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• The Plays

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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Act 1, scene 4, line 100

To be or not to be–that is the question
Act 3, scene 1, line 64

Hamlet is Shakespeare's most popular, and most puzzling, play. It follows the form of a “revenge tragedy,” in which the hero, Hamlet, seeks vengeance against his father’s murderer, his uncle Claudius, now the king of Denmark. Much of its fascination, however, lies in its uncertainties.

Among them: What is the Ghost—Hamlet's father demanding justice, a tempting demon, an angelic messenger? Does Hamlet go mad, or merely pretend to? Once he is sure that Claudius is a murderer, why does he not act? Was his mother, Gertrude, unfaithful to her husband or complicit in his murder?

Shakespeare is thought to have written Hamlet in 1599–1601. It was published as a quarto in 1603 and in a much fuller version in 1604–05. The 1623 First Folio version is much closer to the second quarto, but differs from it by hundreds of lines. There are thus three texts of the play. An earlier Hamlet play, now lost, may have been a major source. Sources may also include other contemporary works, including accounts of drinking at the Danish court and of “melancholy.”

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1992 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
David Bevington. Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through the Ages. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Stanley Cavell. Disowning Knowledge in Seven Plays of Shakespeare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Patrick J. Cook. Cinematic Hamlet: The Films of Olivier, Zeffirelli, Branagh, and Almereyda. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011.

Janette Dillon. The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tragedies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Alexander Leggatt. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Margaret Litvin. Hamlet's Arab Journey: Shakespeare's Prince and Nasser's Ghost. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Kaara L. Peterson and Deanne Williams, eds. The Afterlife of Ophelia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Hamlet (2000, double A films). Directed by Michael Almereyda. Cast includes Ethan Hawke, Julie Stiles, Kyle MacLachlan, and Bill Murray.

Hamlet (1996, Castle Rock Corporation and Columbia Pictures Entertainment). Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Cast includes Branagh, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, and Derek Jacobi.

Hamlet (1990, Canal+ and Warner Bros. Pictures). Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Cast includes Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter, and Pete Postlethwaite.

Hamlet (1948, Two Cities). Directed by Laurence Olivier. Cast includes Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons.

Related Movies
A Midwinter's Tale (1995, Castle Rock Entertainment, Midwinter Films). Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Cast includes Joan Collins and Jennifer Saunders.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (1990, Brandenberg and Buena Vista Home Video). Directed by Tom Stoppard. Cast includes Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss.

Bert Sharkey. John Barrymore as Hamlet. Engraving, early 20th century


A Souvenir Playbook, 1859

Inside the Collection

Folios and Quartos from the Collection: Hamlet

Images of Hamlet

Read the Play

Folger Digital Texts:

Related Items

Shakespeare Quartos Archive

Teacher Resources

Teaching Hamlet

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