Hamlet

Hamlet

Overview
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in the Kingdom of Denmark
Kingdom of Denmark
The Kingdom of Denmark or the Danish Realm , is a constitutional monarchy and sovereign state consisting of Denmark proper in northern Europe and two autonomous constituent countries, the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic and Greenland in North America. Denmark is the hegemonial part, where the...

, recounts how Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet is a fictional character, the protagonist in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He is the Prince of Denmark, nephew to the usurping Claudius and son of the previous King of Denmark, Old Hamlet. Throughout the play he struggles with whether, and how, to avenge the murder of his father, and...

 exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius
King Claudius
King Claudius is a character and the antagonist from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. He is the brother to King Hamlet, second husband to Gertrude and uncle to Hamlet. He obtained the throne of Denmark by murdering his own brother with poison and then marrying the late king's widow...

, firstly for murdering the old King Hamlet
King Hamlet
The ghost of Hamlet's father is a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, also known as The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In the stage directions he is referred to as "Ghost."...

 (Claudius's brother and Prince Hamlet's father) and secondly for then succeeding to the throne and marrying Gertrude
Gertrude (Hamlet)
In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her for marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the King...

 (King Hamlet's widow and mother of Prince Hamlet).
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Quotations

Our sometime sister, now our Queen.

Claudius, 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

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitableSeem 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 meatsDid 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 gapeAnd bid me hold my peace.

Hamlet, scene ii
Encyclopedia
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in the Kingdom of Denmark
Kingdom of Denmark
The Kingdom of Denmark or the Danish Realm , is a constitutional monarchy and sovereign state consisting of Denmark proper in northern Europe and two autonomous constituent countries, the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic and Greenland in North America. Denmark is the hegemonial part, where the...

, recounts how Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet is a fictional character, the protagonist in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He is the Prince of Denmark, nephew to the usurping Claudius and son of the previous King of Denmark, Old Hamlet. Throughout the play he struggles with whether, and how, to avenge the murder of his father, and...

 exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius
King Claudius
King Claudius is a character and the antagonist from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. He is the brother to King Hamlet, second husband to Gertrude and uncle to Hamlet. He obtained the throne of Denmark by murdering his own brother with poison and then marrying the late king's widow...

, firstly for murdering the old King Hamlet
King Hamlet
The ghost of Hamlet's father is a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, also known as The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In the stage directions he is referred to as "Ghost."...

 (Claudius's brother and Prince Hamlet's father) and secondly for then succeeding to the throne and marrying Gertrude
Gertrude (Hamlet)
In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her for marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the King...

 (King Hamlet's widow and mother of Prince Hamlet). The play vividly portrays real and feigned madness – from overwhelming grief to seething rage – and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.

Three different early versions of the play have survived: these are known as the First Quarto
Hamlet Q1
Q1 of Hamlet, or the "First Quarto" as it is also called, is a short and generally inferior early text of the Shakespearean play, entered in the Stationers' Register in 1602 but not published until summer or autumn 1603...

 (Q1), the Second Quarto
Quarto
Quarto could refer to:* Quarto, a size or format of a book in which four leaves of a book are created from a standard size sheet of paper* For specific information about quarto texts of William Shakespeare's works, see:...

 (Q2) and the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 (F1). Each has lines, and even scenes, that are missing from the others. Shakespeare based Hamlet on the legend of Amleth
Hamlet (legend)
Hamlet is a figure in Scandinavian romance and the hero of Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.The chief authority for the legend of Hamlet is Saxo Grammaticus, who devotes to it parts of the third and fourth books of his Gesta Danorum, completed at the beginning of the 13th century...

, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus also known as Saxo cognomine Longus was a Danish historian, thought to have been a secular clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, foremost advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark. He is the author of the first full history of Denmark.- Life :The Jutland Chronicle gives...

 in his Gesta Danorum
Gesta Danorum
Gesta Danorum is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus . It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of medieval Denmark and is an essential source for the nation's early history...

 as subsequently retold by 16th-century scholar François de Belleforest
François de Belleforest
François de Belleforest was a prolific French author, poet and translator of the Renaissance. He was born in a poor family and his father was killed when he was seven...

. He may have also drawn on, or perhaps written, an earlier (hypothetical) Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 play known today as the Ur-Hamlet
Ur-Hamlet
The Ur-Hamlet is the name given to a play mentioned as early as 1589, a decade before most scholars believe Shakespeare composed Hamlet...

.

The play's structure and depth of characterisation have inspired much critical scrutiny, of which one example is the centuries-old debate about Hamlet's hesitation to kill his uncle. Some see it as a plot device
Plot device
A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot....

 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
Psychoanalytic literary criticism
Psychoanalytic literary criticism refers to literary criticism or literary theory which, in method, concept, or form, is influenced by the tradition of psychoanalysis begun by Sigmund Freud....

 have examined Hamlet's unconscious desires
Unconscious mind
The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century German romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge...

, and feminist critics
Feminist literary criticism
Feminist literary criticism is literary criticism informed by feminist theory, or by the politics of feminism more broadly. Its history has been broad and varied, from classic works of nineteenth-century women authors such as George Eliot and Margaret Fuller to cutting-edge theoretical work in...

 have re-evaluated and rehabilitated the often maligned characters of Ophelia and Gertrude
Gertrude (Hamlet)
In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her for marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the King...

.

Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language. It has a story capable of "seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others." During Shakespeare's lifetime, the play was one of his most popular works, and it still ranks high among his most-performed, topping, for example, what eventually became the Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

's list since 1879. It has inspired writers from Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

 and Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 to Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

 and Murdoch
Iris Murdoch
Dame Iris Murdoch DBE was an Irish-born British author and philosopher, best known for her novels about political and social questions of good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious...

, and has been described as "the world's most filmed story after Cinderella
Cinderella
"Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" is a folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward. Thousands of variants are known throughout the world. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune...

".

The title role was almost certainly created for Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

, the leading tragedian of Shakespeare's time. In the four hundred years since, it has been performed by highly acclaimed actors and actresses from each successive age.

Characters



  • Hamlet
    Prince Hamlet
    Prince Hamlet is a fictional character, the protagonist in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He is the Prince of Denmark, nephew to the usurping Claudius and son of the previous King of Denmark, Old Hamlet. Throughout the play he struggles with whether, and how, to avenge the murder of his father, and...

    –Son of the former king, and nephew of the present King
  • Claudius
    King Claudius
    King Claudius is a character and the antagonist from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. He is the brother to King Hamlet, second husband to Gertrude and uncle to Hamlet. He obtained the throne of Denmark by murdering his own brother with poison and then marrying the late king's widow...

    –King of Denmark, Hamlet's uncle.
  • Gertrude
    Gertrude (Hamlet)
    In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her for marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the King...

    –Queen of Denmark, and mother to Hamlet
  • Polonius
    Polonius
    Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Claudius's chief counsellor, and the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Polonius connives with Claudius to spy on Hamlet...

    –Lord Chamberlain
  • Ophelia
    Ophelia
    Ophelia is a fictional character in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet.-Plot:...

    –Daughter to Polonius
  • Horatio
    Horatio (character)
    Horatio is a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. A friend of Prince Hamlet from Wittenberg University, Horatio's origins are unknown, though he is evidently poor and was present on the battlefield when Hamlet's father defeated 'the ambitious Norway'...

    –Friend to Hamlet
  • Laertes–Son to Polonius
  • Voltimand, Cornelius–Courtiers
  • Rosencrantz, Guildenstern
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. They are courtiers who are set by the king to spy on Hamlet, using their claimed friendship with him to gain his confidence. The characters were revived in W. S...

    –Courtiers, friends to Hamlet

  • Osric–a Courtier
  • Marcellus–an Officer
  • Bernardo–an Officer
  • Francisco–a Soldier
  • Reynaldo–Servant to Polonius
  • Ghost of Hamlet's Father
  • Fortinbras
    Fortinbras
    Fortinbras is the name of two minor fictional characters from William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. The more notable is a Norwegian crown prince with a few brief scenes in the play, who delivers the final lines that represent a hopeful future for the monarchy of Denmark and its subjects...

    –Prince of Norway
  • Gravediggers
    The Gravediggers
    The Gravediggers are examples of Shakespearean fools , a recurring type of character in Shakespeare's plays...

    –A sexton
    Sexton (office)
    A sexton is a church, congregation or synagogue officer charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard. In smaller places of worship, this office is often combined with that of verger...

     and a clown
  • Player King, Player Queen, Lucianus, etc.–Players


Plot



The protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

 of Hamlet is Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet
Prince Hamlet is a fictional character, the protagonist in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He is the Prince of Denmark, nephew to the usurping Claudius and son of the previous King of Denmark, Old Hamlet. Throughout the play he struggles with whether, and how, to avenge the murder of his father, and...

 of Denmark, son of deceased King Hamlet
King Hamlet
The ghost of Hamlet's father is a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, also known as The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In the stage directions he is referred to as "Ghost."...

 and his wife, Queen Gertrude
Gertrude (Hamlet)
In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her for marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the King...

.

The story opens on a chilly night at Elsinore
Kronborg Castle
Kronborg is a star fortress situated near the town of Helsingør on the extreme northeastern tip of Zealand at the narrowest point of the Øresund, the sound between Denmark and Sweden...

, 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
Horatio (character)
Horatio is a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. A friend of Prince Hamlet from Wittenberg University, Horatio's origins are unknown, though he is evidently poor and was present on the battlefield when Hamlet's father defeated 'the ambitious Norway'...

, 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 a secluded place, claims that it is the actual spirit of his father, and discloses that he—the elder Hamlet—was murdered by Claudius' pouring poison
Hebenon
Hebenon is a botanical substance described in William Shakespeare's tragic play Hamlet as being the agent of death in Hamlet's father's murder that set in motion the events of the play:...

 in his ear. The Ghost demands that Hamlet avenge him; Hamlet agrees, swears his companions to secrecy, and tells them he intends to "put an antic disposition on" (presumably to avert suspicion). Hamlet initially attests to the ghost's reliability, calling him both an "honest ghost" and "truepenny." Later, however, he expresses doubts about the ghost's nature and intent, claiming these as reasons for his inaction.

Polonius
Polonius
Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Claudius's chief counsellor, and the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Polonius connives with Claudius to spy on Hamlet...

 is Claudius' trusted chief counsellor; Polonius
Polonius
Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Claudius's chief counsellor, and the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Polonius connives with Claudius to spy on Hamlet...

's son, Laertes, is returning to France, and Polonius
Polonius
Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Claudius's chief counsellor, and the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Polonius connives with Claudius to spy on Hamlet...

's daughter, Ophelia, is courted by Hamlet. Both Polonius and Laertes warn Ophelia that Hamlet is surely not serious about her. Shortly afterward, Ophelia is alarmed by Hamlet's strange behaviour, reporting to her father that Hamlet rushed into her room, stared at her, and said nothing. Polonius assumes that the "ecstasy of love" is responsible for Hamlet's "mad" behaviour, and he informs Claudius and Gertrude.

