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The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare at an uncertain date between 1599 and 1602. Set in the Kingdom of Denmark, the play dramatises the revenge Prince Hamlet is instructed to enact on his uncle Claudius. Claudius had murdered his own brother, Hamlet's father King Hamlet, and subsequently seized the throne, marrying his deceased brother's widow, Hamlet's mother Gertrude.
Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in English literature, with a story capable of "seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others." The play seems to have been one of Shakespeare's most popular works during his lifetime and still ranks among his most-performed, topping the performance list of the Royal Shakespeare Company and its predecessors in Stratford-upon-Avon since 1879. It has inspired writers from Goethe and Dickens to Joyce and Murdoch, and has been described as "the world's most filmed story after Cinderella".
The story of Hamlet ultimately derives from the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum as subsequently retold by 16th-century scholar François de Belleforest. Shakespeare may also have drawn on an earlier (hypothetical) Elizabethan play known today as the Ur-Hamlet, though some scholars believe he himself wrote the Ur-Hamlet, later revising it to create the version of Hamlet we now have. He almost certainly created the title role for Richard Burbage, the leading tragedian of Shakespeare's time. In the 400 years since, the role has been performed by highly acclaimed actors from each successive age.
Three different early versions of the play are extant, the First Quarto (Q1, 1603), the Second Quarto (Q2, 1604), and the First Folio (F1, 1623). Each version includes lines, and even entire scenes, missing from the others. The play's structure and depth of characterisation have inspired much critical scrutiny. One such example is the centuries-old debate about Hamlet's hesitation to kill his uncle, which some see as merely a plot device to prolong the action, but which others argue is a dramatisation of the complex philosophical and ethical issues that surround cold-blooded murder, calculated revenge, and thwarted desire. More recently, psychoanalytic critics have examined Hamlet's unconscious desires, and feminist critics have re-evaluated and rehabilitated the often maligned characters of Ophelia and Gertrude.
The protagonist of Hamlet is Prince Hamlet of Denmark, son of the recently deceased King Hamlet, and nephew of King Claudius, his father's brother and successor. Claudius hastily married King Hamlet's widow, Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. Denmark has a long-standing feud with neighbouring Norway, and an invasion led by the Norwegian prince, Fortinbras, is expected.
The play opens on a cold winter midnight on "platform before the castle" of Elsinore, the Danish royal castle. The sentry Francisco is keeping trusty guard when two figures appear in the darkness. Bernardo, a sentry come to replace Francisco, calls out, "Who's there?" Francisco replies, "Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself." Friendly identity proven, Francisco retires to bed. En route, Francisco encounters Horatio and Marcellus who are coming to visit Bernardo. Bernardo and Marcellus discuss the recent appearance of a curious intruder which they describe as a "dreaded sight" which they have already bumped into twice on the battlements, but which Horatio is inclined to dismiss as "but our fantasy." Marcellus has brought Horatio along to "watch the minutes of this night" in case the scary ghost appears again to fright. The ghost appears, and is described by the three witnesses as looking like the late King Hamlet. They endeavour to open a conversation with it, but "it is offended" and "stalks away." The three men take this opportunity to discuss Danish politics, noting that Denmark has begun military preparation because Fortinbras has "shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes / For food and diet." The ghost of Hamlet wanders back. When it declines to talk to them they attack it with daggers, but it escapes. Marcellus admits that this was a bad idea: "We do it wrong... to offer it the show of violence / For it is... invulnerable." They decide to tell prince Hamlet that his father's ghost is up and about.
The scene shifts to "room of state in the castle." Various royal figures come in. Claudius and Gertrude talk with Laertes about his upcoming trip to France. His father Polonius admits that he has signed off on this jaunt. The King and Queen then turn to Hamlet. Perturbed by Hamlet's continuing deep mourning for his father and his increasingly erratic behaviour, Claudius and Gertrude try to persuade him to lighten up. Claudius tells him that fathers die all the time, but he does not appear comforted by this.
When they leave, he soliloquises that he wishes flesh could melt, and that he was prevented from "self-slaughter" by "his canon." He calls the world an "unweeded garden." He complains that his mother jumped into "incestuous sheets" with her brother-in-law too quickly after the death of Hamlet's father before her wedding shoes were old. Marcellus, Horatio and the sentry come in and Hamlet asks Horatio why he has left Wittenberg, home of the Protestant Reformation. They tell Hamlet about the castle ghost. Hamlet quizzes them, and finds out that the ghost was pale with a big silver beard. Hamlet declares "I doubt some foul play" and resolves to see the Ghost himself.
