35 To Be, Or Not 1603 ALEXANDRE DUMAS said Shakespeare was the poet who, after God, created the most. By the time he was 37 he had already written 21 plays and created a sonnet form. He was a prosperous landowner and part owner of the Globe Theatre. His works were regularly performed for Queen Elizabeth I. But in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, first published in 1603, Shakespeare surpassed himself, taking an ancient Scandinavian story of fratricide and revenge and turning it into a dark tale about the human condition that has been translated nearly a thousand times and rarely been out of production. Sarah Bernhardt, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, John Barrymore and Kenneth Branagh have all sought to understand the melancholy Dane.
In the conflicted prince, Shakespeare created an intellectual hero whose impulse for revenge is paralyzed by indecision, a bitterly disillusioned observer of political and moral corruption, a consummate wordsmith. The play is full of questions, but it is through the poetry of its language that Hamlet captured the conscience of the world.