Perturbed by Hamlet's continuing deep mourning for his father and his increasingly erratic behaviour, Claudius sends for two of Hamlet's acquaintances—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. They are courtiers who are set by the king to spy on Hamlet, using their claimed friendship with him to gain his confidence. The characters were revived in W. S...

—to find out the cause of Hamlet's changed behaviour. 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. When Hamlet enters, she offers to return his remembrances, upon which Hamlet questions her honesty and furiously rants at her to "get thee to a nunnery."

Hamlet remains uncertain whether the Ghost has told him the truth, but the arrival of a troupe of actors at Elsinore presents him with a solution. He will have them stage a play, The Murder of Gonzago, re-enacting his father's murder and determine Claudius's guilt or innocence by studying his reaction to it. 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." An argument erupts between Hamlet and Gertrude. Polonius, spying on the scene from behind an arras and 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
Tapestry
Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom, however it can also be woven on a floor loom as well. It is composed of two sets of interlaced threads, those running parallel to the length and those parallel to the width ; the warp threads are set up under tension on a...

, stabs wildly through the cloth, killing Polonius. When he realises 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, now fearing for his life, finds a legitimate excuse to get rid of the prince: he sends Hamlet to England on a diplomatic pretext, accompanied (and closely watched) by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Alone, Claudius discloses that he is actually 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 on the brash whim of an impulsive prince, Hamlet declares, "O, from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"

At Elsinore, further demented by grief at her father Polonius's death, Ophelia wanders the castle, acting erratically and singing bawdy
Ribaldry
Ribaldry is humorous entertainment that ranges from bordering on indelicacy to gross indecency. It is also referred to as "bawdiness", "gaminess" or "bawdry"....

 songs. Her brother, Laertes, returns from France, horrified 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 alive—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 to kill his nephew but make it appear to be an accident, taking all of the blame off his shoulders. Knowing of Hamlet's jealousy of Laertes' prowess with a sword, he proposes a fencing
Fencing
Fencing, which is also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing, is a family of combat sports using bladed weapons.Fencing is one of four sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games...

 match between the two. Laertes, enraged at the murder of his father, informs the king that he will further poison the tip of his sword so that 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.
In the Elsinore churchyard, two "clowns"
The Gravediggers
The Gravediggers are examples of Shakespearean fools , a recurring type of character in Shakespeare's plays...

, typically represented as "gravediggers," enter to prepare Ophelia's grave, and, although the coroner has ruled her death accidental so that she may receive Christian burial, they argue about its being a case of suicide. Hamlet arrives with Horatio and banters with one of them, who unearths the skull of a jester whom Hamlet once knew, Yorick
Yorick
Yorick is the deceased court jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger in Act 5, Scene 1, of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.Yorick may also refer to:* Yorick...

 ("Alas, Poor Yorick; I knew him, Horatio."). Ophelia's funeral procession approaches, led by her mournful brother Laertes. Distraught at the lack of ceremony (due to the actually-deemed suicide) and overcome by emotion, Laertes leaps into the grave, cursing Hamlet as the cause of her death. Hamlet interrupts, professing his own love and grief for Ophelia. He and Laertes grapple, but the fight is broken up by Claudius and Gertrude. Claudius reminds Laertes of the planned fencing match.

Later that day, Hamlet tells Horatio how he escaped death on his journey, disclosing that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been sent to their deaths instead. A courtier, Osric, interrupts to invite Hamlet to fence with Laertes. Despite Horatio's warnings, 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. 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 poisoned sword, and 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
Fortinbras
Fortinbras is the name of two minor fictional characters from William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. The more notable is a Norwegian crown prince with a few brief scenes in the play, who delivers the final lines that represent a hopeful future for the monarchy of Denmark and its subjects...

 as the probable heir to the throne, since 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, as he will be the only one left alive who can give a full account of the story.

When Fortinbras arrives to greet King Claudius, he encounters the deadly 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.

Sources



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
Proto-Indo-Europeans
The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language , a reconstructed prehistoric language of Eurasia.Knowledge of them comes chiefly from the linguistic reconstruction, along with material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics...

 in origin. Several ancient written precursors to Hamlet can be identified. The first is the anonymous Scandinavian Saga of Hrolf Kraki
Hrólfs saga kraka
Hrólfs saga kraka, the Saga of King Hrolf kraki, is a late legendary saga on the adventures of Hrólfr Kraki and his clan, the Skjöldungs. The events can be dated to the late 5th century and the 6th century. It is believed to have been written in the period c. 1230 - c. 1450...

. In this, the murdered king has two sons—Hroar
Hroðgar
Hroðgar, King Hroþgar, "Hrothgar", Hróarr, Hroar, Roar, Roas or Ro was a legendary Danish king, living in the early 6th century....

 and Helgi
Halga
Halga, Helgi, Helghe or Helgo was a legendary Danish king living in the early 6th century. His name would in his own language have been *Hailaga ....

—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. 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.

Many of the earlier legendary elements are interwoven in the 13th-century Vita Amlethi ("The Life of Amleth") by Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus
Saxo Grammaticus also known as Saxo cognomine Longus was a Danish historian, thought to have been a secular clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, foremost advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark. He is the author of the first full history of Denmark.- Life :The Jutland Chronicle gives...

, part of Gesta Danorum
Gesta Danorum
Gesta Danorum is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus . It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of medieval Denmark and is an essential source for the nation's early history...

. Written in Latin, it reflects classical Roman concepts of virtue and heroism, and was widely available in Shakespeare's day. 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
François de Belleforest
François de Belleforest was a prolific French author, poet and translator of the Renaissance. He was born in a poor family and his father was killed when he was seven...

, in his Histoires tragiques. Belleforest embellished Saxo's text substantially, almost doubling its length, and introduced the hero's melancholy
Melancholia
Melancholia , also lugubriousness, from the Latin lugere, to mourn; moroseness, from the Latin morosus, self-willed, fastidious habit; wistfulness, from old English wist: intent, or saturnine, , in contemporary usage, is a mood disorder of non-specific depression,...

.

According to a popular theory, Shakespeare's main source is believed to be an earlier play—now lost—known today as the Ur-Hamlet
Ur-Hamlet
The Ur-Hamlet is the name given to a play mentioned as early as 1589, a decade before most scholars believe Shakespeare composed Hamlet...

. Possibly written by Thomas Kyd
Thomas Kyd
Thomas Kyd was an English dramatist, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, and one of the most important figures in the development of Elizabethan drama....

 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. Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

, may have purchased that play and performed a version for some time, which Shakespeare reworked. 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.

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
The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent...

). 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.

Most scholars reject the idea that Hamlet is in any way connected with Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet Shakespeare
Hamnet Shakespeare
Hamnet Shakespeare was the only son of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, and the fraternal twin of Judith Shakespeare. He died at age 11 of unknown causes. There are several theories on the relationship, if any, between Hamnet and his father's later play Hamlet...

, 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. However, Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Jay Greenblatt is a literary critic, theorist and scholar.Greenblatt is regarded by many as one of the founders of New Historicism, a set of critical practices that he often refers to as "cultural poetics"; his works have been influential since the early 1980s when he introduced the term...

 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 neighbour 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. Sadler's first name is spelled "Hamlett" in Shakespeare's will.

Scholars have often speculated that Hamlet's Polonius
Polonius
Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is King Claudius's chief counsellor, and the father of Ophelia and Laertes. Polonius connives with Claudius to spy on Hamlet...

 might have been inspired by William Cecil
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley , KG was an English statesman, the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, twice Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer from 1572...

 (Lord Burghley)—Lord High Treasurer and chief counsellor to Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

. E. K. Chambers suggested Polonius's advice to Laertes may have echoed Burghley's to his son Robert Cecil
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, KG, PC was an English administrator and politician.-Life:He was the son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Mildred Cooke...

. John Dover Wilson thought it almost certain that the figure of Polonius caricatured Burleigh, while A. L. Rowse
A. L. Rowse
Alfred Leslie Rowse, CH, FBA , known professionally as A. L. Rowse and to friends and family as Leslie, was a British historian from Cornwall. He is perhaps best known for his work on Elizabethan England and his poetry about Cornwall. He was also a Shakespearean scholar and biographer...

 speculated that Polonius's tedious verbosity might have resembled Burghley's . Lilian Winstanley thought the name Corambis (in the Ist Quarto) did suggest Cecil and Burghley. Harold Jenkins criticised the idea of any direct personal satire as "unlikely" and "uncharacteristic of Shakespeare", while G.R.Hibbard hypothesized that differences in names (Corambis/Polonius:Montano/Raynoldo) between the First Quarto and other editions might reflect a desire not to offend scholars at Oxford University.

Date


"Any dating of Hamlet must be tentative", cautions the New Cambridge editor, Phillip Edwards. The earliest date estimate
Terminus post quem
Terminus post quem and terminus ante quem specify approximate dates for events...

 relies on Hamlet's frequent allusions to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (play)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, also known simply as Julius Caesar, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against...

, itself dated to mid-1599. The latest date estimate
Terminus post quem
Terminus post quem and terminus ante quem specify approximate dates for events...

 is based on an entry, of 26 July 1602, in the Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 of the Stationers' Company
Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers
The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Stationers' Company was founded in 1403; it received a Royal Charter in 1557...

, indicating that Hamlet was "latelie Acted by the Lo: Chamberleyne his servantes
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

".

In 1598, Francis Meres
Francis Meres
Francis Meres was an English churchman and author.He was born at Kirton in the Holland division of Lincolnshire in 1565. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1587 and an M.A. in 1591. Two years later he was incorporated an M.A. of Oxford...

 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".

The phrase "little eyases" in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 (F1) may allude to the Children of the Chapel
Children of the Chapel
The Children of the Chapel were the boys with unbroken voices, choristers, who formed part of the Chapel Royal, the body of singers and priests serving the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they were called upon to do so....

, whose popularity in London forced the Globe company into provincial touring. This became known as the War of the Theatres
War of the Theatres
The War of the Theatres is the name commonly applied to a controversy from the later Elizabethan theatre; Thomas Dekker termed it the Poetomachia....

, and supports a 1601 dating.

A contemporary of Shakespere's, Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, though his reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe...

, wrote a marginal note in his copy of the 1598 edition of Chaucer's
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

 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
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, KG was an English nobleman and a favourite of Elizabeth I. Politically ambitious, and a committed general, he was placed under house arrest following a poor campaign in Ireland during the Nine Years' War in 1599...

—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
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

 and Watson
Thomas Watson (poet)
Thomas Watson , English lyrical poet, was the son of William Watson and Anne Lee . He was educated at Winchester College and OxfordUniversity. He then spent 7 years in France and Italy before studying law in London...

 as if they were still alive ("our flourishing metricians
Meter (poetry)
In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study of metres and forms of versification is known as prosody...

"), but also mentions "Owen's
John Owen (epigrammatist)
John Owen was a Welsh epigrammatist, most known for his Latin epigrams, collected in his Epigrammata.He is also cited by various Latinizations including Ioannes Owen, Joannes Oweni, Ovenus and Audoenus....

 new epigrams", published in 1607.

