Hamlet: Wikis


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Edwin Booth Hamlet 1870.jpg
The American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet, c. 1870
Written by William Shakespeare
Characters Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Claudius, King of Denmark
Polonius, Lord Chamberlain
Horatio, friend to Hamlet
Laertes, son to Polonius
Ophelia, daughter to Polonius
Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother
Spirit of Hamlet’s Father

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway
Date premiered ~1600
Place premiered Denmark
Original language English
Subject Political intrigue, murder and madness
Genre Tragedy
Setting Elsinore, the Danish royal castle
IBDB profile

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in Denmark, recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father, the King, and then taken the throne and married Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The play vividly charts the course of real and feigned madness—from overwhelming grief to seething rage—and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.

Despite much literary detective work, the exact year of writing remains in dispute. Three different early versions of the play have survived: these are known as the First Quarto (Q1), the Second Quarto (Q2) and the First Folio (F1). Each has lines, and even scenes, that are missing from the others. Shakespeare probably based Hamlet on the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum and subsequently retold by 16th-century scholar François de Belleforest, and a supposedly lost Elizabethan play known today as the Ur-Hamlet.

Given the play's dramatic structure and depth of characterization, Hamlet can be analyzed, interpreted and argued about from many perspectives. For example, scholars have debated for centuries about Hamlet's hesitation in killing his uncle. Some see it as a plot device to prolong the action, and others see it as the result of pressure exerted by the complex philosophical and ethical issues that surround cold-blooded murder, calculated revenge and thwarted desire. More recently, psychoanalytic critics have examined Hamlet's unconscious desires, and feminist critics have re-evaluated and rehabilitated the often maligned characters of Ophelia and Gertrude.

Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language. It provides a storyline capable of "seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others".[1] During Shakespeare's lifetime, the play was one of his most popular works,[2] and it still ranks high among his most-performed, topping, for example, the Royal Shakespeare Company's list since 1879.[3] It has inspired writers from Goethe and Dickens to Joyce and Murdoch and has been described as "the world's most filmed story after Cinderella".[4] The title role was almost certainly created for Richard Burbage, the leading tragedian of Shakespeare's time.[5] In the four hundred years since, it has been played by highly acclaimed actors, and sometimes actresses, of each successive age.



  • Claudius- King Of Denmark
  • Hamlet- Son to the former, and Nephew to the present King
  • Gertrude- Queen of Denmark, and mother to Hamlet
  • Polonius- Lord Chamberlain
  • Ophelia- Daughter to Polonius
  • Horatio- Friend to Hamlet
  • Laertes- Son to Polonius
  • Voltimand, Cornelius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern- Courtiers
  • Osric- a Courtier
  • Marcellus- an Officer
  • Bernardo- an Officer
  • Francisco- a Soldier
  • Reynaldo- Servant to Polonius
  • Ghost of Hamlet's Father
  • Fortinbras- Prince of Norway


Horatio, Marcellus, Hamlet, and the Ghost (Artist: Henry Fuseli 1798)[6]

The protagonist of Hamlet is Prince Hamlet of Denmark, son of the recently deceased King Hamlet and his wife, Queen Gertrude. While the young Hamlet is away at school the recently deceased King's brother, Claudius, is elected king and hastily marries Gertrude. A minor subplot involves Denmark's long-standing feud with neighbouring Norway, and the threat of invasion led by the Norwegian prince Fortinbras.

The play opens on a cold night at Elsinore, the Danish royal castle. Francisco, one of the sentinels, is relieved of his watch by Bernardo, another sentinel, and exits while Bernardo remains. A third sentinel, Marcellus, enters with Horatio, Hamlet's best friend. The sentinels inform Horatio that they have seen a ghost that looks like the dead King Hamlet. After hearing from Horatio of the Ghost's appearance, Hamlet resolves to see the Ghost himself. That night, the Ghost appears again. It leads Hamlet to seclusion and reveals that it is the actual spirit of his father and discloses that he, the elder Hamlet, was murdered by Claudius pouring poison in his ear. The Ghost demands that Hamlet avenge him; Hamlet agrees, swears his companions to secrecy, and tells them he intends to "put on an antic disposition" (presumably to avert suspicion). Hamlet initially attests to the ghost's reliability, calling him both an "honest ghost" and "truepenny". He later raises doubts about the ghost's nature and intent and claims these as reasons for his inaction.

Polonius is Claudius' trusted chief counsellor; his son, Laertes, is returning to France, and his daughter, Ophelia, is courted by Hamlet. Neither Polonius nor Laertes thinks Hamlet is serious about Ophelia, and they both warn her off. Shortly afterwards, Ophelia is alarmed by Hamlet's strange behaviour and reports to her father that Hamlet rushed into her room, stared at her and said nothing. Polonius assumes that the "ecstasy of love"[7] is responsible for Hamlet's madness, and he informs Claudius and Gertrude.

Busy with affairs of state, Claudius receives the ambassador of Norway who gives assurances of peace between Norway and Denmark. Perturbed by Hamlet's continuing deep mourning for his father and his increasingly erratic behavior, Claudius sends for two of Hamlet's acquaintances —Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—to discover the cause of Hamlet's changed behavior. Hamlet greets his friends warmly but quickly discerns that they have been sent to spy on him.

Together, Claudius and Polonius convince Ophelia to speak with Hamlet while they secretly listen to the conversation. When Hamlet enters, she offers to return his remembrances, upon which Hamlet questions her honesty and furiously rants at her, insisting she go "to a nunnery".[8]

The "gravedigger scene"[9] (Artist: Eugène Delacroix 1839)

Hamlet remains uncertain if the Ghost has told him the truth, but the arrival of a troupe of actors at Elsinore presents him with a solution. He will stage a play, re-enacting his father's murder, and determine Claudius's guilt or innocence by studying his reaction. The court assembles to watch the play; Hamlet provides an agitated running commentary throughout. When the murder scene is presented, Claudius abruptly rises and leaves the room, which Hamlet sees as proof of his uncle's guilt.

Gertrude summons Hamlet to her closet to demand an explanation. On his way, Hamlet passes Claudius in prayer but hesitates to kill him, reasoning that death in prayer would send him to heaven. However it is revealed that the King is not truly praying, remarking that "words" never made it to heaven without "thoughts." Upon reaching the queen, an argument erupts between Hamlet and Gertrude. Polonius, who is spying on the scene from behind an arras, convinced that the prince's madness is indeed real, panics when it seems as if Hamlet is about to murder the Queen and cries out for help. Hamlet, believing it is Claudius hiding behind the arras, stabs wildly through the cloth, killing Polonius. When he realizes that he has killed Ophelia's father, he is not remorseful, but calls Polonius "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool". The Ghost appears, urging Hamlet to treat Gertrude gently but reminding him to kill Claudius. Unable to see or hear the Ghost herself, Gertrude takes Hamlet's conversation with it as further evidence of madness.

Claudius, fearing for his life, and finally holding a legitimate excuse to get rid of the prince, makes plans to send Hamlet to England on a diplomatic pretext, closely watched by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Alone, Claudius discloses that he is sending Hamlet to his death. Prior to embarking for England, Hamlet hides Polonius's body, ultimately revealing its location to the King. Upon leaving Elsinore, Hamlet encounters the army of Prince Fortinbras en route to do battle in Poland. Upon witnessing so many men going to their death for the brash whim of an impulsive prince, Hamlet decides that he will no longer plot and scheme, but rather finish his plan and kill Claudius.

At Elsinore, further demented by grief at Polonius's death, Ophelia wanders the castle acting erratically and singing bawdy songs. Her brother, Laertes, arrives back from France, enraged by his father's death and his sister's madness. She appears briefly to give out herbs and flowers. Claudius convinces Laertes that Hamlet is solely responsible; then news arrives that Hamlet is still at large— a story is spread that his ship was attacked by pirates on the way to England, and he has returned to Denmark. Claudius swiftly concocts a plot. His plan is to allow Hamlet's death to appear to be an accident, taking all of the blame off of his shoulders. He proposes a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet, as Hamlet was jealous of Laertes prowess with a sword. Laertes, enraged at the murder of his father informs the king that he will further poison the tip of his sword so as a mere scratch would mean certain death. Claudius, unsure that capable Hamlet could receive even a scratch, plans to offer Hamlet poisoned wine if that fails. Gertrude enters to report that Ophelia has drowned.

Hamlet avenged his father by killing his uncle[10] (Artist: Gustave Moreau data unknow)

In the Elsinore churchyard, two "clowns", typically represented as "gravediggers", enter to prepare Ophelia's grave, and although the coroner has ruled her death accidental, so that she receives Christian burial, they argue over it being a case of suicide. (As she was deranged at the time this may not prevent a Christian burial in all Christian traditions.) Hamlet arrives with Horatio and banters with one of them, who unearths the skull of a jester whom Hamlet once knew, Yorick. Ophelia's funeral procession approaches, led by her mournful brother Laertes. Upset at the lack of ceremony due to the deemed suicide and overcome by emotion, Laertes leaps into the grave, cursing Hamlet as the cause of her death. Hamlet interrupts and professes his own love and grief for Ophelia. He and Laertes grapple, but the fight is broken up by Claudius and Gertrude. Claudius makes sure to remind Laertes of the planned fencing match.

Later that day, Hamlet tells Horatio how he escaped, and that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been sent to their deaths. A courtier, Osric, interrupts to invite Hamlet to fence with Laertes. Despite warnings from Horatio, Hamlet accepts and the match begins. After several rounds, Gertrude toasts Hamlet against the urgent warning of Claudius, accidentally drinking the wine he poisoned. Between bouts, Laertes attacks and pierces Hamlet with his poisoned blade; in the ensuing scuffle, Hamlet is able to use Laertes's own poisoned sword against him, fatally wounding Laertes. Gertrude falls and in her dying breath announces that she has been poisoned.

In his dying moments, Laertes is reconciled with Hamlet and reveals Claudius's murderous plot. Hamlet stabs Claudius with the doped sword, then forces him to drink from his own poisoned cup to make sure he dies. In his final moments, Hamlet, names Prince Fortinbras of Norway as the probable heir to the throne, as the Danish kingship is an elected position, with the country's nobles having the final say. Horatio attempts to kill himself with the same poisoned wine, but is stopped by Hamlet, who commands him to tell his story, as he will be the only one left alive that could give a full account. When Fortinbras arrives to greet King Claudius, he encounters the deathly scene: Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes, and Hamlet are all dead. Horatio asks to be allowed to recount the tale to "the yet unknowing world", and Fortinbras orders Hamlet's body borne off in honour.


