Ashboy - Shakespeare's Storybook
In the Danish story, the hero was called Amlethi. Shakespeare anglicized this name by changing it to Hamlet. Some people think he chose this name in memory of his dead son, Hamnet, and that the play was written with his son and his recently deceased father in mind. The prevailing economic and social conditions may, also, have influenced his storyline. There was widespread famine in England, at the time, and, with Elizabeth I nearing the end of her life, people were losing confidence in their current ruler and fearful of what they would face with the next one.
The young prince, in 'Ashboy', is portrayed as a simpleton, whose quiet wisdom goes unnoticed by those around him. Like Hamlet, he discovers that his father has been murdered by his uncle and his mother is, not only his uncle's new wife, but also his accomplice in the evil plot. When his uncle realises that the boy knows his dark secret, he sends Ashboy to his would-be wife's father, with a sealed note. He tells Ashboy that the note commands the other king to send him on adventures, which will prove his worthiness to marry his daughter. Ashboy, naively, believes him. In reality, the note commands the king to kill the bearer of the note. Luckily, for Ashboy, the note is discovered by pirates, after he is shipwrecked. Moved by compassion, they decide not to rob the boy, after all, and they exchange the note for one which requests the marriage of Ashboy to the princess. Thus, the marriage takes place and the young couple, subsequently, return to Ashboy's home to defeat his uncle in battle and reclaim the kingdom as their own.
The story of Ashboy contains many elements of luck. In particular, the pirates' intervention and Ashboy's rescue are due more to unbelievably good luck than to any wisdom or effort on Ashboy's part. Hamlet, by contrast, is responsible for his own fate. It is his decisions and reactions which determine the unhappy ending in Shakespeare's play. Unlike Ashboy, Hamlet is not considered a fool. He pretends to go mad, but he is not generally thought to be a simpleton. Shakespeare's tragedy is the more gloomy on all counts. The storyline is dismal and the character of the prince is complex and moody. Despite his sorrow, Ashboy is a sunnier personality, who makes a place for himself as court jester. The contrast between the good and bad characters is more clearcut in 'Ashboy', although, like Hamlet, Ashboy desires revenge.
Because the lines between good and bad were clearly defined, the discussion which followed our reading was simpler and our conclusions were reached more readily. The evil natures of the prince's uncle and his mother were evident from their barbaric killing of his father and their plot to kill Ashboy. In contrast, Ashboy was a symbol of innocence and goodness. He was a victim, whose simple nature meant that he trusted his uncle when he was given the sealed note, expecting goodness from him, despite the evil which he had displayed, in the past. However, Ashboy's desire for revenge is not so noble. It is motivated by the urgings of his sensible and worthy wife, and, thus, may not be evidence of his vengeful nature. Furthermore, the battle to regain his kingdom, could be seen as a legitimate fight for justice and an honourable attempt to protect his people from a ruthless ruler.
Like the other tales in Shakespeare's Storybook, this fairytale gave us much to ponder about human nature and virtuous decision-making. The moral of this particular tale appears to be, simply, that crime does not pay. In 'Hamlet', there is no such simplicity. Good and evil are intertwined and the complexities of human nature are explored in a manner which brings into doubt the responsibility of the main character for his actions. As with all of Shakespeare's plays, the younger children will understand the nuances of this play on a limited level. Later on, the discussion will probably develop and expand to enable the debate of complex issues which, as yet, appear black and white to the younger minds.