Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hamlet & Ophelia by John Marsden

After reading Hamlet and Ophelia (which is titled just Hamlet in the US), I'm still not certain whether Hamlet loved Ophelia or whether he actually went mad or just pretended to. And I still don't have a really clear idea of Ophelia as a character. Since these matters have been the subject of academic debates since forever, I'm of two minds whether it means that Marsden did a really good job, and whether this modern narrative version's ambiguities are more frustrating than the play's.

Aside from some anachronisms, mostly character habits and language (example: one of the characters mentions hormones, which is a 20th century word), very little of this book doesn't come directly from the play. The former teacher in me was finding ways to incorporate it into a Hamlet unit, which would probably work well for a lower-level lit classes. The re-adaption lacks quite a bit of the wit of the original play (though some scenes incorporate it well--like the cemetery scene. "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well."). Mostly, I really like the idea of the debates that could stem from the interpretations Marsden makes in contrast to how others read the play. Like Ophelia.

Ophelia's presence is a mystery. Supposedly she's a possible love interest for Hamlet, so Marsden takes a few liberties in trying to flesh out her character, but I found that to be even more confusing. He paints her as a little unbalanced from the beginning, which I don't recall any hint of in the play (but it has been a few years since I read it), and she lusts wildly after Hamlet, though she is mostly discreet about it. I've personally tended to infer from the play that Ophelia and Hamlet had a sexual relationship before his father's death, but in Marsden's interpretation, it's all lust. Descriptive lust.

I wonder how anyone who's never experienced the play before would feel about this book. Loving the play, I'm not totally crazy about it, but I certainly think it has its merits.
One perk is that I'm totally in the mood to go re-read the play.

I would without hesitation recommend it to high school lit teachers and it definitely belongs in high school libraries everywhere (assuming your local school library is still operational), though you can expect a few challenges from parents who take exception to Ophelia's allowing her fingers in close proximity to her thighs while she thinks about Hamlet.


bermudaonion said...

It's been so long since I read the play, that I probably wouldn't understand a lot of this.

Zibilee said...

I just finished a book that was a sort of prelude to the Hamlet story and after reading your review I really want to read this one as well. I think it would be interesting to compare both books to the play and see what thoughts take shape in my mind. Thanks for this excellent and timely review. I will have to see if I can find this book!