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Hamlet in popular culture

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Title: Hamlet in popular culture  
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Subject: Hamlet, Fortinbras (play), Hamlet (1900 film), Hamlet (1921 film), Hamlet (1912 film)
Collection: Hamlet, References to Literary Works
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hamlet in popular culture

Numerous references to Hamlet in popular culture (in film, literature, arts, etc.) reflect the continued influence of this play. Hamlet is one of the most popular of Shakespeare's plays, topping the list at the Royal Shakespeare since 1879.[1]


  • Plays 1
  • Film and television 2
    • Film 2.1
    • Television 2.2
      • Comedy and cartoon TV shows 2.2.1
      • Drama 2.2.2
      • Horror 2.2.3
      • Mystery and detective shows 2.2.4
      • Science fiction 2.2.5
    • Video games 2.3
  • Literature 3
    • Books 3.1
    • Poetry 3.2
    • Short stories 3.3
  • Music 4
    • Opera 4.1
    • Instrumental 4.2
    • Contemporary 4.3
  • Comic strips and web comics 5
  • Videos and digital media 6
  • Other references 7
  • Common vernacular 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


It has been argued that there are, effectively, only around thirty unique plots in all of literature. The following list of plays including references to Hamlet is ordered alphabetically.

  • In the Reduced Shakespeare Company version of The Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged), the entire second act consists of their deliberately folded, spindled, and mutilated version of Hamlet. For an encore, they perform the 45-second version of Hamlet, followed by the 3-second version, followed by the 45-second version backwards.
  • Paul Rudnick's 1991 play, I Hate Hamlet, tells the story of a TV actor from L.A. who gets talked into doing Hamlet for Shakespeare in the park in New York. He rents John Barrymore's old apartment, and is soon haunted by the ghost of Barrymore himself.
  • Richard Curtis's Skinhead Hamlet, a brief, rude, parody of the play which, according to the editors, is meant to be "Shakespeare's play translated into modern English. Our hope was to achieve something like the effect of the New English Bible."
  • The play Fortinbras covers the beginnings of Fortinbras's reign in Denmark immediately following the events of Hamlet. Fortinbras is experiencing difficulty assuming the crown; Horatio attempts to get Fortinbras to tell Hamlet's story; the other characters (Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia, etc.) all haunt Fortinbras as ghosts.
  • The one act play, Something's Rotten in the State of Denmark, which heavily spoofs Hamlet, basically shows how bad Hamlet can get.
  • Anton Chekhov's The Seagull makes a reference to a line in Hamlet when the character Constantine says [while describing another character], "Here he comes with his little book – words, words, words."

Film and television


The following list is ordered alphabetically.

