Open main menu

Ham′let, the greatest of the tragedies of Shakespeare, generally ranked first among dramas, deals with the ancient Danish story of a mythical or semimythical Prince of Jutland, named Amleth or Hamlet. But Shakespeare has dealt with this story in such a way that the tale is true for all time. “It is we who are Hamlet,” said Hazlitt. The story, as told by Shakespeare, opens with Hamlit's vision of the ghost of his father. The ghost reveals to Hamlet what his prophetic soul had already suspected, that his uncle and mother were guilty of the murder of the late king, his father, who now demands vengeance. The tragedy hangs upon the strife within Hamlet's breast between the duty of vengeance thus laid upon him and his natural shrinking from violent action. After an interval of real or feigned madness, probably the latter, Hamlet takes the vengeance which has been forced upon him by the plots against his own life, and himself perishes in the act. The drama is marked by great situations, noble speeches and an unequaled mastery of the workings of the inmost souls of men. The text of the play is chiefly based upon the first folio edition of Shakespeare's collected works (1623) and the quarto edition of 1604. There are evidences that Shakespeare worked upon this drama at intervals during the greater part of his active literary career. Among the most famous passages in Hamlet may be mentioned the advice of Polonius to his son and the soliloquy beginning: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”