The blurb made me borrow the book:

“John Marsden has done what a legion of educators, my parents, a great number of my more literate friends, and my read-anything-you-can-get-your-hands-on grandmother failed to do. He has made me, for one glorious moment, love Shakespeare. Marsden’s version of Hamlet is smart, tough, lyrical, thoroughly readable, and uncompromisingly engaging… I now get Hamlet.” – Chris Crutcher, author of Whale Talk, Deadline, and Angry Management.

ISBN: 9780763644512

Which turned out to be true for me too.

I got Hamlet.

The opening line: “”Do you believe in ghosts?” Horatio asked him.”

Very different from the original, as to be expected.

The fear, of a more accessible version, is that it would dumb down a classic. Marsden’s version assuredly does not. It does bring out the prose and plot more vividly.

I tried reading the original play to be sure. It confirmed that without Marsden’s work, I would not have gone past a fifth of Act I.

For sure, Marsden exercised creative license in accentuating the parts that modern audiences would relate to. Well, the Shakespeare purists should stay away from this book, if only to prevent a blood vessel from bursting (no fault of the book but more due to anal-retentivity, heh).

I bet teen readers would identify with Ophelia’s teenage angst, complicated by the onset of puberty and desire for Hamlet. Also of Hamlet’s spiral towards what may seem like insanity; of his rage upon confirming his uncle’s betrayal; the tension between his anger and disciplined respect for his mother.

Marsden retains aspects of Shakespeare’s word play, like in Hamlet’s retorts to Claudius’ lackeys, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

What I couldn’t quite remember was whether Marsden used the classic line, “To be or not to be, that is the question”, in his version.

I see this as an excellent primer for modern readers, before they attempt the more “serious” Shakespeare.

I enjoyed Julius Cesear for Literature class in Secondary School. But only because my teacher made sense out of Shakespeare.

While I appreciate the texture and imagery that Shakespeare can conjour from the reader’s mind, attempting Shakespeare on one’s own was a challenge, let alone trying to force it down an already reluctant bunch of kids.

Marsden makes sense out of Hamlet. And in doing so, he makes the wit and drama of Shakespearean plays more accessible.

This is a YP book, but also relevant for adults who have not read Shakespeare.