The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which is almost always shortened to Hamlet, is a play written by William Shakespeare at some point between 1599 and 1602. The play is set in Denmark and follows Prince Hamlet on his quest for revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who had murdered Hamlet’s father in order to seize the throne from him and marry Hamlet’s mother.
Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most influential plays and is considered by many critics to be one of his longest-lasting plays in the sense that the moral of the story is timeless and important today. There have been many stories of revenge throughout history and they often repeat a similar theme of an individual who has been, or at least feels they have been, seriously wronged. Typically the perceived victim begins to justify murder to themselves before carrying it out and ultimately realising that they had made a catastrophic mistake that has ruined their life. The theme of revenge is popular in many religions and is one of the first stories present in the Bible through to modern-day stories.
Hamlet was one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays during his lifetime, topping the performance list of the Royal Shakespeare Company and each of its predecessors. The story has gone on to inspire a number of renowned authors, from Charles Dickens to James Joyce amongst many others. Hamlet has been described as the most filmed story after Cinderella, due to the sheer volume of reimagining’s that have been produced over the years.
The origins and inspiration for Hamlet have been debated amongst scholars and critics for hundreds of years. It is generally agreed upon that the story was derived from, or at least borrowed elements from, the legend of Amlethm a story that was preserved by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum, which was written during the 13th century.
From the early part of the 17th century, Hamlet was infamous for its vivid dramatization of both melancholy and insanity, as well as the ghost scene. This has been criticised by a number of 17th-century critics, who viewed Hamlet as a primitive story that lacked both unity and decorum. This view changed during the 18th century as critics began to regard Hamlet as a hero who had fallen into unfortunate circumstances.