the illustrated shakespeare
In full Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a tragedy in five acts, first performed in 1600-01 and published in a quarto edition in 1603 from a reported text, with reference to an earlier play. The First Folio version, taken from a second quarto (published from "foul papers") with reference to a promptbook and with authorial and theatrical additions.

Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark is probably the best known of William Shakespeare's works, and may well be the most famous English-language play ever written. Categorized as one of Shakespeare's "later tragedies," Hamlet and its namesake hero display fully the mature Bard's extraordinary talents. But while Hamlet has been the subject of admiring critical commentary since Elizabethan times, it has also developed a reputation as a difficult work to analyze, one that features a very complicated central character, addresses many complex themes, and presents the reader with a multi-layered text which defies easy interpretation.

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 Saxo Grammaticus' 12th-century Gesta Danorum, and from volume 5 (1570) of Histoires tragiques, a free translation of Saxo by François de Belleforest. It is possible that Saxo drew on a (lost) Icelandic saga of Amlódji, mentioned by a 10th-century Icelandic poet, for his information. It also has been argued that Saxo's Amleth was originally a product of Geatish tradition as it developed in Jutland. 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 Ferdowsi. Others have posited 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.

Shakespeare's play was evidently preceded by another play of Hamlet, now lost, and usually referred to as the Ur-Hamlet, of which Thomas Kyd is a conjectured author. The Hystorie of Hamblet, an English version of Belleforest's work, was published in London in 1608. The trait that characterizes Shakespeare's Hamlet, however, is unique to the author.

The character of Hamlet is one of the most compelling characters to ever rise from the pages of English literature. He has been subjected to numerous interpretations and studies over the centuries, his actions and thoughts analyzed and analyzed again. And this, probably more than anything else, is the reason for Hamlet's enduring appeal. As a reader, you can come to any number of reasonable conclusions about Hamlet, but coming to a firm conviction about this complex character is a difficult task

As Shakespeare's play opens, Hamlet is mourning his father, who has been killed, and lamenting the behaviour of his mother, Gertrude, who married his uncle Claudius within a month of his father's death.

On a dark winter night, a ghost walks the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered first by a pair of watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembles the recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius has inherited the throne and married the dead king's widow, Queen Gertrude. When Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, to see the ghost, it speaks to him, declaring ominously that it is indeed his father's spirit, and that he was murdered, poisoned by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet to seek revenge upon the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the ghost disappears with the coming of dawn.

Prince Hamlet devotes himself to avenging his father's death, but, because he is contemplative and thoughtful by nature, he delays, entering into a deep melancholy and even apparent madness. Driven by a guilty conscience, Claudius and Gertrude worry about the prince's erratic behaviour and attempt to discover its cause, in an attempt to do so, they employ a pair of Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to watch him. Hamlet quickly sees through the scheme and begins to act the part of a madman in front of them. When Polonius, the pompous Lord Chamberlain, suggests that Hamlet may be mad with love for his daughter, Ophelia, Claudius agrees to spy on Hamlet in conversation with the girl. But though Hamlet certainly seems mad, Despite Ophelia's loyalty to him, Hamlet thinks that she, like everyone else, is turning against him; he feigns madness with her he does not seem to love Ophelia: he orders her to enter a nunnery and declares that he wishes to ban marriages.

A group of travelling actors comes to Elsinore, and Hamlet seizes upon an idea to test his uncle's guilt. He will have the players perform a scene closely resembling the sequence by which Hamlet imagines his uncle to have murdered his father, so that if Claudius is guilty, he will surely react. When the moment of the murder arrives in the theatre, Claudius leaps up and leaves the room. Hamlet and Horatio agree that this proves his guilt. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him praying. Since he believes that killing Claudius while in prayer would send Claudius's soul to heaven, Hamlet considers that it would be an inadequate revenge and decides to wait. Claudius, now frightened of Hamlet's madness and fearing for his own safety, orders that Hamlet be sent to England at once.

