Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Hamlet
Introduction

Many consider Shakespeare to be the best writer who ever lived, and most consider this to be his best work, which means that Hamlet is a strong candidate for the honor of being the finest work ever written. Ever! “Four centuries have led most readers and playgoers to the strong conviction that Shakespeare’s investment in Hamlet is more personal and more potentially illuminating than is his attachment to any of his other plays” (Bloom, Hamlet 2). “To nearly everyone Hamlet himself and the play give the impression of having some peculiarly intimate relation to their creator” (Goddard, I 332). “In some sense or other, … Hamlet’s problem must have been Shakespeare’s” (Goddard, I 338); “we are dealing with both a personal and a political or dynastic situation” (Garber 468). All this is no mystery when we realize that Hamlet so closely resembles the Earl of Oxford’s own life story.

There’s a Stationers’ Register reference to this one in 1602, so orthodox contortionists prefer to downplay or ignore strong indications of much earlier popularity, such as Henslowe logging in his diary a performance in 1594 (Farina 195), the wooden board reference to the play having been produced in the courtyard at The Golden Cross in the city of Oxford in 1593, and Thomas Nashe’s August 1589 reference to “whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of Tragical speeches.” Stratfordians have postulated a so-called Ur-Hamlet from the late 1580s.

Stratfordians will also tell you that the play was written out of Shakspere’s despair over the death of his son Hamnet (named after neighbor Hamnet Sadler). Shakspere was so distressed that, according to their forced timeline, he wrote one or two of his most hilarious comedies and then got around to writing about a son mourning his father’s death. See how that works? (Take some Advil.)

The story, not particularly historical but which might perhaps be set roughly in 1050 (Asimov 80), comes from a Scandinavian folk-tale of “Amleth,” written down by Saxo Grammaticus, the 13th-century Danish historian, and transported in a French 1576 version into the English play from the 1580s now lost, which some tentatively suggest may have been Thomas Kyd’s, others that it was Shakespeare’s own first version. Stratfordians like to imagine that the Ur-Hamlet was written by Kyd since The Spanish Tragedy, which they also like to imagine Kyd wrote, is another revenge play. Along with Arden of Faversham then, before he is thirty years old, Kyd “is credited with three of the most popular tragedies of the Elizabethan period, which, when they are published, do not bear his name while some indifferent things do” (Clark 634). (Out of Advil yet?) For a more sane Oxfordian resolution to all this, see Eddi Jolly, “Dating Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” The Oxfordian 2 (1999): 11-23. Both Saxo Grammaticus and Belleforest’s French version could be found in the library of Oxford’s father-in-law Burghley (Farina 196; Anderson 190).

Three different published Shakespeare versions create textual confusion. One, the First Quarto from 1603, sucks:

To be, or not to be; ay, there’s the point.
To die, to sleep — is that all? Ay, all.
No, to sleep, to dream. Ay, marry, there it goes….

This appears to be a reconstruction from memory on the part of some actors.

This is an enormously long play, Shakespeare’s longest, as if Shakespeare intended to go beyond likely dramatic production, at least in the public theaters, and get everything into a true work of literature not simply dismissable as a play-text. So most productions make cuts where they will.

Hamlet is supposedly the most quoted figure in Western culture after Jesus, maybe the most charismatic too (Bloom, Invention 384), and part of the experience of reading Hamlet, even for the first time, is to recognize material that somehow you already know in its original intense context: “the experience of Hamlet is almost always that of recognition, of recalling, remembering, or identifying some already-known phrase or image” (Garber 466).


Hamlet, Act by Act

Hamlet Intro

Hamlet Act I

Hamlet Act II

Hamlet Act III

Hamlet Act IV

Hamlet Act V


Further Resources

Filmography

Hamlet. Starring Laurence Olivier and Eileen Herlie [Herlihy], who played Myrtle on All My Children. Two Cities Film Ltd., 1948. An unforgivable opening: before any Shakespeare, Olivier narrates, “This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind.” So he clearly should have immediately killed a guy because Elvis’ ghost-dog told him to. Stupid thinker. I hate thinkers. But here’s the whole thing.

Hamlet. Dir. Sir John Gielgud. Starring Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn. Atlantic Programmes Ltd., 1964. Eileen Herlie plays Gertrude, as she did in the Olivier film. Here’s the whole thing.

Hamlet. (Russian with subtitles.) Dir. Grigori Kozintsev. 1964. Translation gaps prevent some key lines and omission of religious matters leaves gaps, but atmospherically the film is superb.
Here’s the whole thing; subtitles in English are available.

Hamlet. Starring Christopher Plummer (who I saw at the Met in the late ’70s), Robert Shaw (Jaws, The Sting, Michael Caine (who, it turn out, doesn’t have to sound like a fishmonger). BBC, 1964. Fine, but why did they leave out Hamlet’s first lines? Here’s the whole thing.

