What is Shakespeare's Most Inspirational Story

Summary of Hamlet

The Elizabethan Theater

Under Queen Elizabeth I, whose reign lasted from 1559 to 1603, England experienced an impressive political and economic boom. The country emancipated itself from the Catholic Church, creating an internal political climate of spiritual and religious tolerance. It also replaced Spain as the strongest seafaring nation and became a major European power. The growing material wealth of the bourgeoisie also contributed to national self-confidence. William Shakespeare's London was a modern, urban, lively and intellectually curious city of around 200,000 inhabitants - ideal conditions for a lively public theater culture. The military and political rise of England sparked interest in its own history, which is why the Elizabethan theater was characterized by historical plays and revenge tragedies - genres that Shakespeare deepened and brought to artistic perfection. Elizabeth I was not only a shrewd politician, but also a great promoter of art and drama. Under her reign, the venues became a place of experience for broad sections of the population, and there was a real theater boom, accompanied by an artistically fruitful competition between professional actors. However, the dramas were regarded as useful literature for the purpose of performance, so that only a small part of the entire production has survived in writing. Around two thirds of the plays from the heyday under Elizabeth I are considered lost.


Shakespeare's Hamlet is heavily influenced by the genre of the revenge drama. It goes back to the Roman philosopher, statesman and poet Seneca (Die Troerinnen, Medea, Oedipus and others). and was further developed for the domestic stage by English playwrights during the Elizabethan theater era. The Spanish tragedy of Thomas Kyd, which directly influenced Hamlet, should be mentioned here. Shakespeare's play was written between 1600 and 1603. Probable sources of the material are a Nordic legend from the Historia Danica by Saxus Grammaticus and the Histoires Tragiques by François Belleforest. The Nordic legend tells of the competition between two men at Denmark's royal court, Belleforest wrote a French version about it. Hamlet experienced numerous editions within a short period of time, with the one from 1604 considered to be the first reliable. The piece is part of an outstanding quartet of Shakespeare's tragedies, which also includes King Lear, Othello and Macbeth. They were all made between 1600 and 1606.

Impact history

Hamlet is one of the most powerful plays in world literature, and its main character, in its ultimately inexplicable contradiction, is an inexhaustible source of inspiration and interpretation. Even in Shakespeare's time, the work was extremely popular, even if it was performed in an abridged version. The first unabridged performance, which lasted five to six hours, did not take place until 1899 in Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. Depending on the political situation and the prevailing philosophical trend, numerous authors and intellectuals in different epochs have designed their own picture of Hamlet. This fared Hamlet in a very similar way to Faust. In particular, Hamlet became a literary figure in whom German writers and philosophers saw the problems of their country reflected. This was facilitated by the outstanding translation by August Wilhelm von Schlegel. Above all, the literary movements of Sturm und Drang and Romanticism saw Shakespeare as the genius, creative, all-rule-breaking artist par excellence. In Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, overcoming Hamlet's dilemma, being torn between action and reflection, is a prerequisite for a fulfilled, self-contained existence.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Shakespeare's hero appeared to many contemporaries in a more negative light. For Heine and Börne, he represented the type of hesitant German intellectual who, out of sheer chatter, fails to make an active contribution to the creation of a liberal nation-state. The German revolutionary lyricist Ferdinand Freiligrath summed up this interpretation in the formula "Hamlet is Germany". For the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, on the other hand, Hamlet was a pure person who inevitably had to fail because of the nasty reality. More recently, Hamlet has been seen as a symbolic figure for the German coming to terms with the past and the search for the guilt of their fathers, but in GDR times also as an exemplary socialist revolutionary. In addition, the piece has inspired a number of musical compositions, around 20 ballets and half a dozen operas. There are also numerous film adaptations. In 1997 a replica of Shakespeare's "Globe Theater" was opened in London, in which mainly plays by the poet are played.