A facsimile of Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, which contains the legend of Amleth

Hamlet-like legends are so widely found (for example in Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Byzantium, and Arabia) that the core "hero-as-fool" theme is possibly Indo-European in origin.[11] Several ancient written precursors to Hamlet can be identified. The first is the anonymous Scandinavian Saga of Hrolf Kraki. In this, the murdered king has two sons—Hroar and Helgi—who spend most of the story in disguise, under false names, rather than feigning madness, in a sequence of events that differs from Shakespeare's.[12] The second is the Roman legend of Brutus, recorded in two separate Latin works. Its hero, Lucius ("shining, light"), changes his name and persona to Brutus ("dull, stupid"), playing the role of a fool to avoid the fate of his father and brothers, and eventually slaying his family's killer, King Tarquinius. A 17th-century Nordic scholar, Torfaeus, compared the Icelandic hero Amlodi and the Spanish hero Prince Ambales (from the Ambales Saga) to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Similarities include the prince's feigned madness, his accidental killing of the king's counsellor in his mother's bedroom, and the eventual slaying of his uncle.[13]

Many of the earlier legendary elements are interwoven in the 13th-century Vita Amlethi ("The Life of Amleth")[14] by Saxo Grammaticus, part of Gesta Danorum.[15] Written in Latin, it reflects classical Roman concepts of virtue and heroism, and was widely available in Shakespeare's day.[16] Significant parallels include the prince feigning madness, his mother's hasty marriage to the usurper, the prince killing a hidden spy, and the prince substituting the execution of two retainers for his own. A reasonably faithful version of Saxo's story was translated into French in 1570 by François de Belleforest, in his Histoires tragiques.[17] Belleforest embellished Saxo's text substantially, almost doubling its length, and introduced the hero's melancholy.[18]

Cover of The Spanish Tragedy, by Thomas Kyd.

According to a popular theory, Shakespeare's main source is believed to be an earlier play—now lost—known today as the Ur-Hamlet. Possibly written by Thomas Kyd or even William Shakespeare himself, the Ur-Hamlet would have been in performance by 1589 and the first version of the story known to incorporate a ghost.[19] Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men, may have purchased that play and performed a version for some time, which Shakespeare reworked.[20] Since no copy of the Ur-Hamlet has survived, however, it is impossible to compare its language and style with the known works of any of its putative authors. Consequently, there is no direct evidence that Kyd wrote it, nor any evidence that the play was not an early version of Hamlet by Shakespeare himself. This latter idea—placing Hamlet far earlier than the generally accepted date, with a much longer period of development—has attracted some support, though others dismiss it as speculation.[21]

The upshot is that scholars cannot assert with any confidence how much material Shakespeare took from the Ur-Hamlet (if it even existed), how much from Belleforest or Saxo, and how much from other contemporary sources (such as Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy). No clear evidence exists that Shakespeare made any direct references to Saxo's version. However, elements of Belleforest's version which are not in Saxo's story do appear in Shakespeare's play. Whether Shakespeare took these from Belleforest directly or through the Ur-Hamlet remains unclear.[22]

Most scholars reject the idea that Hamlet is in any way connected with Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet Shakespeare, who died in 1596 at age eleven. Conventional wisdom holds that Hamlet is too obviously connected to legend, and the name Hamnet was quite popular at the time.[23] However, Stephen Greenblatt has argued that the coincidence of the names and Shakespeare's grief for the loss of his son may lie at the heart of the tragedy. He notes that the name of Hamnet Sadler, the Stratford neighbor after whom Hamnet was named, was often written as Hamlet Sadler and that, in the loose orthography of the time, the names were virtually interchangeable.[24] Sadler's first name is spelled "Hamlett" in Shakespeare's will.[25]


Frontispiece of the 1605 printing (Q2) of Hamlet

"Any dating of Hamlet must be tentative", cautions the New Cambridge editor, Phillip Edwards.[26] The earliest date estimate relies on Hamlet's frequent allusions to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, itself dated to mid-1599.[27] The latest date estimate is based on an entry, of 26 July 1602, in the Register of the Stationers' Company, indicating that Hamlet was "latelie Acted by the Lo: Chamberleyne his servantes".

In 1598, Francis Meres published in his Palladis Tamia a survey of English literature from Chaucer to its present day, within which twelve of Shakespeare's plays are named. Hamlet is not among them, suggesting that it had not yet been written. As Hamlet was very popular, the New Swan series editor Bernard Lott believes it "unlikely that he [Meres] would have overlooked ... so significant a piece".[28]

The phrase "little eyases"[29] in the First Folio (F1) may allude to the Children of the Chapel, whose popularity in London forced the Globe company into provincial touring. This became known as the War of the Theatres, and supports a 1601 dating.[28]

A contemporary of Shakespere's, Gabriel Harvey, wrote a marginal note in his copy of the 1598 edition of Chaucer's works, which some scholars use as dating evidence. Harvey's note says that "the wiser sort" enjoy Hamlet, and implies that the Earl of Essex—executed in February 1601 for rebellion—was still alive. Other scholars consider this inconclusive. Edwards, for example, concludes that the "sense of time is so confused in Harvey's note that it is really of little use in trying to date Hamlet". This is because the same note also refers to Spenser and Watson as if they were still alive ("our flourishing metricians"), but also mentions "Owen's new epigrams", published in 1607.[30]


Rendering of the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy from Q1, often called the "bad quarto".

Three early editions of the text have survived, making attempts to establish a single "authentic" text problematic.[31] Each is different from the others:[32]

  • First Quarto (Q1) In 1603 the booksellers Nicholas Ling and John Trundell published, and Valentine Simmes printed the so-called "bad" first quarto. Q1 contains just over half of the text of the later second quarto.
  • Second Quarto (Q2) In 1604 Nicholas Ling published, and James Roberts printed, the second quarto. Some copies are dated 1605, which may indicate a second impression; consequently, Q2 is often dated "1604/5". Q2 is the longest early edition, although it omits 85 lines found in F1 (most likely to avoid offending James I's queen, Anne of Denmark).[33]
  • First Folio (F1) In 1623 Edward Blount and William and Isaac Jaggard published the First Folio, the first edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works.[34]

Other folios and quartos were subsequently published—including John Smethwick's Q3, Q4, and Q5 (1611–37)—but these are regarded as derivatives of the first three editions.[34]

Early editors of Shakespeare's works, beginning with Nicholas Rowe (1709) and Lewis Theobald (1733), combined material from the two earliest sources of Hamlet available at the time, Q2 and F1. Each text contains material that the other lacks, with many minor differences in wording: scarcely 200 lines are identical in the two. Editors have combined them in an effort to create one "inclusive" text that reflects an imagined "ideal" of Shakespeare's original. Theobald's version became standard for a long time,[35] and his "full text" approach continues to influence editorial practice to the present day. Some contemporary scholarship, however, discounts this approach, instead considering "an authentic Hamlet an unrealisable ideal. ... there are texts of this play but no text".[36] The 2006 publication by Arden Shakespeare of different Hamlet texts in different volumes is perhaps the best evidence of this shifting focus and emphasis.[37]

Traditionally, editors of Shakespeare's plays have divided them into five acts. None of the early texts of Hamlet, however, were arranged this way, and the play's division into acts and scenes derives from a 1676 quarto. Modern editors generally follow this traditional division, but consider it unsatisfactory; for example, after Hamlet drags Polonius's body out of Gertrude's bedchamber, there is an act-break[38] after which the action appears to continue uninterrupted.[39]

The discovery in 1823 of Q1—whose existence had been quite unsuspected—caused considerable interest and excitement, raising many questions of editorial practice and interpretation. Scholars immediately identified apparent deficiencies in Q1, which was instrumental in the development of the concept of a Shakespearean "bad quarto".[40] Yet Q1 has value: it contains stage directions that reveal actual stage practices in a way that Q2 and F1 do not; it contains an entire scene (usually labelled 4.6)[41] that does not appear in either Q2 or F1; and it is useful for comparison with the later editions. Many scholars of the theater note that the scene order is also more coherent, without the problems of Q2 and F1 of Hamlet seeming to resolve something in one scene and enter the next drowning in indecision. This is a scene order many modern theatrical productions follow.[citation needed] The major deficiency of Q1 is that the language is not "Shakespearean" enough, particularly noticeable in the opening lines of the famous "To be, or not to be" soliloquy: "To be, or not to be, aye there's the point. / To die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all: / No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes."[citation needed]

Q1 is considerably shorter than Q2 or F1 and may be a memorial reconstruction of the play as Shakespeare's company performed it, by an actor who played a minor role (most likely Marcellus).[42] Scholars disagree whether the reconstruction was pirated or authorised. Another theory, considered by New Cambridge editor Kathleen Irace, holds that Q1 is an abridged version intended especially for travelling productions.[43] The idea that Q1 is not riddled with error but is instead eminently fit for the stage has led to at least 28 different Q1 productions since 1881.[44]

Analysis and criticism

Critical history

From the early 17th century, the play was famous for its ghost and vivid dramatization of melancholy and insanity, leading to a procession of mad courtiers and ladies in Jacobean and Caroline drama.[45] Though it remained popular with mass audiences, late 17th-century Restoration critics saw Hamlet as primitive and disapproved of its lack of unity and decorum.[46] This view changed drastically in the 18th century, when critics regarded Hamlet as a hero—a pure, brilliant young man thrust into unfortunate circumstances.[47] By the mid-18th century, however, the advent of Gothic literature brought psychological and mystical readings, returning madness and the Ghost to the forefront.[48] Not until the late 18th century did critics and performers begin to view Hamlet as confusing and inconsistent. Before then, he was either mad, or not; either a hero, or not; with no in-betweens.[49] These developments represented a fundamental change in literary criticism, which came to focus more on character and less on plot.[50] By the 19th century, Romantic critics valued Hamlet for its internal, individual conflict reflecting the strong contemporary emphasis on internal struggles and inner character in general.[51] Then too, critics started to focus on Hamlet's delay as a character trait, rather than a plot device.[50] This focus on character and internal struggle continued into the 20th century, when criticism branched in several directions, discussed in context and interpretation below.

Dramatic structure

Hamlet departed from contemporary dramatic convention in several ways. For example, in Shakespeare's day, plays were usually expected to follow the advice of Aristotle in his Poetics: that a drama should focus on action, not character. In Hamlet, Shakespeare reverses this so that it is through the soliloquies, not the action, that the audience learns Hamlet's motives and thoughts. The play is full of seeming discontinuities and irregularities of action, except in the "bad" quarto. At one point, as in the Gravedigger scene,[9] Hamlet seems resolved to kill Claudius: in the next scene, however, when Claudius appears, he is suddenly tame. Scholars still debate whether these twists are mistakes or intentional additions to add to the play's theme of confusion and duality.[52] Finally, in a period when most plays ran for two hours or so, the full text of Hamlet—Shakespeare's longest play, with 4,042 lines, totalling 29,551 words—takes over four hours to deliver.[53] Even today the play is rarely performed in its entirety, and has only once been dramatized on film completely, with Kenneth Brannagh's 1996 version. Hamlet also contains a favourite Shakespearean device, a play within the play.[54]


Hamlet's statement that his dark clothes are the outer sign of his inner grief demonstrates strong rhetorical skill. (Artist: Eugène Delacroix 1834).

