To Be Irritated, Or Not To Be Irritated… That Is The Question

To Be Irritated, Or Not To Be Irritated… That Is The Question

I like Hamlet. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say I’m a Hamlet fangirl, though a few years ago I was claiming not to like Shakespeare. When one of my English Literature teachers informed us we would be studying it this term, I was over the moon. They informed us we would have to buy our own copies if we wanted to write in it; I did so and immediately started annotating it gleefully in orange gel pen. I track the Hamlet tag on Tumblr. I saw Hamlet the Musical a few weeks ago. I ship Hamlet/Horatio more than I ship Hamlet/Ophelia. I once had a text conversation about Hamlet in the middle of the night for no reason other than neither of us wanted to stop talking about it. I’m a Hamlet nerd, basically.

I first became interested in the play after it was referenced continually and used as a metaphor in one of my favourite books of all time – Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater. While studying the play in class, the main characters are asked which character they sympathise the most with.

“Ophelia,” says James. “Because no one told her what the hell was going on so she killed herself.”

Though this is a simplistic way of looking at her character, the gender opposite metaphor that followed was very clever and didn’t seem at all contrived. And I started to become interested in Hamlet.

This was about a year ago, and I was thinking at the time that I was very like the character Deirdre, not just in personality (something I regret!) but also in life events, though mine unfortunately lacks the fairies. A short while later I was discussing this with a friend (my ‘James’, if we are to continue comparing ourselves to characters), and we got into conversation about the Hamlet metaphor.

This resulted in an essay on the character of Ophelia, approximately seven text messages long, that I received at one in the morning.

But I hadn’t read Hamlet. Everything I knew about it was from that book, from the references, and that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t reply intelligently to this brilliant text message (which, alas, is lost to me now – I have long since had a new phone).

Fast forward to October. I’m on work experience at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, commuting an hour and a half each way to reach Cecil Sharp House in London. I’m working mainly on the front desk, but I also folded bunting. A lot of bunting.

One morning I was early, so I sat on one of the comfy chairs in reception and continued to read the book I’d been reading on the train. Somebody stopped and asked me, “What are you reading?”

“Hamlet,” I said, waving it vaguely at them, and they assumed I must be studying it because they asked me whether school was ruining it for me. I explained that I was reading it for fun. Because I wanted to. They were surprised, but pleased to hear this.

I didn’t get the play, but I still enjoyed it. I liked laughing at “‘Tis here! ‘Tis here! … ‘Tis gone.” I liked seeing the proper quotes in context.

And now I’m studying it. It’s a totally different experience. For a start, reading it through I’m picking up on things I did not understand last time, and I’m interpreting things in more depth. I’m enjoying writing the essays, for goodness’ sake! All you need to do to make someone do their work is give them a play they like :D

And it’s different because we’re watching it. Yesterday evening I was in school until half past five, watching the first half of the play with my English class. For much of it, I was the only one watching it. Later, there were two, perhaps three of us. Everybody else was talking, sharing pizza (we were allowed to order pizza to school. It was quite amusing because Domino’s thought it was a prank call), and complaining that they didn’t know what was going on, that they were bored.

“That’s because you’re not watching it,” I snapped at them. “If you watched it, perhaps you’d get it. She’s having an emotional breakdown and you’re just talking straight through it!” I gestured wildly at the screen, on which Ophelia was crying. “Yes, it’s long, but you wouldn’t be so bored if you actually watched the film.”

I was following it with the book because, when the classroom is that noisy, it’s the only way I could keep track of what was going on and who everybody was. I discovered a few more wonderful quotes, and a few things I’ve heard but didn’t realise were from Hamlet (most of the class had the same reaction to ‘to be or not to be’, which I thought was absolutely shocking), but my enjoyment was definitely marred by the class’s behaviour. You’d think, at sixteen, they’d be able to cope with Hamlet.