Claudius and Gertrude send two student friends of his—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—to discover the cause of Hamlet's mood and behavior. Hamlet greets his friends warmly, but quickly discerns that they are spies. That night, the Ghost appears to Hamlet and tells him that Claudius murdered him by pouring "juice of cursed hebenon" in his ear, which caused his blood to "curd" and his skin to be covered with a "vile and loathsome crust." The Ghost demands that Hamlet avenge him. "Well said, old mole!" replies the prince, and he tells Horatio and the rest of his crew that he is going to "put on an antic disposition" from this point on and that if they run into him around the castle they should not say such things "as "Well, we know," or "We could, an if we would," Or "If we list to speak," or "There be, an if they might," that would give him away. He is, however, uncertain of the Ghost's reliability.
Polonius is Claudius's trusted chief counsellor; his son, Laertes, is about to resume studies in France, and his daughter, Ophelia, is courting Hamlet. Neither Polonius nor Laertes approves of the match, and both warn her off. Shortly afterwards, Ophelia meets Hamlet secretly but is so alarmed by his strange antics that she tells her father of Hamlet's state. Polonius blames an "ecstasy of love" for Hamlet's madness and informs Claudius and Gertrude. At their next tryst, Hamlet rants at Ophelia, accusing her of immodesty and dismissing her to a nunnery.
Hamlet remains unconvinced that the Ghost has told him the truth, but the arrival of a troupe of actors at Elsinore presents him with a solution. He will stage a play, re-enacting his father's murder, and determine Claudius's guilt or innocence by studying his reaction. The court assembles to watch the play; Hamlet provides a running commentary throughout. After seeing the Player King murdered with poison in the ears, Claudius abruptly rises and leaves the room: proof positive for Hamlet of his uncle's guilt. Gertrude summons Hamlet to her bedchamber to demand an explanation. On his way, Hamlet passes Claudius in prayer. Claudius has just been talking to himself about the impossibility of repenting since he still had possession of the ill-gotten goods: state power, "my ambition," and sleeping with the queen he married. "There is no shuffling," he points out, " He talks to the state ("O wretched state!"), to his bosom ("O bosom black as death!"), to his soul ("O limed soul, that, struggling to be free, Art more engaged!"), to angels ("Help, angels! Make assay!"), and finally to his knees ("Bow, stubborn knees)". Hamlet then sneaks up behind them, but hesitates to kill him, reasoning that killing Claudius right after Claudius prayed and cleansed himself of his sins would send Claudius straight to heaven while his father is stuck in purgatory. After Hamlet unsheaths his sword and leaves, Claudius mutters that his praying doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.
In the bedchamber, a furious row erupts between Hamlet and Gertrude. Polonius, spying on the conversation and hidden behind a tapestry, makes a noise; Hamlet, believing it is Claudius, cries "Dead, for a ducat, dead!" and stabs wildly, killing Polonius. Hamlet then pulls aside the curtain and sees his mistake. He doesn't feel too sorry about this, saying only "Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!" He then berates his mother for marrying Claudius for the sex. He claims her "sense" was "thrall'd" to her "ecstasy," and observes that "rebellious hell... can mutine in a matron's bones." The castle ghost suddenly pops his head in and gripes that Hamlet still hasn't killed Claudius yet and that he is annoying his mother even though he was instructed not to. Unable to see or hear the Ghost herself, Gertrude takes Hamlet's conversation with it as further evidence of madness. Hamlet leaves, begging the queen to stop having sex with Claudius, and suggesting that she can get used to this if she makes it a habit to abstain. Hamlet hides Polonius's corpse in "the lobby"; and Claudius, fearing for his life, sends Hamlet along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to England with a note to the King ordering Hamlet to be executed immediately.
Demented by grief at Polonius's death, Ophelia wanders Elsinore singing bawdy songs. Her brother, Laertes, arrives back from France, enraged by his father's death and his sister's madness. Claudius convinces Laertes that Hamlet is solely responsible; then news arrives that Hamlet is still at large. Claudius swiftly concocts a plot. He proposes a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet with poison-tipped rapiers, but tacitly plans to offer Hamlet poisoned wine if that fails. Laertes will be given a handicap, and Claudius intends to bet on Hamlet so that if Hamlet dies the murder will not appear staged. Gertrude interrupts to report that Ophelia has drowned.
Two gravediggers discuss Ophelia's apparent suicide, while digging her grave. Hamlet arrives with Horatio and banters with a gravedigger, who unearths the skull of a jester from Hamlet's childhood, Yorick, causing Hamlet to contemplate the universal nature of mortality. Ophelia's funeral procession approaches, led by Laertes. He and Hamlet grapple by Ophelia's graveside, but the brawl is broken up.
