Jump to navigation Jump to search

Hamlet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare[1] (1564–1616).

Full title The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark or The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, usually shortened to Hamlet.

The original text

Written and first performed some time between 1599 and 1602. The first complete published text, the 2nd ("Good") Quarto of 1604/5, carries the title The Tragical Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. The first folio of 1623 has The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, while later editions have the more familiar modern spelling, given above.

It is believed that Shakespeare based the play on the legend of Amleth, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum as subsequently retold by 16th-century scholar François de Belleforest.

Translations, adaptations, parodies, etc

There have of course been numerous adaptations and translations of the text. It has also been parodied, satirized and turned into burlesques.

Hamlet the Dainty was an Ethiopian burlesque on Shakespeare's Hamlet, performed by Griffin & Christy's Minstrels by G.W.H. Griffin.

Translations into South African languages

For performances in translation, see below "Performance history in South Africa"


At least three published translations of Hamlet into Afrikaans exist:

Hamlet by L.I. Coertze, published by Stewart, Cape Town in 1945 and performed in 1947.

Hamlet by D.P. de Klerk published by Tafelberg, 1959.

Hamlet by Eitemal, published by Tafelberg, 1973.

Southern Sotho

Translated into Southern Sotho as Hamlet, kgosi ea Denmark by I. Mahloane. Published by Mazenod in 1964.

Performance history in South Africa

As elsewhere in the world, this is one of the more popular of the tragedies and often performed in South Africa. Perhaps one of the most important Hamlet productions was the Afrikaans production in 1947, for the critical and popular acclaim surrounding its success led directly to the founding of the National Theatre Organisation, the first state-funded theatre company in the British Commonwealth. (See National Theatre Organisation).

In 1964 the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birthday saw major productions of the play put on by a number of companies as part of the Quadricentennial Celebrations.

The performances

1608: According to Jill Fletcher (quoting Keeling and Bonner) the first production of a European play in Southern Africa was when (scenes from) Hamlet were when Captain William Keeling had it performed on board his British East India Company's ship the Red Dragon off the coast of Southern Africa in 1608, on his way to the Cape. "I invited Captain Hawkins to a fishe (sic) dinner, and had Hamlet acted abord (sic) me, which I permit to keep my people from idleness and unlawful games, or sleepe (sic). Later, in a calm spell between Sierra Leone and the Cape, the crew acted Richard II, and there was a repeat performance of Hamlet off the east coast of southern Africa."

1799: According to John Hamber in his book The Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival, a historic handbill stated that Hamlet was staged in Port Elizabeth in 1799. However, the whereabouts of this handbill is unknown. According to another book of the same title but with no author acknowledged, it is stated that Hamlet was staged by the garrison at Fort Frederick and that it was directed by the "officers".

1854: According to F.C.L. Bosman (1928, p426) the first recorded performance of a substantial excerpt from Hamlet on land only occurred in 1854 in Cape Town, when Act 3 was performed by the City Amateur Theatrical Society on Wednesday, 26th July in the Dutch Company's Bree Street Theatre (corner of Dorp Street), Cape Town. It was followed by A Race for Dinner (Rodwell), The Secret (Morris), and Ion (Talfourd).

1858: The first recorded (semi-) professional performance of the full play came with the arrival of Sefton Parry and his 1858 season of Shakespeare plays,

1870: A programme that included a speech from Hamlet (done by T. Brazier) was presented in Cape Town by the Young Men's Institute and Club Dramatic Company on 18 June.

1870: In a joint effort by the Young Men's Institute and Club Dramatic Company, in association with the company of Benjamin Webster, parts of acts 3 and 5 of Hamlet were performed, along with a scene from Henry VIII (Shakespeare) on 9 July. The event took place in the St Aloysius Hall, Cape Town and the performers included Benjamin Webster, T. Brazier, Mrs Brazier, Mr Devere and James Leffler, with Mr Yorke and Mr Davenport as guest performers.

1876: Performed by Disney Roebuck

1895: Performed in Johannesburg by the company of W.J. Holloway of the Lyceum Theatre under the auspices of the Wheeler Theatre Company, with Leonard Rayne as "Hamlet".

1896: Done by the Ben Wheeler Theatre Company in Cape Town in 1896 again with Leonard Rayne.