Hamlet goes to confront his mother, in whose bedchamber Polonius has hidden behind a tapestry. Hearing a noise from behind the tapestry, Hamlet believes the king is hiding there. He draws his sword and stabs through the fabric, killing Polonius. For this crime justly fearing for his own life, Claudius sends Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern However, Claudius's plan for Hamlet includes more than banishment, as he has given Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sealed orders for the king of England demanding Hamlet put to death. When Hamlet discovers the orders, he alters them to make his two friends the victims instead.

In the aftermath of her father's death, Ophelia loses her own sanity; with grief and drowns in the river. Polonius's son, Laertes, who has been staying in France, returns to Denmark in a rage. Claudius convinces him that Hamlet is to blame for his father's and sister's deaths. When Horatio and the king receive letters from Hamlet indicating that the prince has returned to Denmark after pirates attacked his ship en route to England, Claudius concocts a plan to use Laertes' desire for revenge to secure Hamlet's death. Laertes will fence with Hamlet in innocent sport, but Claudius will poison Laertes' blade so that if he draws blood, Hamlet will die. As a backup plan, the king decides to poison a goblet, which he will give Hamlet to drink should Hamlet score the first or second hits of the match. Hamlet returns to the vicinity of Elsinore just as Ophelia's funeral is taking place. Stricken with grief, he attacks Laertes and declares that he had in fact always loved Ophelia. Back at the castle, he tells Horatio that he believes one must be prepared to die, since death can come at any moment. A foolish courtier named Osric arrives on Claudius's orders to arrange the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes.

The sword-fighting begins. Hamlet scores the first hit, but declines to drink from the king's proffered goblet. Instead, Gertrude takes a drink from it and is swiftly killed by the poison. Laertes succeeds in wounding Hamlet, though Hamlet does not die of the poison immediately. First, Laertes is cut by his own sword's blade, and, after revealing to Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for the queen's death, he dies from the blade's poison. Hamlet then stabs Claudius through with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink down the rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies, and Hamlet dies immediately after achieving his revenge.

At this moment, a Norwegian prince named Fortinbras, who has led an army to Denmark and attacked Poland earlier in the play, enters with ambassadors from England, who report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Fortinbras is stunned by the gruesome sight in the castle of the entire royal family lying sprawled on the floor dead. He moves to take power of the kingdom. Horatio, fulfilling Hamlet's last request, steps forward to tell him Hamlet's tragic story. Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be carried away in a manner befitting a fallen soldier.

Judged by its reception, Hamlet must be regarded as Shakespeare's most successful play. It has unceasing theatrical vitality, and the character of Hamlet himself has become a figure of literary mythology. For a time during the 20th century, many critics argued that in Hamlet Shakespeare did not make a psychologically consistent play out of a plot that retained much of the crudity of an earlier kind of "revenge" drama--which he was trying to transform a barbaric "revenge" hero into a subtle Renaissance prince but did not succeed.

Even if this opinion has become unacceptable, it nevertheless taught critics to search out elements such as Shakespeare's artistic balance in presenting the play's moral problems. It is likely that an artist will make his work more interesting if he leaves a dilemma morally ambiguous rather than explicit. The revenge situation in Hamlet, moreover, is one charged with emotional excitement as well as moral interest. Simply put, the good man (Hamlet) is weak, and the bad man (Claudius) is strong. The good man has suffered a deep injury from the bad man, and he cannot obtain justice because justice is in the hand of the strong bad man. Therefore the weak good man must go around and around in order to achieve a kind of natural justice; and the audience watches in suspense while the weak good man by subtlety attacks and gets his own back upon the strong bad man and the strong bad man spends his time evading the weak good man. Hamlet is given a formidable opponent: Claudius is a hypocrite, but he is a successful one. He achieves his desired effect on everybody. His hypocrisy is that of a skilled politician. He is not dramatically shown as being in any way unworthy of his station--he upholds his part with dignity. He is a "smiling villain" and is not exposed until the final catastrophe. The jealous Hamlet heaps abuse upon him, but Shakespeare makes Claudius the murderer self-controlled. Thus, theatrically, the situation is much more exciting.