Back at Elsinore, Hamlet tells Horatio that he had written fake letters addressed from Claudius to the King of England ordering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be put to death instead. A courtier, Osric, interrupts to invite Hamlet to fence with Laertes. With Fortinbras' army closing on Elsinore, the match begins. Laertes pierces Hamlet with a poisoned blade but in the scuffle they switch swords and Hamlet wounds Laertes with his own poisoned sword. Despite a warning from Claudius, Gertrude accidentally drinks poisoned wine intended for Hamlet and dies. In his dying moments, Laertes is reconciled with Hamlet and reveals Claudius's murderous plot. In his own last moments, an enraged Hamlet blames Claudius for his mother's death and manages to stab Claudius with the poisoned blade. Horatio attempts to commit suicide by drinking the poison but Hamlet swipes the cup from his hands and orders him to live to tell the tale. When Fortinbras arrives, Horatio recounts the story and Fortinbras, seeing the entire royal family dead on the floor, takes the crown for himself.
Hamlet-like legends are so widely found (for example in Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Byzantium, and Arabia) that the core "hero-as-fool" theme is possibly Indo-European in origin. Several ancient written precursors to Hamlet can be identified. The first is the anonymous Scandinavian Saga of Hrolf Kraki. In this, the murdered king has two sons—Hroar and Helgi—who spend most of the story in disguise, under false names, rather than feigning madness, in a sequence of events that differs from Shakespeare's. 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, part of Gesta Danorum. 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, in his Histoires tragiques. Belleforest embellished Saxo's text substantially, almost doubling its length, and introduced the hero's melancholy.
According to a popular theory, Shakespeare's main source is believed to be an earlier play—now lost—known today as the Ur-Hamlet. Possibly written by Thomas Kyd or even William Shakespeare himself, the Ur-Hamlet would have been in performance by 1589 and the first version of the story known to incorporate a ghost. Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's Men, 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). 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, 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 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 might have been inspired by William Cecil (Lord Burghley)—Lord High Treasurer and chief counsellor to Queen Elizabeth I. E. K. Chambers suggested Polonius's advice to Laertes may have echoed Burghley's to his son Robert Cecil. John Dover Wilson thought it almost certain that the figure of Polonius caricatured Burleigh, while A. L. Rowse speculated that Polonius's tedious verbosity might have resembled Burghley's. Lilian Winstanley thought the name Corambis (in the First 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 hypothesised 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.
"Any dating of Hamlet must be tentative", cautions the New Cambridge editor, Phillip Edwards. The earliest date estimate relies on Hamlet's frequent allusions to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, itself dated to mid-1599. The latest date estimate is based on an entry, of 26 July 1602, in the Register of the Stationers' Company, indicating that Hamlet was "latelie Acted by the Lo: Chamberleyne his servantes".
In 1598, Francis Meres published 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, Bernard Lott, the series editor of New Swan, believes it "unlikely that he [Meres] would have overlooked ... so significant a piece".
The phrase "little eyases" in the First Folio (F1) may allude to the Children of the Chapel, whose popularity in London forced the Globe company into provincial touring. This became known as the War of the Theatres, and supports a 1601 dating. Katherine Duncan-Jones accepts a 1600–1 attribution for the date Hamlet was written, but notes that the Lord Chamberlain's Men, playing Hamlet in the 3000-capacity Globe, were unlikely to be put to any disadvantage by an audience of "barely one hundred" for the Children of the Chapel's equivalent play, Antonio's Revenge; she believes that Shakespeare, confident in the superiority of his own work, was making a playful and charitable allusion to his friend John Marston's very similar piece.
A contemporary of Shakespere's, Gabriel Harvey, wrote a marginal note in his copy of the 1598 edition of Chaucer's works, which some scholars use as dating evidence. Harvey's note says that "the wiser sort" enjoy Hamlet, and implies that the Earl of Essex—executed in February 1601 for rebellion—was still alive. Other scholars consider this inconclusive. Edwards, for example, concludes that the "sense of time is so confused in Harvey's note that it is really of little use in trying to date Hamlet". This is because the same note also refers to Spenser and Watson as if they were still alive ("our flourishing metricians"), but also mentions "Owen's new epigrams", published in 1607.
Early editors of Shakespeare's works, beginning with Nicholas Rowe (1709) and Lewis Theobald (1733), combined material from the two earliest sources of Hamlet available at the time, Q2 and F1. Each text contains material that the other lacks, with many minor differences in wording: scarcely 200 lines are identical in the two. Editors have combined them in an effort to create one "inclusive" text that reflects an imagined "ideal" of Shakespeare's original. Theobald's version became standard for a long time, 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. 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". 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. The major deficiency of Q1 is in the language: particularly noticeable in the opening lines of the famous "To be, or not to be" soliloquy: "To be, or not to be, aye there's the point. / To die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all: / No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes."
