And yet, there are other ways of looking at Hamlet’s appeal. One of the things about it that jumps out at me these days is its function as the archetypal dysfunctional family story. In a culture that has now been overrun by such tales, from Death of a Salesman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to American Beauty and Little Miss Sunshine, no one does it better than Shakespeare. In a sense, Hamlet is the original moody goth; his mother and stepfather are the predecessors to all those beastly parents who’d rather spend the weekend dining at the country club than having quality time at home with the family.
The other aspect of Hamlet that stands out for me is its depiction of a man who is heartbroken by everything he holds dear to him - life, his family, his friends, his girlfriend, etc. The aggregate amount of misfortunes that fall on Hamlet’s head simultaneously short circuit both his ability to mend himself and his sense of social decorum. Politeness goes out the window as Hamlet lashes out at the world for his pain. Such emotions are familiar to anyone who has ever lost a parent, gone through a divorce, been dumped by a partner, or [insert your choice of hardship here].
The beguiling and awe-inspiring (and addicting) thing about the text that you learn over time is:
Of course, that’s just how I feel today. Ask me again tomorrow and I might say something different. But, as [Peter] Brook so astutely points out, whatever I say tomorrow would most likely be supported by the text.