  • In 24 Hour Party People, Tony Wilson quotes the T. S. Eliot poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" claiming, 'I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be' when he discusses missing crucial information in his own semi-biographical film.
  • Egyptian director Youssef Chahine frequently cites from Hamlet in his films. His films Alexandria... Why? (1978) and Alexandria... New York(2004) feature performances of soliloquies. In Alexandria Again and Forever (1990), Hamlet appears as a film within the film.
  • The 2006 Chinese film The Banquet (also known as Legend of the Black Scorpion) has a storyline closely based on the story of Hamlet.
  • In the 2009 animated movie Coraline, two characters deliver part of Hamlet's 'What a piece of work is a man' speech while performing a trapeze act.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, the fifth episode of the Star Wars saga, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) tries to reassemble the body of the droid C-3PO body while imprisoned in Cloud City. At one point, Chewbacca holds C-3PO's head in much the same way that Hamlet is traditionally depicted as holding Yorick's skull. This reference was intentional on the part of the director.[2]
  • In Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, the children's father is rehearsing the part of the Ghost for a production of the play when he dies, and then appears to Alexander later in the film as an actual ghost. The play's plot is also referenced in other ways, including Alexander's hatred for and confrontation with his new stepfather. A character even explicitly tells Alexander that he is not Hamlet.
  • Tom Stoppard has a short entitled, The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman in the cast. The fifteen-minute version is followed by an even shorter version.
  • The play has been referenced in the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. In an English class, the play is discussed, and in the course of the scene, the quote from the 1948 film starring Laurence Olivier is used as the answer to the question 'Describe the character of Hamlet.' The answer: 'A man who couldn't make up his mind.'
  • In Gettysburg, Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain recites Hamlet's speech 'What a piece of work is man. How infinite in faculties and form, and movement... How express and admirable. In action how like an angel' while discussing slavery. To which Sergeant Kilrain responds: 'Well, if he's an angel, all right then... But he damn well must be a killer angel.'
  • The 1995 film Green Eggs and Hamlet retells the story of Hamlet entirely in rhyming couplets, mimicking the style of the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.
  • The 2008 film Hamlet 2 briefly mentions Hamlet merely as a device to be a companion with Jesus in a time machine. otherwise from that, there are very few similarities.
  • The plot of 2012 Indian Malayalam film Karmayogi (The Warrior) is adapted from Hamlet. It is so far the only Indian adaptation of the tragedy.
  • Themes and plot elements from the Disney film The Lion King are inspired by Hamlet.
  • The horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street features a dream sequence where the teenage heroine is in class listening to another student recite dialogue from Hamlet, 'I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.'
  • The movie Shakespeare in Love alluded to Hamlet by quoting directly from the play: 'Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move . . .' and 'words, words, words.'
  • The Ninth Configuration featured mentally ill soldiers in an asylum, one of whom wants to stage an all-dog production of Hamlet — the title role, of course, going to a Great Dane.
  • In both the musical and 2005 film adaptation of The Producers, Max Bialystock's musical Funny Boy closes on opening night. It is supposedly a musical version of Hamlet.
  • Hamlet features strongly in the film Renaissance Man, in which Danny DeVito's character uses its plot and characters to introduce a group of under-achieving soldiers to critical thinking.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead is a 2009 American independent film written and directed by Jordan Galland. The film's title refers to a fictitious play-within-the-movie, which is a comic reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and its aftermath.[3]
  • In Soapdish, Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline) expresses his desire to perform a One-Man Hamlet, which he justifies by saying the whole thing is happening in Hamlet's head, so you only need one actor.
  • The title for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) is a reference to the soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet. General Chang, a Klingon officer in the film, is additionally a Shakespeare aficionado who opines that Shakespearian works are best experienced in the 'original' Klingon. Indeed, Klingonists Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader in 1996 published The Klingon Hamlet — a Klingon translation of the play. The Klingon version of the famous quote 'To be, or not to be', which Chang recites at a number of points in the film, is taH pagh taHbe' .
  • The 1983 comedy, Strange Brew, is loosely based on Hamlet. However, the state of Denmark is replaced by the ownership of Elsinore Brewery and Hamlet is portrayed as a woman.
  • Both film versions of To Be or Not to Be, (Ernst Lubitsch's in 1942 and Mel Brook's in 1983), use Hamlet's soliloquy as a major plot device.
  • The title and the concept of afterlife explored movie, What Dreams May Come (1998) starring Robin Williams, comes directly from Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' speech.
  • In the cult British comedy film Withnail and I, Withnail's uncle Monty reminisces about giving up acting on realising that he would 'never play the Dane' — how at that moment in a young man's life all ambition ceases. Withnail says it is a part he intends to play. The film finishes with Withnail in the rain making the speech from Hamlet 'I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth' to some captive wolves.


Comedy and cartoon TV shows

  • In a VeggieTales episode (Lyle the Kindly Viking) with a short called "Omelet," an "interpretation" of the story of Hamlet.
  • The Brak Show referenced the basic plot of Hamlet in the episode "Braklet, Prince of Spaceland". In the episode, Brak's father is killed by Zorak, who also hypnotizes Brak's mother into believing that the two are married. Brak's father appears as a ghost, and informs Brak what has happened. Brak goes insane and makes a movie of the murder, which he shows to Zorak.
  • The sitcom, Frasier, features an episode entitled "Roz's Krantz And Gouldenstein Are Dead".
  • In a Gilligan's Island episode entitled "The Producer," the castaways put on a musical production of Hamlet set to the music of Carmen.
  • Hamlet Goes Business (Hamlet liikemaailmassa) (1987), written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki, is a comic reworking of the story as a power struggle in a rubber duck factory.
  • Episode 43 of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1974) is entitled "Hamlet".
  • In episode 10x9 of the final season of the Sci-Fi Channel TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike and the Bots watched a version of Hamlet. The movie used was a version made in 1960 for West German TV. This was seen as a way for Best Brains, the show's studio, to do make films that they normally couldn't make since the last season of the show was almost done. While a good effort, this is generally seen among MSTies as one of the weaker episodes of the show, primarily due to the difficulty of riffing on Shakespeare's dialog.
  • The Simpsons offered a shortened version of Hamlet in the episode "Tales from the Public Domain". After this, Homer claims that Hamlet was made into the film Ghostbusters.
  • The "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow" episode of South Park, in which Terrance and Philip's professional relationship fails, it results in one of them becoming a Shakespearean actor who subsequently performs Hamlet with other Canadian actors.
  • In episode 3x05, "Freddie" of the e4 show Skins, the characters read and study Hamlet in their English class. The character Naomi refers to Hamlet's soliloquizing as "wanking." The character Pandora also confuses the play with the book series Harry Potter.
  • In a season 5 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, Marco Del Rossi comes out as gay to his father while playing Hamlet in a school production of the play.
  • In Series 5 Episode 4 of the British sitcom Peep Show, when Jeremy expresses his hatred for his mother's new boyfriend, Mark angrily retorts: "You're not Hamlet!", referencing Hamlet's anger at Claudius.[4]


  • In a season 8 episode of ER entitled "Secrets and Lies," both Drs. John Carter (Noah Wyle) and Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic) reveal that they both performed Hamlet in college; They played Horatio and Hamlet, respectively. Carter began to recite the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy, but when he could not remember any more, Luka took over for him, beginning in English and finishing it in Croatian.
  • The play is mentioned in multiple episodes of Joan of Arcadia. At first, Friedman is told he can go on a date with Judith if he memorizes the entire play. After Judith's death and Friedman's completion of his task, he quotes multiple lines of love in her memory.
  • In episode 3 of the first series of The Mighty Boosh, Howard Moon quotes several lines from Hamlet on the subject of death. In the opening scene, Howard recites the lines from Hamlet’s third Soliloquy beginning "Death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns."
  • In the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows, the famous actor Geoffrey Tennant returns to the New Burbage Theatre Festival, the site of his greatest triumph and most humiliating failure, to assume the Artistic Directorship after the sudden death of his mentor, Oliver Welles. When Geoffrey returns to the theatre, he finds that it is haunted by the ghost of the recently departed Oliver. Oliver and Geoffrey's interactions are comically reminiscent of the dialogue between Hamlet and the ghost of his father. With Oliver haunting him, Geoffrey directs a remarkable production of Hamlet. The cast includes Due South's Paul Gross, Rachel McAdams, and Mark McKinney.
  • The Sons of Anarchy draws not only many character parallels to Hamlet, but much of its storyline also. It is, in fact, explicitly the story of Hamlet, written as if Denmark were a northern California small town and all its characters members of the motorcycle club.
  • Lopakhin, character of The Cherry Orchard by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov says "Get thee to a nunnery Ophelia-Ophoolia. (...) Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my sins dismembered!", parodying Act III scene 1 of Hamlet.
  • Alan Bennett wrote a play for television called "Denmark Hill" which transposes the action to "a leafy south London suburb" in the 1980s, which has since been adapted for radio.[5]


  • In the Tales from the Crypt episode "Top Billing", a group of insane playwrights are attempting to stage a performance of Hamlet, and all they need is a skull.

Mystery and detective shows

  • A successor to Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, aired an episode called "Lewis and the Ghost of Inspector Morse" which has many direct and indirect references to the play, and Inspector Lewis uses a clue from his dead mentor to solve the case, an eerie parallel Correction: Reference was in the pilot episode called 'Reputation'. Clue was 'Polo is not King' written on a crossword and referred to the paternity of a businessman's son.[6]
  • In the anime Kuroshitsuji, Black Butler, an OVA shows the characters putting on a production of Hamlet with an alternate ending.
  • The final line as well as the title of the Grimm Season 2 Finale, "Goodnight, Sweet Grimm" makes reference to Act V Scene II.
  • An second-series episode of New Zealand detective series The Brokenwood Mysteries entitled "To Die or Not To Die" centres on a stage performance of Hamlet.

Science fiction

  • In an episode of the original Star Trek series entitled "The Conscience of the King" features a production of Hamlet. Some aspects of the episode (e.g., Kirk's hesitation to confront a murderer until he is sure of his guilt) echo themes in the play.

