The American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet, c. 1870
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or moresimply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. The play, set in Denmark, recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius formurdering the old King Hamlet, Claudius's own brother and Prince Hamlet's father, and then succeeding to the throne and marrying Gertrude, the King Hamlet's widow and mother of Prince Hamlet. The playvividly charts the course of real and feigned madness—from overwhelming grief to seething rage—and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.
Despite much research, the exactyear Hamlet was written remains in dispute. Three different early versions of the play have survived: these are known as the First Quarto (Q1), the Second Quarto (Q2) and the First Folio (F1). Eachhas lines, and even scenes, that are missing from the others. Shakespeare based Hamlet on the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum assubsequently retold by 16th-century scholar François de Belleforest. He may have also drawn on, or perhaps written, an earlier (hypothetical) Elizabethan play known today as the Ur-Hamlet.
The play'sstructure and depth of characterization have inspired much critical scrutiny, of which one example is the centuries-old debate about Hamlet's hesitancy to kill his uncle. Some see it as a plot device toprolong the action, and others see it as the result of pressure exerted by the complex philosophical and ethical issues that surround cold-blooded murder, calculated revenge and thwarted desire. Morerecently, psychoanalytic critics have examined Hamlet's unconscious desires, and feminist critics have re-evaluated and rehabilitated the often maligned characters of Ophelia and Gertrude.