Q1 is considerably shorter than Q2 or F1 and may be a memorial reconstruction of the play as Shakespeare's company performed it, by an actor who played a minor role (most likely Marcellus). 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.
From the early 17th century, the play was famous for its ghost and vivid dramatisation of melancholy and insanity, leading to a procession of mad courtiers and ladies in Jacobean and Caroline drama. Though it remained popular with mass audiences, late 17th-century Restoration critics saw Hamlet as primitive and disapproved of its lack of unity and decorum. 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 brought psychological and mystical 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 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.
Hamlet departed from contemporary dramatic convention in several ways. For example, in Shakespeare's day, plays were usually expected to follow the advice of Aristotle in his Poetics: that a drama should focus on action, not character. In Hamlet, Shakespeare reverses this so that it is through the soliloquies, not the action, that the audience learns Hamlet's motives and thoughts. The play is full of seeming discontinuities and irregularities of action, except in the "bad" quarto. At one point, as in the Gravedigger scene, 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'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.
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 Hamlet's language is courtly: elaborate, witty discourse, as recommended by Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 etiquette guide, The Courtier. This work specifically advises royal retainers to amuse their masters with inventive language. Osric and Polonius, especially, seem to respect this injunction. Claudius's speech is rich with rhetorical figures—as is Hamlet's and, at times, Ophelia's—while the language of Horatio, the guards, and the gravediggers is simpler. Claudius's high status is reinforced by using the royal first person plural ("we" or "us"), and anaphora mixed with metaphor to resonate with Greek political speeches.
Hamlet is the most skilled of all at rhetoric. He uses highly developed metaphors, stichomythia, and in nine memorable words deploys both anaphora and asyndeton: "to die: to sleep— / To sleep, perchance to dream". 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 puns to express his true thoughts while simultaneously concealing them. His "nunnery" remarks to Ophelia are an example of a cruel double meaning as nunnery was Elizabethan 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 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, appears in several places in the play. Examples are found in Ophelia's speech at the end of the nunnery scene: "Th'expectancy and rose of the fair state"; "And I, of ladies most deject and wretched". 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.
Written at a time of religious upheaval, and in the wake of the English Reformation, the play is alternately Catholic (or piously medieval) and Protestant (or consciously modern). The Ghost describes himself as being in purgatory, and as dying without last rites. This and Ophelia's burial ceremony, which is characteristically Catholic, make up most of the play's Catholic connections. Some scholars have observed that revenge tragedies come from traditionally Catholic countries, such as Spain and Italy; and they present a contradiction, since according to Catholic doctrine the strongest duty is to God and family. Hamlet's conundrum, then, is whether to avenge his father and kill Claudius, or to leave the vengeance to God, as his religion requires.
Much of the play's Protestantism derives from its location in Denmark—both then and now a predominantly Protestant country, though it is unclear whether the fictional Denmark of the play is intended to mirror this fact. The play does mention Wittenberg, where Hamlet, Horatio, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attend university, and where Martin Luther first proposed his 95 theses in 1517, effectively ushering in the Protestant Reformation. In Shakespeare's day Denmark, as the majority of Scandinavia, was Lutheran.
Hamlet is often perceived as a philosophical character, expounding ideas that are now described as relativist, existentialist, 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, 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 alleged instance of existentialism is in the "to be, or not to be" speech, where Hamlet is thought by some to use "being" to allude to life and action, and "not being" to death and inaction.
Hamlet reflects the contemporary scepticism promoted by the French Renaissance humanist, Montaigne. Prior to Montaigne's time, humanists such as Pico della Mirandola 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 subsequently challenged in Michel de Montaigne's Essais of 1580. Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man" echoes many of Montaigne's ideas, but scholars disagree whether Shakespeare drew directly from Montaigne or whether both men were simply reacting similarly to the spirit of the times.
In his openness to embrace the message of the ghost, Hamlet assuages Horatio's wonderment with the analytical assertion, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
In the first half of the 20th century, when psychoanalysis was at the height of its influence, its concepts were applied to Hamlet, notably by Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones, and Jacques Lacan, and these studies influenced theatrical productions. In his The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud's analysis starts from the premise that "the play is built up on Hamlet's hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations". After reviewing various literary theories, Freud concludes that Hamlet has an "Oedipal desire for his mother and the subsequent guilt [is] preventing him from murdering the man [Claudius] who has done what he unconsciously wanted to do". Confronted with his repressed desires, 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. This "distaste for sexuality" has sparked theories of Hamlet being what is now referred to as a homosexual or asexual. John Barrymore's long-running 1922 performance in New York, directed by Thomas Hopkins, "broke new ground in its Freudian approach to character", in keeping with the post-World War I rebellion against everything Victorian. He had a "blunter intention" than presenting the genteel, sweet prince of 19th-century tradition, imbuing his character with virility and lust.
Beginning in 1910, with the publication of "The Oedipus-Complex as An Explanation of Hamlet's Mystery: Study in Motive," Ernest Jones—a psychoanalyst and Freud's biographer—developed Freud's ideas into a series of essays that culminated in his book Hamlet and Oedipus (1949). Influenced by Jones's psychoanalytic approach, several productions have portrayed the "closet scene", 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 directed Laurence Olivier in a Jones-inspired Hamlet at The Old Vic. Olivier later used some of these same ideas in his 1948 film version of the play.
In the 1950s, Lacan's structuralist theories about Hamlet were first presented in a series of seminars given in Paris and later published in "Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet". Lacan postulated that the human psyche is determined by structures of language and that the linguistic structures of Hamlet shed light on human desire. 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, narcissism and psychosis", which create holes (or lack (manque)) 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 to explore the play's psychological landscape.
In Bloom's Shakespeare Through the Ages volume on Hamlet, Harold Bloom expressed his conviction that the intentions of Shakespeare in portraying the character of Hamlet in the play exceeded the capacity of the Freudian Oedipus complex to completely encompass the extent of characteristics depicted in Hamlet throughout the tragedy. As Bloom stated in this volume; "For once, Freud regressed in attempting to fasten the Oedipus Complex upon Hamlet: it will not stick, and merely showed that Freud did better than T.S. Eliot, who preferred Coriolanus to Hamlet, or so he said. Who can believe Eliot, when he exposes his own Hamlet Complex by declaring the play to be an aesthetic failure? James Joyce did far better in the Library Scene of Ulysses, where Stephen marvelously credits Shakespeare, in this play, with universal fatherhood while accurately implying that Hamlet is fatherless, thus opening a pragmatic gap between Shakespeare and Hamlet."
In the 20th century, feminist critics opened up new approaches to Gertrude and Ophelia. New Historicist and cultural materialist critics examined the play in its historical context, attempting to piece together its original cultural environment. They focused on the gender system of early modern England, pointing to the common trinity of maid, wife, or widow, with whores outside of that 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 seen as 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 praised by many feminist critics, combating what is, by Heilbrun's argument, centuries' worth of misinterpretation. By this account, Gertrude's worst crime is of pragmatically marrying her brother-in-law in order to avoid a power vacuum. This is borne out by the fact that King Hamlet's ghost tells Hamlet to leave Gertrude out of Hamlet's revenge, to leave her to heaven, an arbitrary mercy to grant to a conspirator to murder. This view has not been without objection from some critics.
Ophelia has also been defended by feminist critics, most notably Elaine Showalter. 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.
Hamlet is one of the most quoted 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's Tom Jones, published about 1749, describes a visit to Hamlet by Tom Jones and Mr Partridge, with similarities to the "play within a play". In contrast, Goethe's Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, written between 1776 and 1796, not only has a production of Hamlet at its core but also creates parallels between the Ghost and Wilhelm Meister's dead father. In the early 1850s, in Pierre, Herman Melville focuses on a Hamlet-like character's long development as a writer. Ten years later, Dickens's Great Expectations contains many Hamlet-like plot elements: it is driven by revenge-motivated actions, contains ghost-like characters (Abel Magwitch and Miss Havisham), 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's The Mill on the Floss was published, introducing Maggie Tulliver "who is explicitly compared with Hamlet" though "with a reputation for sanity".
L. Frank Baum's first published short story was "They Played a New Hamlet" (1895). When Baum had been touring New York State in the title role, the actor playing the ghost fell through the floorboards, and the rural audience thought it was part of the show and demanded that the actor repeat the fall, because they thought it was funny. Baum would later recount the actual story in an article, but the short story is told from the point of view of the actor playing the Ghost.
In the 1920s, James Joyce managed "a more upbeat version" of Hamlet—stripped of obsession and revenge—in Ulysses, though its main parallels are with Homer's Odyssey. In the 1990s, two women novelists were explicitly influenced by Hamlet. In Angela Carter's Wise Children, To be or not to be is reworked as a song and dance routine, and Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince has Oedipal themes and murder intertwined with a love affair between a Hamlet-obsessed writer, Bradley Pearson, and the daughter of his rival.
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."
Shakespeare almost certainly wrote the role of Hamlet for Richard Burbage. He was the chief tragedian of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, with a capacious memory for lines and a wide emotional range. Judging by the number of reprints, Hamlet appears to have been Shakespeare's fourth most popular play during his lifetime—only Henry IV Part 1, Richard III and Pericles eclipsed it. Shakespeare provides no clear indication of when his play is set; however, as Elizabethan actors performed at the Globe in contemporary dress on minimal sets, this would not have affected the staging.
