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This article is about Shakespeare's play. For other uses, see Hamlet (disambiguation).

Hamlet one of William Shakespeare's plays and perhaps his most popular, and most puzzling. 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."[1]

Productions at the Folger

Helen Hayes Awards
Wins: "Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production" for Christopher Saul.
Nominations: "Outstanding Non-Resident Production," "Outstanding Lead Actor, Non-Resident Production" for Michael Benz, and "Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production" for Tom Lawrence
Helen Hayes Awards
Wins: "Outstanding Resident Play" and the "Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Leading Actor, Resident Play" for Graham Michael Hamilton
Nominations: "Outstanding Director, Resident Play" for Joseph Haj, "Outstanding Lighting Design, Resident Production" for Justin Townshend and "Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production" for Matthew M. Nielson and Jack Herrick

Early editions

First Folio

LUNA: First Folio: 2n4v - 2q1v
Hamnet: STC 22273 Fo. 1 no. 68

Second Folio

LUNA: Second Folio: 2p2v - 2r5v
Hamnet: STC 22274 Fo. 2 no. 07

Second Quarto

LUNA: Second Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22276

Third Quarto

LUNA: Third Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22277 Copy 1

Fourth Quarto

LUNA: Fourth Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22278 Copy 1

Fifth Quarto

LUNA: Fifth Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22279 Copy 1

Modern editions

Hamlet-new Folger Edition.jpg

Hamlet can be read online with Folger Digital Texts and purchased from Simon and Schuster.

Hamnet link to Folger Edition: PR2807 .A2 M69 2012

In popular culture


Ophelia's Fan (2005) by Christine Balint. This young adult novel follows the life of Irish Shakespearean actress, Harriet Smithson, who acted in many of Shakespeare's most famous female tragic roles—most notably, Ophelia—for a nineteenth century French audience.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) by David Wroblewski retells the tragic tale of Hamlet through the story of a young mute boy in Wisconsin, his dog Ophelia, and his attempt to prove his uncle murdered his father.


Over the years, Hamlet has been one of Hollywood's favorite Shakespeare plays to make and remake. Below are videos of the "To be or not to be" speech from a select number of these adaptations for a comparison of the various flavors of these films.

Sir Laurence Olivier performs the "To be or not to be" speech in his 1948 film performance in the title role of Hamlet.

See Mel Gibson's rendition of the same speech in the 1990 film version directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Glenn Close as Gertrude.

Kenneth Branagh directs and plays the title character in this 1996 Hamlet. Watch his version of the plays most famous speech below.

Ethan Hawke rings in the new millenium by putting his spin on this classic speech, performing it in a video rental store in this 2000 adaptation.

In this Royal Shakespeare Company stage to film production, David Tennant performs the role of Hamlet alongside Patrick Stewart as Claudius.


The Folger owns over 170 stand-alone translations of Hamlet in various languages (not including collected works). Cataloging of these works is ongoing as of early 2015, and many have full-level catalog records, but some works still have only partial records. Translations can be found Hamnet in by searching for "Translations" in the Genre/Form Term field, or by searching the Call Number (Left-Anchored) field for call numbers starting with PR2796 (see the list of Sh.Col. translations call numbers for specific language call numbers). Since not all translations are fully cataloged, some items may only turn up in one of these searches.

Performance materials

Other media

Audio edition

Hamlet Audio Edition from Simon & Schuster available on CD and as an audio download.

Hamlet audio cd cover.jpg
Hamlet Zach Appelman
Claudius Ian Merrill Peakes
Polonius Rick Foucheux
Gertrude Karen Peakes
Ophelia Emily Trask
Laertes Aubrey Deeker
Horatio Michael Brusasco
Rosencrantz Chris Genebach
Guildenstern Todd Scofield

Other parts were played by members of the cast.

Directed by Robert Richmond.

Original music composed by Anthony Cochrane.

In partnership with Simon & Schuster Audio


Watch an introduction to Hamlet's plot and characters.

Learn about Hamlet's journey from the cast and crew of the 2011 Folger Theatre production.

Listen to a discussion of the role of Hamlet's soliloquies in the play.

Luminary App

The Folger Luminary Shakespeare App can be purchased on iTunes.


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