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Hamlet

I must admit that whenever I think of Shakespeare, I think of Hamlet as his most pivotal masterpiece.  This is a play that is not easily forgotten.  Its thematic elements are still relevant today.  Even more, it is so layered that even after years of study, you cannot reach the core.  When I first read Hamlet in high school, I felt like he was a kindred spirit.  His conflicted state seemed to match my own.  Reading it again as a college junior, a young adult on the cusp of entering the real world, I felt his dilemmas to be all the more relevant.  Even more, I studied closely the social implications of his actions.  In class, I did a close examination of his relationship with Ophelia which changes from one of mutual love into an abusive relationship where despite her resistance, Ophelia internalizes the abuse she receives, which as we all know has deathly consequences.  And perhaps, that is the beauty and genius of the play: it shows how cruelly tragic our world can be.  Even with the best intentions, everything can go so horribly wrong.

Now for our film requirements, I watched both the BBC production and the epic Kenneth Branagh version.  Let me tell you, the Branagh version stood out more.  He definitely took an old play that many write off as being difficult to understand and irrelevant for modern audiences and made it into a modern day Hollywood masterpiece.  While dealing with the same text, the same Shakespeare language, and the same characters – he took the play and built it up anew.  The sets and the costumes were brilliant as was the acting.  With Branagh playing the lead, Hamlet, and Kate Winslet as Ophelia, audiences get a brand new look at the timeless play.  I strongly urge anyone interested in Hamlet to see this production.  I absolutely loved it.  While it is an epic four hours, it is definitely worth the time investment.

I just remember sitting in class discussing this play and thinking, this is exactly why I came to college to study English literature.  The conversations inspired by reading Hamlet in a college classroom are the kind of conversation I want to always be having: they are philosophical social criticisms that will always be pertinent because they contemplate the human conditions.  Anyone who doesn’t see that, isn’t really getting to the heart of Hamlet or to Shakespeare because his plays are much more than stories acted out on stage.  They are bolder and deeper than that.

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