Firm evidence for specific early performances of the play is scant. What is known is that the crew of the ship Red Dragon, anchored off Sierra Leone, performed Hamlet in September 1607; that the play toured in Germany within five years of Shakespeare's death; and that it was performed before James I in 1619 and Charles I in 1637. Oxford editor George Hibbard argues that, since the contemporary literature contains many allusions and references to Hamlet (only Falstaff is mentioned more, from Shakespeare), the play was surely performed with a frequency that the historical record misses.
All theatres were closed down by the Puritan government during the Interregnum. Even during this time, however, playlets known as drolls were often performed illegally, including one called The Grave-Makers based on Act 5, Scene 1 of Hamlet.
The play was revived early in the Restoration. When the existing stock of pre-civil war plays was divided between the two newly created patent theatre companies, Hamlet was the only Shakespearean favourite that Sir William Davenant's Duke's Company secured. It became the first of Shakespeare's plays to be presented with movable flats painted with generic scenery behind the proscenium arch of Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre. This new stage convention highlighted the frequency with which Shakespeare shifts dramatic location, encouraging the recurrent criticisms of his violation of the neoclassical principle of maintaining a unity of place. Davenant cast Thomas Betterton in the eponymous role, and he continued to play the Dane until he was 74. David Garrick at Drury Lane produced a version that adapted Shakespeare heavily; he declared: "I had sworn I would not leave the stage till I had rescued that noble play from all the rubbish of the fifth act. I have brought it forth without the grave-digger's trick, Osrick, & the fencing match". 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 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 was the first actress known to play Hamlet; many women have since played him as a breeches role, to great acclaim. In 1748, Alexander Sumarokov wrote a Russian adaptation that focused on Prince Hamlet as the embodiment of an opposition to Claudius's tyranny—a treatment that would recur in Eastern European versions into the 20th century. In the years following America's independence, Thomas Apthorpe Cooper, the young nation's leading tragedian, performed Hamlet among other plays at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and at the Park Theatre in New York. Although chided for "acknowledging acquaintances in the audience" and "inadequate memorisation of his lines", he became a national celebrity.
From around 1810 to 1840, the best-known Shakespearean performances in the United States were tours by leading London actors—including George Frederick Cooke, Junius Brutus Booth, Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, and Charles Kemble. Of these, Booth remained to make his career in the States, fathering the nation's most notorious actor, John Wilkes Booth (who later assassinated Abraham Lincoln), and its most famous Hamlet, Edwin Booth. 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, inaugurating the era of long-run Shakespeare in America.
In the United Kingdom, the actor-managers of the Victorian era (including Kean, Samuel Phelps, Macready, and Henry Irving) staged Shakespeare in a grand manner, with elaborate scenery and costumes. The tendency of actor-managers to emphasise the importance of their own central character did not always meet with the critics' approval. George Bernard Shaw's praise for Johnston Forbes-Robertson's performance contains a sideswipe at Irving: "The story of the play was perfectly intelligible, and quite took the attention of the audience off the principal actor at moments. What is the Lyceum coming to?"
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 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 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 and Alexandre Dumas saw his 1827 Paris performance of Hamlet, particularly admiring the madness of Harriet Smithson's Ophelia. In Germany, Hamlet had become so assimilated by the mid-19th century that Ferdinand Freiligrath declared that "Germany is Hamlet". From the 1850s, the Parsi theatre tradition in India transformed Hamlet into folk performances, with dozens of songs added.
Apart from some western troupes' 19th-century visits, the first professional performance of Hamlet in Japan was Otojirō Kawakami's 1903 Shimpa ("new school theatre") adaptation. Shoyo Tsubouchi translated Hamlet and produced a performance in 1911 that blended Shingeki ("new drama") and Kabuki styles. This hybrid-genre reached its peak in Fukuda Tsuneari's 1955 Hamlet. In 1998, Yukio Ninagawa produced an acclaimed version of Hamlet in the style of Nō theatre, which he took to London.
Constantin Stanislavski and Edward Gordon Craig—two of the 20th century's most influential theatre practitioners—collaborated on the Moscow Art Theatre's seminal production of 1911–12. While Craig favoured stylised abstraction, Stanislavski, armed with his 'system,' explored psychological motivation. Craig conceived of the play as a symbolist monodrama, 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 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 1926 production at the Berlin Staatstheater portrayed Claudius's court as a parody of the corrupt and fawning court of Kaiser Wilhelm. In Poland, the number of productions of Hamlet has tended to increase at times of political unrest, since its political themes (suspected crimes, coups, surveillance) can be used to comment on a contemporary situation. Similarly, Czech directors have used the play at times of occupation: a 1941 Vinohrady Theatre production "emphasised, with due caution, the helpless situation of an intellectual attempting to endure in a ruthless environment". In China, performances of Hamlet often have political significance: Gu Wuwei's 1916 The Usurper of State Power, an amalgam of Hamlet and Macbeth, was an attack on Yuan Shikai's attempt to overthrow the republic. In 1942, Jiao Juyin directed the play in a Confucian temple in Sichuan Province, to which the government had retreated from the advancing Japanese. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the protests at Tiananmen Square, Lin Zhaohua staged a 1990 Hamlet in which the prince was an ordinary individual tortured by a loss of meaning. In this production, the actors playing Hamlet, Claudius and Polonius exchanged roles at crucial moments in the performance, including the moment of Claudius's death, at which point the actor mainly associated with Hamlet fell to the ground.
Notable stagings in London and New York include Barrymore's 1925 production at the Haymarket; it influenced subsequent performances by John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. Gielgud played the central role many times: his 1936 New York production ran for 132 performances, leading to the accolade that he was "the finest interpreter of the role since Barrymore". Although "posterity has treated Maurice Evans less kindly", throughout the 1930s and 1940s he was regarded by many as the leading interpreter of Shakespeare in the United States and in the 1938/9 season he presented Broadway's first uncut Hamlet, running four and a half hours. Evans later performed a highly truncated version of the play that he played for South Pacific war zones during World War II which made the prince a more decisive character. The staging, known as the "G.I. Hamlet," was produced on Broadway for 131 performances in 1945/46. Olivier's 1937 performance at The Old Vic was popular with audiences but not with critics, with James Agate writing in a famous review in The Sunday Times, "Mr. Olivier does not speak poetry badly. He does not speak it at all.". In 1937 Tyrone Guthrie directed the play at Elsinore, Denmark with Laurence Olivier as Hamlet and Vivien Leigh as Ophelia.
In 1963, Olivier directed Peter O'Toole as Hamlet in the inaugural performance of the newly formed National Theatre; critics found resonance between O'Toole's Hamlet and John Osborne's hero, Jimmy Porter, from Look Back in Anger.
Richard Burton received his third Tony Award nomination when he played his second Hamlet, his first under John Gielgud's direction, in 1964 in a production that holds the record for the longest run of the play in Broadway history (137 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's in 1995 (for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor) – which ran, from first preview to closing night, a total of one hundred performances. About the Fiennes Hamlet Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times that it was "...not one for literary sleuths and Shakespeare scholars. It respects the play, but it doesn't provide any new material for arcane debates on what it all means. Instead it's an intelligent, beautifully read..." Stacy Keach played the role with an all-star cast at Joseph Papp's Delacorte Theatre in the early 70s, with Colleen Dewhurst's Gertrude, James Earl Jones's King, Barnard Hughes's Polonius, Sam Waterston's Laertes and Raúl Juliá's Osric. Sam Waterston later played the role himself at the Delacorte for the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the show transferred to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in 1975 (Stephen Lang played Bernardo and other roles). Stephen Lang's Hamlet for the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1992 received positive reviews, and ran for sixty-one performances. David Warner played the role with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1965. William Hurt (at Circle Rep Off-Broadway, memorably performing "To Be Or Not to Be" while lying on the floor), Jon Voight at Rutgers, and Christopher Walken (fiercely) at Stratford CT have all played the role, as has Diane Venora at the Public Theatre. Off Broadway, the Riverside Shakespeare Company mounted an uncut first folio Hamlet in 1978 at Columbia University, with a playing time of under three hours. 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 performed Hamlet from 9 October to 13 November 1989, in Richard Eyre's production at the Olivier Theatre, replacing Daniel Day-Lewis, who had abandoned the production. Seriously ill from AIDS at the time, Charleson died eight weeks after his last performance. Fellow actor and friend, Sir Ian McKellen, said that Charleson played Hamlet so well it was as if he had rehearsed the role all his life; 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.
Hamlet continues to be staged regularly, with actors such as Simon Russell Beale, David Tennant, Angela Winkler, Samuel West, Christopher Eccleston, and Christian Camargo, performing the lead role.
In May 2009, Hamlet opened with Jude Law in the title role at the Donmar Warehouse West End season at Wyndham's Theatre. The production officially opened on 3 June and ran through 22 August 2009. 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 in New York.
The Globe Theatre of London initiated a project in 2014 to perform Hamlet in every country in the world in the space of two years. Titled Globe to Globe Hamlet, it began its tour on 23 April 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. As of 21 June 2014, the project had performed in 21 different countries.