We’ve got the same thing again on Thursday, and if they talk all through the end I will not be happy. What’s more, they’ll come to lessons and say, “I don’t know what’s happening in this scene.” Because they didn’t watch the film.

But I’ll know, and I’ll be able to write the essays. And I’ve got my ‘James’ to talk passionately about the character of Ophelia at one in the morning, and I’ve got Maggie Stiefvater’s humorous paraphrases of certain scenes (“Horatio thinks we’ve been smoking mushrooms” is totally a good version of “Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy”).

And anyway, I’ve got a different version of the film at home, and I’ve heard you can watch the David Tennant one online, so I’m sorted. Class Hamlet showings – who needs them?

I’ve got plenty of Hamlet to keep me going.

What do you think of Hamlet / Shakespeare in general? Let me know in the comments! :)

40 thoughts on “To Be Irritated, Or Not To Be Irritated… That Is The Question

  1. You know exactly how much of a crazed Shakespeare fan I am . . . and I think I must now read “Ballad” so that I can find all these comparisons. Also, just to add to the Hamlet fan-ness, I might be picking out one of his soliloquies to perform in my Trinity Hall Grade Eight Drama exam this year, because they’re all so awesome and emotional. I love Hamlet as a character, because he’s really human and vulnerable and engaging – unlike a few other “princely” characters that Shakespeare throws at us. I like to think he knows how it feels to be the bookish nerd in a world where that’s only going to get you walked on. Then again, I also feel ridiculously sorry for Laertes sometimes – nobody told HIM what was going on either, and look how that ended.

    If you ever want a fellow Shakespeare nerd to blither with, feel free to contact me if your “James” is unavailable for any reason! It would make my day :)

          1. Indeed. Not that it didn’t affect anyone else either. My mum told me afterwards that she desperately just wanted to cuddle him in that scene on the throne, and she’s usually ridiculously detached from things like that.

  2. I adore Shakespeare. I was intimidated with his plays at first – the first time I read one, I did a double take and I actually said, “Is this English?” – but once I got into it I found that I liked his stories a lot. Admittedly, I’d only been able to read two unabridged versions (though I’ve read the rest in other formats), but I’m trying to read his full other works this year. It was really annoying when most of my classmates simply relied on Cliffnotes for “Midsummer”, and looked all horrified once I said I actually read it.

    Though I guess a lot of my fascination from Shakespeare also comes from “Gargoyles”. I love how the show blended it all together. :)

    1. I know that feeling – I have no patience at all with people who don’t bother to read the texts we’re set. It’s understandable lower down the school, when everyone is forced to take English, but at this stage you’ve chosen to be there and for goodness’ sake, read the play!

      1. I do think that’s ridiculous, that they don’t read it…

        I was going to say that at least your educational system works better than ours, but I guess not if some kids don’t do the work. But in the US, you don’t choose subjects, not really. Not in the sense that you’re sticking only with what you’re good at/what you need for a job. Everyone takes all the subjects here…

        Did that make any sense? I don’t feel like I’m making any sense.

        1. We take all subjects until GCSE (age 16), and then choose four subjects at A-Level or six subjects at IB (an alternative qualification of the same level). However, this varies from school to school. Some take 9 at GCSE, others take 12. Some take three at A-Level, others four, a few five but very rarely.

      2. Yes, yes, that’s what I meant! :D We don’t have anything like A-Level. Basically, all students meet the same requirements, although there’s a few differences, like if you’re going to be a mathematician, you’d fit in more years of math.

        1. Yeah, but I think you have fewer years of school over all? Like, you guys start a year later, and then finish at 17 instead… (and then I think possibly have 4 years at college/uni not 3?). That’s how my friend from Texas described the system. We start at age 4 and finish at age 18 so I guess it works out as the same number of years doing compulsory subjects.
          I also know that some people who go to uni in the US start in second year not first, because they’ve already covered that stuff during A-Levels.
          So yeah.

      3. Hmmm. I started at 6 and will be nearly 19 when I finish, I think. I guess you’re right…

        O_O Really? You only have three years at uni? Hmmm. I should probably research this stuff some more because I’d really rather go to college abroad and I’m sure other countries do things differently from us.

        Cool, so A-Levels are like college, basically, but in high school? College-level based on what we do in the US?

        If I do go to college here, I want to do three years anyway and so I’ll take some tests in high school that will (hopefully!) let me skip some classes.

        This is cool; thanks for telling me this stuff! *is shameless nerd*

        1. 3 years usually. My brother’s course is 2 years. Languages are generally 4 years – a year abroad, you see – and Scottish courses are all 4 years because they like to be different. Medicine is 5 years.
          A-Levels overlap with some first-year college work, I’ve been told, but obviously that depends on the subjects you took and the subject you’re studying at uni.
          You have to remember, over here most uni courses are very specific. I know you guys have the whole major/minor thing and though there are joint honours and combined honours courses here, most courses are just one subject.
          (I’m interested in studying Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, which is all one course. I’m a nerd. It’s Cambridge’s least oversubscribed course. We don’t talk about that.)

      4. Wow. 2 years… What’s he doing, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m guessing something very specific.

        Haha, I think it’s cool that courses in your country are more specific… when I’m the girl who kind of thinks it would be cool to triple-major. History, English, and paleontology! :D Or possibly acting instead of history.

        Is there a GCSE for Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, or is it just a uni thing? I’d think it would be difficult to learn if you’d never had any practice with it before.

        1. As it’s four languages that no one ever studies, it’s definitely a uni thing. It’s also only available at one uni in England, which is Cambridge. Irritating.
          He’s doing Music Production. It’s an intensive two year course – he has shorter holidays than most courses but it’s shorter overall.

      5. Oh. xD I guess I’m used to things being quite far away in the US, because if I don’t go abroad for uni my other choices are out near San Francisco or Washington DC – 2000 or 800 miles, respectively.

    1. When I was in my first year of secondary school, we did Midsummer Night’s Dream in Drama. But I had so many flute lessons during that particular period on Fridays that I missed half the lessons on it, so I think I only ever went to two. Thus, to this day I have no idea what happens in it.

    2. Nevillegirl I also like to read Hamlet. I was reading a book when I was 16. My first book that I read and learn more concentrically is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Our choice is similar.

  3. Hamlet was the first Shakespeare I read, followed soon after by various other texts of the Bard’s. I liked Hamlet, but I don’t think I quite knew what was going on for some of the time– the usual outcome. I’d watched lots of spoofs on the play prior to reading the real thing, and I had fun picking out the things that had been twisted around and misquoted. I enjoyed it, though.

    1. Hamlet is the first Shakespeare I read VOLUNTARILY, and I think will be my favourite for that reason :D
      Yeah, I know what you mean. My family are all nerds and my grandparents were very fond of Shakespeare, so we end up quoting a lot, but half the time I don’t know what it’s from! So I read something and it’s a moment of revelation – “Ah! That’s what that quote is!”

  4. The first Shakespeare play I read, was with my older sister, and it was Macbeth. She had to read it this last summer for school and we were reading it aloud and it was interesting to actually understand what was going on! I felt like a true Lit nerd (sort of) and the first Shakespeare play I didn’t get bored of was Richard the third. And was fantastic! And I’m dyyyying to read Hamlet after I found out David Tennant was in a version. But, also the satisfaction of reading a Shakespeare play never gets old to me. :)

      1. Haha, yeah that was probably the most unsavory part of the play. But I really enjoyed it, maybe because I only understood it when my sis and i spark noted it. But I felt all cool and semi shakespearean. it was quite refreshing actually.

  5. I don’t read too much Shakespeare. But when I do read something of his, once I get over the whole -completely-horrible-English thing, I find that I enjoy his writing :D

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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