Speaking In Tongues
Guided by Voices
A Commentary to Hamlet
I. The author opens up his poem with a
prologue, in which he clearly states his intentions of writing My Hamlet.
There was a great controversy at the moment when this poem was first published.
Critics attacked the author for trying to re-write Shakespeare's play.
The truth is that was never his intention. The sole purpose of the poem
was to "make anew all the forgotten." The author tried
to preserve the classical play and at the same time to make it appeal to
the new generation, to "awake the sleeping age," as he
expressed it himself.
It is also interesting to highlight line seven of this stanza. The
image of a fading star is reinstated often in this poem (see note to stanza
The author uses alliteration in the first stanza to make it stand out
from the rest.
II. The meaning behind lines three and
four could be interpreted in two different ways. First and foremost, by
the contextual clues, we get the notion that the author is talking about
Hamlet's goals and beliefs. Prince Hamlet knew that he was an heir to the
king and thought that it was certain for the throne to be his. This idea
is further reinstated later on in the stanza, where Hamlet is portrayed
as a young adult who craves control and attention. Although the more obvious
understanding of these lines deals with Hamlet's desire to become king,
an element of foreshadowing is applied in the word "vision" (see
note to stanza IX).
Line 13 is believed to be inspired by Vladimir Vysotsky, who in his
poem about Hamlet wrote, "The destiny has branded me at birth."
However, in this poem great emphasis is placed on the word "fate,"
which has multiple meanings.
First, let's examine it as it was most likely intended, as a synonym
of "destiny." One of the definitions of fate is "the principle
or determining cause or will by which things in general are believed to
come to be as they are or events to happen as they do." What the author
was trying to imply here is that Hamlet was born into a role and he had
to perform. He was destined to become the ruler. He was expected to be
tough and in control and thus he was. Not until the apparition of the Ghost
did Hamlet give up his own will and focus on the will of his father (again
see note to stanza IX).
Another meaning of the word "fate" could suggest a totally
contradicting idea. If "fate" is read as a synonym of "doom,"
the reader can get the notion that Hamlet's downfall, rather than prosperity,
was certain. It is evident that the author was trying to make the reader
consider both possibilities or else using "destined" and "fate"
in the same sentence would be a tautology.
III. In the first line, the author paraphrased
Shakespeare's quote from Macbeth, "To beguile the time look like the
time," meaning that Hamlet acted just like everyone that was around
The sole purpose of stanza III is to show the young Hamlet. Hamlet
always desired to rule, but ironically was mostly a follower. He went with
the flow of the times ("mimicked time upon his face")
and did everything that was expected of him. He never thought about what
he was doing, nor ever cared for it. He wanted to show the people that
he would be a good ruler when time came. While trying to satisfy others,
Hamlet never examined his own conscience. Later on in the poem, we see
Hamlet maturing (see note to XI).
IV. Hamlet was certainly in love with Ophelia.
His love was so genuine that many people viewed it as his madness. In the
play, Polonius constantly tried to convince King Claudius that love was
the origin of Hamlet's insanity. Being obedient to her father, Ophelia
did not know what to believe, but deep inside she felt Hamlet's love and
knew that he loved her purely.
Examining one's conscience is one of the most important themes of Hamlet.
What is fascinating about this part is that in the play, Hamlet was believed
to be "crazy" only after he realized the truth about his father's
murder, while in this poem, the author implies this idea before the death
of King Hamlet, making the readers consider whether Hamlet was truly mad
or simply in love.
V. In stanza V, we, as the readers, can
see just how much Hamlet loved his father. He continues to grieve about
him long after his death. At the same time, Hamlet is growing up. The sudden
tragedy of losing a loved one makes him realize what is really important
to him. Then, slowly, everything begins to fall back to normal.
VI. This stanza is particularly interesting
because here the author uses external environment to compare to the internal
environment of the character. He allows us to take a look inside Hamlet
who is always effected by what surrounds him (see note to stanza III).
He needs everything around him to be perfect in order to feel good inside.
However, in the next stanza, we see him maturing and defending his personal
beliefs even though the others might not agree with him. Stanza VI serves
as a transitional medium in Hamlet's rites of passage.
Lines 9-12 are symbolic to what will happen to Hamlet next. The word
"spirit" foreshadows the apparition of his father's ghost. The
spirit guided Hamlet and helped him to deal with the reality of life.
Also, note, how in line 13, the author foreshadows the ghost of Hamlet
coming back to life.
VII. The author very clearly depicts Hamlet's
feeling toward the marriage. Hamlet is very upset with his mother and blames
her for the sin of marrying another man shortly after the death of her
husband. In the play, no one other than Hamlet, sees anything wrong with
the Queen's actions. Hamlet feels abandoned by everything that he used
to cherish. Hamlet matures instantly after this realization. The stanza
ends with Hamlet left all alone in deep thought, pondering about his life.