1947: Produced in Afrikaans by André Huguenet, in conjunction with African Consolidated Theatres, using the translation by Prof. L.I. Coertze. Directed by Anna Neethling-Pohl and Siegfried Mynhardt, it opened at His Majesty’s Theatre in Johannesburg on 5 May 1947. The cast consisted of André Huguenet (Hamlet), Anna Neethling-Pohl (Gertrude), Gideon Roos (Claudius), Berdine Grünewald (Ophelia), Jan Schutte (Horatio), M.P.O. Burgers (Polonius), Siegfried Mynhardt (Laertes), M.S. du Busson (Player King), Esther Mentz (Player Queen), Daniel Smit (Ghost), Emgee Pretorius (Osric), Willem Loots (Rosencrantz), Charles Williams (Guildenstern), Schalk Theron (Gravedigger 1), Stephen Kruger (Gravedigger 2), Daniel Aucamp, Edward Hill, Michal Grobbelaar, Frederik van Dijk, Eugenie Hauptfleisch, Terry Reddan, Willem Steyn. Costumes and sets were by Kobus Esterhuysen. It opened at the Opera House, Pretoria on 27 May 1947. When the cast was initially announced in December 1946, it was to include Johan Nell (Laertes), Antonius Ferreira (Player King), Marie Tjaden (Player Queen), Peter Quinton (Osric).

1957: An abridged version was presented by the University of Stellenbosch Department of Speech and Drama's Arena '57, directed by Robert Mohr. Some of the cast members were Limpie Basson, Cecile Buurman, Jozua van der Lugt (???) and Roelf Laubscher.

1959: Presented by the University of Cape Town's Speech and Drama Department at the Little Theatre in May, directed by Rosalie van der Gucht.

1962: Wits university Players directed by Peggy Marks and Stanley Peskin.

April 16 - 23, 1963: The Amateur Theatre Guild staged Hamlet at the Port Elizabeth City Hall. The play was produced by Will Jamieson with all proceeds going towards the Red Cross. Starring Frank Wise (Claudio), Justine Newman (Ophelia), Tony Jenner (Hamlet), Alf Porter (clown), Colin Ward (clown), Helen Wilkins (Lady-in-Waiting), Molly Kaufmann (Queen Gertrude), Inge Wolff (Lady-in-Waiting), Isobel Porter (Lady-in-Waiting), Jim Shorrock (Hamlet), Brian Gavin (Lartes), John Hamber (Polonius), Phil Jackson (Horatio).

1964: Performed for the Shakespeare Quadricentennial Celebrations at the Maynardville Open-air Theatre in Cape Town, directed by Leslie French, with Will Jamieson (Claudius), Michael McGovern (Hamlet), Alan Prior (Polonius), Roy Sargeant (Horatio), Michael Newell (Laertes), Cecilia Sonnenberg (Gertrude), Judith Gibson (Ophelia), Gordon Sixsmith (Rosencrantz), Drew Wood (Guildenstern), Mickey van der Westhuizen (Marcellus/Osric), Glynn Day (Barnardo), Peter Norman (Francisco), Andrew Wood (A Priest), Alan Wray (Ghost of Hamlet's Father) and others.

1964: Performed for the Shakespeare Quadricentennial Celebrations by PACT in the Johannesburg Civic and the Aula in Pretoria, directed by Margaret Inglis, with François Swart (Hamlet), Reinet Maasdorp (Ophelia), Joe Stewardson (Claudius), Joan Blake (Gertrude), Bruce Anderson (Polonius), Michael Stevenson (Horatio), James White (Laertes), Ronald Wallace (Player King), John Hayter (Fortinbras), Arthur Hall (Osric), Billy Matthews (First gravedigger), Louis Ife (Second gravedigger), Roger Spence (Rosencrantz) and John Whiteley (Guildenstern). Sets by Raimond Schoop and Robert Langford and costumes by Margaret Louttit.

1964: Performed for the Shakespeare Quadricentennial Celebrations by the Natal Performing Arts Council as their first Shakespearian production, directed by Norman Marshall, with, among others, Pieter Scholtz as "Hamlet", Carel Trichardt, Roger Orton, Fred Hagemann and Ivor Kissin.

1969: Staged by the University of Cape Town Drama Department in the Little Theatre, directed by Robert Mohr, with David Haynes (Hamlet), Limpie Basson (Claudius), Harry Victor (Polonius), Paul Slabolepszy (Horatio), Peter Krummeck (Laertes), Johan van Jaarsveld (Voltemand), Philip Graham (Rosencrantz), Nic Goodwin (Guildenstern), Anthony Fagin (Osric), John Eckley (Priest), Ian Peters (Marcellus), Christopher Prophet (Barnardo), William Flynn (Francisco), Farouk Valley-Omar (Reynaldo), Marko van der Colff (Player King), Michael Burke (Player Queen), Johann Bernard (Player Villain), Aubrey Berg (Player Prologue), Denis Raphaely (Player Prompter), Neels Bezuidenhout (Grave-digger), Mike Hough (Fortinbras), Richard Haines (Norwegian Captain), Janice Honeyman (Gertrude), Grethe Fox (Ophelia), Robert Mohr (Ghost), Iain Finley (Guard), Tim Huisamen (Guard), Pierre Knoesen (Guard), Rob Rawlinson (Guard), John Caviggia (Lord) and others. Sets designed by Limpie Basson and lighting by Pip Marshall.

