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?