Video games

  • In the video game Mass Effect, Hamlet is re-enacted by an alien race known as Elcors. Due to the Elcor's slow speech, the stage production is a 14-hour experience.
  • In the Onimusha video game series, many of the Genma bosses are named after some of the characters in Hamlet: Fortinbras is the Genma King, Rosencrantz Guildenstern is the evil genma scientist, Marcellus one of Guildenstern's greatest creations and a formidable foe for Samanosuke, Ophelia, Gertrude is the Genma hound dog, Guildenstern, Osric, Reynaldo (Sent to spy on Laertes) is also one of the names of one of Guildenstern's creations and a smaller genma you battle throughout the series and Marcellus, the first of Guildenstern's creations and the first boss in Onimusha I.
  • In the Warcraft Universe, Illidan Stormrage's character appears to be loosely based on Hamlet. He is known to have gone mad (partly due to rejection from his love) and is depicted peering into a skull (a la Hamlet's soliloquy).
  • In LA Noire, Cole Phelps, the protagonist, recites "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio" after finding a shriveled plaster head at a crime scene.
  • The MMORPG Mabinogi (video game) has Hamlet as the central theme to the thirteenth generation in the game, in which the player is called upon to the city of Avon, a place where Gods are banished, under the knowledge that "The Tragic Bard" (referring to Shakespeare himself) has escaped. You help Shakespeare complete his play, going against the wishes of the Goddess Morrighan, who wishes for Shakespeare's plays to remain unfinished.
  • In the game Borderlands 2, Psychos have a chance of reciting a passage from Act 1, Scene 2 of Hamlet. Also, the New-U Stations may reference "The Undiscovered Country" upon the player's death and subsequent respawn.
  • In the Halo Game Category Oddball the description is "Like Hamlet with guns". Also in Halo In the Novel "Contact Harvest" The smart AI Mack quotes Hamlet saying " Me thinks the lady protest a little too much."
  • The expansion pack The Nightmare Levels for Blood II: The Chosen has the deceased villain Gideon narrating as a talking skull, commenting that perhaps one day he may "serve as a muse to some unfortunate playwright who wanders this way."



  • The ninth chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, commonly referred to as Scylla and Charybdis, is almost entirely devoted to a rambling discourse by Stephen Daedalus on Shakespeare, centering around the character Hamlet. As a character predicts more or less accurately in the very first chapter, "[Daedalus] proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father."
  • Gertrude and Claudius, a John Updike novel, serves as a prequel to the events of the play. It follows Gertrude from her wedding to King Hamlet, through an affair with Claudius, and its murderous results, up until the very beginning of the play.
  • Dead Fathers Club, a novel by Matt Haig, uses intertextuality to retell the story of Hamlet from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy in modern England.
  • Anton Chekhov wrote a feuilleton titled I am a Moscow Hamlet (1891), the mutterings of a gossip-mongering actor who contemplates suicide out of sheer boredom.
  • Jasper Fforde's novel Something Rotten includes Hamlet – transplanted from the BookWorld into reality – as a major character. This version of Hamlet frets about how audiences perceive him, complains about the performances of actors who have portrayed him, and at one point resolves to go back and change the play by killing Claudius in the beginning and marrying Ophelia.
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" the protagonist, Eliot Rosewater, writes a letter to his wife while pretending to be Hamlet.
  • David Bergantino's novel Hamlet II: Ophelia's Revenge, set in modern Denmark, portrays Ophelia rising from the dead to get revenge on Hamlet.
  • Nick O'Donohoe's 1989 science fiction novel Too Too Solid Flesh portrays a troupe of android actors designed specifically to perform Hamlet; when the androids' designer is murdered, the Hamlet android decides to investigate.
  • In Kyle Baker's 1996 graphic novel The Cowboy Wally Show, Cowboy Wally's masterpiece is the film "Cowboy Wally's HAMLET", a modernized version produced in secret while Wally was in prison. He had planned to film Hamlet professionally, but was jailed for an unspecified offense, before he could cast actors, and so used his cell-mates for the cast. The film failed, like many of Cowboy Wally's efforts, due to his ineptness, but he attributed the failure to the film being "ahead of its time".
  • David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest takes its name from Hamlet's speech about Yorick, and features a main character struggling with his uncle's influence following the suspicious death of his father.
  • The plot of David Wroblewski's novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle closely follows the story line of Hamlet, and several of the novel's main characters have names similar to their corresponding characters in the play.
  • John Marsden's novel Hamlet is a reinterpretation of the original for young adults. It is set in Denmark and the characters keep their names, their personalities and their functions in the story.
  • In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Marley death as it said with a Hamlet part, There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot – say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance – literally to astonish his son's weak mind.
  • Ngaio Marsh's detective Roderick Alleyn in all her novels uses quotes, misquotes and allusions to Hamlet as a characteristic conversational idiosyncrasy.
  • Pamela Dean's novel Tam Lin prominently features a production of the play which her characters attend and discuss.


