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Why should you read "Hamlet"? - Iseult Gillespie

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“Who’s there?” Whispered in the dark, this question begins a tale of conspiracy, deception and moral ambiguity. And in a play where everyone has something to hide, its answer is far from simple. Written by William Shakespeare, “Hamlet” depicts its titular character haunted by the past, but immobilized by the future. Iseult Gillespie digs into the humanity and tragedy of Hamlet.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Silvia Prietov
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Producer Silvia Prietov
  • Designer Silvia Prietov
  • Art Director Silvia Prietov
  • Senior Animator William Cifuentes
  • Storyboard Artist William Cifuentes
  • Compositor ALETA post-producción
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-checker Francisco Diez
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
What responsibility do we have to the dead? Should we forget the past if our future is at stake? And to what extent are we in control of how the world perceives us? Such big existential questions loom over Hamlet? To add to this turmoil, the question of madness hangs Shakespeare’s most psychological play. Is Hamlet’s mental state part of a performance to confuse his enemies, or are we watching a character on the brink of sanity? All these questions weigh heavily on Hamlet’s interactions with every single character, whether friend and foe. The play can be found, in its entirety and annotated, through Folger Digital Texts. You can also listen to deep dives into the world of the play with The Hamlet Podcast.

Shakespeare’s use of bad timing and delayed action throughout the play suggests that the path to revenge is never straightforward. Although we are generally encouraged to sympathize with Hamlet, Shakespeare offers us two other characters who have different approaches to revenge: the invading prince of Norway Fortinbras, whose father was killed in battle with Denmark; and the determined Laertes, who arrives to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding his own father’s death. These focused figures heighten our fear that Hamlet’s schemes are spiraling out of control.

The story and characters of Hamlet have created a rich mine for screen adaptation and interpretation – from Laurence Olivier’s epic traditional take – see his “to be or not to be here” – to Disney’s The Lion King and the acclaimed adaptation by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, translated into English as The Bad Sleep Well. References to Hamlet’s language and plot are also threaded through pop culture, as this article explains.

Hamlet, of course, has a rich stage history – an overview of which can be found in this Royal Shakespeare Company piece. You can watch this documentary to learn about the joys and challenges of staging and interpreting Hamlet; then listen to this conversation amongst some of the actors who have recently played the moody prince. There is a long history of women playing Hamlet, too.

But title character is not the only one who provides a fascinating template for actors and a rich personal history for the audience. The character of Ophelia has been cause for particular debate among audiences, readers and critic – visit this page for an examination of what we can learn about fictionalized madness, gender, and changing conceptions of female sexuality, read this visual essay on some iconic depictions of Ophelia in art (find more on this topic here), and this personal essay on the author’s love of Ophelia as unlikely icon.


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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Silvia Prietov
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Producer Silvia Prietov
  • Designer Silvia Prietov
  • Art Director Silvia Prietov
  • Senior Animator William Cifuentes
  • Storyboard Artist William Cifuentes
  • Compositor ALETA post-producción
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-checker Francisco Diez
  • See more