Hamlet Resource Pack: An Introduction

Welcome to the Resource Pack for Hamlet which runs at the Young Vic Theatre from 28 October 2011 to 21 January 2012. Resource packs are created for the majority of Young Vic shows, to provide an insight into the plays we produce and how we produce them. Please check back for interviews with the cast and creative team.

Taking Part Department



Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the most famous plays in the world.  It has been translated and performed all over the world, on stage and on screen.  Quotations from the play have become embedded in the language we use today: ‘neither a borrow nor a lender be’, ‘suit the action to the word, the word to the action’, ‘to be or not to be’, ‘the lady doth protest too much methinks’ – all came from Hamlet.  It has been a major influence on culture and on literature, from numerous critical studies, to new plays and stories based on the characters. And, for an actor, young Hamlet is a part that everyone seems to aspire to play.

The play was written sometime between 1599 and 1601.  It is difficult to say precisely when, because publishing worked in a very different way then to now.  It was not so easy to simply type, print and copy; all the texts would have been written by hand.

Three early versions of Hamlet exist, called the First Quarto, the Second Quarto and the First Folio .  The versions are all slightly different – some lines have been added or omitted, and some words are different.  The first quarto of Hamlet was published in 1603 by Nicholas Ling and John Trundell, and printed by Valentine Simmes. It contains about half the amount of text of the second quarto, which was also published by Nicholas Ling in around 1604-5. The first folio, which included all of Shakespeare’s works and was really the first Complete Works of Shakespeare was published in 1623 by Edward Blount and William & Isaac Jaggard. From these three versions, scholars and directors work to reconstitute the ‘original’ Hamlet, but it is almost impossible to know what the original Hamlet was exactly like.

  • ‘Quarto’ and ‘Folio’ are names that actually refer to the size of the paper that the text was printed on: if you imagine a sheet of paper, fold it once in half so you have a rectangle, then fold it again into a square, then open it out and lay it flat, you have eight sections, four on the front and four on the back.  This was called a quarto.  If you just fold the paper once into a rectangle and then unfold it, you have four sections, two on the front and two on the back.  This was called a folio. (Try it with a normal A4 sheet!).

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