What Does Hamlet Symbolize?

Sometimes when I’m looking for content, I troll for homework questions. Today, I got this one: What does Hamlet symbolize?

I find questions like that odd. And, really, unanswerable.  I think Shakespeare wrote primarily to entertain.  I think that his stuff entertains more than the other guy because his stuff really digs in and gets at what it means to be a human, and he puts that out there on the stage. I don’t think Hamlet symbolizes indecision or consequences or thought versus action, I think that Shakespeare tells the story of what happens to a man who embodies those characteristics.

Does that make sense?  When I hear “symbolize” I think, “The author wants me to discover a deeper meaning here, something that I must interpret for myself because he’s not going to come out and tell me.”  I can’t imagine the groundlings doing their English homework and debating the symbolism.

Am I way off base?  Maybe the English teachers in the crowd can chime in.  What is the expected answer for a question like that?  Do we really think it’s what Shakespeare meant from the beginning, or are we really just asking for an answer that is mutually agreed upon by later generations? 

15 Greatest Shakespearean Excuses for All Occasions

Late for work? Forgot to pass in your assignment?  Blew off plans you had with friends?  Now and as always, Shakespeare’s got you covered…

Shakespearean Excuses for All Occasions

  • Flying back to Elsinore for my dad’s funeral, and my mom’s wedding. Don’t ask. Back in a few days.
  • Going to live in the forest dressed as a boy for a little while. Back when evil Duke Frederick has a ridiculously unlikely change of heart.
  • Got married last night! Didn’t tell my parents. Will explain everything when Romeo gets here.
  • My Dogberry ate my homework.
  • Had to disguise myself as a boy, it’s compl…what do you mean Rosalind already used that excuse?
  • I am so exhausted, I have gotten like zero sleep since my husband and I killed the king the other day.
  • Got in huge fight with my dad. Moving to France.  Getting married! Everything’s gonna work out ok. 
  • Shipwrecked on the way back from my cousin’s wedding. Enslaved by evil wizard. Totally met someone, though, so it’s all good.
  • Had to flee assassins that got my dad. Will return to Scotland in a few generations to reclaim the crown.
  • Need to go give a speech at Caesar’s funeral. Blah blah, good man, will be missed… these things always go the same way.
  • Off to England! It’s whole big accidentally-killed-my-girlfriends-father-thought-he-was-the-king thing. Long story.
  • Listen, so, I meet this girl at a party, right? Long story short, I kill her cousin, now I’m banished.
  • Weird rumor going around that I’m out to kill my father. Only one thing to do, go live in a hovel and pretend to be insane.
  • Spent the night in jail because the lady I work for didn’t like the color of my socks. I know, right?
  • Bit of a disagreement with my husband. My friend’s got this plan where I go into hiding for 16 years, convince him I’m a statue, and then yell “Boo!”. I think it sounds hysterical.

Top Seven Shakespeare Halloween Costumes

[ From the archives. Originally posted Oct 26, 2010 – way too late last year to actually use any of the ideas, so I’m recycling the post for this year! ]

Twelfth Night

You’re a girl? Dress up like a boy. You’re a boy? Dress up like a girl dressing up like a boy. Twelfth Night’s
main character spends the whole play in costume. We discovered, a few
months back, that she’s not even called by her real name until the very
end of the play!

Julius Caesar

Why just be
any ghost, when you can be Great Caesar’s Ghost(*)? Don’t skimp on the
knife wounds, or the blood. Lots and lots of blood. Or if you really
want to wear a toga and don’t want to get blood all over it, dip your
arms in the red stuff up to your elbows, then go as Brutus.

Bonus points if you can actually convince somebody to dress up like J
Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman movies, and then spend the night
pointing at you and shouting that.


I knew Hamlet
would make a good costume when my 4yr old spotted the idea on one of
his cartoon shows. After random channel flipping he comes running into
my office to tell me “Daddy, somebody on tv is dressed like
Shakespeare!” Along comes the 6 and 8yr olds to tell me “Well, not
Shakespeare – he’s dressed like Hamlet. He’s holding a skull and talking
to it.” Of course you could also go with Ophelia, although taking a
quick jump in the pool before going out trick or treating might cause
you to catch your death (ha!). Then again why not go as Hamlet’s
father’s ghost? I’ll leave it up to reader imagination to depict how
exactly you’d walk around wearing your beaver up.

The Tempest

witch (although, granted, she doesn’t really make much of an
appearance), a wizard, a sea monster, an airy spirit. Plenty of
opportunity here to take a traditional Halloween costume and really run
with it. If you want to get really creative, grab a partner and dress up
as Stefano and Trinculo. I always described them as pirates to my kids,
although “court jester” is probably more accurate.

Titus Andronicus

can you not have fun dressing up like Titus? Put on a chef’s hat and
bloody apron, carry a cleaver and a big stew pot. Throw a prop head in
it, maybe a prop hand while you’re at it. Shakespeare’s goriest tragedy
is often compared to a modern slasher movie, so why not just go
completely over the top with it? Bring along your daughter. Don’t let
her talk.


Ghosts make plenty of appearances in Shakespeare’s work, The Tempest and Midsummer
are both loaded with magical goings on … but really, is there any
play scarier than Macbeth? Dress up like a weird sister, dress up like
Banquo’s ghost. Or maybe a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, covered in blood?
For the really inside reference, go as Macduff – carry around Macbeth’s

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

are timeless, in more ways than one. If you need a couple’s idea, why
not Titania and Oberon? I love the idea of an entire family dressing up
as Midsummer, with the kids playing the roles of Cobweb, Mustardseed and
the others. Or go in a completely different direction and make an ass
of yourself, literally.

Have I forgotten any? You can always
throw on your monk’s outfit and go as Friar Laurence (carry around a
pickaxe, crowbar or some other tomb-opening implement for extra credit),
or really grab any random “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance” costume from
the local store and say that you’re the lead in As You Like It, Much
Ado, or any of the other romantic comedies. What else? Who’s got the
creative ideas?

BONUS!  Halloween 2011, I went as Yorick! Complete with Hamlet borne upon my back.

Purrchance to Dream

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but that’s not stopping these folks from trying to produce a legit, bound, complete set of Shakespeare’s works, in LOLspeak.

I don’t know if it’ll succeed, and it seems to really push the boundaries of what Kickstarter is for.  More than half the budget is for editing ($100 each for 38 works) and the rest is admittedly for “Kickstarter’s percentage, as well as the rewards.”  So if you contribute, a significant portion of the proceeds will go to nothing more than supporting the project being on KS in the first place.  I don’t think that’s really what it’s meant for.

I Think We Already Invented This

So check out this article on a new “glimpse into digital humanities”, the Mobile Shakespeare Scripts project:

Their project, “Mobile Shakespeare Scripts” (or “MyShx”), offers actors
and directors a mobile app for customizing scripts to include
commentary, production history, or other digital enhancements. MyShx
will initially be produced for iPads, and it will be used for the first
time in the production of one of American Shakespeare Theater’s
2012-2013 shows.


In March of this year, when the iPad 2 came out, I wrote about how you could use an iPad to revolutionize digital Shakespeare.

But even more closely, go check out this discussion on Shakespeare in the public domain, from June 2011.  In particular note Ed’s comment (#3) about creating his own textbooks for the kids, with ample room to do all their own note taking right in the margins and such, and the conversation that follows. I suggest that this is custom made for a software solution, and Alexi offers up the suggestion to make it so that directors could use it to cut their own scripts.

Of course, they’re well-funded PhDs, and we’re just a bunch of enthusiasts hanging out on a blog.  What do we know.

Maybe Hermione could play, I dunno, Hermione?