Texts


Three early editions of the text have survived, making attempts to establish a single "authentic" text problematic. Each is different from the others:
  • First Quarto (Q1) In 1603 the booksellers Nicholas Ling and John Trundell published, and Valentine Simmes
    Valentine Simmes
    Valentine Simmes was an Elizabethan era and Jacobean era printer; he did business in London, "on Adling Hill near Bainard's Castle at the sign of the White Swan." Simmes has a reputation as one of the better printers of his generation, and was responsible for several quartos of Shakespeare's plays...

     printed the so-called "bad
    Bad quarto
    Bad quarto is a term and concept developed by twentieth-century Shakespeare scholars to explain some problems in the early transmission of the texts of Shakespearean works...

    " first quarto
    Hamlet Q1
    Q1 of Hamlet, or the "First Quarto" as it is also called, is a short and generally inferior early text of the Shakespearean play, entered in the Stationers' Register in 1602 but not published until summer or autumn 1603...

    . 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
    James I of England
    James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

     queen, Anne of Denmark
    Anne of Denmark
    Anne of Denmark was queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland as the wife of King James VI and I.The second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, Anne married James in 1589 at the age of fourteen and bore him three children who survived infancy, including the future Charles I...

    ).
  • First Folio
    First Folio
    Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

     (F1) In 1623 Edward Blount
    Edward Blount
    Edward Blount was a London publisher of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline eras, noted for his publication, in conjunction with William and Isaac Jaggard, of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1623....

     and William and Isaac Jaggard
    William Jaggard
    William Jaggard was an Elizabethan and Jacobean printer and publisher, best known for his connection with the texts of William Shakespeare, most notably the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays...

     published the First Folio, the first edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works.


Other folios and quartos
Folios and Quartos (Shakespeare)
The earliest texts of William Shakespeare's works were published during the 16th and 17th centuries in quarto or folio format. Folios are large, tall volumes; quartos are smaller, roughly half the size...

 were subsequently published—including John Smethwick's
John Smethwick
John Smethwick was a London publisher of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline eras. Along with colleague William Aspley, Smethwick was one of the "junior partners" in the publishing syndicate that issued the First Folio collection of Shakespeare's plays in 1623. As his title pages specify, his...

 Q3, Q4, and Q5 (1611–37)—but these are regarded as derivatives of the first three editions.

Early editors of Shakespeare's works
Shakespeare's editors
Shakespeare's editors were essential in the development of the modern practice of producing printed books and the evolution of textual criticism....

, beginning with Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe (dramatist)
Nicholas Rowe , English dramatist, poet and miscellaneous writer, was appointed Poet Laureate in 1715.-Life:...

 (1709) and Lewis Theobald
Lewis Theobald
Lewis Theobald , British textual editor and author, was a landmark figure both in the history of Shakespearean editing and in literary satire...

 (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, 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". The 2006 publication by Arden Shakespeare of different Hamlet texts in different volumes is perhaps the best evidence of this shifting focus and emphasis.

Traditionally, editors of Shakespeare's plays have divided them into five acts
Act (theater)
An act is a division or unit of a drama. The number of acts in a production can range from one to five or more, depending on how a writer structures the outline of the story...

. 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 after which the action appears to continue uninterrupted.
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
Bad quarto
Bad quarto is a term and concept developed by twentieth-century Shakespeare scholars to explain some problems in the early transmission of the texts of Shakespearean works...

". 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) that does not appear in either Q2 or F1; and it is useful for comparison with the later editions. The scene order is 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. 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
To be, or not to be
"To be, or not to be" is the opening phrase of a soliloquy from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet , Act III, Scene 1. It is the best-known quotation from the play and probably the most famous in world literature but there is disagreement on its meaning, as there is of the whole speech.- Text :This...

" 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."

Q1 is considerably shorter than Q2 or F1 and may be a memorial reconstruction
Memorial reconstruction
The theory of memorial reconstruction refers to the hypotheses concerning the transcription of 17th century plays from memory by actors who had played parts in them, and the subsequent publication of those transcripts...

 of the play as Shakespeare's company performed it, by an actor who played a minor role (most likely Marcellus). 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. 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.

Critical history


From the early 17th century, the play was famous for its ghost and vivid dramatisation of melancholy
Melancholia
Melancholia , also lugubriousness, from the Latin lugere, to mourn; moroseness, from the Latin morosus, self-willed, fastidious habit; wistfulness, from old English wist: intent, or saturnine, , in contemporary usage, is a mood disorder of non-specific depression,...

 and insanity
Insanity
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

, leading to a procession of mad courtiers and ladies in Jacobean
Jacobean era
The Jacobean era refers to the period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James I...

 and Caroline
Caroline era
The Caroline era refers to the era in English and Scottish history during the Stuart period that coincided with the reign of Charles I , Carolus being Latin for Charles...

 drama. Though it remained popular with mass audiences, late 17th-century Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 critics saw Hamlet as primitive and disapproved of its lack of unity
Classical unities
The classical unities, Aristotelian unities or three unities are rules for drama derived from a passage in Aristotle's Poetics. In their neoclassical form they are as follows:...

 and decorum
Decorum
Decorum was a principle of classical rhetoric, poetry and theatrical theory that was about the fitness or otherwise of a style to a theatrical subject...

. This view changed drastically in the 18th century, when critics regarded Hamlet as a hero—a pure, brilliant young man thrust into unfortunate circumstances. By the mid-18th century, however, the advent of Gothic literature
Gothic fiction
Gothic fiction, sometimes referred to as Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. Gothicism's origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled "A Gothic Story"...

 brought psychological
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and mystical
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 readings, returning madness and the Ghost to the forefront. 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. These developments represented a fundamental change in literary criticism, which came to focus more on character and less on plot. By the 19th century, Romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 critics valued Hamlet for its internal, individual conflict reflecting the strong contemporary emphasis on internal struggles and inner character in general. Then too, critics started to focus on Hamlet's delay as a character trait, rather than a plot device. 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
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 in his Poetics: that a drama should focus on action, not character. In Hamlet, Shakespeare reverses this so that it is through the soliloquies
Monologue
In theatre, a monologue is a speech presented by a single character, most often to express their thoughts aloud, though sometimes also to directly address another character or the audience. Monologues are common across the range of dramatic media...

, 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, 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. 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. Even today the play is rarely performed in its entirety, and has only once been dramatised on film completely, with Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from Northern Ireland. He is best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays including Henry V , Much Ado About Nothing , Hamlet Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from...

's 1996 version. Hamlet also contains a favourite Shakespearean device, a play within the play, a literary device or conceit in which one story is told during the action of another story.

Language


Compared with language in a modern newspaper, magazine or popular novel, Shakespeare's language can strike contemporary readers as complex, elaborate and at times difficult to understand. Remarkably, it still works well enough in the theatre: audiences at the reconstruction of 'Shakespeare's Globe' in London, many of whom have never been to the theatre before, let alone to a play by Shakespeare, seem to have little difficulty grasping the play's action. Much of Hamlets language is courtly: elaborate, witty discourse, as recommended by Baldassare Castiglione's
Baldassare Castiglione
Baldassare Castiglione, count of was an Italian courtier, diplomat, soldier and a prominent Renaissance author.-Biography:Castiglione was born into an illustrious Lombard family at Casatico, near Mantua, where his family had constructed an impressive palazzo...

 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
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

 to resonate with Greek political speeches.

Hamlet is the most skilled of all at rhetoric. He uses highly developed metaphors, stichomythia
Stichomythia
Stichomythia is a technique in verse drama in which single alternating lines, or half-lines, are given to alternating characters. It typically features repetition and antithesis. The term originated in the theatre of Ancient Greece, though many dramatists since have used the technique...

, and in nine memorable words deploys both anaphora and asyndeton
Asyndeton
Asyndeton is a stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses. Examples are veni, vidi, vici and its English translation "I came, I saw, I conquered." Its use can have the effect of speeding up the rhythm of a passage and making a single idea more...

: "to die: to sleep— / To sleep, perchance to dream". 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". At times, he relies heavily on pun
Pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

s to express his true thoughts while simultaneously concealing them. His "nunnery" remarks to Ophelia are an example of a cruel double meaning
Double entendre
A double entendre or adianoeta is a figure of speech in which a spoken phrase is devised to be understood in either of two ways. Often the first meaning is straightforward, while the second meaning is less so: often risqué or ironic....

 as nunnery was Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 slang for
brothel. 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." An aside
Aside
An aside is a dramatic device in which a character speaks to the audience. By convention the audience is to realize that the character's speech is unheard by the other characters on stage. It may be addressed to the audience expressly or represent an unspoken thought. An aside is usually a brief...

 is a dramatic device in which a character speaks to the audience. By convention the audience realises that the character's speech is unheard by the other characters on stage. It may be addressed to the audience expressly (in character or out) or represent an unspoken thought.

An unusual rhetorical device, hendiadys
Hendiadys
Hendiadys is a figure of speech used for emphasis — "The substitution of a conjunction for a subordination". The basic idea is to use two words linked by a conjunction to express a single complex idea....

, appears in several places in the play. Examples are found in Ophelia's speech at the end of the nunnery scene: "Thexpectancy and rose of the fair state"; "And I, of ladies most deject and wretched". 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. 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.

Religious


Written at a time of religious upheaval, and in the wake of the English Reformation
English Reformation
The English Reformation was the series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church....

, the play is alternately Catholic (or piously medieval) and Protestant
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 (or consciously modern). The Ghost describes himself as being in purgatory
Purgatory
Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven...

, and as dying without last rites
Last Rites
The Last Rites are the very last prayers and ministrations given to many Christians before death. The last rites go by various names and include different practices in different Christian traditions...

. 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
Revenge play
The revenge play or revenge tragedy is a form of tragedy which was extremely popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. The best-known of these are Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and William Shakespeare's Hamlet...

 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.

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
Wittenberg
Wittenberg, officially Lutherstadt Wittenberg, is a city in Germany in the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt, on the river Elbe. It has a population of about 50,000....

, where Hamlet, Horatio, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attend university, and where Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 first proposed his 95 theses in 1517, effectively ushering in the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. In Shakespeare's day Denmark, as the majority of Scandinavia, was Lutheran.

Philosophical


Hamlet is often perceived as a philosophical character, expounding ideas that are now described as relativist
Relativism
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration....

, existentialist
Existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

, and sceptical. For example, he expresses a subjectivistic idea when he says to Rosencrantz: "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". The idea that nothing is real except in the mind of the individual finds its roots in the Greek Sophists
Sophism
Sophism in the modern definition is a specious argument used for deceiving someone. In ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching aretê — excellence, or virtue — predominantly to young statesmen and...

, 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. The clearest example of existentialism is found in the "to be, or not to be
To be, or not to be
"To be, or not to be" is the opening phrase of a soliloquy from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet , Act III, Scene 1. It is the best-known quotation from the play and probably the most famous in world literature but there is disagreement on its meaning, as there is of the whole speech.- Text :This...

" 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.

