Summary: Hunt describes the history of criticism on Hamlet, as well the sources from which Shakespeare drew in order to write the play.
Review: Looking for Hamlet serves as a wonderful introduction to the critical reception of what many consider Shakespeare’s greatest play. Hunt begins by describing the sources upon which Shakespeare based his own play, thus establishing the context of the drama and highlighting the importance of changes made by Shakespeare. He then continues by describing the earliest printed versions of Hamlet and explaining the differences among them and how those differences affect our understanding of the work. Hunt keeps the origins of the play and the distinct versions in mind as he proceeds to explain and comment upon the interpretations of Hamlet offered by various historical eras and critics. Readers need not agree with Hunt’s interpretation of the play to appreciate his contributions to our understanding of Shakespeare. Rather, because Hunt supports all his assertions with textual evidence from Hamlet, readers who differ with him on points may be surprised to find the play sustain contradictory arguments so well; disagreements on interpretation ultimately testify to the richness and depth of the text.
Hunt moves beyond standard literary criticism, however, by also exploring the effect Hamlet/Hamlet has had on our understanding of ourselves. In doing so, he reminds us that great literature does not stay on the page; it enters our world and becomes a part of who we are. Generations have felt the need to try to capture Hamlet, to try to explain him in an attempt to explain their own existence. The continued commentary on him indicates no one has quite succeeded. Perhaps, however, the persistent search means more than the answer. Perhaps if we actually found Hamlet, we would discover we had destroyed something integral to being human. In the end, then, Looking for Hamlet should raise more questions than answers, inspiring readers to return to the text and to consult other criticism, to enter the great dialogue on Hamlet and what it means for us.