Much of the play's language is courtly: elaborate, witty discourse, as recommended by Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 etiquette guide, The Courtier. This work specifically advises royal retainers to amuse their masters with inventive language. Osric and Polonius, especially, seem to respect this injunction. Claudius's speech is rich with rhetorical figures—as is Hamlet's and, at times, Ophelia's—while the language of Horatio, the guards, and the gravediggers is simpler. Claudius's high status is reinforced by using the royal first person plural ("we" or "us"), and anaphora mixed with metaphor to resonate with Greek political speeches.[55]

Hamlet is the most skilled of all at rhetoric. He uses highly developed metaphors, stichomythia, and in nine memorable words deploys both anaphora and asyndeton: "to die: to sleep— / To sleep, perchance to dream".[56] In contrast, when occasion demands, he is precise and straightforward, as when he explains his inward emotion to his mother: "But I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe".[57] At times, he relies heavily on puns to express his true thoughts while simultaneously concealing them.[58] His "nunnery" remarks[59] to Ophelia are an example of a cruel double meaning as nunnery was Elizabethan slang for brothel.[8][60] His very first words in the play are a pun; when Claudius addresses him as "my cousin Hamlet, and my son", Hamlet says as an aside: "A little more than kin, and less than kind."[61]

An unusual rhetorical device, hendiadys, appears in several places in the play. Examples are found in Ophelia's speech at the end of the nunnery scene: "Th'expectancy and rose of the fair state"; "And I, of ladies most deject and wretched".[62] Many scholars have found it odd that Shakespeare would, seemingly arbitrarily, use this rhetorical form throughout the play. One explanation may be that Hamlet was written later in Shakespeare's life, when he was adept at matching rhetorical devices to characters and the plot. Linguist George T. Wright suggests that hendiadys had been used deliberately to heighten the play's sense of duality and dislocation.[63] Pauline Kiernan argues that Shakespeare changed English drama forever in Hamlet because he "showed how a character's language can often be saying several things at once, and contradictory meanings at that, to reflect fragmented thoughts and disturbed feelings." She gives the example of Hamlet's advice to Ophelia, "get thee to a nunnery", which is simultaneously a reference to a place of chastity and a slang term for a brothel, reflecting Hamlet's confused feelings about female sexuality.[64]

Hamlet's soliloquies have also captured the attention of scholars ; Hamlet interrupts himself, vocalising either disgust or agreement with himself, and embellishing his own words. He has difficulty expressing himself directly and instead blunts the thrust of his thought with wordplay. It is not until late in the play, after his experience with the pirates, that Hamlet is able to articulate his feelings freely.[65]

Context and interpretation


Ophelia depicts lady Ophelia's mysterious death by drowning. In the play, the clowns discuss whether Ophelia's death was a suicide and whether or not she merits a Christian burial. (Artist: John Everett Millais 1852).

Written at a time of religious upheaval, and in the wake of the English Reformation, the play is alternately Catholic (or piously medieval) and Protestant (or consciously modern). The Ghost describes himself as being in purgatory, and as dying without last rites. This and Ophelia's burial ceremony, which is characteristically Catholic, make up most of the play's Catholic connections. Some scholars have observed that revenge tragedies come from traditionally Catholic countries, such as Spain and Italy; and they present a contradiction, since according to Catholic doctrine the strongest duty is to God and family. Hamlet's conundrum, then, is whether to avenge his father and kill Claudius, or to leave the vengeance to God, as his religion requires.[66]

Much of the play's Protestantism derives from its location in Denmark—then and now a predominantly Protestant country, though it is unclear whether the fictional Denmark of the play is intended to mirror this fact. The play does mention Wittenberg, where Hamlet, Horatio, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attend university, and where Martin Luther first nailed up his 95 theses in 1517, effectively ushering in the Protestant Reformation.[67] In Shakespeare's day Denmark, as the majority of Scandinavia, was Lutheran.[68] When Hamlet speaks of the "special providence in the fall of a sparrow",[69] he reflects the Protestant belief that the will of God—Divine Providence—controls even the smallest event. In Q1, the first sentence of the same section reads: "There's a predestinate providence in the fall of a sparrow,"[70] which suggests an even stronger Protestant connection through John Calvin's doctrine of predestination. Scholars speculate that Hamlet may have been censored, as "predestined" appears only in this quarto.[71]


Philosophical ideas in Hamlet are similar to those of the French writer Michel de Montaigne, a contemporary of Shakespeare's. (Artist: Thomas de Leu, fl. 1560–1612).

Hamlet is often perceived as a philosophical character, expounding ideas that are now described as relativist, existentialist, and sceptical. For example, he expresses a relativistic idea when he says to Rosencrantz: "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so".[72] The idea that nothing is real except in the mind of the individual finds its roots in the Greek Sophists, who argued that since nothing can be perceived except through the senses—and since all individuals sense, and therefore perceive, things differently—there is no absolute truth, only relative truth.[73] The clearest example of existentialism is found in the "to be, or not to be"[74] speech, where Hamlet uses "being" to allude to both life and action, and "not being" to death and inaction. Hamlet's contemplation of suicide in this scene, however, is less philosophical than religious as he believes that he will continue to exist after death.[75]

Scholars agree that Hamlet reflects the contemporary scepticism that prevailed in Renaissance humanism.[76] Prior to Shakespeare's time, humanists had argued that man was God's greatest creation, made in God's image and able to choose his own nature, but this view was challenged, notably in Michel de Montaigne's Essais of 1590. Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man" echoes many of Montaigne's ideas, but scholars disagree whether Shakespeare drew directly from Montaigne or whether both men were simply reacting similarly to the spirit of the times.[77]


In the early 17th century political satire was discouraged, and playwrights were punished for "offensive" works. In 1597, Ben Jonson was jailed for his participation in the play The Isle of Dogs.[78] Thomas Middleton was imprisoned in 1624, and his A Game at Chess was banned after nine performances.[79] Numerous scholars believe that Hamlet's Polonius poked fun at the safely deceased William Cecil (Lord Burghley)—Lord High Treasurer and chief counsellor to Queen Elizabeth I[80]—as numerous parallels can be found. Polonius's role as elder statesman is similar to the role Burghley enjoyed;[81] Polonius's advice to Laertes may echo Burghley's to his son Robert Cecil;[82] and Polonius's tedious verbosity may resemble Burghley's.[83] Also, "Corambis", (Polonius's name in Q1) resonates with the Latin for "double-hearted"—which may satirise Lord Burghley's Latin motto Cor unum, via una ("One heart, one way").[84] Lastly, the relationship of Polonius's daughter Ophelia with Hamlet may be compared to the relationship of Burghley's daughter, Anne Cecil, with the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.[85] These arguments are also offered in support of the Shakespeare authorship claims for the Earl of Oxford.[86] Nevertheless Shakespeare escaped censure; and far from being suppressed, Hamlet was given the royal imprimatur, as the king's coat of arms on the frontispiece of the 1604 Hamlet attests.[87]


Freud suggested that an unconscious oedipal conflict caused Hamlet's hesitations. (Artist: Eugène Delacroix 1844).

In the first half of the 20th century, when psychoanalysis was at the height of its influence, its concepts were applied to Hamlet, notably by Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones, and Jacques Lacan, and these studies influenced theatrical productions.

In his The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud's analysis starts from the premise that "the play is built up on Hamlet's hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations".[88] After reviewing various literary theories, Freud concludes that Hamlet has an "Oedipal desire for his mother and the subsequent guilt [is] preventing him from murdering the man [Claudius] who has done what he unconsciously wanted to do".[89] Confronted with his repressed desires, Hamlet realises that "he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish".[88] Freud suggests that Hamlet's apparent "distaste for sexuality"—articulated in his "nunnery" conversation with Ophelia—accords with this interpretation.[90][91] John Barrymore introduced Freudian overtones into his landmark 1922 production in New York, which ran for a record-breaking 101 nights.

In the 1940s, Ernest Jones—a psychoanalyst and Freud's biographer—developed Freud's ideas into a series of essays that culminated in his book Hamlet and Oedipus (1949). Influenced by Jones's psychoanalytic approach, several productions have portrayed the "closet scene",[92] where Hamlet confronts his mother in her private quarters, in a sexual light. In this reading, Hamlet is disgusted by his mother's "incestuous" relationship with Claudius while simultaneously fearful of killing him, as this would clear Hamlet's path to his mother's bed. Ophelia's madness after her father's death may also be read through the Freudian lens: as a reaction to the death of her hoped-for lover, her father. She is overwhelmed by having her unfulfilled love for him so abruptly terminated and drifts into the oblivion of insanity.[93] In 1937, Tyrone Guthrie directed Laurence Olivier in a Jones-inspired Hamlet at the Old Vic.[94] Olivier later used some of these same ideas in his 1948 film version of the play.

In the 1950s, Lacan's structuralist theories about Hamlet were first presented in a series of seminars given in Paris and later published in "Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet". Lacan postulated that the human psyche is determined by structures of language and that the linguistic structures of Hamlet shed light on human desire.[89] His point of departure is Freud's Oedipal theories, and the central theme of mourning that runs through Hamlet.[89] In Lacan's analysis, Hamlet unconsciously assumes the role of phallus—the cause of his inaction—and is increasingly distanced from reality "by mourning, fantasy, narcissism and psychosis", which create holes (or lack (manque)) in the real, imaginary, and symbolic aspects of his psyche.[89] Lacan's theories influenced literary criticism of Hamlet because of his alternative vision of the play and his use of semantics to explore the play's psychological landscape.[89]


Ophelia is distracted by grief.[95] Feminist critics have explored her descent into madness. (Artist: Henrietta Rae 1890).