Scholars agree that Hamlet reflects the contemporary scepticism that prevailed in Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism
Renaissance humanism was an activity of cultural and educational reform engaged by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists. It developed during the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of Mediæval...

. 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
Michel de Montaigne
Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne , February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592, was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism...

 Essais
Essays (Montaigne)
Essays is the title given to a collection of 107 essays written by Michel de Montaigne that was first published in 1580. Montaigne essentially invented the literary form of essay, a short subjective treatment of a given topic, of which the book contains a large number...

of 1590. Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man
What a piece of work is a man
The phrase "What a piece of work is a man!" comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene 2, and it is often used in reference to the whole speech containing the line.-The speech:...

" 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.

Hamlet's scepticism is juxtaposed in the play with Horatio's more traditional Christian worldview. Despite the friends' close bond, Hamlet counters Horatio's faith with the seemingly agnostic comment, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Psychoanalytic


In the first half of the 20th century, when psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 was at the height of its influence, its concepts were applied to Hamlet, notably by Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

, Ernest Jones
Ernest Jones
Alfred Ernest Jones was a British neurologist and psychoanalyst, and Sigmund Freud’s official biographer. Jones was the first English-speaking practitioner of psychoanalysis and became its leading exponent in the English-speaking world where, as President of both the British Psycho-Analytical...

, and Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

, and these studies influenced theatrical productions.

In his The Interpretation of Dreams
The Interpretation of Dreams
The Interpretation of Dreams is a book by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The first edition begins:.The book introduces Freud's theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation...

(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". After reviewing various literary theories, Freud concludes that Hamlet has an "Oedipal desire
Oedipus complex
In psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus complex denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrate upon a boy’s desire to sexually possess his mother, and kill his father...

 for his mother and the subsequent guilt [is] preventing him from murdering the man [Claudius] who has done what he unconsciously wanted to do". Confronted with his repressed desires
Psychological repression
Psychological repression, also psychic repression or simply repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one's own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one's consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious...

, Hamlet realises that "he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish". Freud suggests that Hamlet's apparent "distaste for sexuality"—articulated in his "nunnery" conversation with Ophelia—accords with this interpretation.

John Barrymore
John Barrymore
John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

's long-running 1922 performance in New York was characterized as "revolutionary in its use of Freudian psychology; in keeping with the post World War I rebellion against everything Victorian, he eschewed the genteel, idealized 'Sweet Prince' of 19th-century tradition, imbuing his character with danger and sexuality."

Beginning in 1910, with the publication of "The Oedipus-Complex as An Explanation of Hamlet's Mystery:
A Study in Motive," Ernest Jones
Ernest Jones
Alfred Ernest Jones was a British neurologist and psychoanalyst, and Sigmund Freud’s official biographer. Jones was the first English-speaking practitioner of psychoanalysis and became its leading exponent in the English-speaking world where, as President of both the British Psycho-Analytical...

—a psychoanalyst and Freud's biographer—developed Freud's ideas into a series of essays that culminated in his book Hamlet and Oedipus
Hamlet and Oedipus
Hamlet and Oedipus is a study of William Shakespeare's Hamlet in which the titular character's famously inexplicable behaviours are subjected to investigation along psychoanalytic lines....

(1949). Influenced by Jones's psychoanalytic approach, several productions have portrayed the "closet scene", 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. In 1937, Tyrone Guthrie
Tyrone Guthrie
Sir William Tyrone Guthrie was an English theatrical director instrumental in the founding of the Stratford Festival of Canada, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, at his family's home, Annaghmakerrig, in County Monaghan, Ireland.-Life and career:Guthrie...

 directed Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

 in a Jones-inspired Hamlet at the Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

. Olivier later used some of these same ideas in his 1948 film version of the play.

In the 1950s, -Lacan's
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

 structuralist
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 theories about Hamlet were first presented in a series of seminars
The Seminars of Jacques Lacan
From 1953 to 1981 French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan gave an influential annual seminar in Paris.-Sources:**-External links:**...

 given in Paris and later published in "Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet". Lacan postulated that the human psyche
Psyche (psychology)
The word psyche has a long history of use in psychology and philosophy, dating back to ancient times, and has been one of the fundamental concepts for understanding human nature from a scientific point of view. The English word soul is sometimes used synonymously, especially in older...

 is determined by structures of language and that the linguistic structures of Hamlet shed light on human desire. His point of departure is Freud's Oedipal theories, and the central theme of mourning that runs through Hamlet. 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
Fantasy (psychology)
Fantasy in a psychological sense is broadly used to cover two different senses, conscious and unconscious. In the unconscious sense, it is sometimes spelled "phantasy".-Conscious fantasy:...

, narcissism
Narcissism
Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait...

 and psychosis
Psychosis
Psychosis means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality"...

", which create holes (or lack (manque)
Lack (manque)
Lack , is, in Lacan's psychoanalytic philosophy, always related to desire. In his seminar Le transfert he states that lack is what causes desire to arise....

) in the real, imaginary, and symbolic aspects of his psyche. Lacan's theories influenced literary criticism of Hamlet because of his alternative vision of the play and his use of semantics
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 to explore the play's psychological landscape.

Feminist



In the 20th century feminist critics
Feminist literary criticism
Feminist literary criticism is literary criticism informed by feminist theory, or by the politics of feminism more broadly. Its history has been broad and varied, from classic works of nineteenth-century women authors such as George Eliot and Margaret Fuller to cutting-edge theoretical work in...

 opened up new approaches to Gertrude and Ophelia. New Historicist
New Historicism
New Historicism is a school of literary theory, grounded in critical theory, that developed in the 1980s, primarily through the work of the critic Stephen Greenblatt, and gained widespread influence in the 1990s....

 and cultural materialist
Cultural materialism (cultural studies)
Cultural materialism in literary theory and cultural studies traces its origin to the work of the left-wing literary critic Raymond Williams. Cultural materialism makes analysis based in critical theory, in the tradition of the Frankfurt School....

 critics examined the play in its historical context, attempting to piece together its original cultural environment. They focused on the gender system
Gender role
Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex in the context of a specific culture, which differ widely between cultures and over time...

 of early modern
Early modern period
In history, the early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the timeframe spans the period after the late portion of the Middle Ages through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions...

 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.
Carolyn Heilbrun's 1957 essay "The Character of 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.

Ophelia has also been defended by feminist critics, most notably Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.She is well known and respected in both academic and popular...

. 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. 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.

Influence

See also Literary influence of Hamlet
Literary influence of Hamlet
William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragedy, believed written between 1599 and 1601. It tells the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark—who takes revenge on the current king for killing the previous king and for marrying his father's widow —and it charts the course of his real or feigned madness...



Hamlet is one of the most quoted
Phrases from Hamlet in common English
William Shakespeare's play Hamlet has contributed many phrases to common English, from the famous "To be, or not to be" to a few less known, but still in everyday English.Also, some occur elsewhere, such as the Bible, or are proverbial...

 works in the English language, and is often included on lists of the world's greatest literature. 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.

Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the novel Tom Jones....

's Tom Jones
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, often known simply as Tom Jones, is a comic novel by the English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. First published on 28 February 1749, Tom Jones is among the earliest English prose works describable as a novel...

, published about 1749, describes a visit to Hamlet by Tom Jones and Mr Partridge, with similarities to the "play within a play". In contrast, Goethe's
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

 Bildungsroman
Bildungsroman
In literary criticism, bildungsroman or coming-of-age story is a literary genre which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood , and in which character change is thus extremely important...

 Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is the second novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in 1795-96. While his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, featured a hero driven to suicide by despair, the eponymous hero of this novel undergoes a journey of self-realization...

, 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. In the early 1850s, in Pierre
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities is a novel written by Herman Melville, and published in 1852 by Harper & Brothers.The publication of Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville. It was universally condemned for both its morals and its style...

, Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

 focuses on a Hamlet-like character's long development as a writer. Ten years later, Dickens's
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 Great Expectations
Great Expectations
Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens. It was first published in serial form in the publication All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 to August 1861. It has been adapted for stage and screen over 250 times....

contains many Hamlet-like plot elements: it is driven by revenge-motivated actions, contains ghost-like characters (Abel Magwich and Miss Havisham
Miss Havisham
Miss Havisham is a significant character in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations . She is a wealthy spinster, who lives in her ruined mansion with her adopted daughter, Estella, whom she has sent to France, while she herself is described as looking like "the witch of the place."Although she...

), and focuses on the hero's guilt. Academic Alexander Welsh notes that Great Expectations is an "autobiographical novel" and "anticipates psychoanalytic readings of Hamlet itself". About the same time, George Eliot
George Eliot
Mary Anne Evans , better known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, journalist and translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era...

's The Mill on the Floss
The Mill on the Floss
The Mill on the Floss is a novel by George Eliot , first published in three volumes in 1860 by William Blackwood. The first American edition was by Thomas Y...

was published, introducing Maggie Tulliver "who is explicitly compared with Hamlet" though "with a reputation for sanity".

In the 1920s, James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

 managed "a more upbeat version" of Hamlet—stripped of obsession and revenge—in Ulysses
Ulysses (novel)
Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

, though its main parallels are with Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

. In the 1990s, two women novelists were explicitly influenced by Hamlet. In Angela Carter's
Angela Carter
Angela Carter was an English novelist and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism, and picaresque works...

 Wise Children
Wise Children
Wise Children was the last novel written by Angela Carter. The novel follows the fortunes of twin chorus girls, Dora and Nora Chance, and their bizarre theatrical family. It explores the subversive nature of fatherhood, the denying of which leads Nora and Dora to frivolous "illegitimate" lechery...

, To be or not to be is reworked as a song and dance routine, and Iris Murdoch
Iris Murdoch
Dame Iris Murdoch DBE was an Irish-born British author and philosopher, best known for her novels about political and social questions of good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious...

's The Black Prince
The Black Prince (novel)
The Black Prince is Iris Murdoch's 15th novel, first published in 1973. The name of the novel alludes mainly to Hamlet.-Plot summary:The Black Prince is remarkable for the structure of its narrative, consisting of a central story bookended by forewords and post-scripts by characters within it...

has Oedipal themes and murder intertwined with a love affair between a Hamlet-obsessed writer, Bradley Pearson, and the daughter of his rival.

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

Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare
Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare
Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, by Isaac Asimov, vols I and II , ISBN 0-517-26825-6; Maps by the artist Rafael Palacios.This work gives a short guide to every Shakespeare play, and also his two epic poems...

, pg vii, Avenal Books, 1970


Performance history


Shakespeare's day to the Interregnum


Shakespeare almost certainly wrote the role of Hamlet for Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

. He was the chief tragedian of the Lord Chamberlain's Men
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

, with a capacious memory for lines and a wide emotional range. 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
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , and Henry V...

, Richard III
Richard III (play)
Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified...

and Pericles
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a Jacobean play written at least in part by William Shakespeare and included in modern editions of his collected works despite questions over its authorship, as it was not included in the First Folio...

eclipsed it. Shakespeare provides no clear indication of when his play is set; however, as Elizabethan actors performed at the Globe
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

 in contemporary dress on minimal sets, this would not have affected the staging.

