Hamlet Study Guide: Key Facts, Historical Context, & Movies


Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌‌Hamlet‌ ‌‌study‌ ‌guide!‌‌ ‌Here‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌see‌ ‌essential‌ ‌information‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌play‌ ‌and‌ ‌learn‌ ‌what‌ ‌other‌ ‌articles‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌read‌ ‌about‌ ‌it.‌ ‌Besides,‌ ‌through‌ ‌Hamlet‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌William‌ ‌Shakespeare‌,‌ ‌‌a‌ ‌reader‌ ‌can‌ ‌learn‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌events‌ ‌that‌ ‌occurred‌ ‌during‌ ‌the‌ ‌period‌ ‌‌when‌ ‌the‌ ‌play‌ ‌was‌ ‌written‌.‌ ‌That’s‌ ‌why‌ ‌‌our‌ ‌writers‌‌ ‌prepared‌ ‌its‌ ‌historical‌ ‌context‌ ‌that‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌find‌ ‌below.‌ ‌We’ve‌ ‌also‌ ‌explored‌ ‌the‌ ‌movie‌ ‌adaptations‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌play.‌

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💁 All You Need to Know about Hamlet

📌 What is Hamlet?

Hamlet is one of the most popular of Shakspeare’s works. It is a play – a tragedy in five acts, to be more precise.

📌 What’s Hamlet’s full title?

The full name of the play is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

📌 Who wrote Hamlet?

The author of Hamlet is William Shakspeare, an English playwright and poet.

📌 When was Hamlet written?

There is no precise date. The play was written sometime between 1599 and 1602.

📌 What’s the Hamlet publication date?

The tragedy was first published in 1603 (the First Quatro). The Second Quarto was printed in 1604, and the First Folio was printed in 1623.

📌 What are the different versions of Hamlet?

There are three different versions of Hamlet: Q1 (the first quarto, 1603), Q2 (the second quarto, 1604), and F1 (the first folio, 1623). The majority of modern editions include only the passages from Q2 and F1. The first quatro is shorter, and it has a much more dramatic plot.

📌 What are the different editions of Hamlet?

There is a considerable number of editions, including Folger Library, Bantam Press, Oxford University Press, etc. The most popular ones are the Pelican Edition (edited by A.R. Braunmuller), and the Arden Edition (edited by Harold Jenkins), and the Norton Critical Edition (edited by Cyrus Hoy).

🗺️ Hamlet Study Guide: Navigation

A short summary of the play with illustrative pictures and thorough analysis.

The major and minor characters in Hamlet described and analyzed.

Doubt and death, revenge and corruption — all the vital themes of the play explained.

Critical symbolism of Hamlet, from Yorick’s skull to Ophelia’s flowers, analyzed.

The play’s genre and literary devices explored in detail.

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Hamlet’s, Claudius’, Horatio’s, and others’ memorable quotes explored and explained.

107 original Hamlet topics to write an essay or research paper on.

Numerous essay samples on Hamlet to use as examples.

Why William Shakespeare was an influential writer, how he became a playwright, and what you may need to know about his writing style.


All the pressing questions about Hamlet are answered on the page.

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🔑 Hamlet: Key Facts

Full Title:The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Author:Shakespeare, William
Type Of Work:Play
Where does Hamlet take place?The royal court in Elsinore, Denmark
When does Hamlet take place?Around 14th-15th centuries
How many acts are in Hamlet?There are five acts in Hamlet.
Genre:Revenge Tragedy
Main Themes:Doubt, revenge, appearance vs. reality, death & mortality, corruption

👨‍🏫 Historical Context of Hamlet

Hamlet’s time period intersects with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who held the throne between 1558 and 1603. The approximate year of Hamlet’s first performance on a scene is 1602. Therefore, the play represents the late years of Elizabeth’s rule in England. According to historical scholars, this period was very uncertain since the Queen had no ancestors. She might have named an heir to end tension in the country. However, she refused to do so.

The author of Hamlet, William Shakespeare, describes an uncertain royal succession in Denmark. In the play, the Queen finds a new husband soon after the King’s death. Prince Hamlet is very frustrated about it. He is offended by his mother’s decision to get married soon after his mother’s death. The unstable situation in Denmark reflects the political anxiety in England and creates vivid Hamlet’s allusions to the Elizabethan era.