Short stories

  • In the short story, "Much Ado About (Censored)" by Connie Willis, a pair of high school students volunteer to help their teacher edit the play in a satire on political correctness.
  • "In The Halls Of Elsinore," a short story by Brad C. Hodson, takes place in an Elsinore occupied by Fortinbras. Told from Horatio's point of view, the story is about a malignant presence that resides in Elsinore – the same presence that appeared to young Hamlet as his father.



At least 26 operas have been written based on Hamlet, including:


Instrumental works based on Hamlet include:


Contemporary popular music includes:

  • "Cruel to Be Kind" is a 1979 single by Nick Lowe. The title of the song is taken from Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4: "I must be cruel only to be kind. Thus bad begins and worse remains behind."
  • Steampunk band Abney Park recorded a song entitled "Dear Ophelia", in which the vocalist sings as Prince Hamlet, and apologizes to Ophelia for all the things he had done, even telling the story of his father, who died when "his brother crept out, and poured poison in his ear"
  • The title track of the album Elsinore by Swedish musician Björn Afzelius is about a prince locked up in the castle of Elsinore.
  • "Hey There Ophelia" is the thirteenth track off the album, This Gigantic Robot Kills by MC Lars. It features lyrics about Ophelia, Claudius, and Hamlet's father's ghost from Hamlet's point of view.
  • "Hamlet", a track on the album Vigilantes. Love. Sad. Food. by Nostalgesia is based on the play; it mentions Hamlet's warnings from the ghost of his father and uses lines from the play for some of the lyrics.
  • Serbian hard rock band, Riblja Čorba, released album entitled Ostalo je ćutanje (trans. "The Rest Is Silence") in 1996. Album features a track entitled "Nešto je trulo u državi Danskoj" (trans. "Something's Rotten in the State of Denmark"), the song itself referring to Serbia. Album cover features band's frontman Bora Đorđević holding a skull.
  • Richard Thompson, British singer/songwriter, sings a live version of the story of Hamlet on "The Life And Music Of – CD 4 – The Songs Pour Down Like Silver". The interpretation is not terribly serious ("Like a hole in the head, Denmark needed that prince").
  • Mr. Crumple, an American singer/songwriter, recorded a 5-song EP in 2011 titled "Prince of Denmark" which sets Hamlet‍ '​s text to music.
  • Singer-songwriter Stephan Nance alludes to Hamlet in two songs on his album A Troubled Piece of Fruit. "Paid By Weight" includes multiple references to Laertes' lines in Act 4, Scene 5. The trilingual "Japanese Garden" mentions both Hamlet in the English lyrics ("Hamlet without the Prince") and, in the Russian, a line from Othello (trans. "I love not wisely but too well").

Comic strips and web comics

  • In a Sunday 'Calvin and Hobbes strip (March 6, 1994), Calvin is about to eat a plateful of green mush when suddenly, the mush comes to life and recites the first 12 & 1/2 lines of the To be, or not to be soliloquy. The mush then begins singing a song and Calvin eats it up. He then says to his mother, "Let's not have this ever again."
  • Hamlet is currently being adapted as a web comic that uses stick figures.

Regan Anderson's play

Videos and digital media

  • In the multiplayer RPG Mabinogi, a series of "theatre mission" quests sends the player into scenes from, or based on, Hamlet, frequently enhanced with monster encounters.

Other references

  • The play (as well as the Shakespearean canon as a whole) is frequently given as an example of a text which would be reproduced under the conditions of the infinite monkey theorem.
  • HamLeT is also the term for a ham, lettuce, and tomato sandwich — like a BLT only with (Danish?) ham instead of bacon — which has inspired the doubtful HamLeT's Sandwich Soliloquy.

Common vernacular

The play has contributed many phrases to common English vernacular, including the famous "To be, or not to be".


  1. ^ (Crystal, David, & Ben Crystal, The Shakespeare Miscellany. New York, 2005)
  2. ^ Irvin Kershner, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back DVD Commentary.
  3. ^ "Official Website for Rosencranz & Guildenstern Are Undead". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Alan Bennett contemporary Hamlet 'Denmark Hill' heading for Radio 4".  
  6. ^ First shown on ITV 26 January 2006 also WorldHeritage entry: List of Lewis Episodes

External links

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