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Hamlet
William Shakespeare

THE PLAY

POINT OF VIEW

The main thing to remember about Hamlet, as about any play, is that it is not a novel, in which the story is seen through the eyes of the author or the character who narrates. A play is told by having the characters present their opposing points of view in conflict with each other. We call the sum total of what these represent, when the action is completed, the author's vision. The great challenge of writing a play, which Shakespeare met more brilliantly than any writer who ever lived, is to make each character seem to take on an independent existence, with his own motives and his own approach to life, and yet have all these independent entities add up to one thing.


Because Shakespeare's sense of life was so broad and inclusive, many people have complained over the centuries that he does not tell his readers how to view the characters: Is Hamlet mad or sane, good or evil? Is it right for him to keep postponing his revenge? Are Claudius' tactics justified? Do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve to be put to death? In a general sense, Shakespeare answers all these questions for the audience of his own time by never directly attacking the standard beliefs of an ordinary Elizabethan theatergoer. Because his artistry is so great, however, his characters are so strongly individualized that their actions can be interpreted many different ways, like the actions of real people, whose motives we can never fully understand. As a result, there is no one interpretation, no permanently fixed point of view to a play like Hamlet; its beauty is bound up with the fact that it can mean so many different things to people and be understood in so many different ways.  

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