Review Blog

Oct 20 2008

Hamlet by John Marsden

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Text Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978192135147 1
(Ages: 12+) A modern version of the well known tale of Hamlet is sure to raise eyebrows when the author tells us that he has made it more accessible to an adolescent audience. Some will say it is dumbing it down, but I found it to be better than that. Yes there is an element of change for change's sake, and I was annoyed at the sex scenes designed to titillate rather than further the plot, but Marsden sticks to the storyline, while trying to expose the incredible decisions Hamlet must make. Sometimes his attempts to translate Shakespeare's language into a more palatable form, is clunky and readers will notice the variation of style. Marsden includes some links between the familiar scenes which draw out some of the possible reasons behind peoples' actions which will make some events clearer for the novice.

Hamlet and co are adolescent, Hamlet at boarding school in nearby Gravatar when he hears of his father's death and mother's remarriage. He lopes along, understandably trying to make sense of it all, but when the ghost appears, he is torn. From playing football with Horatio, and having lewd thoughts about Ophelia, he now must turn to graver actions. He gives the players newly arrived at the castle, some extra lines to say in their play and this serves to warn us all that dire deeds will soon transpire.

When he next sees Ophelia, he is maddening in his response, when he sees Gertrude he hears something behind the curtain, and stabs, killing Polonius. Laertes then comes on the scene wanting revenge and Claudius plots for Laertes and Hamlet to meet in a competition. The end is near when Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine meant for Hamlet, Hamlet stabs Laertes with the poisoned sword and is also wounded. Struggling towards Claudius, Hamlet then stabs the king and dies.

And when is it set? The use of carriages and 'Your Royal Highness', and the word lavatory mark it as nineteenth century, but when the butler refuses to change around the furniture because it is not on the list of things he does, I became confused. Sandwiches appear at Gertrude's wedding, Hamlet and Horatio play a strange form of golf with racquets, and talk of playing football on Saturday afternoons.

But perhaps I'm nit picking. Kids will enjoy the thrill of it all; teachers will give it to kids as an introduction to the play; some adults will read it to remind them of their schooldays, and some will read it to find out how the author has remodeled the play to suit a 21st century audience. But many like me, will go back to the play, eagerly wanting to reread the familiar and entrancing words.
Fran Knight

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