Hamlet. Starring Sir Derek Jacobi. BBC, 1980. 624 stars. Here’s a montage.

Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Starring Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Helena Bonham-Carter. Warner Brothers, 1990. One critic called the film “Lethal weapon meets fatal attraction in what turns out to be a dangerous liaison” (Dawson, qtd. in Crowl 57). But it’s got a more medieval look than most. Here are some scenes.

Hamlet. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Charlton Heston. Columbia Pictures, 1996. Unabridged. I’m guessing Branagh got sick of critics whining about missing lines in his previous films and decided, “Okay, eat this.” And now you’ve got three DVDs. Here are some scenes.

Hamlet. Starring Ethan Hawke, Bill Murray. Miramax Films, 2000. An emo Hamlet featuring now obsolete technology; but the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in a Blockbuster action aisle is brilliant, here.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. By Tom Stoppard. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Gary Oldman. Cinecom Entertainment, 2005. The naive duo move through the famous play events, cluelessly. Here’s the whole thing.

Hamlet. Dir. Alexander Fodor. Zed Resistor Company, 2007. The ghost is omnipresent, Polonius and Horatio are female, and artsiness overshadows Shakespeare. Here, Hamlet kills Polonius.

Hamlet. Starring David Tennant, Patrick Stewart. BBC, 2009. Most innovative is what they do with the Claudius-attempting-to-pray scene.
Here’s the whole thing, with Russian subtitles.

Mystery Science Theater 3000. Episode 1009. They found a 1964 German film version of the play, dubbed, and do the characteristic riffing. Here is the episode.

Best Editions

Bevington, David, ed. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 6th ed. Pearson Education Inc., 2009. 1091-1149.

Jenkins, Harold, ed. Hamlet. The Arden Shakespeare. 3rd edition. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1982.

Weller, Philip, ed. Hamlet. Shakespeare Navigators. Online edition.

Oxfordian Resources

Altrocchi, Paul. “Is a Powerful Authorship Smoking Gun Buried Within Westminster Abbey?” The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 44.3 (Summer 2009): 1, 3-13.

Beane, Connie J. “Reconsidering the Jephthah Allusion in Hamlet.” The Oxfordian 18 (2016): 23-40. Here.

Beauclerk, Charles. “Branagh’s Sound and Fury.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 33.1 (Winter 1997): 2, 14-15. Review of Branagh’s Hamlet.

Beauclerk, Charles. Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom. NY: Grove Press, 2010.

Boyle, William E. Hamlet, the Comedy.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 36.3 (Fall 2000): 20. Here.

Burton, J.A. “An Unrecognized Theme in Hamlet: Lost Inheritance and Claudius’s Marriage to Gertrude.” Shakespeare Newsletter of Claremont, McKenna College 50.4 (June 2022). Repr. in Shakespeare and the Law. Ed. Roger Stritmatter. 2022: 171-186.

Cairncross, Andrew S. The Problem of Hamlet: A Solution. London: Macmillan, 1936. Repr. 1970.

Caruso, Carl S. “Sacred Pearls in the Machinery of Hamlet.”2007 The Oxfordian 10 (2007): 85-110. Here.

Clark, Eva Turner. Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays. 3rd ed. by Ruth Loyd Miller. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1974. 634-667.

Creasey, Beverly. “Hamlet Formerly Known as Prince.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 37.1 (Spring 2001): 3. Here.

Detobel, Robert. “An Accident of Note: Chapman’s Hamlet and the Earl of Oxford.” Brief Chronicles II (2010): 79-107. Here.

Detobel, Robert. “An Overlooked Allusion to Hamlet in One of Oxford’s Letters.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 50.3 (Summer 2014): 17-18. Here.

Dreya, Ren. “The Three Queens of Hamlet.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 54.1 (Winter 2018): 32-36. Here.

Farina, William. De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2006. 195-200.

Fiore, Nora. “Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing: The Keys to Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Matters 8.3 (Summer 2009): 21-24. Here.

Goldstein, Gary B. “The Tragedie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke.” The Oxfordian 20 (2018): 159-163. Here.

Gontar, David P. “Hamlet Made Simple.” In Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays. Nashville: New English Review Press, 2013. 377-415. Gontar focuses on Hamlet’s possible doubt about his own paternity: Claudius? Might explain much.

Green, Alan. “Sonnets Structure: Part 1.” The Shakespeare Equation. Bard Code. The Egyptian mythology of the eye of Horus is embedded in Hamlet.

Ignoto. “Beowulf, Hamlet, and Edward de Vere.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 26/2 (Spring 1990): 3-6. This PDF includes all 1990 issues; the article starts on page 24.

Jolly, Eddi. “Dating Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” The Oxfordian 2 (1999): 11-23. .

Jolly, Eddi. The First Two Quartos of Hamlet: A New View of the Origins and Relationship of the Texts. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.

Jolly, Eddi. “John Casson, the Source for Hamlet, and The Guardian. De Vere Society Newsletter 26.2 (April 2019): 16-17. Here.

Jolly, Eddi. “The Tragedy of Hamlet.” In Dating Shakespeare’s Plays. Ed. Kevin Gilvary. Tunbridge Wells, UK: Parapress, 2010. 379-395. Here.

Londr√©, Felicia Hardison. “Hamlet as Autobiography: An Oxfordian Analysis.” The Shakespeare Authorship Sourcebook 2nd ed. by Roger Stritmatter. 2022. 301-311.

Looney, J. Thomas. Shakespeare Identified. Ed. James A. Warren. Somerville, MA: Forever Press, 2018. 390-414.

Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & The Reality. 2nd ed. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, Inc., 1992.

Ogburn, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn. This Star of England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Pub., 1952. Esp. 631-700.

Paul, Christopher. “Oxford, Hamlet, and the Pirates: the naked truth.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 40. 1 (Winter 2004): 1-5. Here.

Regnier, Tom. “Hamlet and the Law of Homicide: The Life of the Mind in Law and Art.” An online presentation. 1 hour+.

Saunders, Sam C. “Could Shakespeare Have Calculated the Odds in Hamlet’s Wager?” The Oxfordian 10 (2007): 20-34.

Showerman, Earl. “Horestes and Hamlet.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 44/2 (2008): 1, 8-9. Here.

Showerman, Earl. “Orestes and Hamlet: From Myth to Masterpiece, Part I.” The Oxfordian 7 (2004): 89-114. Here. [“Part II” unpublished.]

Showerman, Earl. “What is Hamlet’s Book?” Letter to the Editor. The Oxfordian 25 (2023): 21-25.

Sterling, Carleton W. “Hamlet in Time and Space.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 41.2 (Spring 2005): 3-5. Here.

Usher, Peter. “Advances in the Hamlet Cosmic Allegory.” The Oxfordian 4 (2001): 25-50. Here.

Usher, Peter. “Hamlet’s Transformation.” Elizabethian Review 7.1 (1999): 48-64. Here.

Usher, Peter. “Shakespeare’s Support for the New Astronomy.” The Oxfordian 5 (2002): 132-146.

Vedi, Sten F. Vedi and Gerold Wagner. Hamlet’s Elsinore Revisited: The author’s sources of knowledge about Elsinore and Denmark. Neues Shake-Speare Journal. Special Issue Book 7. Verlag Uwe Laugwitz, 2019. The authors connect Polonius to a diplomat from Poland, Henrik Ramel (1550-1610), Chief Secretary of the German Chancellery with Frederick II of Denmark, first revealed in a report to the Queen by Lord Willoughby, Oxford’s brother-in-law, from his Embassy to Denmark in 1582. Ramel was known as “Polonius” in the Danish Court and thus gave Oxford the opportunity to point to a character outside English nobility in case anyone should take offense at the satire of William Cecil.

Wainwright, Michael. “Veering Toward an Evolutionary Realignment of Freud’s Hamlet.” Brief Chronicles III (2011): 9-35. Here.

Waugaman, Elisabeth. “The French Influence in Hamlet.” The Oxfordian 25 (2023): 45-68. Here.

Waugaman, Richard M.. “Psalms Help Confirm de Vere Was Shakespeare: Psalm 77 echoed in Sonnet 28 and in Hamlet.” The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 48.2 (Spring 2012): 19-24. Here.

Whalen, Richard. “Hamlet‘s Sources and Influences, and Its ‘Forerunners’ by Oxford.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter Vol. 54.1 (Winter 2018): 1, 19-31. Here.

Whittemore, Hank. “Prince Hamlet, the ‘Spear-shaker’ of Elsinore.” 2001, Spring The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 37.1 (Spring 2001): 8-12. Here.

Yambert, Karl. “Oxford’s Bible and Hamlet’s Biblical Allusions.” The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 60.2 (Spring 2024): 15-24.

And Other Valuable Resources

Bloom, Harold. Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. NY: Riverhead Books, 2003. Bloom, of course, sticks with the wrong guy, but at least he asserts that “Shakespeare” is responsible for the “Ur-Hamlet.”

Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare. Vol. I. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951. 331-386.

Smidt, Kristian. Unconformities in Shakespeare’s Tragedies. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. 60-88. Smidt finds numerous time discrepancies suggesting significant revision of scenes.

Shakespeare Authorship Organizations

The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship. Browse, get hooked, become a member.

The De Vere Society. Our Oxfordian friends and collaborators across the pond.

The Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable. We consider all possible authors behind the “Shakespeare” name.