This is a revised, abridged and reformatted version of the excellent York Note by Jeff Wood published ten years ago. This edition contains lots of extra material especially designed to help sixthform students, including sample answers with examiners' comments. There is a very useful overview of critical approaches to the play.
The text is broken up with tabloid headline type sub headings (not always precise) and presented in bite sized, colour coded paragraphs. The effect is rather bitty but perhaps suits students used to flitting from one topic to another whilst playing with their iPads.
There is an excellent examination of the play's structure as a double revenge tragedy and many of the shrewd and witty insights into character, situation and theme are provocative and very helpful. There is a commendable determination to support major points with textual reference: something missing from far too many study guides. The sections on Disease Imagery, the Women in Hamlet and the central significance of the Ghost are models of clarity and concision and the role of Laertes as Hamlet's foil is engagingly and clearly examined. It's just a pity the book is so short: the character of Hamlet in particular deserves more detailed and sustained commentary.
Claudius, the Smiling King, is presented to us with a picture: in which the man is not smiling.That clumsy detail typifies the book's only shortcoming. In the belief that students can't read books but like lots of pictures to browse through, this edition wastes enormous amounts of space which might have been more helpfully given to detailed analysis of a few more scenes and soliloquies and some more advice to students on how to engage with poetry. Many of the pictures (perhaps stock photos) are poorly chosen and may mislead the unwary: is the dandelion a striking image in Hamlet, or the lion? Is there a game of chess or dice? Did Ophelia drown in a pond rather than a brook? Of course there is an abundance of powerful and important images in Hamlet: notably the skull and the gravedigger and the pervasive images of disease and corruption which the analysis talks so cogently about. But you will search in vain for pictures of these major iconic details. It's both silly and misleading to sanitise Shakespeare in this way.
Nevertheless, this book is a first-class analysis of the major issues in Hamlet for students encountering the play for the first time. Highly recommended.Read more ›