While the author shows Hamlet's attitude, he never plainly states whether
the Queen is guilty or not. He leaves this decision for the readers. Such
style of writing makes the poem three-dimensional and allows the readers'
conscience to interact with the plot of the story (this technique is also
evident in stanza XII).
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Denmark is portrayed as a prison, where
everyone is closely watched. Throughout the play, there are numerous times
when different characters spy on each other. King Claudius states at one
point in the play, "madness in great ones must not unwatched go."
Hamlet's every action is closely observed by everybody around him, including
his old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are sent by the king
to spy on Hamlet. This theme is also stressed in My Hamlet. In the
first two lines of stanza VIII, the author establishes this topic.
Hamlet is left alone to examine everything that has happened. He cannot
see how something that he has believed in so much could be so disgraceful.
He used to live in a dream world where everything was perfect, now he's
beginning to awake from his sleep. Earlier in the poem, the author tried
to persuade the readers to do the same (see line 14 of Stanza I).
The author also brings up a good topic, which should not be neglected,
"was it possible for Hamlet to keep on living under those circumstances
and not see anything? Was it his strong will power that made him realize
the truth or did he simply have no choice?" Once more, the reader
is left pondering for himself.
IX. Boris Pasternak once wrote about Hamlet,
"From the moment of the ghost's appearance, Hamlet gives up his
will in order to do the will of him that sent him." Let's examine
what he meant. From the beginning of the play, Hamlet is portrayed as a
man with great natural ability to rule over the people. It is safe to assume
that Hamlet would have been a great king if it weren't for his sacrifice
to carry out the will of his father. The author follows through with this
idea in his poem.
The line, "the sun would rise and melt the vision in his eyes..."
could again be interpreted in two ways. In a literal sense, the "vision"
may represent the apparition of the ghost as it disappeared when the sun
began to rise. In a more symbolic sense, this line can represent Hamlet's
awakening from the sweet dream (vision) of his childhood. The sun could
represent a kind of a revelation that awakes the hero. Thus, we are left
with a question, "was there ever a ghost or perhaps it was simply
Hamlet's morality that awoke him?"
In lines ten and eleven of this stanza, the author uses the element
of foreshadowing. The phrase "the sky before the storm" suggests
that something major is about to happen, perhaps internally in the character
of Hamlet (see note to stanza XI).
Further reminiscence of Pasternak is seen in the last two lines of
the stanza. The description of the "crossing fates" was a frequent
image in Pasternak's poetry. In perhaps his most famous poem, Winter
Night, Pasternak wrote, "On the illumined ceiling, shadows
swayed-- a cross of arms, a cross of legs, a cross of fate."
The last line is also believed to be influenced by Pasternak. In his
poem, Hamlet, Boris Pasternak established a religious theme when
he quoted Jesus from the bible praying to his father to make the analogy
between Jesus and Hamlet. Both knew that a tragedy was inevasible and the
guides for both were their fathers. Jesus prayed to God, while Hamlet looked
to the ghost of his father for advice. This idea is clearly established
in the last line of the stanza.
X. While the author shows Hamlet's desire
to avenge the death of his father, he never reveals who the killer is.
The author expects the reader to know the plot of the story. The purpose
behind this poem is not to simply summarize Shakespeare's Hamlet,
but to raise certain questions in the readers' minds that are worth to
be examined. The style of the whole poem depends on the readers' knowledge
of the story.
A great issue that has been examined by many, but never solved, is
the nature of the ghost. Prince Hamlet himself, is not sure whether to
trust the ghost or not. At first sight of the apparition, Hamlet is stunned
and doesn't know what to believe. Is the apparition evil or has it come
to help Hamlet? Hamlet is skeptical of the ghost. He states, "the
spirit that I have seen may be the Devil, and the Devil hath power to assume
a pleasing shape." Hamlet senses a "foul play."
At the same time, Hamlet wants to believe what he's hearing. He desires
to gain the wisdom from the ghost to confirm his emotions. To make sure
that the ghost was telling the truth, Hamlet comes up with a plan to test
the possible murderer of his father (see note to stanza XIII).
XI. Hamlet, as he is portrayed in this
poem, is not bothered by the question "to be or not to be?"
He knows that he only has one choice and that is "to be."
He knows that he has to live, there's no other way. The problem for him
is facing the reality. Should Hamlet simply neglect everything that he
doesn't approve of or should he do something about it and by doing so,
sacrifice his destiny of becoming a king? That's the question that stands
before Hamlet! He is faced with a dilemma "whether 'tis nobler
in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to
take arms against the sea of troubles..."
Line eight of this stanza further establishes the religious theme in
the poem (see note to stanza IX).
