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An actor playing Hamlet.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a play by William Shakespeare. It is one of his best-known plays, and many lines have become famous quotations. The play is often just called Hamlet.

Hamlet was written between 1600 and 1602, and first printed in 1603.


Hamlet is the son of the King of Denmark. When Hamlet's father dies, his uncle Claudius becomes king and marries Hamlet's mother (Gertrude). Hamlet's father appears as a ghost and tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius. Hamlet is not sure that the ghost is really his father. He gets some travelling actors to perform a play which shows the murder of a king in the same way Hamlet's father said he was killed. When Claudius reacts badly to seeing this, Hamlet believes he is guilty.

Hamlet tells his mother that he knows about the murder. While there he kills Polonius, who is the king's advisor, because he thinks he is Claudius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were Hamlet's childhood friends. Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Hamlet to England to have Hamlet killed, but their ship is attacked by pirates who take Hamlet prisoner but then return him to Denmark. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taken to England where they die.

Ophelia is Polonius' daughter . After her father, Polonius, is killed by Hamlet she goes mad. Then she falls into a river and drowns. Hamlet returns just as her funeral is happening. Laertes, her brother, decides to kill Hamlet in revenge. He challenges Hamlet to a sword fight, and puts poison on his own sword. Claudius makes some poisoned wine for Hamlet to drink in case that does not work.

At first Hamlet wins the sword fight, and in the meantime his mother drinks the poisoned wine without knowing, and dies. On the other hand Laertes falsely pierces Hamlet with a poisoned blade, but then Hamlet stabs Laertes with the same sword. Laertes tells Hamlet about the plot and then dies. Hamlet kills Claudius with the poisoned sword. Horatio, Hamlet's friend, tells everyone about the murder of the old king. Hamlet tells everyone that the Norwegian prince, Fortinbras, should be king, and then dies from the poison. When Fortinbras arrives, Horatio recounts the tale and Fortinbras orders Hamlet's body borne off in honour.


The characters in the story are:

  • Hamlet, the prince of Denmark
  • Ghost, the ghost of king Hamlet
  • Gertrude, the Queen, prince Hamlet's mother
  • Claudius, the King, brother of dead King Hamlet and now married to Gertrude
  • Horatio, Hamlet's trusted friend
  • Polonius, the royal advisor
  • Laertes, the son of Polonius
  • Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius and Hamlet's girlfriend
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two members of Claudius's royal court, who spy on Hamlet for Claudius
  • Osric, a dandy who appears at the end of the play
  • Fortinbras, the prince of Norway
  • Captain, a soldier for Fortinbras
  • the Players, the "players" or actors who perform for the court
  • the First Player, the leader of the actors
  • the Priest, who conducts a funeral
  • the Gravedigger, who digs the grave
  • a Clown, a foolish man who talks with the gravedigger
  • Cornelius and Voltemand, two ambassadors sent on business by Claudius
  • Ambassadors from England, who appear at the end of the play
  • Gentleman
  • Messenger
  • Sailor
  • The guards who inform Hamlet

Acting Hamlet

Hamlet is one of the hardest parts for an actor to perform. It is one of the largest roles written by Shakespeare. Many people disagree about what Hamlet is really thinking. For many actors, playing Hamlet is one of the most important parts of their career.

Hamlet in movies

There have been many movies made of the play. Most of them show only part of the play, because the entire play is very long. Some of the most famous movies include:

  • 1948 Hamlet played by Laurence Olivier. Directed by Laurence Olivier.
  • 1960 A version made for German television. This version was later an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
  • 1990 Hamlet played by Mel Gibson. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
  • 1996 Hamlet played by Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. A movie of the entire play.
  • 2009 Hamlet played by David Tennant. Directed by Gregory Doran, a three and a half hour Television adaptation for the BBC. An adaptation of the folio text with changes from the first and later quarto's to fit the dramatisation.
  • (2014) Bollywood movie "Haider" directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, where role of Hamlet played by Shahid Kapoor.(Kashmir was the plot)

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