"To be or not to be." That's probably all you'd heard of Hamlet until you had to start reading it for class. Little did you know that Shakespeare's 500 year old play would be full of betrayal, violence, lust, and an argument for proper mental health.
What it's about
Poor little Prince Hamlet. The guy's father (and former king) has just died, and Hamlet's uncle Claudius has wasted no time in taking the throne and marrying Hamlet's widowed mom (weird, right?). The play starts off supernatural as the dead king's ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and that it’s time for revenge.
Now Hamlet thinks before he acts, which you would think is a good thing. But this guy thinks A LOT about getting revenge, isolating himself and acting weird. This makes others think that Hamlet may be struggling mentally.
And maybe the guy is. First Hamlet tries to confirm Claudius's guilt by having actors perform a play that closly resembles Claudius killing the former king. Because Claudius reacts to the story with what seems like personal connection, Hamlet is convinced that his uncle is guilty (never mind judges and juries; let's just have actors reenact crimes to test if someone is guilty from now on).
Erratic behavior then ensues. Hamlet doesn't attempt to kill Claudius while praying because he thinks that will send the King to heaven. In another scene, Hamlet hears someone behind a tapestry. He stabs and kills the man thinking it is Cladius, but soon discovers that it's his girlfriend's father Polonius (Oh big surprise! When you don't check who is behind a curtain before you kill them, you could make a mistake).
Meanwhile, Hamlet's girlfriend Ophelia can't deal with all of the drama. Her boyfriend's mean to her and he killed her father. Therefore, she acts mentally disturbed and eventually decides to drown herself (we would've recommend she seek counseling or take a break from this messed up castle).
And now everyone wants to hurt each other. Claudius wants Hamlet dead; Hamlet wants Claudius dead; Polonius's son Laertes wants Hamlet dead.
Claudius sets up a sword-fight, which in those days weren't necessarily fatal. Except Claudius poisons the tip of Laertes's sword and also poisons a drink he wants Hamlet to have. Well everything gets messed up - Hamlet's mom drinks from the cup first and dies. Then Laertes stabs Hamlet with the poisonous sword, but also gets some in him (so Laertes dies). That leaves Hamlet alive just long enough to kill Claudius (after waiting 5 acts). Hamlet is the last to fall.
Somewhat randomly, an invading Norwegian prince called Fortinbras enters to find that all of the royalty are dead. So he takes over the country and gives Hamlet an honorable burial.
Your favorite part will be
While Gertrude and Claudius are far from exemplary parents, they show concern for Hamlet's mental health. Their solution? Get his college buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to reach out to the guy and find out why he's acting differently.
The cause-y angles
Hamlet struggles with his mental well-being the entire play.
He feels like he can't handle his grief over the king's death, showing depression and lack of interest in things.
Hamlet feels a need for revenge, and acts aggressively toward friends and family.
Hamlet cannot decide how to act, and impulsively changes his mind.
Hamlet constantly talks about the pros and cons of living vs ending his life. In his most famous monologue beginning with "To be or not to be," Hamlet is certain that the world is full of pain, he is uncertain of what will happen in the afterlife.
Ophelia is traumatized when Hamlet murders her father. She acts completely deranged and eventually takes her own life.
Hamlet hardly exemplifies the perfect boyfriend. He verbally and physically abuses Ophelia. Showing no affection, he pushes her away (Get thee to a nunnery!), then later claims that he has always loved her.
It seems like every character's solution to conflict is to kill someone. Hamlet wants to kill his uncle (and accidentally kills Polonius), Laertes wants to kill Hamlet....it's like these people have never heard of talking things out or even dividing the castle into my side vs. your side.
Hamlet has a difficult time accepting that his mother has needs (whether the reader thinks these are affection, companionship, lust, or sexuality is debatable). That is why he is rather appalled by her willingness to marry Claudius (and because she did it so quickly after the king's death).
Hamlet becomes increasingly sexist toward women, pushing Ophelia away and showing contempt for his mother's recent marriage. He even stereotypes, "Frailty, thy name is woman!"
Women have very few options in the play's setting, never being taken seriously regarding careers or key decisions. Gertrude's only way to keep the highest female power of Queen is to marry another man, no leadership skills involved.
Hamlet spends all of his time thinking about his family and his revenge. Never does he think about how the citizens of an entire country are affected by the events taking place at the castle.
What do the people of Denmark think about all of this monarch switching? This deadly royal family quarrel is definitely a case for democracy.