In the 20th century feminist critics opened up new approaches to Gertrude and Ophelia. New Historicist and cultural materialist critics examined the play in its historical context, attempting to piece together its original cultural environment.[96] They focused on the gender system of early modern England, pointing to the common trinity of maid, wife, or widow, with whores alone outside of the stereotype. In this analysis, the essence of Hamlet is the central character's changed perception of his mother as a whore because of her failure to remain faithful to Old Hamlet. In consequence, Hamlet loses his faith in all women, treating Ophelia as if she too were a whore and dishonest with Hamlet. Ophelia, by some critics, can be honest and fair; however, it is virtually impossible to link these two traits, since 'fairness' is an outward trait, while 'honesty' is an inward trait.[97]

Carolyn Heilbrun's 1957 essay "Hamlet's Mother" defends Gertrude, arguing that the text never hints that Gertrude knew of Claudius poisoning King Hamlet. This analysis has been championed by many feminist critics. Heilbrun argued that men have for centuries completely misinterpreted Gertrude, accepting at face value Hamlet's view of her instead of following the actual text of the play. By this account, no clear evidence suggests that Gertrude is an adulteress: she is merely adapting to the circumstances of her husband's death for the good of the kingdom.[98]

Ophelia has also been defended by feminist critics, most notably Elaine Showalter.[99] Ophelia is surrounded by powerful men: her father, brother, and Hamlet. All three disappear: Laertes leaves, Hamlet abandons her, and Polonius dies. Conventional theories had argued that without these three powerful men making decisions for her, Ophelia is driven into madness.[100] Feminist theorists argue that she goes mad with guilt because, when Hamlet kills her father, he has fulfilled her sexual desire to have Hamlet kill her father so they can be together. Showalter points out that Ophelia has become the symbol of the distraught and hysterical woman in modern culture.[101]


See also Literary influence of Hamlet

Hamlet is one of the most quoted works in the English language, and is often included on lists of the world's greatest literature.[102] As such, it reverberates through the writing of later centuries. Academic Laurie Osborne identifies the direct influence of Hamlet in numerous modern narratives, and divides them into four main categories: fictional accounts of the play's composition, simplifications of the story for young readers, stories expanding the role of one or more characters, and narratives featuring performances of the play.[103]

Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, published about 1749, describes a visit to Hamlet by Tom Jones and Mr Partridge, with similarities to the "play within a play".[104] In contrast, Goethe's Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, written between 1776 and 1796, not only has a production of Hamlet at its core but also creates parallels between the Ghost and Wilhelm Meister's dead father.[104] In the early 1850s, in Pierre, Herman Melville focuses on a Hamlet-like character's long development as a writer.[104] Ten years later, Dickens's Great Expectations contains many Hamlet-like plot elements: it is driven by revenge-motivated actions, contains ghost-like characters (Abel Magwich and Miss Havisham), and focuses on the hero's guilt.[104] Academic Alexander Welsh notes that Great Expectations is an "autobiographical novel" and "anticipates psychoanalytic readings of Hamlet itself".[105] About the same time, George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss was published, introducing Maggie Tulliver "who is explicitly compared with Hamlet"[106] though "with a reputation for sanity".[107] The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père makes mention of Hamlet numerous times and deals with the same revenge theme.

In the 1920s, James Joyce managed "a more upbeat version" of Hamlet—stripped of obsession and revenge—in Ulysses, though its main parallels are with Homer's Odyssey.[104] In the 1990s, two women novelists were explicitly influenced by Hamlet. In Angela Carter's Wise Children, To be or not to be[108] is reworked as a song and dance routine, and Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince has Oedipal themes and murder intertwined with a love affair between a Hamlet-obsessed writer, Bradley Pearson, and the daughter of his rival.[106]

There is the story of the woman who read Hamlet for the first time and said, "I don't see why people admire that play so. It is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together."

Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, pg vii, Avenal Books, 1970

Performance history

Shakespeare's day to the Interregnum

Shakespeare almost certainly wrote the role of Hamlet for Richard Burbage. He was the chief tragedian of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, with a capacious memory for lines and a wide emotional range.[5] Judging by the number of reprints, Hamlet appears to have been Shakespeare's fourth most popular play during his lifetime—only Henry IV Part 1, Richard III and Pericles eclipsed it.[2] Shakespeare provides no clear indication of when his play is set; however, as Elizabethan actors performed at the Globe in contemporary dress on minimal sets, this would not have affected the staging.[109]

Firm evidence for specific early performances of the play is scant. What is known is that the crew of the ship Red Dragon, anchored off Sierra Leone, performed Hamlet in September 1607;[110] that the play toured in Germany within five years of Shakespeare's death;[111] and that it was performed before James I in 1619 and Charles I in 1637.[112] Oxford editor George Hibbard argues that, since the contemporary literature contains many allusions and references to Hamlet (only Falstaff is mentioned more, from Shakespeare), the play was surely performed with a frequency that the historical record misses.[113]

All theatres were closed down by the Puritan government during the Interregnum.[114] Even during this time, however, playlets known as drolls were often performed illegally, including one called The Grave-Makers based on Act 5, Scene 1 of Hamlet.[115]

Restoration and 18th century

David Garrick's iconic hand gesture expresses Hamlet's shock at the first sight of the Ghost. (Artist: unknown).

The play was revived early in the Restoration. When the existing stock of pre-civil war plays was divided between the two newly created patent theatre companies, Hamlet was the only Shakespearean favourite that Sir William Davenant's Duke's Company secured.[116] It became the first of Shakespeare's plays to be presented with movable flats painted with generic scenery behind the proscenium arch of Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre.[117] This new stage convention highlighted the frequency with which Shakespeare shifts dramatic location, encouraging the recurrent criticisms of his violation of the neoclassical principle of maintaining a unity of place.[118] Davenant cast Thomas Betterton in the eponymous role, and he continued to play the Dane until he was 74.[119] David Garrick at Drury Lane produced a version that adapted Shakespeare heavily; he declared: "I had sworn I would not leave the stage till I had rescued that noble play from all the rubbish of the fifth act. I have brought it forth without the grave-digger's trick, Osrick, & the fencing match".[120] The first actor known to have played Hamlet in North America is Lewis Hallam. Jr., in the American Company's production in Philadelphia in 1759.[121]

John Philip Kemble made his Drury Lane debut as Hamlet in 1783.[122] His performance was said to be 20 minutes longer than anyone else's, and his lengthy pauses provoked the suggestion that "music should be played between the words".[123] Sarah Siddons was the first actress known to play Hamlet; many women have since played him as a breeches role, to great acclaim.[124] In 1748, Alexander Sumarokov wrote a Russian adaptation that focused on Prince Hamlet as the embodiment of an opposition to Claudius's tyranny—a treatment that would recur in Eastern European versions into the 20th century.[125] In the years following America's independence, Thomas Apthorpe Cooper, the young nation's leading tragedian, performed Hamlet among other plays at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and at the Park Theatre in New York. Although chided for "acknowledging acquaintances in the audience" and "inadequate memorisation of his lines", he became a national celebrity.[126]

19th century

A poster, c. 1884, for an American production of Hamlet (starring Thomas W. Keene), showing several of the key scenes

From around 1810 to 1840, the best-known Shakespearean performances in the United States were tours by leading London actors—including George Frederick Cooke, Junius Brutus Booth, Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, and Charles Kemble. Of these, Booth remained to make his career in the States, fathering the nation's most notorious actor, John Wilkes Booth (who later assassinated Abraham Lincoln), and its most famous Hamlet, Edwin Booth.[127] Edwin Booth's Hamlet was described as "like the dark, mad, dreamy, mysterious hero of a poem ... [acted] in an ideal manner, as far removed as possible from the plane of actual life".[128] Booth played Hamlet for 100 nights in the 1864/5 season at The Winter Garden Theatre, inaugurating the era of long-run Shakespeare in America.[129]

In the United Kingdom, the actor-managers of the Victorian era (including Kean, Samuel Phelps, Macready, and Henry Irving) staged Shakespeare in a grand manner, with elaborate scenery and costumes.[130] The tendency of actor-managers to emphasise the importance of their own central character did not always meet with the critics' approval. George Bernard Shaw's praise for Johnston Forbes-Robertson's performance contains a sideswipe at Irving: "The story of the play was perfectly intelligible, and quite took the attention of the audience off the principal actor at moments. What is the Lyceum coming to?"[131]

In London, Edmund Kean was the first Hamlet to abandon the regal finery usually associated with the role in favour of a plain costume, and he is said to have surprised his audience by playing Hamlet as serious and introspective.[132] In stark contrast to earlier opulence, William Poel's 1881 production of the Q1 text was an early attempt at reconstructing the Elizabethan theatre's austerity; his only backdrop was a set of red curtains.[133] Sarah Bernhardt played the prince in her popular 1899 London production. In contrast to the "effeminate" view of the central character that usually accompanied a female casting, she described her character as "manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful ... [he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power".[134]

In France, Charles Kemble initiated an enthusiasm for Shakespeare; and leading members of the Romantic movement such as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas saw his 1827 Paris performance of Hamlet, particularly admiring the madness of Harriet Smithson's Ophelia.[135] In Germany, Hamlet had become so assimilated by the mid-19th century that Ferdinand Freiligrath declared that "Germany is Hamlet".[136] From the 1850s, the Parsi theatre tradition in India transformed Hamlet into folk performances, with dozens of songs added.[137]

20th century

In 1908, Edward Gordon Craig designed the MAT production of Hamlet (1911–12). The isolated figure of Hamlet reclines in the dark foreground, while behind a gauze the rest of the court are absorbed in a bright, unified golden pyramid emanating from Claudius. Craig's famous screens are flat against the back in this scene.

Apart from some western troupes' 19th-century visits, the first professional performance of Hamlet in Japan was Otojiro Kawakami's 1903 Shimpa ("new school theatre") adaptation.[138] Shoyo Tsubouchi translated Hamlet and produced a performance in 1911 that blended Shingeki ("new drama") and Kabuki styles.[138] This hybrid-genre reached its peak in Fukuda Tsuneari's 1955 Hamlet.[138] In 1998, Yukio Ninagawa produced an acclaimed version of Hamlet in the style of theatre, which he took to London.[139]

Constantin Stanislavski and Edward Gordon Craig—two of the 20th century's most influential theatre practitioners—collaborated on the Moscow Art Theatre's seminal production of 1911–12.[140] While Craig favoured stylised abstraction, Stanislavski, armed with his "system", explored psychological motivation.[141] Craig conceived of the play as a symbolist monodrama, offering a dream-like vision as seen through Hamlet's eyes alone.[142] This was most evident in the staging of the first court scene.[143][144] The most famous aspect of the production is Craig's use of large, abstract screens that altered the size and shape of the acting area for each scene, representing the character's state of mind spatially or visualising a dramaturgical progression.[145] The production attracted enthusiastic and unprecedented worldwide attention for the theatre and placed it "on the cultural map for Western Europe".[146]

Hamlet is often played with contemporary political overtones. Leopold Jessner's 1926 production at the Berlin Staatstheater portrayed Claudius's court as a parody of the corrupt and fawning court of Kaiser Wilhelm.[147] In Poland, the number of productions of Hamlet has tended to increase at times of political unrest, since its political themes (suspected crimes, coups, surveillance) can be used to comment on a contemporary situation.[148] Similarly, Czech directors have used the play at times of occupation: a 1941 Vinohrady Theatre production "emphasised, with due caution, the helpless situation of an intellectual attempting to endure in a ruthless environment".[149] In China, performances of Hamlet often have political significance: Gu Wuwei's 1916 The Usurper of State Power, an amalgam of Hamlet and Macbeth, was an attack on Yuan Shikai's attempt to overthrow the republic.[150] In 1942, Jiao Juyin directed the play in a Confucian temple in Sichuan Province, to which the government had retreated from the advancing Japanese.[150] In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the protests at Tiananmen Square, Lin Zhaohua staged a 1990 Hamlet in which the prince was an ordinary individual tortured by a loss of meaning. In this production, the actors playing Hamlet, Claudius and Polonius exchanged roles at crucial moments in the performance, including the moment of Claudius's death, at which point the actor mainly associated with Hamlet fell to the ground.[150]

Mignon Nevada as Ophelia, 1910

Notable stagings in London and New York include Barrymore's 1925 production at the Haymarket; it influenced subsequent performances by John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.[151] Gielgud played the central role many times: his 1936 New York production ran for 136 performances, leading to the accolade that he was "the finest interpreter of the role since Barrymore".[152] Although "posterity has treated Maurice Evans less kindly", throughout the 1930s and 1940s he was regarded by many as the leading interpreter of Shakespeare in the United States and in the 1938/9 season he presented Broadway's first uncut Hamlet, running four and a half hours.[153] Olivier's 1937 performance at the Old Vic Theatre was popular with audiences but not with critics, with James Agate writing in a famous review in The Sunday Times, "Mr. Olivier does not speak poetry badly. He does not speak it at all."[154]. In 1937 Tyrone Guthrie directed the play at Elsinore, Denmark with Laurence Olivier as Hamlet and Vivien Leigh as Ophelia.

