Hamlet 1: His Father's Ghost

Hamlet returns home to find his father has died. Zimbabwean actor Tonderai Munyevu explains how Hamlet is about a man who has to figure out what happened while he was away.


My experience of Shakespeare

In Zimbabwe where I had my formative years, so that’s to say I was born there and lived there until I was twelve years old, we always heard Shakespearean lines or Shakespearean words spoken without realising that they were actually Shakespearean words and Shakespearean lines. So ‘All that glitters is not gold’ is something that, you know, we would say. ‘Constant as the Northern Star’ is something that we would say. ‘To be or not to be’ is something that we would say. Because our culture, our Zimbabwean culture is so full of proverbs and words and exciting word play. So we grew up around that. And I have to say that it’s only years later that I realised that a lot of what we were speaking as young children was actually Shakespeare. And then of course Romeo and Juliet is something that we did at school very early on. And I fell in love with the story of these two young people who were just like myself, young and growing up.

The Story of Hamlet

I think it starts off very simply. It starts off with someone returning. So I think as an audience we then think, well, just naturally where has he been and what has happened since he has gone. And then we find out you have a king who has been killed by his brother so that the brother can take o­ver the kingdom. But we find out in many different ways. So there’s a spiritual finding out, the ghost comes, you know, something unexpected, something from the other realm. And then there’s also reason. Hamlet seeing things for himself. And then Hamlet encountering each person who he left behind, because he’s been somewhere else. So, you know, there’s Polonius who has his own motives and his own family. You have his mother who has her own motives and has made certain decisions. You have the uncle who has his own motives and has made certain decisions. You have the threat that perhaps something from outside will happen to the country. Hamlet is shocked that his mother didn’t know that his uncle killed his father. He doesn’t sort of believe it. And when he believes it, when he really begins to understand that his uncle killed his father and married his mother he really takes it to his mother and says, ‘Why do you not see that this person has done this and why are you married to him? And why do you settle for someone who is this person compared to your husband?’ He really finds it shocking that his mother not only marries his uncle but that she doesn’t seem to be useful or helpful in setting things right. And then we get to see Hamlet try to fix what has happened. And then we see how things go wrong. And then finally we are given an opportunity to start again at the end of the play. So that’s how I see the storytelling, and I think it’s beautifully done. I think it tells us things of the present, of the past, of what happens when we die, of what it means to be alive and to fight for the things that you believe in.

Task 1

Task 2

Task 3

We use 'would' + infinitive to talk about habits and repeated actions in the past. Talking about his childhood in Zimbabwe, Tonderai remembers:

We always heard Shakespearean lines or words spoken without realising that they were Shakespearean. 'All that glitters is not gold' is something that we would say. 'Constant as the northern star' is something that we would say. 'To be or not to be' is something that we would say.

This meaning of 'would' is similar to 'used to'.


Task 4


Language level

Average: 5 (1 vote)
Do you need to improve your English?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are making great progress with their English level with our online courses.

Submitted by Néstor Serrano on Tue, 17/07/2018 - 19:12

Hi! I was remembering about the sound of music movie that the girl is returning to your country to see if she was really prepared to be a nun, or to see the world and she could experiment and take some relationship. It is different story that, at the end they finally, fell in love, and get married.
Profile picture for user Abdo Hassan f

Submitted by Abdo Hassan f on Mon, 12/03/2018 - 10:39

Hi, British council teamwork I have a question has perplexed my humble mind, the quotation which is the advice that ploniuos have it to his son "To thine own self be true" yes I knew it means be true with your self but I need analysis for the sentence syntactically

Hello Abdo Hassan f,

This is a sentence which is taken, as you say, from a literary context and it uses inversion for rhetorical effect. The verb is an imperative and the speaker is giving strong advice - almost a command:

Be true to yourself (without inversion, with the modern word for 'yourself')

Be true to your own self (without inversion, using a more poetic flourish)

Be true to thine own self (without inversion, using a more poetic flourish and an older word for 'your')

To thine own self be true (with inverstion)



The LearnEnglish Team

*gave it to his son Sorry for technical mistake because I have turned on predictive text feature

Submitted by Josep Anton on Fri, 26/01/2018 - 16:33

I can find similar story on the book of Odyssey, when Ulises return to Ithaka where her wife Penelope was courted by many suitors. Then Ulises won the proof what Penelope had set marry with the winner. After that Ulises killed all suitors, and return with Penelope. The difference with Hamlet is that Ulises isn't the son of Penelope if not her husband.

Submitted by Khaled v on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 19:59

A Tale of two Cities: The high pressure will cause explosion .. In time of war you cannot know who is guilty and who is innocent but there is a place for love ..and unlimited trend this what had happened for Sydney Carton..when he decided to die to bring the happiness for Lucy Manatte ... it is different of Hamlet ..it full of events ,..the Revenge will go in wrong direction when innocent one(Charles) will pay for his family mistakes..However Sydney Carton decided to pay and silently the love was the victorious.