(Laura Estill’s article appeared on the British Council, 6/9.) 

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play in modern times, but how did Shakespeare's contemporaries rate his works? Professor Laura Estill of the World Shakespeare Bibliography looks at how attitudes to Shakespeare have changed over time. 

Nearly 400 years after his death, the best-known of all Shakespeare's lines is ‘To be or not to be’ from Hamlet, his most popular play in modern times. Hamlet has been translated into more than 75 languages (even Klingon), and performances are always taking place across the world. The Globe-to-Globe Hamlet production, for example, is currently on a two-year tour. It will have performed in every country in the world by 23 April 2016.

Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant, Jude Law, Maxine Peake and Ethan Hawke are just some of the famous actors who have played Hamlet in the last 50 years. It is perhaps the most iconic role in all theatre.

By looking at the number of publications of, and about, each Shakespeare play recorded in the World Shakespeare Bibliography, we can see that in the past 50 years, people have gravitated towards the tragedies. Among those, Hamlet is the most popular.

But this was not always the case.


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