Hamlet was first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with Richard Burbage playing Hamlet. It was one of the most widely performed plays during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Although not many details are known about contemporary performances it’s been established that that the crew of the ship Red Dragon, anchored off Sierra Leone, performed Hamlet in September 1607. Also that the play toured Germany within five years of Shakespeare’s death and that it was performed before James 1 in 1619 and Charles 1 in 1637.

The first American performance of Hamlet was by The American Company in Philadalphia 1n 1759 with Lewis Hallam in the lead. After the War of Independence Thomas Apthorpe Cooper played Hamlet in the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and in the Park Theatre in New York, which make him a national celebrity. The celebrated actor, Edwin Booth, older brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, played Hamlet for a hundred nights in the 1864/65 season at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York.

Among the big theatrical names of nineteenth century London, Henry Irving, Johnstone Forbes-Robertson and Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet in several productions. In the twentieth century the notable actors playing Hamlet were John Gielgud, Laurence Oliver, Ian McKellern, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in a Broadway production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1964–5, the longest-running Hamlet in the U.S. to date. The play is as popular in the twenty-first century as it ever was. One of the most distinguished interpreters of the role was Jude Law in 2009 at the Donmar Warehouse, after which the production moved to Broadway, where it was much acclaimed.

Hamlet has been repeatedly filmed. Probably the most notable film was Laurence Olivier’s black and white Hamlet, which won Oscars for best picture and best actor in 1948. A contender for that title is the 1964 Russian film Gamlet, based on a translation by Boris Pasternak and with a musical score by Shostakovich. Other notable films are the 1990 Zeffirelli film with Mel Gibson in the title role and Glenn Close as Gertude, and Kenneth Brannagh’s four hour version. There have been countless television productions..

Other Manifestations of Hamlet

Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead has become a classic. It is based on the two minor characters.