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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the inspiration for Shakespeare's Hamlet, the play's context and meaning, and why it has fascinated audiences from its first performance.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's best known, most quoted and longest play, written c1599 - 1602 and rewritten throughout his lifetime. It is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encouraged by his father's ghost to take revenge on his uncle who murdered him, and is set at the court of Elsinore. In soliloquies, the Prince reveals his inner self to the audience while concealing his thoughts from all at the Danish court, who presume him insane. Shakespeare gives him lines such as 'to be or not to be,' 'alas, poor Yorick,' and 'frailty thy name is woman', which are known even to those who have never seen or read the play. And Hamlet has become the defining role for actors, men and women, who want to show their mastery of Shakespeare's work.

The image above is from the 1964 film adaptation, directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet.


Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Carol Rutter
Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick


Sonia Massai
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King's College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

53 minutes

Last on

Thu 28 Dec 2017 21:30


Jonathan Bate at the University of Oxford

Carol Rutter at the University of Warwick

Sonia Massai at King's College London

Hamlet - Wikipedia



A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth (first published 1904; Penguin, 1991)

Anthony B. Dawson, Hamlet: Shakespeare in Performance (Manchester University Press, 1995)

John Dover Wilson, What Happens in Hamlet (first published 1935; Cambridge University Press, 1951)

R. A. Foakes, Hamlet versus Lear (Cambridge University Press, 1993)

R. A. Foakes, Shakespeare and Violence (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare: Hamlet (first published 1946; Nick Hern Books, 2004)

Margreta de Grazia, Hamlet without Hamlet (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

John Updike, Gertrude and Claudius (Penguin, 2000)

Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton University Press, 2001)

Tony Howard, Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film and Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Lisa Klein, Ophelia (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006)

Jan Kott, Shakespeare our Contemporary (first published 1964; W. W. Norton, 1974)

Zackary Lesser, Hamlet After Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)

Maynard Mack, Everybody’s Shakespeare (Bison, 1994)

Fintan O’Toole, Shakespeare is Hard, but so is Life: A Radical Guide to Shakespearean Tragedy (Granta Books, 2002)

Carol Chillington Rutter, Enter the body: Women and representation on Shakespeare’s Stage (Routledge, 2001)

William Shakespeare (eds. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor), Hamlet (The Arden Shakespeare, 2005)

William Shakespeare (eds. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen), Hamlet (The RSC Shakespeare: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Bruce Smith, Shakespeare and Masculinity (Oxford University Press, 2000)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Jonathan Bate
Interviewed Guest Carol Rutter
Interviewed Guest Sonia Massai
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 28 Dec 2017 09:00
  • Thu 28 Dec 2017 21:30

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