say. There is so much to look forward to and take pleasure in. However, my life is a lot less complicated than Hamlet’s was.
After reading Hamlet and Ophelia by John Marsden I wouldn’t go out of my way to read Shakespeare. This story lacked depth and I was disappointed that the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia wasn’t developed more fully. Although I’m a reader, rather than a movie buff, I’m going to watch the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet, because I feel that I have to get to the bottom of what Hamlet and Shakespeare are all about. This retelling was too superficial to give me the Shakespeare experience that I was looking for. Either that or I could try harder with the real thing and persevere with The Tragedy of Hamlet.