XII. Here, the author talks about the moral
sense of each human being. He brings up a fascinating concept that a person
cannot live without his conscience. If an individual's goes against what
he truly believes, then even love is powerless in helping that person.
The author expresses his outlook on life. "Live life to the fullest!"
is the basic moral behind those lines. To end the stanza, in line twelve,
the author paraphrases a quote from Shakespeare, "This above all:
to self be true!" The stanza ends with an invitation to the "play
within a play" which Hamlet stages to catch the killer. The style
of the stanza makes it seem as if the author is having a conversation with
Stanza XII is addressed strictly to the readers, which again, helps
to make the poem "three-dimensional." Although he describes the
basic theme of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the author urges the readers
to consider the topic for themselves and not to simply judge the actions
of a character.
XIII. As in the previous stanza, again,
the author paraphrases a quote from the play. He begins the stanza, calling
Hamlet the "ultimate observer." In the play, Ophelia called
Hamlet "the observer of all observers." Everybody was
focussing on Hamlet's madness and the way he was acting (see stanza VIII).
Yet, at the same time, Hamlet remained the "ultimate observer"
seeing everything that goes on in Denmark. He knew all of the affairs and
the secrets that others could not see.
This stanza describes the "play within a play" that was staged
by Hamlet as a "mousetrap" to catch his father's killer. The
Players perform The Murder of Conzago, a drama that reenacts the
murder of the king twice, -- once in a silent version and once in a dialogue
of a play. Hamlet watches his uncle's reaction when the king is killed
by his brother. Claudius unable to take it, gets up from his seat and leaves.
Hamlet is now sure of his previous assumptions. The "play within a
play" has two purposes; one-- it exposes both, Hamlet and Claudius,
and two-- it proves that the ghost was telling the truth.
The quotes from the play make the story more realistic and at the same
time add suspense to the plot. The repetition is used in the thirteenth
line of the stanza to stress the importance of what has just occurred.
"Hands apt..." is repeated to reinstate that Claudius
believed that he was going to be able to get away with murder, but Hamlet
was able to catch him. Also, the word "duplicates" in
line 13 is a reference to Hamlet's duplicating of what really happened
in the play. The "mousetrap" works and proves that Claudius was
XIV. In this stanza, the author sums up
the effects of the "mousetrap." Now that Hamlet knows that Claudius
is the murderer and Claudius is sure that Hamlet knows his secret, the
true drama begins! This stanza build up even more suspense leading the
readers to what will happen next.
Once again, Pasternak's imagery is reminiscent in the poem. Pasternak
used the image of Hamlet standing on the stage and wondering about his
future in his poem, Hamlet. Although Hamlet is all alone on the
stage, he is able to grasp from the silence what will occur in the near
future (see Boris Pasternak's poem Hamlet).
Again, the word "fate" is used to imply two different meanings
(see note to stanza II).
XV. Hamlet walks into the room, while Claudius
is praying for forgiveness. Claudius has realized his sin and he is now
scared of what might happen to him. Hamlet stands behind him and doesn't
do anything. It is important to know that when the ghost of his father
appeared to Hamlet, the ghost described living in hell. Hamlet is conscious
of that and knows that if he kills Claudius now, Claudius will be free
of sin and will surely go to heaven. Hamlet shows the strength of his character
by simply walking away. He is so sure that the day of revenge will come,
he doesn't feel bad for letting go of this opportunity. Revenge remains
the only thing on his mind and he carries it with him wherever he goes.
He carries the burden of memory and the weight of the desire to get vengeance
for his father's murder.
XVI. In line four of the stanza, the author
once again quotes a phrase from the play. Hamlet is sure that revenge will
come one day if he is patient. Being able to walk away, Hamlet shows his
strong and wise character. He walks into Gertrude's room, where enraged,
he kills Polonius who was eavesdropping on their conversation.
The author goes on to question the action of Hamlet, whether he was
acting out of fury or from his madness. Hamlet did not know whom he was
stabbing, and only after the incident he realized that it was Polonius.
He was so fed up with the disgraceful actions of everyone around him that
he didn't care who it was. So, we have to question ourselves, "was
Hamlet simply caught up in the moment or did he intend to kill?" The
author leaves it up to the readers to decide for themselves.
XVII. The innocence of the Queen is shown
in this stanza. While many might blame the Queen for her actions, the author
calls her the "victim of the plot." It is possible that
there's sarcasm in that phrase. He goes on to describe how all of her life
she slept in slumber, closing her eyes on everything that she did not want
to see. This is very similar to the description of young Hamlet who believed
only what he desired to believe (see note to stanza III). Now, Hamlet opens
her sight to what has happened and she begins to feel guilty for her actions.
Hamlet was warned by the ghost not to attack the Queen for she is innocent
of everything that has occurred. The ghost blames everything on Claudius.