Another example of the cultural and historical significance of Hamlet can be discovered through the lens of religion. The readers can assume that the King is Catholic. He died without blessing and being in purgatory, which indicates Catholic traditions. Prince, in contrast, studies at the Protestant university in Wittenburg. The environment where he spends his university years sets up Hamlet’s background and his Protestant worldview.

Therefore, the readers observe a religious conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. William Shakspeare makes this confrontation even more evident by introducing the Ghost. This figure is somewhat controversial. From the Catholic perspective, the Ghost is the soul of a recently departed person who has an unfinished business. However, Protestants believe that ghosts are the evil spirits that took over the recently deceased. Hence, the Ghost symbolizes the tension between two religious flows described in the play.

Let’s compare a religious situation in the play and 16th century England. In the time William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, a Reformation occurred in the country. Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church as a result of the religious revolution. The transition between Catholicism and Protestantism greatly influenced Shakespeare’s perception of the world. Thus, Hamlet became the product of the Reformation. Witnessing the events that occurred in England, Shakespeare masterfully depicted them in his play. He emphasized religious tensions between the Catholic and Protestant branches.

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In addition, the concepts of the late Renaissance play a crucial role in the history of Hamlet’s creation. In England, the period was viewed as a flow that promotes skeptical humanism. In other words, there was an opinion that there are limits on human knowledge. Hence, Shakespeare incorporates multiple themes while developing the character of Hamlet. The readers see a young man affected by different circumstances, like religious tensions and the unstable political situation in the country. These factors provoke Hamlet’s constant anxiety about the difference between appearance and reality. If we shift from the play to the actual 16th century England, we can notice that the same issues occurred there.

Shakespeare skillfully depicted Elizabethan culture in Hamlet. Learning about the play, the readers can discover both a fascinating plot and the socio-political situation in England of the time.

🏰 Sources of Hamlet

Stories, where the main hero is not the smartest decisive, are as old as the world. While working on Hamlet, Shakespeare got inspiration from various literary works. Which ones? Below are listed some of them.

Saxo Grammaticus’ Historia Danica

The basis of the plot was taken from the legend mentioned by Savo Grammaticus in his book Historia Danica (History of the Danes). This story tells about two brothers whom the king of the Danes entrusts to rule the country Jutland. One of the brothers marries the king’s daughter. In the marriage of the latter, Amleth is born. As the second brother decides to rule alone, he kills his relative and marries his wife. Meanwhile, Amleth pretends to be mad to avoid death. He is preparing a revenge plan to get revenge on his uncle. In the final light, Amleth heirs the throne as a full-fledged king of Jutland.

Francois de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques

If shortly, Belleforest did not invent a new tragic story. He translated Saxos’ version, albeit almost doubling its length. This translation into French was published in 1570 in Histoires Tragiques. Interestingly, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1600, eight years earlier than the world saw the English translation of Histories.

Thomas Kyd’s 1587 play

The notion that Shakespeare relied heavily on the now-lost play Ur-Hamlet, allegedly written by Thomas Kyd, has gained widespread support. The crumb of knowledge about this work also includes information that it was a tragedy, and Hamlet was among the characters.

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy

Kyd became the author of the play, which gave a new innovative impetus to drama development. The Spanish Tragedy as a revenge tragedy was the first of its kind in English literature. Many of the elements inherent in Kyd’s play can be found in Shakespeare’s works as well. However, it is worth noting that Kyd became such an iconic figure at the end of the Elizabethan era that plenty of writers referenced him.

Seneca’s revenge tragedies

Talking about the works that produced less influence directly on Hamlet but influenced the tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobian eras in general, Seneca’s tragedies became one of the distinguished. All of them highlighted the thirst for revenge, blood, mysticism, and inciting madness. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is also ranked among the Senecan tragedies.

📽️ Hamlet: Movie Adaptations

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished plays marked by more than 50 filmed versions. We’ve briefly discussed some of the most successful movie adaptations below.

