This is what I said last week when my English Lit professor mentioned Hamlet: Shakespeare scares me. I’m not afraid to admit that I cower at the thought of reading the works of a guy who’s been dead for over five hundred years. It’s just that his plays are so hard to understand, not to mention booooooooooring…
This is me after reading Act I of Hamlet: Shakespeare is pretty cool, not to mention funny… as long as you actually understand what he’s saying.
Okay, let me backtrack a little.
I’m a Literature major (I’ve mentioned that so many times on this blog that you’re probably tired of hearing it). I’m about to graduate and the only Shakespeare I’ve read is King Lear, and I can’t remember a thing about it except that they all, you know, died in the end.
So, after seeing seeing Mel Gibson as Hamlet, I decided to remedy the situation by reading the original text. Luckily, I found an edition with a modern line-for-line translation at my favorite secondhand bookstore. I felt so smug, since I could finally understand what Hamlet was saying.
And guess what?
I love it. My favorite character so far is Polonius. There’s a part in Act I Scene III where Laertes, Polonius’s son, is leaving for France. Polonius gives him a load of advice, and every single word out of his mouth is like a gem that you have to treasure. Here’s a sample:
Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t th’opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.He’s telling Laertes to avoid getting into fights, but to make sure he wins if he does get himself in one. I think Polonius means something deeper, but I prefer to think of the above quote in that context. Dude (I can call you dude, right Polonius?), why is my father not like you? You’re too cool for words.
My favorite Polonius line, though, is almost a cliché these days:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.To thine own self be true! That’s like a non-cheesy way of telling someone to follow his heart. Someday, I’m going to put that on a gold plaque, and hang it over my door. The quote spoke to me on a completely different level. It echoed in my brain, and tattooed itself on my heart.
How can I be true to myself when I don’t even know who that is? In my Theology class two years ago, the teacher asked us to draw a symbol that represented our individual selves, and I was stumped. I had no idea what I was supposed to draw to represent “myself,” and I still don’t.
But I guess figuring out who I am or who I’m supposed to be is half the fun. From now on, I’m going to try to be true to myself as much as I can.
I look forward to reading Act II.