1973: The Eitemal Afrikaans translation, adapted and edited for this production by Robert Mohr, was staged by CAPAB in association with PACOFS, directed by Mohr, opening at the Bloemfontein Civic Theatre on Thursday 15 February 1973 and at the Nico Malan Theatre on Tuesday 13 March 1973 with Cobus Rossouw as Hamlet, also starring Pieter Joubert (Claudius), Jannie Gildenhuys (Polonius]], Errol Ross (Horatio), Neels Coetzee (Laertes), Roelf Laubscher, Price Coetzee, Anton Welman, Raymond Davies, William Egan, Cobus Visser, Johan Botha, Ernst Eloff, Annelize van der Ryst, Pierre Knoesen, Babs Laker and Annelisa Weiland. Decor and costumes designed by Stephen de Villiers. This production was also presented at the Ernst Oppenheimer Theatre in Welkom (28 February to 3 March) and the H.B. Thom Theatre 7 to 10 March).

1974: Presented by NAPAC Drama at The Alhambra Theatre, Durban, directed by English director Peter Dews, from 18 March 1974. It featured Hywel Bennett (as "Hamlet"), Peter Dews (as "Claudius") , Ingride Mollison.

1975: Staged by René Ahrenson and Cecilia Sonnenberg at the Maynardville Open-air Theatre in Cape Town, directed by Leslie French.

1977: Directed by Roy Sargeant, starring Ralph Lawson (Hamlet), Helen Bourne (Ophelia), Peter Curtis (Claudius), Lois Butlin (Gertrude), Bill Jervis (Polonius), Neville Thomas (Horatio), Roger Dwyer (Laertes), Philip Godawa (Osric), John Whiteley (Fortinbras), Peter Cartwright (Rosenkrantz) and Peter Krummeck (Guildenstern). Designer Ken Robinson, lighting John T. Baker, stage manageress Lorraine Bellamy. Opened at the Nico Malan Theatre 27 August, touring the Cape Province 26 September to 22 October.

1978: Staged by PACT, directed by Robert Mohr, with Michael Richard (as Hamlet), Ron Smerczak, Michael McCabe, Diane Britz, Bobby Heaney, Charles Whaley, Clifford Lilley, David Sherwood, Alan Swerdlow, Ian Steadman, Jeff Shapiro, Vaughan Girdlestone, Frantz Dobrowsky, Nigel Vermaas, Ronald Wallace, Gillian Harris and Lesley Nott. Designed by Johan Engels and lighting by Jannie Swanepoel.

1982: Painstakingly abridged by Michael O'Brien assisted by Peter Piccolo, at the Glass Theatre opening on 3 February starring Peter Piccolo (Hamlet), Glynn Day, Brümilda van Rensburg, Tjaart Potgieter, Joanna Weinberg, Gary Carter, David Alcock, Seton Bailey, Rodney Venner, Silamour Philander, Fats Bookholane, Flora Barrow, Gys de Villiers. Directed by Michael O'Brien, set designed by Bee Berman and Anton Johnson, costumes designed by Birrie le Roux, lighting by Michael O'Brien and Leon Benzakein. Music by Alain Barker.

1983: Performed in Afrikaans (the Coertze, translation) by the University of the Orange Free State as the opening production of the Wynand Mouton Theatre in Bloemfontein on Thursday October 13.

1987: The Eitemal Afrikaans translation was staged by PACT, directed by Francois Swart, with Marius Weyers (as Hamlet), Louis van Niekerk, Don Lamprecht, Ben Kruger, Wilna Snyman, Sandra Prinsloo, Richard van der Westhuizen, Bill Curry, William Cronje, Pierre Knoesen, Tobie Cronje, Tjaart Potgieter, Percy Pretorius, Frans Kalp, Andre Odendaal, Johan Malherbe, Usha Khan and Aletta Bosch. Designed by Chris van den Berg.