In 1963, Olivier directed Peter O'Toole as Hamlet in the inaugural performance of the newly formed National Theatre; critics found resonance between O'Toole's Hamlet and John Osborne's hero, Jimmy Porter, from Look Back in Anger.[155]

Richard Burton received his third Tony Award nomination when he played his second Hamlet, his first under John Gielgud's direction, in 1964 in a production that holds the record for the longest run of the play in Broadway history (136 performances). The performance was set on a bare stage, conceived to appear like a dress rehearsal, with Burton in a black v-neck sweater, and Gielgud himself tape-recorded the voice for the Ghost (which appeared as a looming shadow). It was immortalized both on record and on a film that played in US theatres for a week in 1964 as well as being the subject of books written by cast members William Redfield and Richard L. Sterne. Other New York portrayals of Hamlet of note include that of Ralph Fiennes's in 1995 (for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor) – which ran, from first preview to closing night, a total of one hundred performances. About the Fiennes Hamlet Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times that it was "...not one for literary sleuths and Shakespeare scholars. It respects the play, but it doesn't provide any new material for arcane debates on what it all means. Instead it's an intelligent, beautifully read..."[156] Stacy Keach played the role with an all-star cast at Joseph Papp's Delacorte Theatre in the early 70's, with Colleen Dewhurst's Gertrude, James Earl Jones's King, Barnard Hughes's Polonius, Sam Waterston's Laertes and Raul Julia's Osric. Sam Waterston later played the role himself at the Delacorte for the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the show transferred to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in 1975 (Stephen Lang played Bernardo and other roles). Stephen Lang's Hamlet for the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1992 received positive reviews, and ran for sixty-one performances. David Warner played the role with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1965. William Hurt (at Circle Rep Off-Broadway, memorably performing "To Be Or Not to Be" while lying on the floor), John Voight at Rutgers, and Christopher Walken (fiercely) at Stratford CT have all played the role, as has Diane Venora at the Public Theatre. Off Broadway, the Riverside Shakespeare Company mounted an uncut first folio Hamlet in 1978 at Columbia University, with a playing time of under three hours.[157] In fact, Hamlet is the most produced Shakespeare play in New York theatre history, with sixty-four recorded productions on Broadway, and an untold number Off Broadway.[158]

Ian Charleson performed Hamlet from 9 October to 13 November 1989, in Richard Eyre's production at the Olivier Theatre, replacing Daniel Day-Lewis, who had abandoned the production. Seriously ill from AIDS at the time, Charleson died eight weeks after his last performance. Fellow actor and friend, Sir Ian McKellen, said that Charleson played Hamlet so well it was as if he had rehearsed the role all his life,[159] and the performance garnered other major accolades as well, some even calling it the definitive Hamlet performance.[160]

21st century

In May 2009, Hamlet opened with Jude Law in the title role at the Donmar Warehouse West End season at Wyndham's Theatre. The production officially opened on 3 June and ran through 22 August 2009.[161][162] A further production of the play ran at Elsinore Castle in Denmark from 25–30 August 2009.[163] The Jude Law Hamlet then moved to Broadway, and ran for 12 weeks at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York.[164][165] Most of the original cast moved with the production to New York.

2008 also saw Scottish actor David Tennant playing the role in London, at the Novello Theatre. The production was so great a success that a screen adaption was filmed with the cast and released on DVD. (See 'Stage and Screen Adaptions')

Screen performances

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, with Yorick's skull (Photographer: James Lafayette, c. 1885–1900)

The earliest screen success for Hamlet was Sarah Bernhardt's five-minute film of the fencing scene,[166] produced in 1900. The film was a crude talkie, in that music and words were recorded on phonograph records, to be played along with the film.[167] Silent versions were released in 1907, 1908, 1910, 1913, 1917, and 1920.[167] In the 1920 version, Asta Nielsen played Hamlet as a woman who spends her life disguised as a man.[167] Laurence Olivier's 1948 film noir Hamlet won best picture and best actor Oscars. His interpretation stressed the Oedipal overtones of the play, to the extent of casting the 28-year-old Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother, opposite himself, at 41, as Hamlet.[168] Gamlet (Russian: Гамлет) is a 1964 film adaptation in Russian, based on a translation by Boris Pasternak and directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with a score by Dmitri Shostakovich.[169] Innokenty Smoktunovsky was cast in the role of Hamlet, which won him praise from Sir Laurence Olivier. Shakespeare experts Sir John Gielgud and Kenneth Branagh consider this work the definitive rendition of the Bard's tragic tale.[170] John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in a Broadway production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1964–5, the longest-running Hamlet in the U.S. to date, and a film of a live performance was produced, in ELECTRONOVISION.[171] Eileen Herlie repeated her role from Olivier's film version as the Queen, and the voice of Gielgud was heard as the Ghost. Tony Richardson directed Nicol Williamson as Hamlet and Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia in his 1969 version. Franco Zeffirelli's Shakespeare films have been described as "sensual rather than cerebral": his aim to make Shakespeare "even more popular".[172] To this end, he cast Mel Gibson—then famous for the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies—in the title role of his 1990 version, and Glenn Close—then famous as the psychotic other woman in Fatal Attraction—as Gertrude.[173]

In contrast to Zeffirelli, whose Hamlet was heavily cut, Kenneth Branagh adapted, directed, and starred in a 1996 version containing every word of Shakespeare's play, combining the material from the F1 and Q2 texts. Branagh's Hamlet runs for around four hours.[174] Branagh set the film with late 19th-century costuming and furnishings;[175] and Blenheim Palace, built in the early 18th century, became Elsinore Castle in the external scenes. The film is structured as an epic and makes frequent use of flashbacks to highlight elements not made explicit in the play: Hamlet's sexual relationship with Kate Winslet's Ophelia, for example, or his childhood affection for Yorick (played by Ken Dodd).[176] In 2000, Michael Almereyda's Hamlet set the story in contemporary Manhattan, with Ethan Hawke playing Hamlet as a film student. Claudius (played by Kyle MacLachlan) became the CEO of "Denmark Corporation", having taken over the company by killing his brother.[177]

Stage and screen adaptations

Hamlet has been adapted into stories that deal with civil corruption by the West German director Helmut Käutner in Der Rest ist Schweigen (The Rest is Silence) and by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru (The Bad Sleep Well).[178] In Claude Chabrol's Ophélia (France, 1962) the central character, Yvan, watches Olivier's Hamlet and convinces himself—wrongly and with tragic results—that he is in Hamlet's situation.[179]

Tom Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (which has a 1990 film version), portrays the events of Hamlet from the perspective of Hamlet's two school friends, recasting it as the tragedy of two minor characters who must die to fulfil their role in a drama that they do not understand. A parody of Hamlet called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had been written by W. S. Gilbert in 1874. In 1977, East German playwright Heiner Müller wrote Die Hamletmaschine (Hamletmachine), a postmodernist, condensed version of Hamlet; this adaptation was subsequently incorporated into his translation of Shakespeare's play in his 1989/1990 production Hamlet/Maschine (Hamlet/Machine).[180] The highest-grossing Hamlet adaptation to date is Disney's Academy Award-winning animated feature The Lion King, which enacts a loose version of the plot among a pride of African lions.[181] The story line of FX networks show Sons of Anarchy is influenced by Hamlet. The lead characters, Jackson "Jax" Teller, Clay Morrow, Gemma Teller Morrow and Tara Knowles are representative of Prince Hamlet, King Claudius, Gertrude and Ophelia, respectively.[182]

In 2009, the BBC made a 180-minute full-length feature of Hamlet, which aired on 26th December 2009. This was a television adaptation of a sold-out version staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. David Tennant starred as Hamlet in both adaptations. Hamlet was released on BBC DVD on 4th January 2010 by 2|Entertain.



