Rather than list the dozens of repetitive Hamlet films that have been made over the years, I’ve tried to come up with a reasonably-short list of adaptations that I think are interesting in one way or another, including a few from each major form.


Hamlet is also rarely performed in full, meaning that ordinary productions need to make some of the same judgments that adapters have to make (what to include and what not).  The line gets blurred in the case of heavily-edited productions like the following, which is called a “retelling” even though it is apparently just a trimmed-down version of Shakespeare’s play:



To provide a baseline, here are clips from some well known Hamlet performances:


• Herbert Beerbohm Tree, 1906 (phonograph recording):



• John Barrymore, 1933:



• John Gielgud, 1948 (phonograph recording):


Brief video (date unknown):



• Richard Burton, 1964:






• Mel Gibson, 1990:



I also found what appears to be a full copy of Tom Stoppard’s film of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead online:



What follows, for the most part, are adaptations that do something unusual.





• The first person to depict Hamlet on film was Sarah Bernhardt, who also starred in the role of Hamlet in a well-known 1899 stage production.  Here is a blog post about her:


Here is a contemporary review of Bernhardt’s performance by Elizabeth Robbins, which discusses having a woman play the role of a man:


The film, which was first shown in 1900, is under two minutes long, and depicts the duel between Hamlet and Lartes:



Strange Illusion is a 1945 noir film with a Hamlet-like plot (although the title card says that it is “Based on an Original Story by Fritz Rotter”).  It is available in full here:



Johnny Hamlet is a really strange-looking spaghetti Western version of Hamlet from 1968.  Here is the trailer, complete with an awful theme song sung in a fake American accent:


Here is a clip:


This film does not seem to be available on DVD in the US.


Hamlet Goes Business is a 1987 Finnish comedy directed by Aki Kaurismäki.  In this version, Hamlet’s father is a CEO rather than a king.  Here are some clips:




Columbia and NYU have a DVD.


• A lot of you have probably seen Hamlet 2 with Steve Coogan (2008).  It is not difficult to find.


• Currently in the works is a Kickstarter-funded film called You (Plural), which is apparently an adaptation of Ulysses, Hamlet, and Homer’s Odyssey.  Here is an article on it from broadwayworld.com:


This article has an absolutely preposterous first paragraph that I can’t resist quoting in full:


Novels, such as James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” “Hamlet” and Homer’s “Odyssey,” are classic works of literature that are loved by many. These famous stories have captivated many with their compelling plots, infamous lessons and powerful morals. Unfortunately, the power of these inspirational books is lost on high school students and younger generations. However, a new feature film on Kickstarter from “You (Plural)” is taking these beloved novels, and adapting them to become more relatable in today’s modern world.


Gee, I hope they raise enough money to save Shakespeare’s novel!





• The Gilligan’s Island episode “The Producer” (1966) has the characters putting on a musical version of Hamlet.  Amazon has this streaming for Prime members only.  I couldn’t find an online copy anywhere else.


• The original Star Trek episode “The Conscience of the King” (1966) also includes a performance of Hamlet.  You can watch it here with ads:


This might also be a good place to mention The Klingon Hamlet (“the restored Klingon version—prepared by the Klingon Language Institute”):



• The “Born to Be King” episode of the British comedy Blackadder (1983) borrows some elements from the assassination plot in Hamlet, and has “additional dialogue by William Shakespeare”.  It is online here:



• The current TV series Sons of Anarchy is apparently partially based on Hamlet—although, much like the connection between Almost Human and Blade Runner, some articles only briefly nod to it, as with this article by Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone:


Here is an article that attempts to use Hamlet to predict how Sons of Anarchy will end:






• John Updike’s 2000 novel Gertrude and Claudius is based on both Hamlet and some of Shakespeare’s sources, such as Saxo Grammaticus’s history.  It is available at NYPL.


• Matt Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club (2006) is a retelling set in modern England.  It is available at NYPL.


• Alan Gratz’s 2007 novel Something Rotten retells the story of Hamlet in the United States.  It is available at NYPL.


• David Wroblewski’s 2008 novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle retells the story among dog breeders in rural Wisconsin.  It is available at NYPL.


• We already talked about Orson Scott Card’s novella Hamlet’s Father.  If you really want to read it, you can find it in the anthology The Ghost Quartet edited by Marvin Kaye, which is held at NYPL.  The standalone version is not available at any NYC-area library.





I Hate Hamlet is a 1991 play by Paul Rudnick about a television actor who is struggling to learn the role of Hamlet, while being haunted by the ghost of John Barrymore.  There is a video of a full performance on YouTube:



A Night in Elsionore is a 2011 parody of Hamlet by Richard Nathan, which was performed in Barre, MA.  The full text is online here:


Here is a strongly negative review:



• There is also obviously the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King.



Music and dance:


• There is an 1868 opera adaptation by Ambroise Thomas with libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier.  There is an audio recording of the full opera on YouTube, although there is no information about the performance:



• There is a 2000 ballet called Hamlet by Stephen Mills.  Here is a Web site with some clips:



• Tom Stroud’s The Garden is a 2001 dance adaptation of Hamlet.  There don’t seem to be any videos around, but here is an article about it:




Interactive/computer forms:


Hamlet, or The Last Game Without MMORPG Features, shaders and Product Placement is an indie adventure game for Windows and smartphones, in which you play a scientist who travels back in time to encounter characters from Shakespeare’s play.  There is a free trial for Windows here, although I can’t vouch for its safety:



To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure is a choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics and Adventure Time fame), funded by Kickstarter and published in 2013.  Here is the Web site:


A copy is held at John Jay, although it is out on loan at the moment (to one of us?).  Wikipedia has some description:



• Finally, this is not specifically about Hamlet, but there is a Shakespeare programming language, in which programs are supposed to resemble Shakespeare plays.  It appears that the characters are variables, and numerical calculations are performed when they praise or insult each other.  Here is the Web site:


7 thoughts on “Hamlet

  1. The “Johnny Hamlet” trailer was amazing – I found myself humming its terrible theme song all throughout Saturday night. What’s most striking (about the trailer and the clip) is the absolute absence of any Halmet-cues that could justify the title. Instead, the trailer views like a mish-mash of inconic Spaghetti Western images and moments, but nonetheless the juxtaposition is interesting. Could Hamlet fall somewhere along the range of cowboy tales (puns), from the Tain Bo to Sergio Leone? Similarly, I recall a moment in a 2008 issue of Batman where Robin considers what Hamlet would be like if the disinherited noble had instead become a caped crusader, urged on by his fathers ghost – kind of a backwards reading (juxtaposing the popular pulp fiction/comic book genre origin story back onto the inciting incident of Shakespeare’s play). Cattle-raiding nobles to badlands bandits, Danish princes to billionarie vigilantes; it seems that culture is always recycling the same stories, but to what extent can we label these “adaptations”?

    I found the panel from the Batman comic http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18643r4ndqhkzjpg/original.jpg

    • Thanks John. And it is indeed your final question about labelling “adaptations” that we’re going to be increasingly confronted with in the last part of the course, from Hutcheon’s “what is not an adaptation?” to what to do with, say, the Taymor/Beatles “Across the Universe”.

  2. As Jeff noted, Hamlet is often edited or shortened, even in performances that are not self-consciously attempting to be ‘adaptations.’ I came across this “talkback” of imagined audience reaction to Hamlet (through the bad hamlet website that Jeff linked to), which generally says all the sorts of things that are used as justification for shortening the play or trimming the cast: the play is too long, there are too many characters for which we don’t know the back story, what’s the motivation here, etc. (http://fluxtheatreensemble.blogspot.com/2011/01/talkback-play-about-talkbacks.html)

    I’ve been thinking about our last discussion of ‘universes’, and how different films or stories can be linked–like Ridley Scott using subtle cues to link Prometheus and Blade Runner–and wondering if this desire for back-story, for layering, for being able to build your own audience / universe (do they amount to the same thing?) is what really drives the desire to perform an adaptation. So many of the Hamlet adaptations are about fleshing out or re-imagining specific characters–Ophelia, R&G, Hamlet’s father–so that the ‘universe’ is not one of setting (time, place, language) but a more psychological construction of audience knowledge, of filling in the gaps. One thing we are grappling with in this class is what, exactly, is an adaptation; I’m reminded with Hamlet of one of our initial unanswered questions, why adaptation?

    • Janie- I think you make a wonderful point about the creation of a “world” within narrative. The physical universe that Shakespeare’s Hamlet works in is certainly not always reproduced. It is the psychological trauma that repeats, and the characterization that remains most important in Shakespearean adaptations. However, there are some adaptations that remain greatly tied into fictional worlds the original work creates. For example, can you imagine adapting The Lord of the Rings without having it take place in Middle Earth? Although possible, some stories are incredibly tied into the landscape they create. Plays work differently however- dramas themselves can be detached from their settings since they are heavily created by dialogue and character motives- not by settings. This is true of most Shakespeare plays I can think of, and I think this is why they are also transformed into so many different types of adaptations.

      On Jeff’s list, I read the article on Tom Stroud’s dance adaptation of Hamlet: http://www.canadianshakespeares.ca/multimedia/ctr/pdf/ctr9.pdf. I was intrigued that the dance included dialogue, and that most of the spoken text was performed by Hamlet himself. The dialogue surrounded Hamlet’s lines because the dancer playing Hamlet, Dan Wild, actually had a knee injury, and so the other dancers surrounded him while he spoke, primarily. This interested me because it not only showed one particular way to adapt a text, but also showed how someone’s disability can affect the actual portrayal of the text. This may open up another discussion on disability and the physical body and its effect on adaptations.

      The article also brings up that the combination of dance and spoken lines gave the performance negative reception since it did not satisfy the dance audience or the audience who was there to see theater. This article reminded me of the performance of Punchdrunks’ ongoing play, Sleep No More, that many of us in the course have seen. Sleep No More has absolutely no dialogue, and the actors use interpretive dance to perform Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The play also changes the setting of the play (one floor looks like a 1930s hospital and asylum) and adds storylines that are not in the original text. Perhaps the reason that Sleep No More is such a success is that it moves away from the original text dramatically. Tom Stroud’s dance interpretation may have not been successful because it was trying to remain loyal in terms of text, yet also differed from the original with the interpretative dance and lack of focus on side characters. Do adaptations either have to be loose adaptations or very close adaptations for them to be successful? We tend to criticize adaptations greatly when we believe that they are supposed to be “true” to the original text, but then fail us in some way or another (this seems to happen mostly in book to movie adaptation reviews.) Yet, if something is only loosely based on a text, such as Clueless, or The Lion King, it’s rare that people complain, because these are clearly not supposed to mirror the original text.

      I feel I run the risk of rambling about what makes a successful adaptation, so I will stop here, and I look forward to our class discussion!

      • I think you’ve laid out a good template for our discussion tomorrow, Alexandra. Thanks. I assume we’re all OK with this; together with Janie’s and John’s.

  3. I was talking Hamlet with my roommate this weekend, and she suggested something interesting, given our discussion as to whether Lion King can be considered an adaptation: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is to Hamlet, what Lion King 1.5 is to the Lion King. I thought I’d throw that out there…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s