Hamlet is a revenge tragedy by William Shakespeare. It is one of his best-known plays, one of the most-quoted works in the English language and is universally included on lists of the world's greatest literature. Critics have called Hamlet "Shakespeare's greatest play" and it is one of his most-performed, topping, for example, the Royal Shakespeare Company's list since 1879. With 4,042 lines and 29,551 words, Hamlet is also Shakespeare's longest play.
Hamlet is based on a Danish legend that Saxo Grammaticus recorded in his Gesta Danorum. François de Belleforest translated this legend into French in his Histoires Tragiques (1570). Shakespeare is thought to have borrowed much of his plot from a now-lost Elizabethan play that is referred to today as the Ur-Hamlet, which is the first version of the story known to have a ghost in it. Shakespeare's Hamlet also bears many similarities to Belleforest's French translation, but whether he took these elements directly from the French, or indirectly through the Ur-Hamlet or some other source, is unknown. Shakespeare wrote his play sometime between 1599 and 1601. Three different versions of Shakespeare's play have survived, which are known as the First Quarto, Second Quarto, and First Folio, each of which have lines—and even scenes—missing from the others.
Many scholars have wondered why Prince Hamlet, the play's protagonist, waits so long to exact revenge on Claudius for his father's murder. Some see his delay as a plot device—if he kills Claudius quickly, the plot is cut short. Others view it as a response to complex philosophical and ethical issues that constituted the idea of revenge in Shakespeare's day. Another common question is whether Hamlet becomes genuinely insane during the course of the play or whether he merely feigns his madness. Since Freud, psychoanalytic critics have probed Hamlet's unconscious desires, while feminist critics have called attention to Ophelia and Gertrude's experiences within the play.
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Hamlet was one of Shakespeare's most popular plays during his lifetime. Richard Burbage, the leading tragedian of The Lord Chamberlain's Men, first performed the role. It was revived during the Restoration period and has been popular ever since. Several movie adaptations have been made, beginning with silent versions in the early 20th Century.