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:
• 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: