In the Spotlight: Hamlet

In the Spotlight

“Sorry,” Hamlet said, rubbing his temples.
“I don’t know what came over me. 
All of a sudden
I had this overwhelming desire to talk for a very long time without actually doing anything.”
― Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten

 “Hamlet is a terrific play, but there are way too many quotations in it.”
– Hugh Leonard

Any discussion about Shakespeare can’t be complete without talking about what history says is Shakespeare’s greatest play. The full title of the play is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and is, as the title suggests, one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Date Written: Between 1600 and 1603

First performed: Solid evidence of early performances is scarce. It was most likely to have been first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men at the Globe Theatre. There was an early documented performance by the crew of the ship red Dragon in 1607.

Setting: Elsinore, Denmark

Summary

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, mourns his father’s passing as well as his mother’s sudden remarriage to his uncle, Claudius. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears before him to tell him he was murdered by Claudius and demands Hamlet avenge him. In an effort to trick his uncle into confession, Hamlet puts on a play to make his uncle confess. Hamlet is deemed mad and it is unclear whether it’s an act or whether it becomes real. Hamlet kills the eavesdropping Polonius and Claudius, becoming paranoid sends Hamlet to England. Polonius’ son vows revenge on Hamlet, and his daughter kills herself in grief over Hamlet’s actions. When Hamlet returns to Denmark there is a great duel resulting in the death of many characters.

Themes:  Madness, revenge, loyalty, religion

Characters

Hamlet – Son of the late king and nephew of the present king

Claudius – King of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle

Gertrude – Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet

Polonius – Chief counsellor to the king

Ophelia – Daughter to Polonius

Horatio – True friend to Hamlet

Laertes – Son to Polonius

Voltimand and Cornelius – Courtiers

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – Courtiers, friends to Hamlet

Osric – a Courtier

Marcellus and Bernardo – Officers

Francisco – a Soldier

Reynaldo – Servant to Polonius

Ghost of Hamlet’s Father

Fortinbras – Prince of Norway

 Famous quotes

“In my mind’s eye” (Act I, Scene II)

“This above all: to thine own self be true” (Act I, Scene III)

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Act I, Scene V)

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Act II, Scene II)

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” (Act II, Scene II)

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Act III, Scene I)
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Act III, Scene II)

“I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.” (Act II, Scene IV)
Fun Facts

1. Judging by the number of reprints, Hamlet appears to have been Shakespeare’s fourth most popular play during his lifetime—only Henry IV Part 1Richard III and Pericles eclipsed it.

2. Oxford editor George Hibbard argues that, since the contemporary literature contains many allusions and references to Hamlet, the play was surely performed with a frequency that the historical record misses.

3. Shakespeare’s longest play, with 4,042 lines, totalling 29,551 words—typically taking over four hours to perform.

4. Contains Shakespeare’s favourite device, a play within a play.

5. Hamlet is one of the most quoted works in the English language and is often included on lists of the world’s greatest literature.

6. Hamlet has the most lines of any of Shakespeare’s characters with 1530 lines.

7. Hamlet is the second most filmed story in the world, coming second only to Cinderella.

8. Hamlet was the most popular work during Shakespeare’s own time and has remained his most produced play to this day

9. Disney’s The Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet

10. Hamlet is the most produced play in the world. It has been estimated that Hamlet is being performed somewhere every single minute of every single day

11. It is believed that Shakespeare played the ghost in Hamlet when it was first performed at the Globe.

12. The first actor to ever play Hamlet was Richard Burbage, the leading actor of Shakespeare’s troupe. It was almost certainly written with Burbage in mind to play Hamlet.

13. In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 production of Hamlet, David Tennant used a real skull in the gravedigger scene. The skull had been bequeathed to the theatre in 1982 by André Tchaikowsky after his death. Tchaikowsky wanted his skull used “in Theatrical Performance.”

14. Hamlet is one of two Shakespeare plays to be translated into Klingon (the other is Much Ado About Nothing).

15. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard based on the two courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

16. Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film adaptation is notable as it includes every word of the play.

Links and Bits

Fun Facts source

Wikipedia

British Library

William Shakespeare Info

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