Benedict Cumberbatch is scheduled to play Hamlet for an exclusive 12-week run at the 1,156-seat Barbican Theatre beginning in August 2015. The play will be produced by Sonia Friedman and directed by Lyndsey Turner with set design by Es Devlin. It has been called the "Most In-Demand Theatre Production of All Time" after selling out in seven hours when tickets went on sale to the public on 11 August 2014, more than a year before the play is scheduled to open.
The earliest screen success for Hamlet was Sarah Bernhardt's five-minute film of the fencing scene, produced in 1900. The film was a crude talkie, in that music and words were recorded on phonograph records, to be played along with the film. Silent versions were released in 1907, 1908, 1910, 1913, 1917, and 1920. In the 1920 version, Asta Nielsen played Hamlet as a woman who spends her life disguised as a man.
Laurence Olivier's 1948 moody black-and-white Hamlet won best picture and best actor Oscars, and is still, as of 2013, the only Shakespeare film to have done so. His interpretation stressed the Oedipal overtones of the play, and cast 28-year-old Eileen Herlie as Hamlet's mother, opposite himself, at 41, as Hamlet. In 1953, actor Jack Manning performed the play in 15-minute segments over two weeks in the short-lived late night DuMont series Monodrama Theater. New York Times TV critic Jack Gould praised Manning's performance as Hamlet.
Shakespeare experts Sir John Gielgud and Kenneth Branagh consider the definitive rendition of the Bard's tragic tale to be the 1964 Russian film Gamlet (Russian: Гамлет) based on a translation by Boris Pasternak and directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with a score by Dmitri Shostakovich. Innokenty Smoktunovsky was cast in the role of Hamlet; he was particularly praised by Sir Laurence Olivier.
John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in a Broadway production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1964–5, the longest-running Hamlet in the U.S. to date. 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 Masterworks.
In 1990 Franco Zeffirelli, whose Shakespeare films have been described as "sensual rather than cerebral", cast Mel Gibson—then famous for the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies—in the title role of his 1990 version, and Glenn Close—then famous as the psychotic "other woman" in Fatal Attraction—as Gertrude. In contrast to Zeffirelli, whose Hamlet was heavily cut, Kenneth Branagh adapted, directed, and starred in a 1996 version containing every word of Shakespeare's play, combining the material from the F1 and Q2 texts. Branagh's Hamlet runs for around four hours. Branagh set the film with late 19th-century costuming and furnishings; and Blenheim Palace, built in the early 18th century, became Elsinore Castle in the external scenes. The film is structured as an epic and makes frequent use of flashbacks to highlight elements not made explicit in the play: Hamlet's sexual relationship with Kate Winslet's Ophelia, for example, or his childhood affection for Yorick (played by Ken Dodd).
In 2000, Michael Almereyda's Hamlet set the story in contemporary Manhattan, with Ethan Hawke playing Hamlet as a film student. Claudius (played by Kyle MacLachlan) became the CEO of "Denmark Corporation", having taken over the company by killing his brother.
Notable made-for-television productions of Hamlet include those starring Christopher Plummer (1964), Richard Chamberlain (1970; Hallmark Hall of Fame), Derek Jacobi (1980; Royal Shakespeare Company, BBC), Kevin Kline (1990), Campbell Scott (2000) and David Tennant (2009; Royal Shakespeare Company, BBC).
A 2014 Bollywood film Haider, starring Shahid Kapoor, Tabu and Shraddha Kapoor, and directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, is adapted from Hamlet. The movie on its release on October 2, 2014 received major critical acclaim, garnering wider attention from media.
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 for further details.
There have been various "derivative works" of Hamlet which recast the story from the point of view of other characters, or transpose 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's Fortinbras 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'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'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.
David Davalos' Wittenberg is a "tragical-comical-historical" prequel to Hamlet that depicts the Danish prince as a student at Wittenberg University (now known as the University of Halle-Wittenberg), where he is torn between the conflicting teachings of his mentors John Faustus and Martin Luther. The New York Times reviewed the play saying "Mr. Davalos has molded a daft campus comedy out of this unlikely convergence," and nytheatre's review said the playwright "has imagined a fascinating alternate reality, and quite possibly, given the fictional Hamlet a back story that will inform the role for the future."
"Actor plays Hamlet" one-man play by Kate Aksonova. Actor monologue about the fears that accompany the work on the role of Hamlet.
All references to Hamlet, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Arden Shakespeare Q2 (Thompson and Taylor, 2006a). Under their referencing system, 3.1.55 means act 3, scene 1, line 55. References to the First Quarto and First Folio are marked Hamlet Q1 and Hamlet F1, respectively, and are taken from the Arden Shakespeare "Hamlet: the texts of 1603 and 1623" (Thompson and Taylor, 2006b). Their referencing system for Q1 has no act breaks, so 7.115 means scene 7, line 115.
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