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
Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone , officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of and has an estimated population between 5.4 and 6.4...

, performed Hamlet in September 1607; that the play toured in Germany within five years of Shakespeare's death; and that it was performed before James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 in 1619 and Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 in 1637. Oxford editor George Hibbard argues that, since the contemporary literature contains many allusions and references to Hamlet (only Falstaff
Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

 is mentioned more, from Shakespeare), the play was surely performed with a frequency that the historical record misses.

All theatres were closed down by the Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 government during the Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

. Even during this time, however, playlets known as droll
Droll
A droll is a short comical sketch of a type that originated during the Puritan Interregnum in England. With the closure of the theatres, actors were left without any way of plying their art. Borrowing scenes from well-known plays of the Elizabethan theatre, they added dancing and other...

s
were often performed illegally, including one called The Grave-Makers based on Act 5, Scene 1 of Hamlet.

Restoration and 18th century


The play was revived early in the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

. When the existing stock of pre-civil war
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 plays was divided between the two newly created patent theatre companies
Patent theatre
The patent theatres were the theatres that were licensed to perform "spoken drama" after the English Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Other theatres were prohibited from performing such "serious" drama, but were permitted to show comedy, pantomime or melodrama...

, Hamlet was the only Shakespearean favourite that Sir William Davenant's
William Davenant
Sir William Davenant , also spelled D'Avenant, was an English poet and playwright. Along with Thomas Killigrew, Davenant was one of the rare figures in English Renaissance theatre whose career spanned both the Caroline and Restoration eras and who was active both before and after the English Civil...

 Duke's Company
Duke's Company
The Duke's Company was one of the two theatre companies that were chartered by King Charles II at the start of the English Restoration era, when the London theatres re-opened after their eighteen-year closure during the English Civil War and the Interregnum.The Duke's Company had the patronage of...

 secured. It became the first of Shakespeare's plays to be presented with movable flats
Flats (theatre)
Flats, short for Scenery Flats, are flat pieces of theatrical scenery which are painted and positioned on stage so as to give the appearance of buildings or other background. They are also called backdrops or backcloths....

 painted with generic scenery behind the proscenium arch
Proscenium
A proscenium theatre is a theatre space whose primary feature is a large frame or arch , which is located at or near the front of the stage...

 of Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public square in London, UK. It was laid out in the 1630s under the initiative of the speculative builder and contractor William Newton, "the first in a long series of entrepreneurs who took a hand in developing London", as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner observes...

. This new stage convention highlighted the frequency with which Shakespeare shifts dramatic location, encouraging the recurrent criticisms of his violation of the neoclassical
Neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

 principle of maintaining a unity of place
Classical unities
The classical unities, Aristotelian unities or three unities are rules for drama derived from a passage in Aristotle's Poetics. In their neoclassical form they are as follows:...

. Davenant cast Thomas Betterton
Thomas Betterton
Thomas Patrick Betterton , English actor, son of an under-cook to King Charles I, was born in London.-Apprentice and actor:...

 in the eponymous role, and he continued to play the Dane until he was 74. David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 at Drury Lane
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is a West End theatre in Covent Garden, in the City of Westminster, a borough of London. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building standing today is the most recent in a line of four theatres at the same location dating back to 1663,...

 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". 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.

John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble was an English actor. He was born into a theatrical family as the eldest son of Roger Kemble, actor-manager of a touring troupe. His elder sister Sarah Siddons achieved fame with him on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane...

 made his Drury Lane debut as Hamlet in 1783. 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". Sarah Siddons
Sarah Siddons
Sarah Siddons was a Welsh actress, the best-known tragedienne of the 18th century. She was the elder sister of John Philip Kemble, Charles Kemble, Stephen Kemble, Ann Hatton and Elizabeth Whitlock, and the aunt of Fanny Kemble. She was most famous for her portrayal of the Shakespearean character,...

 was the first actress known to play Hamlet; many women have since played him as a breeches role
Breeches role
A breeches role is a role in which an actress appears in male clothing .In opera it also refers to any male character that is sung and acted by a female singer...

, to great acclaim. In 1748, Alexander Sumarokov
Alexander Sumarokov
Alexander Petrovich Sumarokov was a Russian poet and playwright who single-handedly created classical theatre in Russia, thus assisting Mikhail Lomonosov to inaugurate the reign of classicism in Russian literature....

 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. In the years following America's independence, Thomas Apthorpe Cooper
Thomas Apthorpe Cooper
Thomas Apthorpe Cooper was an actor. He received a good education, and, on the death of his father, was adopted by Thomas Holcroft and William Godwin. His first appearance on the stage was with Stephen Kemble's company in Edinburgh, and later he acted at Covent Garden, London, with great success...

, the young nation's leading tragedian, performed Hamlet among other plays at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and at the Park Theatre
Park Theatre (Manhattan)
The Park Theatre, originally known as the New Theatre, was a playhouse in New York City, located at 21, 23, and 25 Park Row, about east of Ann Street and backing Theatre Alley. The location, at the north end of the city, overlooked the park that would soon house City Hall...

 in New York. Although chided for "acknowledging acquaintances in the audience" and "inadequate memorisation of his lines", he became a national celebrity.

19th century


From around 1810 to 1840, the best-known Shakespearean performances in the United States were tours by leading London actors—including George Frederick Cooke
George Frederick Cooke
George Frederick Cooke was an English actor. As famous for his erratic habits as for his acting, he was largely responsible for initiating the romantic style in acting that was later made famous by Edmund Kean.-Career:Although he claimed to have been born in Westminster, it seems likely that he...

, Junius Brutus Booth
Junius Brutus Booth
Junius Brutus Booth was an English actor. He was the father of John Wilkes Booth , Edwin Booth , and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., an actor and theatre manager...

, Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean
Edmund Kean was an English actor, regarded in his time as the greatest ever.-Early life:Kean was born in London. His father was probably Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk, and his mother was an actress, Anne Carey, daughter of the 18th century composer and playwright Henry Carey...

, William Charles Macready
William Charles Macready
-Life:He was born in London, and educated at Rugby.It was his intention to go up to Oxford, but in 1809 the embarrassed affairs of his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management. On 7 June 1810 he made a successful first...

, and Charles Kemble
Charles Kemble
Charles Kemble was a British actor.-Life:The youngest son of Roger Kemble, and younger brother of John Philip Kemble, Stephen Kemble and Sarah Siddons, he was born at Brecon, South Wales. Like John Philip, he was educated at Douai...

. Of these, Booth remained to make his career in the States, fathering the nation's most notorious actor, John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth was an American stage actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre, in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. Booth was a member of the prominent 19th century Booth theatrical family from Maryland and, by the 1860s, was a well-known actor...

 (who later assassinated Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

), and its most famous Hamlet, Edwin Booth
Edwin Booth
Edwin Thomas Booth was a famous 19th century American actor who toured throughout America and the major capitals of Europe, performing Shakespearean plays. In 1869 he founded Booth's Theatre in New York, a spectacular theatre that was quite modern for its time...

. 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". Booth played Hamlet for 100 nights in the 1864/5 season at The Winter Garden Theatre
The Winter Garden Theatre (1850)
The first theater in New York to bear the name The Winter Garden Theatre had a brief but important seventeen-year history as one of New York's premier showcases for a wide range of theatrical fare, from Variety shows to extravagant productions of the works of Shakespeare...

, inaugurating the era of long-run Shakespeare in America.

In the United Kingdom, the actor-managers of the Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 (including Kean, Samuel Phelps
Samuel Phelps
Samuel Phelps was an English actor and theatre manager...

, Macready, and Henry Irving
Henry Irving
Sir Henry Irving , born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era, known as an actor-manager because he took complete responsibility for season after season at the Lyceum Theatre, establishing himself and his company as...

) staged Shakespeare in a grand manner, with elaborate scenery and costumes. 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
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 praise for Johnston Forbes-Robertson's
Johnston Forbes-Robertson
Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson was an English actor and theatre manager. He was considered the finest Hamlet of the nineteenth century and one of the finest actors of his time, despite his dislike of the job and his lifelong belief that he was temperamentally unsuited to acting.-Early life:Born in...

 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?"

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. In stark contrast to earlier opulence, William Poel's
William Poel
William Poel was an English actor, theatrical manager and dramatist best known for his presentations of Shakespeare.-Life and career:...

 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. Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt was a French stage and early film actress, and has been referred to as "the most famous actress the world has ever known". Bernhardt made her fame on the stages of France in the 1870s, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas...

 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".

In France, Charles Kemble initiated an enthusiasm for Shakespeare; and leading members of the Romantic movement such as Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo
Victor-Marie Hugo was a Frenchpoet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France....

 and Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas, père
Alexandre Dumas, , born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world...

 saw his 1827 Paris performance of Hamlet, particularly admiring the madness of Harriet Smithson's
Harriet Smithson
Henrietta Constance Smithson was an Anglo-Irish actress, the first wife of Hector Berlioz, and the inspiration for his Symphonie Fantastique....

 Ophelia. In Germany, Hamlet had become so assimilated by the mid-19th century that Ferdinand Freiligrath
Ferdinand Freiligrath
Ferdinand Freiligrath was a German poet, translator and liberal agitator.-Biography:Freiligrath was born in Detmold, Principality of Lippe. His father was a teacher. He left a Detmold gymnasium at 16 to be trained for a commercial career in Soest...

 declared that "Germany is Hamlet". From the 1850s, the Parsi theatre tradition in India transformed Hamlet into folk performances, with dozens of songs added.

20th century


Apart from some western troupes' 19th-century visits, the first professional performance of Hamlet in Japan was Otojiro Kawakami's
Otojiro Kawakami
was a Japanese actor and comedian from present-day Hakata-ku, Fukuoka, who led the Kawakami Theatre Troupe on successful overseas tours in 1899-1901...

 1903 Shimpa ("new school theatre") adaptation. Shoyo Tsubouchi
Tsubouchi Shoyo
__NoTOC__ was a Japanese author, critic, playwright, translator, editor, educator, and professor at Waseda University. He was born Tsubouchi Yūzō , in Gifu prefecture...

 translated Hamlet and produced a performance in 1911 that blended Shingeki ("new drama") and Kabuki
Kabuki
is classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.The individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing , dance , and skill...

styles. This hybrid-genre reached its peak in Fukuda Tsuneari's 1955 Hamlet. In 1998, Yukio Ninagawa
Yukio Ninagawa
is a Japanese theatre director, particularly known for his Japanese language productions of Shakespeare plays and Greek tragedies. He has directed Hamlet differently six times....

 produced an acclaimed version of Hamlet in the style of
Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

 theatre, which he took to London.

Constantin Stanislavski and Edward Gordon Craig
Edward Gordon Craig
Edward Henry Gordon Craig , sometimes known as Gordon Craig, was an English modernist theatre practitioner; he worked as an actor, director and scenic designer, as well as developing an influential body of theoretical writings...