All references to Hamlet, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Arden Shakespeare Q2 (Thompson and Taylor, 2006a). Under their referencing system, 3.1.55 means act 3, scene 1, line 55. References to the First Quarto and First Folio are marked Hamlet Q1 and Hamlet F1, respectively, and are taken from the Arden Shakespeare "Hamlet: the texts of 1603 and 1623" (Thompson and Taylor, 2006b). Their referencing system for Q1 has no act breaks, so 7.115 means scene 7, line 115.
  1. ^ Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 74).
  2. ^ Crystal and Crystal (2005, 66).
  3. ^ Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 17).
  4. ^ a b See Taylor (2002, 4); Banham (1998, 141); Hattaway asserts that "Richard Burbage ... played Hieronimo and also Richard III but then was the first Hamlet, Lear, and Othello" (1982, 91); Peter Thomson argues that the identity of Hamlet as Burbage is built into the dramaturgy of several moments of the play: "we will profoundly misjudge the position if we do not recognise that, whilst this is Hamlet talking about the groundlings, it is also Burbage talking to the groundlings" (1983, 24); see also Thomson on the first player's beard (1983, 110).
  5. ^ Hamlet 1.4.
  6. ^ Hamlet 2.1.99.
  7. ^ a b This is widely interpreted as having a double meaning, since 'nunnery' was slang for a brothel. Pauline Kiernan, Filthy Shakespeare, Quercus, 2006, p. 34. This interpretation has been challenged by Jenkins (1982, 493–495; also H. D. F. Kitto) on the grounds there was insufficient and inconclusive evidence of a precedent for this meaning, and that the literal meaning was better suited to the dramatic context.
  8. ^ a b The Gravedigger Scene: Hamlet 5.1.1–205.
  9. ^ The Killing Scene: Hamlet 5.2.303–309.
  10. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 36–37).
  11. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 16–25).
  12. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 5–15).
  13. ^ Books 3 & 4 – see online text
  14. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 1–5).
  15. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 25–37).
  16. ^ Edwards (1985, 1–2).
  17. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 66–67).
  18. ^ Jenkins (1982, 82–85).
  19. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 67).
  20. ^ In his 1936 book The Problem of Hamlet: A Solution Andrew Carincross asserted that the Hamlet referred to in 1589 was written by Shakespeare; Peter Alexander (1964), Eric Sams (according to Jackson 1991, 267) and, more recently, Harold Bloom (2001, xiii and 383; 2003, 154) have agreed. This is also the opinion of anti-Stratfordians (Ogburn 1988, 631). Harold Jenkins, the editor of the second series Arden edition of the play, dismisses the idea as groundless (1982, 84 n4).
  21. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 66–68).
  22. ^ Saxo and Hansen (1983, 6).
  23. ^ Greenblatt (2004a, 311); Greenblatt (2004b).
  24. ^ Shakespeare's Last Will and Testament.
  25. ^ MacCary suggests 1599 or 1600 (1998, 13); James Shapiro offers late 1600 or early 1601 (2005, 341); Wells and Taylor suggest that the play was written in 1600 and revised later (1988, 653); the New Cambridge editor settles on mid-1601 (Edwards 1985, 8); the New Swan Shakespeare Advanced Series editor agrees with 1601 (Lott 1970, xlvi); Thompson and Taylor, tentatively ("according to whether one is the more persuaded by Jenkins or by Honigmann") suggest a terminus ad quem of either Spring 1601 or sometime in 1600 (2001a, 58–59).
  26. ^ MacCary (1998, 12–13) and Edwards (1985, 5–6).
  27. ^ a b Lott (1970, xlvi).
  28. ^ Hamlet F1 2.2.337. The whole conversation between Rozencrantz, Guildenstern and Hamlet concerning the touring players' departure from the city is at Hamlet "F1" 2.2.324–360.
  29. ^ Edwards (1985, 5).
  30. ^ Hattaway (1987, 13–20).
  31. ^ Chambers (1923, vol. 3, 486–487) and Halliday (1964, 204–205).
  32. ^ Halliday (1964, 204).
  33. ^ a b Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 78).
  34. ^ Hibbard (1987, 22–23).
  35. ^ Hattaway (1987, 16).
  36. ^ Thompson and Taylor published Q2, with appendices, in their first volume (2006a) and the F1 and Q1 texts in their second volume (2006b). Bate and Rasmussen (2007) is the F1 text with additional Q2 passages in an appendix. The New Cambridge series has begun to publish separate volumes for the separate quarto versions that exist of Shakespeare's plays (Irace 1998).
  37. ^ Hamlet 3.4 and 4.1.
  38. ^ Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 543–552).
  39. ^ Jenkins (1982, 14).
  40. ^ Hamlet Q1 14.
  41. ^ Jackson (1986, 171).
  42. ^ Irace (1998); Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 85–86).
  43. ^ Thompson and Taylor (2006b, 36–37) and Checklist of Q1 Productions in Thompson and Taylor (2006b, 38–39).
  44. ^ Wofford (1994) and Kirsch (1968).
  45. ^ Vickers (1974a, 447) and (1974b, 92).
  46. ^ Wofford (1994, 184–185).
  47. ^ Vickers (1974c, 5).
  48. ^ Wofford (1994, 185).
  49. ^ a b Wofford (1994, 186).
  50. ^ Rosenberg (1992, 179).
  51. ^ MacCary (1998, 67–72, 84).
  52. ^ Based on the length of the first edition of The Riverside Shakespeare (1974).
  53. ^ Also used in Love's Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Kermode (2000, 256).
  54. ^ MacCary (1998, 84–85).
  55. ^ Hamlet 3.1.63–64.
  56. ^ Hamlet 1.2.85–86.
  57. ^ MacCary (1998, 89–90).
  58. ^ Hamlet 3.1.87–148 especially lines 120, 129, 136, 139 and 148.
  59. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (2004, CD).
  60. ^ Hamlet 2.1.63–65.
  61. ^ Hamlet 3.1.151 and 3.1.154. The Nunnery Scene: Hamlet 3.1.87–160.
  62. ^ MacCary (1998, 87–88).
  63. ^ Pauline Kiernan, Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns, Quercus, 2006, p.34
  64. ^ MacCary (1998, 91–93).
  65. ^ MacCary (1998, 37–38); in the New Testament, see Romans 12:19: " 'vengeance is mine, I will repay' sayeth the Lord".
  66. ^ MacCary (1998, 38).
  67. ^ Asimov, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare(1970, 92)
  68. ^ Hamlet 5.2.197–202.
  69. ^ Hamlet Q1 17.45–46.
  70. ^ Blits (2001, 3–21).
  71. ^ Hamlet F1 2.2.247–248.
  72. ^ MacCary (1998, 47–48).
  73. ^ Hamlet 3.1.55–87 especially line 55.
  74. ^ MacCary (1998, 28–49).
  75. ^ MacCary (1998, 49).
  76. ^ Knowles (1999, 1049 and 1052–1053) cited by Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 73–74); MacCary (1998, 49).
  77. ^ Baskerville (1934, 827–830).
  78. ^ Jones (2007, web page).
  79. ^ French writes in 1869: "The next important personages in the play are the 'Lord Chamberlain', Polonius; his son, Laertes; and daughter, Ophelia; and these are supposed to stand for Queen Elizabeth's celebrated Lord High Treasurer, Sir William Cecil, Lord Burleigh; his second son, Robert Cecil; and his daughter, Anne Cecil" (301). Excepts from his research may be found here. In 1932, John Dover Wilson wrote: "the figure of Polonius is almost without doubt intended as a caricature of Burleigh, who died on 4 August 1598" (1932, 104).
  80. ^ Winstanley (1921, 112). Winstanley devotes 20 pages proposing connections between scenes involving Polonius and people and events in Elizabethan England.
  81. ^ See Chambers (1930, 418); in 1964, Hurstfield and Sutherland wrote: "The governing classes were both paternalistic and patronizing; and nowhere is this attitude better displayed than in the advice which that archetype of elder statesmen William Cecil, Lord Burghley—Shakespeare's Polonius—prepared for his son" (1964, 35).
  82. ^ Rowse (1963, 323).
  83. ^ Ogburn (1988, 202–203). As glossed by Mark Anderson, "With 'cor' meaning 'heart' and with 'bis' or 'ambis' meaning 'twice' or 'double', Corambis can be taken for the Latin of 'double-hearted,' which implies 'deceitful' or 'two-faced'."
  84. ^ Winstanley (1921, 122–124).
  85. ^ Ogburn (1984, 84–86).
  86. ^ Matus (1994, 234–237).
  87. ^ a b Freud (1900, 367).
  88. ^ a b c d e Britton (1995, 207–211).
  89. ^ Freud (1900, 368).
  90. ^ The nunnery conversation referred to in this sentence is Hamlet 3.1.87–160.
  91. ^ The Closet Scene: Hamlet 3.4.
  92. ^ MacCary (1998, 104–107, 113–116) and de Grazia (2007, 168–170).
  93. ^ Smallwood (2002, 102).
  94. ^ Hamlet 4.5.
  95. ^ Wofford (1994, 199–202).
  96. ^ Howard (2003, 411–415).
  97. ^ Bloom (2003, 58–59); Thompson (2001, 4).
  98. ^ Showalter (1985).
  99. ^ Bloom (2003, 57).
  100. ^ MacCary (1998, 111–113).
  101. ^ Hamlet has 208 quotations in "The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations; it takes up 10 of 85 pages dedicated to Shakespeare in the 1986 Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (14th ed. 1968). For examples of lists of the greatest books, see Harvard Classics, Great Books, Great Books of the Western World, Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, St. John's College reading list, and Columbia College Core Curriculum.
  102. ^ Osborne (2007, 114–133 especially 115 and 120).
  103. ^ a b c d e Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 123–126).
  104. ^ Welsh (2001, 131).
  105. ^ a b Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 126–131).
  106. ^ Novy (1994, 62, 77–78).
  107. ^ Hamlet 3.1.55–87.
  108. ^ Taylor (2002, 13).
  109. ^ Thompson and Taylor (2006a; 53–55); Chambers (1930, vol. 1, 334), cited by Dawson (2002, 176).
  110. ^ Dawson (2002, 176).
  111. ^ Pitcher and Woudhuysen (1969, 204).
  112. ^ Hibbard (1987, 17).
  113. ^ Marsden (2002, 21).
  114. ^ Holland (2007, 34).
  115. ^ Marsden (2002, 21–22).
  116. ^ Samuel Pepys records his delight at the novelty of Hamlet "done with scenes"; see Thompson and Taylor (1996, 57).
  117. ^ Taylor (1989, 16).
  118. ^ Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 98–99).
  119. ^ Letter to Sir William Young, 10 January 1773, quoted by Uglow (1977, 473).
  120. ^ Morrison (2002, 231).
  121. ^ Moody (2002, 41).
  122. ^ Moody (2002, 44), quoting Sheridan.
  123. ^ Gay (2002, 159).
  124. ^ Dawson (2002, 185–187).
  125. ^ Morrison (2002, 232–233).
  126. ^ Morrison (2002, 235–237).
  127. ^ William Winter, New York Tribune 26 October 1875, quoted by Morrison (2002, 241).
  128. ^ Morrison (2002, 241).
  129. ^ Schoch (2002, 58–75).
  130. ^ George Bernard Shaw in The Saturday Review 2 October 1897, quoted in Shaw (1961, 81).
  131. ^ Moody (2002, 54).
  132. ^ Halliday (1964, 204) and O'Connor (2002, 77).
  133. ^ Sarah Bernhardt, in a letter to the London Daily Telegraph, quoted by Gay (2002, 164).
  134. ^ Holland (2002, 203–205).
  135. ^ Dawson (2002, 184).
  136. ^ Dawson (2002, 188).
  137. ^ a b c Gillies et al. (2002, 259–262).
  138. ^ Dawson (2002, 180).
  139. ^ For more on this production, see The MAT production of Hamlet. Craig and Stanislavski began planning the production in 1908 but, due to a serious illness of Stanislavski's, it was delayed until December, 1911. See Benedetti (1998, 188–211).
  140. ^ Benedetti (1999, 189, 195).
  141. ^ On Craig's relationship to Russian symbolism and its principles of monodrama in particular, see Taxidou (1998, 38–41); on Craig's staging proposals, see Innes (1983, 153); on the centrality of the protagonist and his mirroring of the 'authorial self', see Taxidou (1998, 181, 188) and Innes (1983, 153).
  142. ^ The First Court Scene: Hamlet 1.2.1–128.
  143. ^ A brightly lit, golden pyramid descended from Claudius's throne, representing the feudal hierarchy, giving the illusion of a single, unified mass of bodies. In the dark, shadowy foreground, separated by a gauze, Hamlet lay, as if dreaming. On Claudius's exit-line the figures remained but the gauze was loosened, so that they appeared to melt away as if Hamlet's thoughts had turned elsewhere. For this effect, the scene received an ovation, which was unheard of at the MAT. See Innes (1983, 152).
  144. ^ See Innes (1983, 140–175; esp. 165–167 on the use of the screens).
  145. ^ Innes (1983, 172).
  146. ^ Hortmann (2002, 214).
  147. ^ Hortmann (2002, 223).
  148. ^ Burian (1993), quoted by Hortmann (2002, 224–225).
  149. ^ a b c Gillies et al. (2002, 267–269).
  150. ^ Morrison (2002, 247–248); Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 109).
  151. ^ Morrison (2002, 249).
  152. ^ Morrison (2002, 249–250).
  153. ^ "Olivier" by Robert Tanitch, Abbeville Press, 1985
  154. ^ Smallwood (2002, 108); National Theatre reviews Retrieved: 4 December 2007.
  155. ^ Vincent Canby, "Theatre Review: Ralph Fiennes as Mod Hamlet," The New York Times May 3, 1995.
  156. ^ Ari Panagako, "Dandy Hamlet Bows Uptown", Heights/Inwood Press of North Manhattan, June 14, 1978.
  157. ^ According to the Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show; Romeo and Juliet is the second most-produced Shakespeare play on Broadway, with thirty-four different productions, followed by Twelfth Night, with thirty.
  158. ^ Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, et al. For Ian Charleson: A Tribute. London: Constable and Company, 1990. p. 124.
  159. ^ "The Readiness Was All: Ian Charleson and Richard Eyre's Hamlet," by Richard Allan Davison. In Shakespeare: Text and Theater, Lois Potter and Arthur F. Kinney, eds. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999. pp. 170–182
  160. ^ Mark Shenton, "Jude Law to Star in Donmar's Hamlet." The Stage. 10 September 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2007.
  161. ^ "Cook, Eyre, Lee And More Join Jude Law In Grandage's HAMLET." broadwayworld.com. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
  162. ^ "Jude Law to play Hamlet at 'home' Kronborg Castle." The Daily Mirror. July 10, 2009. Retrieved July 14, 2009.
  163. ^ "Shakespeare's Hamlet with Jude Law". Charlie Rose Show. video 53:55, 2 October 2009. Accessed 6 October 2009.
  164. ^ Dave Itzkoff, "Donmar Warehouse’s ‘Hamlet’ Coming to Broadway With Jude Law." New York Times. June 30, 2009. Retrieved September 10, 2009.
  165. ^ The Fencing Scene: Hamlet 5.2.203–387.
  166. ^ a b c Brode (2001, 117–118).
  167. ^ Davies (2000, 171).
  168. ^ Guntner (2000, 120–121).
  169. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/person/66625/Innokenti-Smoktunovsky/biography)
  170. ^ Brode (2001, 125–127).
  171. ^ Both quotations from Cartmell (2000, 212), where the aim of making Shakespeare "even more popular" is attributed to Zeffirelli himself in an interview given to The South Bank Show in December 1997.
  172. ^ Guntner (2000, 121–122).
  173. ^ Crowl (2000, 232).
  174. ^ Starks (1999, 272).
  175. ^ Keyishian (2000, 78–79).
  176. ^ Burnett (2000).
  177. ^ Howard (2000, 300–301).
  178. ^ Howard (2000, 301–302).
  179. ^ Teraoka (1985, 13).
  180. ^ Vogler (1992, 267–275).
  181. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1124373/trivia

