Hamlet’s father has just died. By the time they’ve filled in the grave his mother has remarried. Hamlet suspects foul play, and it’s troubling his spirit. Or maybe he was always troubled. Ophelia is in love with him. His best friend Horatio can’t work him out. Then, on a cold, still night, Hamlet meets the ghost of his father…
John Marsden, one of Australia’s most-loved writers, takes Shakespeare’s famous play and turns it into a moving and full-blooded novel.
I have wanted to read this novelisation of Hamlet since it was first published and I am so incredibly happy that I was not disappointed. It exceeded my expectations (whatever they were) and it has made me wish that more of Shakespeare’s plays were given the Marsden novelisation treatment because I think they would be divine.
Whether it’s Marsden magic or just the fact that the novel could include more detail, but I had so much more sympathy for Hamlet listening to this than I ever did with the play. Marsden’s words really brings out Hamlet’s home life and his despair, yes, he is a dramatic idiot and you roll your eyes at him at the start, but through the rest of the story you see what his life is like, what he is like, and you really pity him and for the situation his father put him in and how it affects him.
The plot follows the play in terms of events, I did find myself waiting lines to be included that are so well known from the play, but Marsden doesn’t fall for cheap copying, the same elements are there, the same moments, but Marsden doesn’t reduce this novelisation to simply adding quotes from Shakespeare in it.
The tragedy is there, Horatio is amazing and I love him throughout. He is my absolute favourite character in this whole thing. The extension of the story allows more character depth I found, you really get a sense of not just Hamlet, but also Ophelia, Claudius and the rest. Claudius’ villainy is evident; Marsden shows us his thoughts and feelings, his desires and plans in detail that offers explanation and depth to his character. The same is true of Ophelia as her love for Hamlet is expressed through the thoughts and actions of a young woman discovering who she is and what she wants.
Marsden doesn’t update the play either, the same events are there, but they aren’t modernised or anything. Set in a time with swords and ships the locations are the same, and Marsden’s writing feels write for the era in which it is set. Not overly complex but not basic either, very poetic and melodic at times, very Shakespeare without being Shakespeare.
This was my first time listening to an audio book and it was a wonderfully absurd contrast listening to a novel which is based on a play, meaning that it was like a radio play of sorts, even though it is not written as such. Humphrey Bower as narrator did an excellent job and because you are so engrossed in the story it’s easy to follow as the voices change and you’re hardly aware that is just one person reading. I would easily call this my favourite adaptation of Hamlet and I would readily sit down and read, or listen, to it all over again.
You can purchase Hamlet via the following