—two of the 20th century's most influential theatre practitioner
Theatre practitioner
Theatre practitioner is a modern term to describe someone who both creates theatrical performances and who produces a theoretical discourse that informs his or her practical work. A theatre practitioner may be a director, a dramatist, an actor, or—characteristically—often a combination of these...

s—collaborated on the Moscow Art Theatre's
Moscow Art Theatre
The Moscow Art Theatre is a theatre company in Moscow that the seminal Russian theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski, together with the playwright and director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, founded in 1898. It was conceived as a venue for naturalistic theatre, in contrast to the melodramas...

 seminal production of 1911–12. While Craig favoured stylised abstraction, Stanislavski, armed with his 'system,' explored psychological motivation. Craig conceived of the play as a symbolist
Symbolism (arts)
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire...

 monodrama
Monodrama
A monodrama is a theatrical or operatic piece played by a single actor or singer, usually portraying one character.- Monodrama in opera :...

, offering a dream-like vision as seen through Hamlet's eyes alone. This was most evident in the staging of the first court scene. 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
Dramaturgy
Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage. Dramaturgy is a distinct practice separate from play writing and directing, although a single individual may perform any combination of the three. Some dramatists combine writing and...

 progression. The production attracted enthusiastic and unprecedented world-wide attention for the theatre and placed it "on the cultural map for Western Europe".

Hamlet is often played with contemporary political overtones. Leopold Jessner's
Leopold Jessner
Leopold Jessner was a noted producer and director of German Expressionist theater and cinema. His first film, Hintertreppe , is considered a major turning point which paved the way for the later German Expressionist experiments of German filmmakers F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and G.W...

 1926 production at the Berlin Staatstheater portrayed Claudius's court as a parody of the corrupt and fawning court of Kaiser Wilhelm
William II, German Emperor
Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe...

. In Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, 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. Similarly, Czech
Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest....

 directors have used the play at times of occupation: a 1941 Vinohrady Theatre
Vinohrady
Vinohrady is a cadastral district in Prague. It is so named because the area was once covered in vineyards dating from the 14th century...

 production "emphasised, with due caution, the helpless situation of an intellectual attempting to endure in a ruthless environment". 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
Yuan Shikai
Yuan Shikai was an important Chinese general and politician famous for his influence during the late Qing Dynasty, his role in the events leading up to the abdication of the last Qing Emperor of China, his autocratic rule as the second President of the Republic of China , and his short-lived...

 attempt to overthrow the republic. In 1942, Jiao Juyin
Jiao Juyin
Jiao Juyin was a Chinese director, translator, and theater theorist. He was born in Tianjin on Dec 11 1905. His original name was Chengzhi, and had used several pen names such as 居颖,居尹 and 亮俦. He used Juying as stage name, and later changed it into 菊隐.Jiao was very poor when he was young, and had...

 directed the play in a Confucian
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 temple in Sichuan Province
Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

, to which the government had retreated from the advancing Japanese. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the protests
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese , were a series of demonstrations in and near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the People's Republic of China beginning on 15 April 1989...

 at Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is a large city square in the center of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen Gate located to its North, separating it from the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world...

, 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.
Notable stagings in London and New York include Barrymore's 1925 production at the Haymarket
Haymarket Theatre
The Theatre Royal Haymarket is a West End theatre in the Haymarket in the City of Westminster which dates back to 1720, making it the third-oldest London playhouse still in use...

; it influenced subsequent performances by John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

 and Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

. 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". Although "posterity has treated Maurice Evans
Maurice Evans (actor)
Maurice Herbert Evans was an English actor noted for his interpretations of Shakespearean characters. In terms of his screen roles, he is probably best known as Dr...

 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. Olivier's 1937 performance at the Old Vic Theatre was popular with audiences but not with critics, with James Agate
James Agate
James Evershed Agate was a British diarist and critic. In the period between the wars, he was one of Britain's most influential theatre critics...

 writing in a famous review in The Sunday Times
The Sunday Times
The Sunday Times is a British Sunday newspaper.The Sunday Times may also refer to:*The Sunday Times *The Sunday Times *The Sunday Times *The Sunday Times...

,
"Mr. Olivier does not speak poetry badly. He does not speak it at all.". In 1937 Tyrone Guthrie
Tyrone Guthrie
Sir William Tyrone Guthrie was an English theatrical director instrumental in the founding of the Stratford Festival of Canada, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, at his family's home, Annaghmakerrig, in County Monaghan, Ireland.-Life and career:Guthrie...

 directed the play at Elsinore, Denmark with Laurence Olivier as Hamlet and Vivien Leigh as Ophelia.

In 1963, Olivier directed Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole
Peter Seamus Lorcan O'Toole is an Irish actor of stage and screen. O'Toole achieved stardom in 1962 playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, and then went on to become a highly-honoured film and stage actor. He has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, and holds the record for most...

 as Hamlet in the inaugural performance of the newly formed National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

; critics found resonance between O'Toole's Hamlet and John Osborne's
John Osborne
John James Osborne was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor and critic of the Establishment. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre....

 hero, Jimmy Porter, from Look Back in Anger
Look Back in Anger
Look Back in Anger is a John Osborne play—made into films in 1959, 1980, and 1989 -- about a love triangle involving an intelligent but disaffected young man , his upper-middle-class, impassive wife , and her haughty best friend . Cliff, an amiable Welsh lodger, attempts to keep the peace...

.

Richard Burton
Richard Burton
Richard Burton, CBE was a Welsh actor. He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award, six of which were for Best Actor in a Leading Role , and was a recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Tony Awards for Best Actor. Although never trained as an actor, Burton was, at one time, the highest-paid...

 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 immortalised 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
Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes is an English actor and film director. He has appeared in such films as The English Patient, In Bruges, The Constant Gardener, Strange Days, The Duchess and Schindler's List....

's in 1995 (for which he won the Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

 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..." Stacy Keach
Stacy Keach
Stacy Keach is an American actor and narrator. He is most famous for his dramatic roles; however, he has done narration work in educational programming on PBS and the Discovery Channel, as well as some comedy and musical...

 played the role with an all-star cast at Joseph Papp
Joseph Papp
Joseph Papp was an American theatrical producer and director. Papp established The Public Theater in what had been the Astor Library Building in downtown New York . "The Public," as it is known, has many small theatres within it...

's Delacorte Theatre in the early 70's, with Colleen Dewhurst
Colleen Dewhurst
Colleen Rose Dewhurst was a Canadian-American actress known for a while as "the Queen of Off-Broadway." In her autobiography, Dewhurst wrote: "I had moved so quickly from one Off-Broadway production to the next that I was known, at one point, as the 'Queen of Off-Broadway'...

's Gertrude, James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones is an American actor. He is well-known for his distinctive bass voice and for his portrayal of characters of substance, gravitas and leadership...

's King, Barnard Hughes
Barnard Hughes
Bernard Aloysius Kiernan “Barnard” Hughes was an American actor of theater and film. Hughes became famous for a variety of roles; his most notable roles came after middle age, and he was often cast as a dithering authority figure or grandfatherly elder.-Personal life:Hughes was born in Bedford...

's Polonius, Sam Waterston
Sam Waterston
Samuel Atkinson "Sam" Waterston is an American actor and occasional producer and director. Among other roles, he is noted for his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Sydney Schanberg in 1984's The Killing Fields, and his Golden Globe- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning portrayal of Jack McCoy...

's Laertes and Raul Julia
Raúl Juliá
Raúl Rafael Juliá y Arcelay was a Puerto Rican actor.Born in San Juan, he gained interest in acting while still in school. Upon completing his studies, Juliá decided to pursue a career in acting. After performing in the local scene for some time, he was convinced by entertainment personality Orson...

's Osric. Sam Waterston
Sam Waterston
Samuel Atkinson "Sam" Waterston is an American actor and occasional producer and director. Among other roles, he is noted for his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Sydney Schanberg in 1984's The Killing Fields, and his Golden Globe- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning portrayal of Jack McCoy...

 later played the role himself at the Delacorte
Delacorte Theater
The Delacorte Theater, established in 1962, is an open-air theater located in Manhattan's Central Park and has a seating capacity of 1,800. The Delacorte is owned by the City of New York and operated by The Public Theater. It is an open-air amphitheater, with the Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle...

 for the New York Shakespeare Festival
New York Shakespeare Festival
New York Shakespeare Festival is the previous name of the New York City theatrical producing organization now known as the Public Theater. The Festival produced shows at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, as part of its free Shakespeare in the Park series, at the Public Theatre near Astor Place...

, and the show transferred to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre
Vivian Beaumont Theatre
The Vivian Beaumont Theater is a theatre located in the Lincoln Center complex at 150 West 65th Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The structure was designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen, and Jo Mielziner was responsible for the design of the stage and interior.The Vivian...

 in 1975 (Stephen Lang played Bernardo and other roles). Stephen Lang
Stephen Lang (actor)
Stephen Lang is an American actor and playwright. He started in theatre on Broadway but is well known for his film portrayals of Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals and George Pickett in Gettysburg , as well as for his 2009 roles as Colonel Miles Quaritch in Avatar and as Texan lawman Charles...

's Hamlet for the Roundabout Theatre Company
Roundabout Theatre Company
The Roundabout Theatre Company is a leading non-profit theatre company based in New York City.-History:The company was founded in 1965 by Gene Feist and Elizabeth Owens and now operates five theatres, all in Manhattan: the American Airlines Theatre ; Studio 54 ; the Stephen Sondheim Theatre The...

 in 1992 received positive reviews, and ran for sixty-one performances. David Warner
David Warner (actor)
David Warner is an English actor who is known for playing both romantic leads and sinister or villainous characters, both in film and animation...

 played the role with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1965. William Hurt
William Hurt
William McGill Hurt is an American stage and film actor. He received his acting training at the Juilliard School, and began acting on stage in the 1970s. Hurt made his film debut as a troubled scientist in the science-fiction feature Altered States , for which he received a Golden Globe nomination...

 (at Circle Rep Off-Broadway, memorably performing "To Be Or Not to Be" while lying on the floor), Jon Voight
Jon Voight
Jonathan Vincent "Jon" Voight is an American actor. He has received an Academy Award, out of four nominations, and three Golden Globe Awards, out of nine nominations. Voight is the father of actress Angelina Jolie....

 at Rutgers, and Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken is an American stage and screen actor. He has appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows, including Joe Dirt, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, The Prophecy trilogy, The Dogs of War, Sleepy Hollow, Brainstorm, The Dead Zone, A View to a Kill, At Close Range, King of New...

 (fiercely) at Stratford CT have all played the role, as has Diane Venora
Diane Venora
Diane Venora is an American stage, television, and film actress.-Early life:Venora was born Diana Venora in East Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Marie and Robert P. Venora, who owned a dry cleaning establishment. Diane graduated from East Hartford High School, class of 1970. During her...

 at the Public Theatre. Off Broadway, the Riverside Shakespeare Company
Riverside Shakespeare Company
The Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York City was founded in 1977 as a professional theatre company on the Upper West Side of New York City, by W. Stuart McDowell and Gloria Skurski...

 mounted an uncut first folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 Hamlet in 1978 at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, with a playing time of under three hours. 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.

