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12 - English - Hamlet: Introduction

(British Museum, 2012)








William Shakespeare's Hamlet

William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was first performed in about 1600. The five-act play was published in a quarto edition in 1603 from a reported text, with reference to an earlier play.

Shakespeare’s telling of the story of Prince Hamlet, who after much indecision avenges the murder of his father, derives from several sources, notably from books 3 and 4 of the Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus’ 12th-century Gesta Danorum (Story of the Danes) and from volume 5 of Histoires tragiques (1570; Tragic Histories), a free translation of Saxo by François de Belleforest. It is possible that Saxo drew on a (lost) Icelandic saga of Amlói, mentioned by a 10th-century Icelandic poet, for his information. One scholar has suggested that the Hamlet story has its origins in the East, being similar to a tale in the 11th-century Shah-nameh (Book of Kings) by the Persian poet Firdawsi. Others have suggested a Celtic origin, pointing to the warrior Amhlaide, who is named as the slayer of King Niall Glúndub in the Irish Annals under the year 917. 


Hamlet. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from: