Three versions of Hamlet have survived. These are: the Quarto of 1603; the Quarto of 1604; and the text of the First Folio (1623). All three of these texts differ from each other. Modern texts are based upon the Quarto of 1604 and the First Folio.
The Quarto of 1603 offers many perplexing problems. It is a brief and mutilated text and the order of the scenes varies from that of the two accepted texts. The title-page is as follows:
THE | Tragicall Historie of | HAMLET | Prince of Denmarke | By William Shake-speare. | As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse Seruants in the Cittie of London: as also in the two Vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where [Vignette] | At London printed for N. L. and Iohn Trundell. | 1603.
It is probable that this text was a pirated edition based upon notes taken in shorthand during a performance at the theatre. The differences, however, in the order of the scenes, the alteration in the conception of Gertrude's character, the almost total omission of the soliloquies, and the less subtle and elaborate dialogue throughout would seem to indicate that Hamlet was thoroughly revised before the publication of the second Quarto in 1604. Last of all, as tending to confirm this supposition, is the fact that certain of the characters appear under altered names in the
- The text is published in Furness' Variorum Hamlet, vol. II.
- It is about half the length of the Quarto of 1604.