To be… to be… to be… to be… to be… to be… – or not?

29th March 2013

In the diary next week are two Hamlets. On Monday afternoon I am introducing the 1964 television Hamlet at Elsinore at BFI Southbank, and then on Wednesday I have a ticket to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production in Stratford-upon-Avon. The former is showing as part of my Screen Plays season Classics on TV: Jacobean tragedy on the small screen. A co-production between BBC Television and Danmarks Radio, it is a fascinating adaptation with Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw and Donald Sutherland (and there are still a few tickets to be had). The RSC’s presentation, which stars Jonathan Slinger (above, with Luke Norris as Laertes) and is directed by David Farr, has had mixed reviews this week (Paul Taylor in the Independent largely pro, Michael Billington in the Guardian mixed and the Telegraph‘s Charles Spencer unenthusiastic), although everyone agrees that Slinger is compelling. All of which is my rationale for simply collecting seven versions of ‘To be or not to be’, starting with this one…

2. Laurence Olivier, 1948

3. Richard Burton, 1964

4. Kenneth Branagh, 1996

5. Ethan Hawke, 2000

6. Luke Kirby, from the television series Slings and Arrows, 2003-06

7. Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie, ‘A small rewrite’, 1989


  1. Helene says:

    I’ve seen the 1948 Hamlet with Olivier, but compared to the 2009 David Tennant version, the 1948 film appears weak. Which goes to show that it isn’t only about the actor … it’s about the entire production that draws one in.

  2. As I seem to be in a Hamlet kick at the moment (and I am coming to the BFI screening on Monday), I enjoyed the different renditions immensely.

    Although no collection is complete without this version:

    “This is a book with jigsaws in it, Brian”. This sums up Hamlet nicely.

  3. A somewhat familiar list. Here are seven rather fine alternatives: (inspired multiperformer version by the Hillside Student Community) (another good multi-performer rendition from the Australian Theatre for Young People) (in the original Klingon) (a wistful sock puppet) (a female Hamlet from Amy Walker, while flossing) (and an egg)

    and not forgetting the 365 renditions of the soliloquy by Shaktim, ‘The Hamlet of YouTube’:

    OK, that’s 371 alternatives. See you soon at the NFT.

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