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Hamlet December 4, 2007

Posted by audiobooksnow in Classic Literature, Dramatizations, Shakespeare.
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Hamlet, which dates from 1600-1601, is the first in Shakespeare’s great series of four tragedies, the others being Othello (1603), King Lear (1605) and Macbeth (1606). In writing this extraordinary play Shakespeare effectively re-invented tragedy after an interval of roughly two thousand years – we have to go back to the Greek dramatists of 5th century Athens to find anything of comparable depth and maturity.

Hamlet Audio BookCertainly Shakespeare had already dealt with tragic themes and situations in plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Richard II and Julius Caesar, but in Hamlet he found himself able to fuse with complete artistic success the conflicting concerns of the private individual and the public state of which he is a member, or for which he may indeed be responsible – Hamlet is, after all. Prince of Denmark. This is a quin-tessentially Renaissance theme: it is no longer enough to appeal to an accepted moral or religious system, but instead each man must find out for himself a moral path through the ‘unweeded garden’ of life.

The first known version of the Hamlet story is found in the twelfth century Historia Danica by Saxo Grammaticus. Most of the main ingredients of the story are already present, albeit in primitive form, and some of the names, too -‘Amlethus’ for Hamlet. In 1576 Francois de Belleforest retold the story in his Histoires Tragiques, translated into English in 1608 and hence too late for Shakespeare to have read – but someone, perhaps Thomas Kyd, came across the story in the 1580’s and turned it into a play which must have been Shakespeare’s immediate source, however radically different Shakespeare’s version turned out to be. We know, incidentally, that the idea of a ghost seeking revenge comes from this lost play: Thomas Lodge in 1596 writes of the ‘ghost which cried so miserably at The Theater, like an oyster wife, "Hamlet, revenge. ‘"

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