The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare between 1599 and 1602. Set in the Kingdom of Denmark, the play dramatizes the revenge Prince Hamlet exacts on his uncle Claudius for murdering King Hamlet, Claudius’s brother and Prince Hamlet’s father, and then succeeding to the throne and taking as his wife Gertrude, the old king’s widow and Prince Hamlet’s mother. The play vividly portrays both true and feigned madness—from overwhelming grief to seething rage—and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption.
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in English literature, with a story capable of “seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others. ” The play was one of Shakespeare’s most popular works during his lifetime and still ranks among his most-performed, topping the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance list since 1879. It has inspired writers from Goethe and Dickens to Joyce and Murdoch, and has been described as “the world’s most filmed story after Cinderella”.
Shakespeare based Hamlet on the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum as subsequently retold by 16th-century scholar Francois de Belleforest. He may also have drawn on or perhaps written an earlier (hypothetical) Elizabethan play known today as the Ur-Hamlet. He almost certainly created the title role for Richard Burbage, the leading tragedian of Shakespeare’s time. In the 400 years since, the role has been performed by highly acclaimed actors from each successive age.