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A scene from Hamlet

Introduction to the play

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?

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Hamlet

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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

From the audio edition of Hamlet

Full recording available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD and for download.

Hamlet in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Hamlet. Find more in our digital image collection

New York, Booth's Theatre. Edwin Booth in Hamlet. Playbill, 3 February 1870
Julia Marlowe as Ophelia
Kawakami Otojiro as the ghost of Hamlet's father in a 1905 Japanese production of Hamlet
Hamlet's scull, The time is out of joint O cursed spight! That ever I was born to set it right ... Hamlet. Lithograph by H. Burn.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare


Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Hamlet
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Hamlet

Early printed texts

The textual history of Hamlet is complicated. The play was first published in a quarto in 1603 (Q1) that differs in significant ways from subsequent editions: it is much shorter, the “To be or not to be” speech is in a different place, and many passages appear to be jumbled. Only two copies are known to have survived, now held at the British Library and the Huntington Library. Most modern editions of the play are based on the texts of the Second Quarto (Q2), published in 1604, and the First Folio (F1), published in 1623. Q2 and F1 differ both from Q1 and from each other: there are passages that appear in one and not the other, F1 is shorter and omits most of 5.5, and there are smaller alterations throughout. Editors often choose to present a text that combines all the text that appears in Q2 and F1. The Folger Edition also combines Q2 and F1, but it indicates those parts that appear in only one of the two early texts: F1-only language is marked off by pointed brackets, and Q2-only language is set off in square brackets.

See more primary sources related to Hamlet on Shakespeare Documented