Emma Watson, who’ll forever be known as Hermione to Harry Potter, wants to do some Shakespeare. She cites a desire to tackle Juliet, or Ophelia.  A little bold, wouldn’t you say?  Wouldn’t it be cool to start her out in A Winter’s Tale?   “Starring Hermione as … Paulina.” (You thought maybe I was going to say Perdita? ;))  In fairness, I take her quote to mean something more like “It would be a dream to tackle Juliet or Ophelia” and not “Yeah, I think that if I were to do Shakespeare, I’d have to be Juliet or Ophelia.” I’d think for a young woman that’s a young man diving right in with Hamlet.

This story reminds me of a really random bit of trivia.  Harry Dean Stanton stars in Stephen King’s The Green Mile  which also features a character named Dean Stanton.  Dean Stanton is played by Barry Pepper.  Harry Dean Stanton plays a character named Toot-toot.

10 Authorship Answers

Regardless of your position on the Authorship question, sometimes it’s fun to learn new things.  I had no idea that there were at least 10 candidates for authorship.  Oxford’s on there, of course. Bacon and Marlowe, Mary Sidney and Emilia Bassano.  But I heard some new names as well – Roger Manners?  Who’s that? 

It’d be funny to research 9 of these 10 to the point where you could defend them in a debate, and then just attack the bejesus out of the Oxfordians from all directions until they cry. 

Geeklet Shakespeare Mashup

Apparently my 9yr old had some sort of free time at art class the other day and was flipping through a stencil book.  She found (and recognized!) stencils for a scroll: (click for the larger image)

So she remembered the names of 8 Shakespeare plays off the top of her head?  Not too bad, Geeklet.  Of course, she then informed me that she “didn’t do every single one, like Henry the First, Henry the Second…” Bonus points for working in “Globe Theatre” as well!

She also found a curtained theatre stage (which, truthfully, I’m not sure I would have recognized if I’d seen it in a book).  This is what she provided: (again, click for larger)

That is Hamlet, performing the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquoy….while holding Yorick’s skull.  Apparently as part of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

I love it.

Allen Ginsberg, on Shakespeare

When I first saw this link go by I immediately thought “Allen Ginsberg on Shakespeare? So, what, like F___ Shakespeare?” 🙂

I am glad I clicked.  I don’t really know what this blog is or where the content came from, but it appears to be a transcription of Ginsberg giving some sort of lesson on The Tempest, and in particular the underlying Buddhist ideas. I’m trying to process it now.

One thought he leads with, which I think is a stretch but maybe I’m wrong – he starts with the idea that Caliban is in fact Prospero’s kid? Is that reflected in the text?  He then uses the treachery of Caliban to show a karmic circle for Prospero. But I’m not sure how much he’s reading in to that.

The Long-Awaited(?) ShakespeareGeek Newsletter

So.  Every article I read about having a successful web presence of any meaningful size always starts with, “Have a newsletter. Collect email addresses.”

I’ve never done that. It is a glaring omission in my strategy. There’s many reasons for that, but most end up in that vicious cycle of “Unless I specifically plan to sell you something, I can’t incur the cost of paying for such a service.”

Well, today after stumbling across a free (we’ll see about that) option, I figure let’s try an experiment.  If you’re interested in what a Shakespeare Geek newsletter might be all about, please come over to the blog and sign up.  I don’t really know what the newsletter will involve, I’ll be honest. It’ll depend on how many people sign up.

Over at the top of the left-hand column you should see a new “Follow Shakespeare Geek by Email” widget, where you can enter your email address (and then confirm by clicking on a welcome email).  If for some reason that widget is not working or you don’t see it, please click here to go directly to the subscribe page.  Thanks!

I’m relying on you folks to let me know the demand for this feature.  If I see a bunch of people sign up right off the bat, I’ll know it’s something you’ve been wanting.  If I have to beg and kick and scream, well, everything will balance out – I won’t go killing myself to deliver content via that channel.  It’s up to you.