“Goodnight, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Horatio, from Hamlet Act V, Scene II
As part of the Happy Birthday Shakespeare project, I thought I’d write about my first literary crush. It happened on a rainy morning in the twelfth grade. The classroom was damp and smelled of dust and a kind of mold that prevails in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. We were a small class of about a dozen English Lit students, and I was a new transfer to this academic alternative school.
That morning, as we took our seats around the table, our teacher announced we would be reading the full version of Hamlet.
I didn’t think much of it. Up until this point, the only Shakespeare I’d read were the Coles Notes versions (shudder) of Julius Cesar and Macbeth. I had no comprehension of the depth of feeling that could be transferred through Shakespeare’s own words.
The play started with a ghost. What’s not to love about that? But it was Hamlet’s first soliloquy that stole my heart. “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt.” It melted my resolve. Finally, I could relate to some character we had to read about in school!
I was seventeen, my mother was a rageaholic, and I’d just moved in with my father to get some time away from her. While she wasn’t Claudius, I understood what it was like to feel betrayed by your mother. At the time, the circle of friends I had didn’t understand me, showing the same lack of depth as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. One of those so-called friends started a rumour that I was crazy that spread around my old school. I was diagnosed by teenage peer and given a semi-public intervention. It was gross misconduct. When I told my parents, they told me to ‘snap out of it’ whatever ‘it’ was. Being a teen? Being bullied?
So, to me, Hamlet was a genius for letting people think he was insane. He used to his advantage what was an embarassing situation for me. I admired him, empathized with him, and didn’t blame him at all for his procrastination around killing Claudius. It showed he had a conscience.
While I studied Shakespeare in university, to this day, Hamlet is still my favourite of the Bard’s plays. And it always will be.