Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said that he had a ‘smack of Hamlet’ in himself. Do our youth relate to this melancholic hero as Coleridge did?

Of course, at that time melancholy was a fashionable ailment to have in young men. Nowadays we have a much better understanding of mental health, and so what they called melancholy we now call mental illness such as depression. However, that does not mean that young people in a modern audience do not see themselves in this well-liked tragic hero. Hamlet is a student at the University of Wittenburg, allowing young people to see a semblance of themselves in Hamlet’s age; however, Hamlet is in reality about thirty years old, but his sentiments and deliberations could be seen as those of a man much younger.  

As a student of Hamlet myself, I was led to wonder: is my view of the young protagonist shared amongst other young people? I see Hamlet as a man stuck in limbo, despairing about both past and future. Hamlet’s problems are most likely not those experienced by every young person, however his soliloquys, despite being tainted with a hint of madness, can be a source of impact for modern young audiences.  

Take for example Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Hamlet in 2017; his spin on the classically dramatic speech of Act Three Scene One, in which Hamlet seems to deliberate between the trials and tribulations of life, and the impossible unknown of death. Where some actors take the melodrama of emotion through a rollercoaster with arguably Shakespeare’s most well-known soliloquy, Scott calmly approaches the dilemma with a semblance of logic. This is a moment in which Scott’s Hamlet thinks through the contemplation of suicide with surprising calm; later in the play he is seen to decline quickly and violently, but not yet.  

‘Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ or to take arms against a sea of troubles/ and by opposing end them’. This contemplation can be applied to questions both similar and differing to ‘to be, or not to be’; young people today may consider whether it is better to suffer through the hardships they’ve been dealt, or to fight the system and take the risk of burning down alongside it.  

A key theme within Hamlet is transgenerational trauma. It could be argued that young people could see themselves in Hamlet less for the character himself but for how other characters approach him and affect him. Every generation has, and will, have to deal with the misfortunes left to them by the generation prior, and this generation is no exception. Taking this view of Hamlet, it can certainly be said that a young audience may see ‘a smack of Hamlet’ in themselves, whether it be for his contemplations or his role as the dutiful son.