Shakespeare's Hamlet

With more than 4,000 lines, which play by Shakespeare is the longest?

And the answer: Hamlet.

Photo courtesy: public domain. 

With close to 30,000 words and more than 4,000 lines, Hamlet is by far the longest play written by William Shakespeare. More than a third of those lines are spoken by the character Hamlet, making the role one of the most challenging for an actor to undertake.

Today, Hamlet is one of the most widely portrayed characters on film and TV. While most productions amend the script as to not subject an audience to over four hours of the drama, there is no definitive original text of Hamlet. The versions known and loved today each come with minor discrepancies between texts – most prominently, the famous line "To be or not to be: that is the question" appears as "To be or not to be, I there’s the point" in the earliest version of the text.

The plot for Hamlet draws from an older Danish legend. In the original story, a 13th century chronicle, Hamlet is named Amleth and is a little boy whose uncle has killed his father. Because Danish tradition expects the son to avenge his father’s death, the uncle starts to keep a close eye on little Amleth. To avert suspicion and make his uncle believe that he, little Amleth, has no plans to seek revenge, Amleth pretends to be mad – a madness which Shakespeare’s Hamlet will also put on.

Learn more about the history and impact of this famous play below.

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