Yet, Hamlet still decides to confront his mother and express to her how
he feels. This shows that Hamlet is not controlled by the ghost but simply
guided. Therefore, Hamlet's actions cannot be blamed on the ghost. Hamlet
takes full responsibility for what he does.
XVIII. The author rephrases a quote from
the play. He changes "something is rotten in the state of Denmark"
to "something was rotting in the state..." It was impossible
for Hamlet to remain in Denmark any longer after the murder of Polonius.
Thus, Hamlet is convinced by the King to flee to England and let things
However, on his voyage, Hamlet is bothered by a notion that he has
been deceived. Hamlet believes that "death is lying on his course,"
which foreshadows the death of our hero (also see note to stanza II). He
finds a commission from the King, in which Claudius orders to his men to
kill Hamlet upon arrival to England.
XIX. Hamlet was able to escape his wicked
fortune, which fell on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were sent by the
King to watch Hamlet. As always, Hamlet is kept under surveillance by the
king (see note to stanza VIII). After escaping a near death experience,
Hamlet is filled with new feelings of hatred and rage. He is anxious to
get back to Denmark.
XX. Line five of this stanza should be
examined more closely. It has both, a literal and a symbolic meaning. As
it is read literally, Hamlet finds the grave of his jester, Yorick. It
is evident that Yorick meant a lot to Hamlet. The author states that Yorick
was a teacher and describes the way Hamlet recalls all of his traits and
expressions. Symbolically, that line could represent Hamlet burying the
dreams of his childhood (see note to stanza III). Hamlet realizes then
that the only way to live is by following his conscience.
Again the author depicts the burden of memory (see the note to stanza
XV and also the note to stanza XXI).
XXI. Right away, the author repeats the
theme of the previous stanza. Hamlet buried his past and it decays in his
head. Like a splinter in his mind, it will not let him rest for a second.
His dreams begin to "fade" as if stars that have lost their warmth
(this image is also repeated in the next stanza).
Hamlet sees a funeral procession and soon realizes that Ophelia, his
love, is being buried. Hamlet is hurt by his sight. She was the only person
who he has ever truly loved (see stanza IV) and her death puts him in a
state of shock.
Lines twelve and thirteen show the impact that power can have on another
man. Even Laetres, a noble young man, is easily manipulated by Claudius.
Hamlet was the only person who was able to stand up to the crown and challenge
XXII. Words can often lead one to one's
death. This idea has been proven twice in the play. Both, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, were killed because Hamlet changed the words in the commission
written by the king. Laetres and Hamlet will also die as a result of a
heated argument. Their only will was to defend their honor, neither one
truly felt hate toward the opponent. Even though, Laetres challenged Hamlet
to the match, he was driven by the king, not necessarily by his emotions.
The "magic spell" is the poison that Laetres had on
the end of his sword. As the fighters exchanged their swords in the match,
both were cut and poisoned and thus both died.
The image of two fading stars is used to symbolize the deaths of Laetres
and Hamlet (see also stanzas XXIV and I). There is also, a word play with
the words "fate" and fade," (see note to stanza II)
XXIII. Gertrude drinks the wine, which
Claudius prepared to poison Hamlet in case he won the match. She dies.
Line five of the stanza suggests that perhaps King Hamlet was also murdered
by poisoning. Hamlet, out of his last strength rises and kills Claudus
and falls again. Thus the story resolves. Hamlet who stood against killing
and injustice found no other way to get his revenge and was forced to go
against his beliefs to serve the will of his father (see note to stanza
The author uses the quote from stanza eight to finish off the story
with a moral. He asks the ultimate question that bothered Hamlet, "to
be... but how?" (see stanza XI). There will always be those who
will choose to live righteously and there will always be those who "must
sleep" (see last line of stanza I).
Also, note the internal rhyme at the end of the stanza with the words
"dismay, day, play and pray." This technique helps the stanza
to be read more smoothly.
XXIV. Thus, the story ends. The author
goes on to talk about Hamlet's achievements.
The image of a fading star is once again used in this poem (see note
to stanzas XXII and I). This gives the poem a circular structure, where
the story ends with the same image as it began. The stars represent not
only Hamlet, but also other heroes that inspire us to do the right thing.
This stanza draws an image of a young boy, who, with sparkling eyes watches
his favorite action hero fight against the villains of the society.
Lines three through five of this stanza are repeated from stanza XIV,
but this time there's an implication that the first play never ends. The
author suggests that the story of Hamlet still continues on today, we live
by his example and carry his weight on our shoulders.
In lines thirteen and fourteen, however, the author suggests that perhaps
it's better to simply ignore all that you cannot solve. This gives the
story an ironic twist. But what did he exactly mean by "better"?
The word "easier" would be more appropriate in its place. The
author realizes that Hamlet's role is not for everyone. The ultimate decision
is left for the readers, "whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against the
sea of troubles..."