it. The big kahuna. The Shakespeare play to end all Shakespeare plays. And I confess, I have fallen in love with it completely.When I was a child reading about Shakespeare plays in my Tales from Shakespeare (and seeing occasional live performances of the comedies), and later when I was a teenager watching them on videotape, I couldn’t quite see what the big deal was with Hamlet. It sounded to me like it lacked the romance of Romeo and Juliet, the fun of the comedies, the magic of the romances, and the bloodiness of some of the other tragedies like Macbeth.How wrong I was.While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate using a complete performance text—that would make for a long evening—and there are actually a large number of contradictions in the play as it has come down to us, what a joy it is to read all of Shakespeare’s words! Hamlet is a long play, but in general it flows beautifully, with long, elaborate scenes that fold into each other. I haven’t made a count, but I’d wager that in addition to being Shakespeare’s lengthiest play, Hamlet has, on average, the longest scenes. To me, this makes it read easier, but I might be in the minority in that respect.Hamlet as a character is a vehicle for some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful poetry and most searching philosophy. The play has gained its worldwide renown almost solely because of his soliloquies, which are many and lengthy. With all due respect to the famous “To be or not to be,” my favorite of the lot is “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” I’m not an actor by profession, and haven’t been on the stage since junior high, but this speech stirred the actor in me. It’s a virtuosic piece, which opens with Hamlet’s typical melancholy and self-deprecation and ends with a moment of true resolve and excitement. Of course, the next time we see him, he’s depressed again and contemplating suicide.Going in, of course, I already knew about the wonderful poetry and philosophy in Hamlet. What I didn’t expect was how powerfully I would relate to the main character. Perhaps this is because I was approaching the play for the first time with the understanding that Hamlet is a very young man. He has traditionally been thought to be about 30 due to a remark of the gravedigger’s, but all other internal evidence points to him being in his late teens or so, and it’s very much possible that the gravedigger’s remark was a later addition to accommodate an older actor. When I instead read him as a teenager or young adult, all the pieces came together and the play made sense to me for the first time.Not that one has to be young in order to relate to Hamlet—he is a universal character, and it’s really remarkable how many different ways he can be interpreted. A friend and I were discussing how we might each play the role were we ever given the chance: he would probably emphasize his intellectualism, his shrewdness, his struggle with madness, and his quest for revenge, whereas I would stress his youth, depression, and emotional variance.There’s so much in this play that it is utterly impossible to touch on everything in a single review, so I suppose I’ll stop while I’m ahead. I’m sure that when I reread, I will notice new things that I never saw before. And I do plan on rereading Hamlet. Like all truly great works of literature, it’s an inexhaustible gold mine, a fountain of insight one can’t help returning to.