The English "Hamlet”
As early as 1603, shortly after William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was probably written, it is said to have been known not only in London, but already in the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. "Hamlet" turns out to be a real success almost immediately: the drama becomes the most performed play on English theater stages in just a few decades. As early as 1710, the English politician Anthony Ashley Cooper, also known as the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, stated that "Hamlet" was the play that touched English hearts the most. The play's success was a result of its popularity with the public.
Indeed, "Hamlet" not only enjoyed great popularity in the 18th century, the drama turned into an educational treasure and became almost omnipresent in the English consciousness. When the German scholar Georg Christoph Lichtenberg attended a performance of "Hamlet" in London in 1775, he found that most of the audience could recite the most famous passages, such as the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, by heart. Shakespeare and his play were not only famous in England, but even sacred.
In retrospect, Lichtenberg's view hardly seems exaggerated. Even at the beginning of the 17th century, for example, not just any actor is allowed to take on the role of Hamlet. It is reserved only for the best. Until the 19th century, the actor of the title role was given significant artistic freedom; hardly any "Hamlet" incarnation has resembled another. Sometimes Hamlet was presented as a more energetic and passionate character, sometimes he was played as a melancholic and romantic one.
Although "Hamlet" productions from the end of the 19th century onwards were determined more by the directors than by the actors, it is still part of the acting career of almost every great actor or actress to ...