Ian Charleson
Ian Charleson
Ian Charleson was a Scottish stage and film actor. He is best known internationally for his starring role as Olympic athlete and missionary Eric Liddell, in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire. He is also well known for his portrayal of Rev...

 performed Hamlet from 9 October to 13 November 1989, in Richard Eyre
Richard Eyre
Sir Richard Charles Hastings Eyre CBE is an English director of film, theatre, television, and opera.-Biography:Eyre was educated at Sherborne School, an independent school for boys in the market town of Sherborne in north-west Dorset in south-west England, followed by Peterhouse at the University...

's production at the Olivier Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

, replacing Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is an English actor with both British and Irish citizenship. His portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, and Screen Actors Guild as well as Golden Globe Awards for the latter...

, 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
Ian McKellen
Sir Ian Murray McKellen, CH, CBE is an English actor. He has received a Tony Award, two Academy Award nominations, and five Emmy Award nominations. His work has spanned genres from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction...

, said that Charleson played Hamlet so well it was as if he had rehearsed the role all his life; McKellen called it "the perfect Hamlet". The performance garnered other major accolades as well, some critics echoing McKellen in calling it the definitive Hamlet performance.

21st century


In 2000, Simon Russell Beale
Simon Russell Beale
Simon Russell Beale, CBE is an English actor. He has been described by The Independent as "the greatest stage actor of his generation."-Early years:...

 starred in a Royal National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 production, with The Guardian described him as a "perfect Hamlet for the age of irony, expressing disgust at the surrounding corruption." Angela Winkler
Angela Winkler
Angela Winkler is a German actress.- Biography :Born in Templin, Winkler trained to be a medical technologist in Stuttgart. Interested in theater, she went to Munich, where she took acting classes with Ernst Fritz Fürbringer...

 also played the role that year with "tenderness".

In 2001, Samuel West
Samuel West
Samuel Alexander Joseph West is an English actor and theatre director. He is perhaps best known for his role in Howards End and his work on stage. He also starred in the award-winning play ENRON...

 played the role in Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It lies on the River Avon, south east of Birmingham and south west of Warwick. It is the largest and most populous town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term "on" to indicate that it covers...

. The Guardian described him as "sardonic, clever and cruelly aware of his own powerlessness." In 2002, Christopher Eccleston
Christopher Eccleston
Christopher Eccleston is an English stage, film and television actor. His films include Let Him Have It, Shallow Grave, Elizabeth, 28 Days Later, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Others, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra...

 starred in a Leeds production and was described as "a Hamlet who understands his own absurdity and therefore his tragedy."

Toby Stephens
Toby Stephens
Toby Stephens is an English stage, television and film actor who has appeared in films in both Hollywood and Bollywood. He is best known for playing megavillain Gustav Graves in the James Bond film Die Another Day , Edward Fairfax Rochester in the BBC television adaptation of Jane Eyre and Philip...

 played the title role in a Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

 production in 2004. Michael Billington of The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 found "he frequently acts on top of, rather than through, the lines and misses the character's analytic power." Also that year, Ben Whishaw
Ben Whishaw
Benjamin John "Ben" Whishaw is an English actor who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Whishaw is perhaps best known for his breakthrough role as Hamlet, and his role as the lead character in Tom Tykwer's film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.-Early life:Whishaw was born and raised in...

 played the role in Trevor Nunn
Trevor Nunn
Sir Trevor Robert Nunn, CBE is an English theatre, film and television director. Nunn has been the Artistic Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, and, currently, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. He has directed musicals and dramas for the stage, as well as opera...

's production at the Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

. The Guardian felt that "for all Whishaw's obvious potential ... you have not seen the whole of Hamlet but a piece of him."

In 2008, David Tennant
David Tennant
David Tennant is a Scottish actor. In addition to his work in theatre, including a widely praised Hamlet, Tennant is best known for his role as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, along with the title role in the 2005 TV serial Casanova and as Barty Crouch, Jr...

 starred in a Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

 production. Michael Billington of The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 was highly impressed and described Tennant as "an active, athletic, immensely engaging Hamlet. If there is any quality I miss, it is the character's philosophical nature."

In May 2009, Hamlet opened with Jude Law
Jude Law
David Jude Heyworth Law , known professionally as Jude Law, is an English actor, film producer and director.He began acting with the National Youth Music Theatre in 1987, and had his first television role in 1989...

 in the title role at the Donmar Warehouse
Donmar Warehouse
Donmar Warehouse is a small not-for-profit theatre in the Covent Garden area of London, with a capacity of 251.-About:Under the artistic leadership of Michael Grandage, the theatre has presented some of London’s most memorable award-winning theatrical experiences, as well as garnered critical...

 West End season at Wyndham's Theatre
Wyndham's Theatre
Wyndham's Theatre is a West End theatre, one of two opened by the actor/manager Charles Wyndham . Located on Charing Cross Road, in the City of Westminster, it was designed by W.G.R. Sprague about 1898, the architect of six other London theatres between then and 1916...

. The production officially opened on 3 June and ran through 22 August 2009. A further production of the play ran at Elsinore Castle in Denmark from 25–30 August 2009. The Jude Law Hamlet then moved to Broadway, and ran for 12 weeks at the Broadhurst Theatre
Broadhurst Theatre
The Broadhurst Theatre is a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 235 West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan.It was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp, a well-known theatre designer who had been working directly with the Shubert brothers; the Broadhurst opened 27 September 1917...

 in New York.

In 2010, John Simm
John Simm
John Simm is an English stage and screen actor. In recent years he is best known for his roles as Sam Tyler in the detective drama Life on Mars and as The Master in the revival of the science fiction series Doctor Who, but he has also starred in many highly acclaimed award-winning television...

 played the role at the Sheffield Crucible. Michael Billington of The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

 said he "has a fundamental sanity that never makes us feel that Hamlet's "antic disposition" is tipping over into reality. But this is a good, well-spoken performance." Rory Kinnear
Rory Kinnear
Rory Kinnear is an award-winning English actor who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre.-Early life:...

 also played the part at the Royal National Theatre
Royal National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre in London is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company...

 in 2010. The Guardian described him as "a strong, clearly-defined Hamlet".

In October 2011, Hamlet opened with Michael Sheen
Michael Sheen
Michael Christopher Sheen, OBE , is a Welsh stage and screen actor. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England and made his professional debut opposite Vanessa Redgrave in When She Danced at the Globe Theatre in 1991...

 in the title role at the Young Vic directed by Ian Rickson
Ian Rickson
Ian Rickson is a British theatre and film director. He was the Artistic Director at the Royal Court Theatre in London from 1998 to 2006, and currently works freelance....

. It officially opened on 10th November 2011 and will run until late January 2012.

Screen performances



The earliest screen success for Hamlet was Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt was a French stage and early film actress, and has been referred to as "the most famous actress the world has ever known". Bernhardt made her fame on the stages of France in the 1870s, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas...

's five-minute film of the fencing scene, produced in 1900. The film was a crude talkie
Sound film
A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film. The first known public exhibition of projected sound films took place in Paris in 1900, but decades would pass before sound motion pictures were made commercially...

, in that music and words were recorded on phonograph records, to be played along with the film. Silent versions were released in 1907, 1908, 1910, 1913, 1917, and 1920. In the 1920 version, Asta Nielsen
Asta Nielsen
Asta Nielsen , was a Danish silent film actress who was one of the most popular leading ladies of the 1910s and one of the first international movie stars. Seventy of Nielsen's 74 films were made in Germany where she was known simply as Die Asta...

 played Hamlet as a woman who spends her life disguised as a man.

Laurence Olivier's
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

 1948 moody black-and-white Hamlet
Hamlet (1948 film)
Hamlet is a 1948 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, adapted and directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier. Hamlet was Olivier's second film as director, and also the second of the three Shakespeare films that he directed...

won best picture
Academy Award for Best Picture
The Academy Award for Best Picture is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to artists working in the motion picture industry. The Best Picture category is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible not only...

 and best actor
Academy Award for Best Actor
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

 Oscars, and is still, as of 2011, the only Shakespeare film to have done so. His interpretation stressed the Oedipal overtones of the play, and cast 28-year-old Eileen Herlie
Eileen Herlie
Eileen Herlie was a Scottish-American actress.-Life and career:Eileen Herlie was born Eileen Isobel Herlihy to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother in Glasgow, Scotland, and was one of five children. Herlie was trained as a theatre actress. Among her West End London theatre successes were The...

 as Hamlet's mother, opposite himself, at 41, as Hamlet.

Shakespeare experts Sir John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

 and Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from Northern Ireland. He is best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays including Henry V , Much Ado About Nothing , Hamlet Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from...

 consider the definitive rendition of the Bard's tragic tale to be the 1964 Russian film Gamlet
Hamlet (1964 film)
Hamlet is a 1964 film adaptation in Russian of William Shakespeare's play of the same title, based on a translation by Boris Pasternak. It was directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Iosif Shapiro, and stars Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Prince Hamlet.-Background:...

based on a translation by Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a Russian language poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russia, Pasternak's anthology My Sister Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language...

 and directed by Grigori Kozintsev
Grigori Kozintsev
Grigori Mikhaylovich Kozintsev was a Jewish Ukrainian, Soviet Russian theatre and film director. He was named People's Artist of the USSR in 1964.He studied in the Imperial Academy of Arts...

, with a score by Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

. Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Innokentiy Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky was a Soviet actor acclaimed as the "king of Soviet actors". He was named People's Artist of the USSR in 1974 and the Hero of Socialist Labour in 1990....

 was cast in the role of Hamlet; he was particularly praised by Sir Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

.

John Gielgud directed Richard Burton
Richard Burton
Richard Burton, CBE was a Welsh actor. He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award, six of which were for Best Actor in a Leading Role , and was a recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Tony Awards for Best Actor. Although never trained as an actor, Burton was, at one time, the highest-paid...

 in a Broadway production
Richard Burton's Hamlet
Richard Burton’s Hamlet is a common name for both the Broadway production of William Shakespeare's tragedy that played from April 9 through August 8 of 1964 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and for the filmed record of it that has been released theatrically and on home video.-Background:The production...

 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 205 West 46th Street in midtown-Manhattan.Designed by the architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, it was built by producer Charles Dillingham and opened as the Globe Theatre, in honor of London's Shakespearean playhouse, on...

 in 1964–5, the longest-running Hamlet in the U.S. to date. A live film of the production was produced using "Electronovision", a method of recording a live performance with multiple video cameras and converting the image to film. Eileen Herlie repeated her role from Olivier's film version as the Queen, and the voice of Gielgud was heard as the Ghost. The Gielgud/Burton production was also recorded complete and released on LP by Columbia Records
Columbia Records
Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...

.

The first Hamlet in color was a 1969 film directed by Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson
Cecil Antonio "Tony" Richardson was an English theatre and film director and producer.-Early life:Richardson was born in Shipley, Yorkshire in 1928, the son of Elsie Evans and Clarence Albert Richardson, a chemist...

 with Nicol Williamson
Nicol Williamson
Nicol Williamson is a Scottish-born English actor who was described by English playwright John Osborne as "the greatest actor since Marlon Brando".-Early life:...

 as Hamlet and Marianne Faithfull
Marianne Faithfull
Marianne Evelyn Faithfull is an award-winning English singer, songwriter and actress whose career has spanned five decades....

 as Ophelia.

In 1990 Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli KBE is an Italian director and producer of films and television. He is also a director and designer of operas and a former senator for the Italian center-right Forza Italia party....

, whose Shakespeare films have been described as "sensual rather than cerebral", cast Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson
Mel Colm-Cille Gerard Gibson, AO is an American actor, film director, producer and screenwriter. Born in Peekskill, New York, Gibson moved with his parents to Sydney, Australia when he was 12 years old and later studied acting at the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art.After appearing in...

—then famous for the Mad Max
Mad Max
Mad Max is a 1979 Australian dystopian action film directed by George Miller and revised by Miller and Byron Kennedy over the original script by James McCausland. The film stars Mel Gibson, who was unknown at the time. Its narrative based around the traditional western genre, Mad Max tells a story...

 and Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon is a 1987 American buddy cop action film and the first in a series of films, all directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched pair of LAPD detectives, and Gary Busey as their primary adversary...

 movies—in the title role of his 1990 version
Hamlet (1990 film)
Hamlet is a 1990 drama film based on the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet. It was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Mel Gibson as the young Prince Hamlet...

, and Glenn Close
Glenn Close
Glenn Close is an American actress and singer of theatre and film, known for her roles as a femme fatale Glenn Close (born March 19, 1947) is an American actress and singer of theatre and film, known for her roles as a femme fatale Glenn Close (born March 19, 1947) is an American actress and...

—then famous as the psychotic "other woman" in Fatal Attraction
Fatal Attraction
Fatal Attraction is a 1987 American thriller blended with horror, directed by Adrian Lyne and stars Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer. The film centers around a married man who has a weekend affair with a woman who refuses to allow it to end, resulting in emotional blackmail, stalking...

—as Gertrude. In contrast to Zeffirelli, whose Hamlet was heavily cut, Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from Northern Ireland. He is best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays including Henry V , Much Ado About Nothing , Hamlet Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from...

 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
Hamlet (1996 film)
Hamlet is a 1996 film version of William Shakespeare's classic play of the same name, adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the title role as Prince Hamlet...

 runs for around four hours. Branagh set the film with late 19th-century costuming and furnishings; and Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace  is a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, residence of the dukes of Marlborough. It is the only non-royal non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England's largest houses, was built between...

, built in the early 18th century, became Elsinore Castle in the external scenes. The film is structured as an epic
Epic film
An epic is a genre of film that emphasizes human drama on a grand scale. Epics are more ambitious in scope than other film genres, and their ambitious nature helps to differentiate them from similar genres such as the period piece or adventure film...

 and makes frequent use of flashback
Flashback (narrative)
Flashback is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached. Flashbacks are often used to recount events that happened before the story’s primary sequence of events or to fill in crucial backstory...

s to highlight elements not made explicit in the play: Hamlet's sexual relationship with Kate Winslet's
Kate Winslet
Kate Elizabeth Winslet is an English actress and occasional singer. She has received multiple awards and nominations. She was the youngest person to accrue six Academy Award nominations, and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Reader...

 Ophelia, for example, or his childhood affection for Yorick (played by Ken Dodd
Ken Dodd
Kenneth Arthur Dodd OBE is a British comedian and singer songwriter, famous for his frizzy hair or “fluff dom” and buck teeth or “denchers”, his favourite cleaner, the feather duster and his greeting "How tickled I am!", as well as his send-off “Lots and Lots of Happiness!”...

).

In 2000, Michael Almereyda's
Michael Almereyda
Michael Almereyda is an American film director, screenwriter, and film producer. His most well known work is Hamlet , starring Ethan Hawke.-Early life:...

 Hamlet
Hamlet (2000 film)
Hamlet is a 2000 American film written and directed by Michael Almereyda, set in contemporary New York City, and based on the Shakespeare play of the same name...

set the story in contemporary Manhattan
Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

, with Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke
Ethan Green Hawke is an American actor, writer and director. He made his feature film debut in 1985 with the science fiction movie Explorers, before making a supporting appearance in the 1989 drama Dead Poets Society which is considered his breakthrough role...

 playing Hamlet as a film student. Claudius (played by Kyle MacLachlan
Kyle MacLachlan
Kyle Merritt MacLachlan is an American actor. MacLachlan is best known for his roles in cult films Blue Velvet as Jeffrey Beaumont, Showgirls as Zack Carey, as Paul Atreides in Dune, and Ray Manzarek in the Oliver Stone film The Doors...

) became the CEO of "Denmark Corporation", having taken over the company by killing his brother.

Notable made-for-television productions of Hamlet include those starring Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer
Arthur Christopher Orne Plummer, CC is a Canadian theatre, film and television actor. He made his film debut in 1957's Stage Struck, and notable early film performances include Night of the Generals, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Man Who Would Be King.In a career that spans over five...

 (1964), Richard Chamberlain
Richard Chamberlain
George Richard Chamberlain is an American actor of stage and screen who became a teen idol in the title role of the television show Dr. Kildare .-Early life:...

 (1970; Hallmark Hall of Fame
Hallmark Hall of Fame
Hallmark Hall of Fame is an anthology program on American television, sponsored by Hallmark Cards, a Kansas City based greeting card company. The second longest-running television program in the history of television, it has a historically long run, beginning in 1951 and continuing into 2011...

), Derek Jacobi
Derek Jacobi
Sir Derek George Jacobi, CBE is an English actor and film director.A "forceful, commanding stage presence", Jacobi has enjoyed a highly successful stage career, appearing in such stage productions as Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, and Oedipus the King. He received a Tony Award for his performance in...

 (1980; Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

, BBC), Kevin Kline
Kevin Kline
Kevin Delaney Kline is an American theatre, voice, film actor and comedian. He has won an Academy Award and two Tony Awards, and has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTA Awards and an Emmy Award.- Early life :...

 (1990), Campbell Scott
Campbell Scott
Campbell Scott is an American actor, director, producer, and voice artist.-Life and career:Scott was born in New York City, the son of George C. Scott, an actor, director, and producer, and Colleen Dewhurst, a Canadian-born actress. He graduated from Lawrence University in 1983. His brother is...

 (2000) and David Tennant
David Tennant
David Tennant is a Scottish actor. In addition to his work in theatre, including a widely praised Hamlet, Tennant is best known for his role as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, along with the title role in the 2005 TV serial Casanova and as Barty Crouch, Jr...

 (2009; Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

, BBC).

There have also been several films that transposed the general storyline of Hamlet or elements thereof to other settings. There have also been many films which included performances of scenes from Hamlet as a play-within-a-film. See Hamlet on screen#Adaptations and Hamlet on screen#Theatrical performances within films for further details.

Stage Pastiches


There have been various "derivative works" of Hamlet which recast the story from the point of view of other characters, or tranpose the story into a new setting or act as sequels or prequels to Hamlet. This section is limited to those written for the stage.

The best-known is Tom Stoppard's 1966 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead which retells many of the events of the story from the point of view of the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as well as giving them a backstory of their own. The play was nominated for eight Tony Awards, and won four: Best Play, Scenic and Costume Design, and Producer; the director and the three leading actors were nominated but did not win. It also won Best Play from the New York Drama Critics Circle in 1968, and Outstanding Production from the Outer Critics Circle in 1969. Several times since 1995, the American Shakespeare Center has mounted repertories that included both Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with the same actors performing the same roles in each; in their 2001 and 2009 seasons the two plays were "directed, designed, and rehearsed together to make the most out of the shared scenes and situations".

Lee Blessing
Lee Blessing
-Biography:Blessing's best-known play is A Walk in the Woods, which depicts the developing relationship between two arms limitation negotiators, one Russian and one American, over years of negotiation...

's Fortinbras
Fortinbras (play)
Fortinbras is a 1991 play by American playwright Lee Blessing. Set immediately following William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the play recounts the events after Hamlet's death that go on throughout Elsinore. The play includes almost every character from Hamlet returning as a ghost....

is a comical sequel to Hamlet in which all the deceased characters come back as ghosts. The New York Times reviewed the play saying it is "scarcely more than an extended comedy sketch, lacking the portent and linguistic complexity of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Fortinbras operates on a far less ambitious plane, but it is a ripping yarn and offers Keith Reddin a role in which he can commit comic mayhem."

Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller was a German dramatist, poet, writer, essayist and theatre director. Described as "the theatre's greatest living poet" since Samuel Beckett, Müller is arguably the most important German dramatist of the 20th century after Bertolt Brecht...

's cutting-edge drama "The Hamletmachine" was first produced in Paris by director Jean Jourdheuil in 1979 and swiftly became a classic of postmodern drama. This play in turn inspired Giannina Braschi
Giannina Braschi
Giannina Braschi is a Puerto Rican writer. She is credited with writing the first Spanglish novel YO-YO BOING! and the poetry trilogy Empire of Dreams , which chronicles the Latin American immigrant's experiences in the United States...

's dramatic novel "United States of Banana," which takes place at the Statue of Liberty in post-9/11 New York City. In it, Hamlet, Zarathustra, and Giannina are on a quest to free the Puerto Rican prisoner Segismundo from the dungeon of Liberty, where Segismundo's father, Basilio, the King of the United States of Banana, imprisoned him for the crime of having been born. The work intertwines the plots and characters of Calderon de la Barca's "Life is a Dream" with Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

Caridad Svich's 12 Ophelias (a play with Broken Songs) includes elements of the story of Hamlet but focuses on Ophelia. In Svich's play, Ophelia is resurrected and rises from a pool of water, after her death in Hamlet. The play is a series of scenes and songs, and was first staged at public swimming pool in Brooklyn. Heidi Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times said of the play "Far more surreal and twisted than Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 12 Ophelias is a reminder of just how morphable and mysterious Shakespeare's original remains."Other characters are renamed: Hamlet is Rude Boy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are androgynous helpers known simply as R and G, Gertrude is the madam of a brothel, Horatio becomes H and continues to be Hamlet's best friend/confidante, and a chorus of Ophelias serves as guide. A new character, Mina, is introduced, and she is a whore in Gertrude's brothel.

Secondary sources


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  • Bloom, Harold
    Harold Bloom
    Harold Bloom is an American writer and literary critic, and is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. He is known for his defense of 19th-century Romantic poets, his unique and controversial theories of poetic influence, and his prodigious literary output, particularly for a literary...

    . 2001. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Open Market ed. Harlow, Essex: Longman. ISBN 1-57322-751-X.
  • ———. 2003. Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. Edinburgh: Cannongate. ISBN 1-84195-461-6.
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  • Buchanan, Judith. 2009. Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-87199-9.
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  • Burnett, Mark Thornton. 2000. " 'To Hear and See the Matter': Communicating Technology in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000)". Cinema Journal 42.3: 48–69.
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  • Cartmell, Deborah. 2000. "Franco Zeffirelli and Shakespeare". In Jackson (2000, 212–221).
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Analysis