1989: Performed in The Playhouse by NAPAC, directed by Murray McGibbon with Frantz Dobrowsky as "Hamlet",

1992: Presented by CAPAB Drama, opening at the Nico Theatre on 18 July, with Ralph Lawson, André Jacobs, Keith Grenville, Diane Wilson and others. Presented at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, starring Blaise Koch, André Jacobs, Diane Wilson, Peter Butler and Mark Hoeben

1992: Performed at the Baxter Theatre, directed by Chris Weare with Ralph Lawson, Diane Wilson, Michelle Scott, Gys de Villiers, Blaise Koch, Neels Coetzee. Also played at the Grahamstown Festival in July.

1992: Performed by the Rhodes University Drama Department, directed by Ilse van Hemert the Rhodes University Theatre.

1994: Directed by David Peimer for SODA, Downstairs Theatre, Johannesburg.

1999: Directed by Tina Johnson at the Amphitheatre, Wits, Johannesburg.

2005: Staged by The Baxter Theatre Centre in association with The National Arts Festival, directed by Janet Suzman, with Rajesh Gopie (Hamlet), John Kani (Claudius), Dorothy-Ann Gould (Gertrude), Royston Stoffels (Polonius), Roshina Ratnam (Ophelia), Clyde Berning (Laertes), Adam Neill (Horatio), Marcel Meyer(Rosencrantz), Brett Goldin (Guildenstern), Tauriq Jenkins (Osric and other roles), Mbulelo Grootboom (Fortinbras and other roles), Adrian Collins (Player King and other roles) and Duncan Macfarlane (Attendant and other roles). Design by Peter Cazalet and lighting by Mannie Manim. The run at the National Arts Festival was from 30 June to 9 July.

2006: The Baxter Theatre production, as directed by Janet Suzman, performed as part of RSC The Complete Works Festival, April 2006-March 2007, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

2006: Performed by Artscape at the Artscape Theatre in May, directed by Roy Sargeant, with David Johnson, Peter Butler, Anthea Thompson, Julia Anastasopoulos, Jeroen Kranenburg. Set design by Paul Regenass.

2007: Performed by ArtsCape in the ArtsCape Theatre, directed by Roy Sargeant with David Johnson, Peter Butler, Deirdre Wolhuter, Ralph Lawson, Brendan Murray, Julia Anastasopoulos.

2012: iHamlet (Shakespeare/Malan) presented at The Fringe at Joburg Theatre in May by Jade Bowers Design and Management, performed by Ashraf Johaardien.

2013 Performed by the Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival (PESF) in the Noel Morgan Auditorium at the Little Theatre of the Port Elizabeth Musical and Dramatic Society (PEMADS). Directed by Linda-Louise Swain, with Andrew White, Cameron Robertson, Lesley Barnard, Gift Buqa, Jessica Rijs, David Emery, Dennis Slattery and Ray Saunders.

2015: Performed at the Grahamstown Festival in adapted form as Hamlet, Prince of Denmark ("As performed by the crew aboard The Red Dragon off the east coast of South Africa, 1608") by AMP Productions. Directed by Fred Abrahamse, with Marcel Meyer ("Hamlet"), Michael Richard ("Claudius"), Dean Balie ("Polonius"/"Horatio") Jeremy Richard ("Laertes") Matthew Baldwin ("Ophelia"), Callum Tilbury ("Gertrude).

2016: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by tours Europe.

2017: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark performed at the Theatre on the Bay (Cape Town) and Montecasino Theatre (Johannesburg)

2017: Performed (in tandem with Othello) by Think Theatre, in association with The Playhouse Company, at Hilton and Durban in February and March, also touring to a number of country venues in KwaZulu-Natal, during this period, before transferring to Gauteng for runs in Johannesburg and Pretoria in May. Directed by Clare Mortimer, with Bryan Hiles, Cara Roberts, Clare Mortimer, Michael Gritten, Nhlakanipho Manqele, Darren King, Marc Kay, Chris van Rensburg, Rowan Barlett, Straw Nzimande and Kirsty Ndawo.


There are numerous international and South African adaptations of Shakespeare's play or its plot. Among those produced in South Africa have been:

(Click on the title to see the entry on the adapted play.)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard (1966)

Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth by Tom Stoppard (1966)

Hamletmachine by Heiner Müller

The Marowitz Hamlet by Charles Marowitz

Elsinore by Robert Lepage

The Secret Love Life of Ophelia by Steven Berkoff

Ophelia Thinks Harder by Jean Betts

The Prince of West End Avenue by Alan Isler.

iHamlet by Robin Malan

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer.

The House of O: A Reconstruction of Hamlet by Hanlé Barnard



P.E. