The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1602. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother.
Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play and is considered among the most powerful and influential works of world literature, with a story capable of "seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others". It was 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 many other writers—from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Charles Dickens to James Joyce and Iris Murdoch—and has been described as "the world's most filmed story after Cinderella".
The story of Shakespeare's Hamlet was derived from the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum, as subsequently retold by the 16th-century scholar François de Belleforest. Shakespeare may also have drawn on an earlier Elizabethan play known today as the Ur-Hamlet, though some scholars believe Shakespeare wrote the Ur-Hamlet, later revising it to create the version of Hamlet we now have. He almost certainly wrote his version of the title role for his fellow actor, Richard Burbage, the leading tragedian of Shakespeare's time. In the 400 years since its inception, the role has been performed by numerous highly acclaimed actors in each successive century.
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 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, while feminist critics have re-evaluated and attempted to rehabilitate 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, and took the throne for himself. Denmark has a long-standing feud with neighbouring Norway, in which King Hamlet slew King Fortinbras of Norway in a battle some years ago. Although Denmark defeated Norway and the Norwegian throne fell to King Fortinbras's infirm brother, Denmark fears that an invasion led by the dead Norwegian king's son, Prince Fortinbras, is imminent.
On a cold night on the ramparts of Elsinore, the Danish royal castle, the sentries Bernardo and Marcellus discuss a ghost resembling the late King Hamlet which they have recently seen, and bring Prince Hamlet's friend Horatio as a witness. After the ghost appears again, the three vow to tell Prince Hamlet what they have witnessed.
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