Editions of Hamlet

  • Bate, Jonathan, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. 2007. Complete Works. By William Shakespeare. The RSC Shakespeare. New York: Modern Library. ISBN 0679642951.
  • Edwards, Phillip, ed. 1985. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New Cambridge Shakespeare ser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521293669.
  • Hibbard, G. R., ed. 1987. Hamlet. Oxford World's Classics ser. Oxford. ISBN 0192834169.
  • Hoy, Cyrus, ed. 1992. Hamlet. Norton Critical Edition ser. 2nd ed. New York: Norton. ISBN 9780393956634.
  • Irace, Kathleen O. 1998. The First Quarto of Hamlet. New Cambridge Shakespeare ser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521653908.
  • Jenkins, Harold, ed. 1982. Hamlet. The Arden Shakespeare, second ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 1903436672.
  • Lott, Bernard, ed. 1970. Hamlet. New Swan Shakespeare Advanced ser. New ed. London: Longman. ISBN 0582527422.
  • Spencer, T. J. B., ed. 1980 Hamlet. New Penguin Shakespeare ser. London: Penguin. ISBN 0140707344.
  • Thompson, Ann and Neil Taylor, eds. 2006a. Hamlet. The Arden Shakespeare, third ser. Volume one. London: Arden. ISBN 1904271332.
  • ———. 2006b. Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623. The Arden Shakespeare, third ser. Volume two. London: Arden. ISBN 1904271804.
  • Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, eds. 1988. The Complete Works. By William Shakespeare. The Oxford Shakespeare. Compact ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198711905.

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  • Bloom, Harold. 2001. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Open Market ed. Harlow, Essex: Longman. ISBN 157322751X.
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  • ———. 2004b. "The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet". N.Y. Review of Books 51.16 (Oct. 21, 2004).
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  • ———. 2007. "Shakespeare Abbreviated". In Shaughnessy (2007, 26–45).
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  • ———. 1991. "Editions and Textual Studies Reviewed". In Shakespeare Survey 43, The Tempest and After: 255–270. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521395291.
  • Jackson, Russell, ed. 2000. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Cambridge Companions to Literature ser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521639751.
  • Jenkins, Harold. 1955. "The Relation Between the Second Quarto and the Folio Text of Hamlet". Studies in Bibliography 7: 69–83.
  • Jones, Gwilym. 2007. Thomas Middleton at the Globe. London: Globe Theatre education resource centre. Retrieved: 30 December 2007.
  • Kermode, Frank. 2000. Shakespeare's Language. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-028592-X.
  • Keyishian, Harry. 2000. "Shakespeare and Movie Genre: The Case of Hamlet". In Jackson (2000, 72–84).
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  • Knowles, Ronald. 1999. "Hamlet and Counter-Humanism" Renaissance Quarterly 52.4: 1046–1069.
  • Lacan, Jacques. 1959. "Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet". In Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading Otherwise. Ed. Shoshana Felman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. Originally appeared as a double issue of Yale French Studies, nos. 55/56 (1977). ISBN 080182754X.
  • Lennard, John. 2007. William Shakespeare: Hamlet. Literature Insights ser. Humanities-Ebooks, 2007. ISBN 184760028X.
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  • Matheson, Mark. 1995. "Hamlet and 'A Matter Tender and Dangerous' ". Shakespeare Quarterly 46.4: 383–397.
  • Matus, Irvin Leigh. 1994. Shakespeare, in Fact. New ed. New York: Continuum International Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0826409288.
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  • Morrison, Michael A. 2002. "Shakespeare in North America". In Wells and Stanton (2002, 230–258).
  • Novy, Marianne. 1994. Engaging with Shakespeare: Responses of George Eliot and Other Women Novelists. (Athens, Georgia) in Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 127).
  • O'Connor, Marion. 2002. "Reconstructive Shakespeare: Reproducing Elizabethan and Jacobean Stages". In Wells and Stanton (2002, 76–97).
  • Osborne, Laurie. 2007. "Narration and Staging in Hamlet and its afternovels" in Shaughnessy (2007, 114–133).
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  • Ogburn, Charlton. 1988. The Mystery of William Shakespeare. London : Cardinal. ISBN 0747402558.
  • Pennington, Michael. 1996. "Hamlet": A User's Guide. London: Nick Hern. ISBN 185459284X.
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  • ———. 1934. The Manuscript of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and the Problems of its Transmission: An Essay in Critical Bibliography. 2 volumes. Cambridge: The University Press.
  • ———. 1935. What Happens in Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959. ISBN 0521068355.
  • Welsh, Alexander. 2001. Hamlet in his Modern Guises (New Jersey: Princeton) in Thompson and Taylor (2006a, 125).
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  • Wofford, Susanne L. 1994. "A Critical History of Hamlet" In Hamlet: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives: 181–207. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martins Press. ISBN 0312089864.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a romance tragedy by William Shakespeare, and is one of his most well-known and oft-quoted plays. It is uncertain exactly when it was written, but scholars tend to place its composition between 1600 and the summer of 1602.


Act I

  • Our sometime sister, now our Queen.
    • Claudius, scene ii
  • Claudius: ...But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son -
    Hamlet: [aside] A little more than kin, and less than kind.
    Claudius: How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
    Hamlet: Not so my lord; I am too much i' the sun.
    • scene ii
  • Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not "seems."
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
    Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
    • Note: "Solid" is the word found in the First Folio edition of the plays (1623). Earlier versions (the First and Second Quartos), had used the word "sallied." In some later editions, the word was "sullied."
  • How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
    Seem to me all the uses of this world.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • Frailty, thy name is woman!
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats
    Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • A countenance more in sorrow than in anger.
    • Horatio, scene ii
  • I'll speak to it though Hell itself should gape
    And bid me hold my peace.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favours,
    Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood;
    A violet in the youth of primy nature,
    Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
    The perfume and suppliance of a minute —
    No more.
    • Laertes, scene iii
  • Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
    Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
    Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
    Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads.
    And recks not his own rede.
    • Ophelia, scene iii
  • Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
    • Polonius, scene iii
  • Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
    Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
    • Polonius, scene iii
  • Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
    But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
    For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
    • Polonius, scene iii
  • Neither a borrower nor a lender be:
    For loan oft loses both itself and friend.
    • Polonius, scene iii
  • This above all — to thine own self be true;
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
    • Polonius, scene iii
  • But to my mind, — though I am native here
    And to the manner born, — it is a custom
    More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • Why, what should be the fear?
    I do not set my life at a pin's fee,
    And for my soul, what can it do to that,
    Being a thing immortal as itself?
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
    • Marcellus, scene iv
  • My hour is almost come
    When I to sulphrous and tormenting flames
    Must render up myself.
    • Ghost, scene v
  • The serpent that did sting thy father's life
    Now wears his crown.
    • Ghost, scene v
  • Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin.
    • Ghost, scene v
  • O horrible, O horrible, most horrible!
    • Ghost, scene v
  • And each particular hair to stand on end,
    Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
    • Ghost, scene v
  • O most pernicious woman!
    O, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
    My tables, — meet it is I set it down,
    That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
    • Hamlet, scene v
  • There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    • Hamlet, scene v
  • How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself —
    As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
    To put an antic disposition on.
    • Hamlet, scene v
  • The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
    That ever I was born to set it right!
    • Hamlet, scene v

Act II

  • Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
    And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
    I will be brief.
    • Polonius, scene ii.
  • More matter with less art.
    • Gertrude, scene ii.
  • That he is mad, 'tis true; 'tis true 'tis pity;
    And pity 'tis 'tis true: a foolish figure;
    But farewell it, for I will use no art.
    • Polonius, scene ii
  • Doubt thou the stars are fire;
    Doubt that the sun doth move;
    Doubt truth to be a liar;
    But never doubt I love.
    • Hamlet, from a letter read by Polonius, scene ii
  • Polonius: Do you know me, my lord?
    Hamlet: Excellent well; you're a fishmonger.
    Polonius: Not I, my lord.
    Hamlet Then I would you were so honest a man.
    Polonius: Honest, my lord!
    Hamlet: Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.
    Polonius: That's very true, my lord.
    Hamlet: [Reads] For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion, — Have you a daughter?
    Polonius: I have, my lord.
    Hamlet: Let her not walk i' the sun: conception is a blessing: but not as your daughter may conceive; — friend, look to 't.
    Polonius: [Aside] How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter: — yet he knew me not at first; he said I was a fishmonger: he is far gone, far gone: and truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love; very near this.
    • scene ii
  • Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
    Hamlet: Words, words, words.
    • scene ii
  • Polonius: [Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. - Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
    Hamlet: Into my grave.
    • scene ii
  • Polonius: My honored lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.
    Hamlet: You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal — except my life — except my life — except my life.
    • scene ii
  • Hamlet: My excellent good friends! How dost thou Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do you both?
    Rosencrantz: As indifferent as children of the earth.
    Guildenstern: Happy in that we are not overhappy; on Fortune's cap we are not the very button.
    Hamlet: Nor the soles of her shoe?
    Rosencrantz: Neither, my lord.
    Hamlet: Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?
    Guildenstern: Faith, her privates we.
    Hamlet: In the secret parts of Fortune? O, most true! She is a strumpet. What's the news?
    Rosencrantz: None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.
    Hamlet: Then is doomsday near.
    • scene ii
  • There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though, by your smiling, you seem to say so.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • O! what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
    That he should weep for her?
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
    Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
    Must like a whore unpack my heart with words,
    and fall a-cursing like a very drab
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • The play's the thing,
    Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
    • Hamlet, scene ii


  • We are oft to blame in this, —
    'Tis too much prov'd, — that with devotion's visage,
    And pious action, we do sugar o'er
    The devil himself.
    • Polonius, scene i
  • To be, or not to be, — that is the question: —
    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? — To die, to sleep, —
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, — 'tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; —
    To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there's the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause: there's the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life;
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
    The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
    The insolence of office, and the spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? who would these fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death, —
    The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, — puzzles the will,
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know naught of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
    And enterprises of great pith and moment,
    With this regard, their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • Soft you now!
    The fair Ophelia! — Nymph, in thy orisons
    Be all my sins remember'd.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
    • Ophelia, scene i
  • I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, — all but one, — shall live; the rest shall keep as they are.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • O! what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
    • Ophelia, scene i
  • O, woe is me
    To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
    • Ophelia, scene i
  • Gertrude: Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.
    Hamlet: No, good mother, here's metal more attractive. [Hamlet takes a place near Ophelia.]
    • scene ii
  • Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
    Ophelia: No, my lord.
    Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
    Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
    Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?
    • scene ii
  • So long? Nay, then, let the devil wear black, for I'll have a suit of sables. Oh heavens! die two months ago, and not forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's memory may outlive his life half a year.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
    • Gertrude, scene ii
  • Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
    Polonius: By th' Mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
    Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
    Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
    Hamlet: Or like a whale.
    Polonius: Very like a whale.
    • scene ii
  • Tis now the very witching time of night,
    When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
    Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
    And do such bitter business, as the day
    Would quake to look on.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • Let me be cruel, not unnatural;
    I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • O! my offence is rank, it smells to heaven.
    • Claudius, scene iii
  • What if this cursed hand
    Were thicker than itself with brother's blood, —
    Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
    To wash it white as snow?
    • Claudius, scene iii
  • Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
    And now I'll do 't: and so he goes to heaven;
    And so am I reveng'd.
    • Hamlet, scene iii
  • My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;
    Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
    • Claudius, scene iii
  • Hamlet: How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!
    Polonius: Oh, I am slain!
    • scene iv
  • Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
    I took thee for thy better.
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • Nay, but to live
    In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
    Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
    Over the nasty sty.
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • I must be cruel, only to be kind:
    Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • Be thou assur'd, if words be made of breath,
    And breath of life, I have no life to breathe
    What thou hast said to me.
    • Gertrude, scene iv

Act IV

  • So, haply, slander —
    Whose whisper o'er the world's diameter,
    As level as the cannon to his blank,
    Transports his poisoned shot — may miss our name
    And hit the woundless air. — O, come away!
    My soul is full of discord and dismay.
    • Claudius, scene i
  • Rosencrantz: I understand you not, my lord.
    Hamlet: I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear.
    Rosencrantz: My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go with us to the king.
    Hamlet: The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body. The king is a thing —
    Guildenstern: A thing, my lord?
    Hamlet: Of nothing.
    • scene ii
  • Hamlet: A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
    Claudius: What dost thou mean by this?
    Hamlet: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
    • scene iii
  • Claudius: Where is Polonius?
    Hamlet: In heaven; send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him i' the other place yourself. But, indeed, if you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby.
    • scene iii
  • How all occasions do inform against me,
    And spur my dull revenge!
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • O! from this time forth,
    My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!
    • Hamlet, scene iv
  • Good-night, ladies; good-night, sweet ladies; good-night, good-night.
    • Ophelia, scene v
  • When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
    But in battalions.
    • Claudius, scene v
  • I'm lost in it, my lord. But let him come;
    It warms the very sickness in my heart,
    That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,
    'Thus didest thou.'
    • Laertes, scene vii
  • Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
    And therefore I forbid my tears.
    • Laertes, scene vii

Act V

  • Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • Lay her i' the earth:
    And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
    May violets spring!
    • Laertes, scene i
  • This is I,
    Hamlet the Dane!
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • I lov'd Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
    Could not, with all their quantity of love,
    Make up my sum.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • Hear you sir;
    What is the reason that you use me thus?
    I lov'd you ever: but it is no matter.
    Let Hercules himself do what he may,
    The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.
    • Hamlet, scene i
  • There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
    Rough-hew them how we will.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • We defy augury; there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • O, I die, Horatio;
    The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit:
    I cannot live to hear the news from England;
    But I do prophesy the election lights
    On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice;
    So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
    Which have solicited. The rest is silence.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
    Absent thee from felicity awhile,
    And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
    To tell my story.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
  • The rest is silence.
    • Hamlet, scene ii
    • Variant, from the First Folio: The rest is silence. O, o, o, o. [Dies]
  • Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
    And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
    • Horatio, scene ii
  • Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage.
    • Fortinbras, scene ii
  • Go, bid the soldiers shoot.
    • Fortinbras, scene ii

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
by William Shakespeare
Hamlet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in Denmark, recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father, the King, and then taken the throne and married Hamlet's mother. The play vividly charts the course of real and feigned madness—from overwhelming grief to seething rage—and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.
Excerpted from Hamlet on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

See also:

Facsimile of the first page of Hamlet from the First Folio, published in 1623
PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also hamlet



Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun




  1. The eponymous main character of Shakespeare's play.



Simple English

For the geographic definition for a place smaller than a village, see Hamlet (place)
File:Edwin Booth Hamlet
An actor playing Hamlet.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a play by William Shakespeare. It is one of his best-known plays, and many lines have become famous quotations. The play is often just called Hamlet.

Hamlet was written between 1600 and 1602, and first printed in 1603.



Hamlet is the son of the King of Denmark. When Hamlet's father dies, his uncle Claudius becomes king and marries Hamlet's mother (Gertrude). Hamlet's father appears as a ghost and tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius. Hamlet is not sure that the ghost is really his father. He gets some travelling actors to perform a play which shows the murder of a king in the same way Hamlet's father said he was killed. When Claudius reacts badly to seeing this, Hamlet believes he is guilty.

Hamlet tells his mother that he knows about the murder. While there he kills Polonius, who is the king's advisor, because he thinks he is Claudius. Claudius sends Hamlet to England to have him killed, but his ship is attacked by pirates who take Hamlet prisoner but then return him to Denmark.

Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius. After her father, Polonius, is killed by Hamlet she goes mad. Then she falls into a river and drowns. Hamlet returns just as her funeral is happening. Laertes, her brother, decides to kill Hamlet in revenge. He challenges Hamlet to a sword fight, and puts poison on his own sword. Claudius makes some poisoned wine for Hamlet to drink in case that does not work.

At first Hamlet wins the sword fight, but his mother drinks the poisoned wine without knowing, and dies. Hamlet is cut with the poisoned sword, but then stabs Laertes with the same sword. Laertes tells Hamlet about the plot and then dies. Hamlet kills Claudius with the poisoned sword. Horatio, Hamlet's friend, tells everyone about the murder of the old king. Hamlet tells everyone that the Norwegian prince, Fortinbras, should be king, and then dies from the poison.


Scholars do not agree on what this story is about, even for very simple things, like if Hamlet is a good or bad man, if he loves Ophelia, if Ophelia is a virgin, if Polonius knows about king Hamlet's murder, and so on. Scholars also disagree on why characters do what they do, and what Shakespeare wants to tell us with this story. It is the most written about story of Shakespeare's, and maybe of any story at all.


The characters in the story are:

  • Hamlet, the prince of Denmark
  • Ghost, the ghost of king Hamlet
  • Gertrude, the Queen, prince Hamlet's mother
  • Claudius, the King, brother of dead King Hamlet and now married to Gertrude
  • Horatio, Hamlet's trusted friend
  • Polonius, the royal advisor
  • Laertes, the son of Polonius
  • Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius and Hamlet's girl
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two members of Claudius's royal court, who spy on Hamlet for Claudius
  • Osric, a dandy who appears at the end of the play
  • Fortinbras, the prince of Norway
  • Captain, a soldier for Fortinbras
  • the Players, the "players" or actors who perform for the court
  • the First Player, the leader of the actors
  • the Priest, who conducts a funeral
  • the Gravedigger, who digs the grave
  • a Clown, a foolish man who talks with the gravedigger
  • Cornelius and Voltemand, two ambassadors sent on business by Claudius
  • Ambassadors from England, who appear at the end of the play
  • Gentleman
  • Messenger
  • Sailor

Acting Hamlet

Hamlet is one of the hardest parts for an actor to perform. It is one of the largest roles written by Shakespeare. Many people disagree about what Hamlet is really thinking. For many actors, playing Hamlet is one of the most important parts of their career.

Hamlet in the movies

There have been many movies made of the play. Most of them show only part of the play, because the entire play is very long. Some of the most famous movies include:

  • 1948 Hamlet played by Laurence Olivier. Directed by Laurence Olivier.
  • 1960 A version made for German television. This version was later an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
  • 1990 Hamlet played by Mel Gibson. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
  • 1996 Hamlet played by Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. A movie of the entire play.
  • 2009 Hamlet played by David Tennant. Directed by Gregory Doran, a three and a half hour Television adaptation for the BBC. An adaptation of the folio text with changes from the first and later quarto's to fit the dramatisation.

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