Hamlet movie 1948

This early Laurence Olivier’s adaptation became one of the most scandalous compared to the consecutive movies. Hamlet film 1948 has caused a violent reaction depicting scenes of a 40-year-old Hamlet and a 29-year-old actress that performs Gertrude, his mother. The then society was shocked by Olivier’s exercise of Freudian psychoanalytic theories. Gertrude is shown as an object of her son’s affection. Hamlet represents the enigmatic hobgoblins of a complicated human psycho, saying soliloquies on the edge of sanity. 1948 adaptation is also known for that Lawrence, besides directing the movie, played both Hamlet and the ghost. This decision hints at Prince’s madness but never gives clear answers to his mental health condition.

Hamlet movie 1969

Another well-known adaptation of Hamlet is the 1969 version produced by the USSR film director Grigori Kozintsev. Unlike Olivier’s film, Kozintsev pictures the main character as more earthy and monumental. Hamlet movie 1969 is staffed with much more political collisions than its British ancestor with a focus on psychological disruption. Numerous scenes and even some soliloquies were either cut out or significantly shortened. Kozintsev decided that much of the film play would take place outdoors. This sets the movie apart from other predominantly studio-based adaptations. It is also noteworthy that Russian was not the first language for the majority of the Hamlet cast. Kozintsev took this step to enrich the film with the traditions of different nationalities.

Hamlet movie 1990

Hamlet 1990 movie tries to popularize an already famous piece of literature even more. To achieve this, the director, Franko Zefirelli, has cut a lot of original scenes. He has also added a previously non-existent episode of Hamlet’s father awakening. The film strengthens Prince, giving him a heroic flavor. The cast of Hamlet 1990 can boast of many decent and well-recognized actors. It stars Mel Gibson as Hamlet, Glenn Close as Gertrude, and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia. This list can be prolonged with many other decent and award-winning actors that play in Zefirelli’s version. 1990 Hamlet was noticed with several prestigious nominations by the Academy and BAFTA film awards.

Hamlet movie 1996

The 1996 adaptation is considered by many the best and the most accurate Hamlet movie. Kenneth Branagh, film director and lead actor, essentially brought the theatrical production to the full movie. This is practically the only version where almost all the source material has been preserved. For this reason, it is the 1996 version that people think is best for students and everyone who wants to get acquainted with Shakespeare’s masterpiece without reading it directly. Thanks to the long timing, Branagh manages to convey the whole range of problems and circumstances that accompany the characters. Hamlet 1996 movie cast includes famous actors – Branagh himself, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, and the legend Julie Christie as Gertrude. The film has been nominated in a variety of prestigious categories, including BAFTA and the Oscars.

Hamlet movie 2000

Hamlet 2000 presents a more contemporary version of the famous tragedy. The movie is indeed based on a Shakespearean plot but takes the events into the realities of the modern-day. Instead of castles and the royal family of Denmark, the viewer sees New York and the Denmark Corporation. Instead of ghosts – recordings of security cameras and so on. This is an ode to the twists and turns of human relations and vice in a new fresh way. The 2000 adaptation proves that Shakespeare’s works are imperishable and, when the setting changed, can capture the viewer no worse than any thriller.

Ophelia movie 2018

Ophelia movie 2018 is the most modern film adaptation of Lisa Klein’s novel of the same name. It is worth noting that the book takes inspiration from Hamlet and tells the well-known story from Ophelia’s perspective. The film shows her as a much more independent and freedom-loving woman. If in the play she appears to the reader as a grief-stricken lady, in the film, she is involved in the intrigues of the palace. This movie is worth watching to take a fresh look at the characters traditionally viewed as supporting. Ophelia 2018 demonstrates the transition of a woman’s vision from a sufferer to a fighter for her better life.

What best describes how the adaptations of Hamlet differ?

Hamlet himself best tells off the differences that his character encounters in adaptations throughout time. In Olivier’s version, the main character exemplifies almost a madmen desperately seeking to figure out his inner feelings. Per contra, Hamlet 1990 depicts the protagonist as practically a hero who experiences a cruel betrayal of his family. In Ophelia, Hamlet acts as a supporting character.

Thanks for reading! Now you can proceed to other articles about Hamlet’s plot, characters, themes, and more.

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"Hamlet." IvyPanda, 30 Dec. 2021, ivypanda.com/lit/hamlet-study-guide/.

1. IvyPanda. "Hamlet." December 30, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/hamlet-study-guide/.


IvyPanda. "Hamlet." December 30, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/hamlet-study-guide/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Hamlet." December 30, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/hamlet-study-guide/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Hamlet'. 30 December.

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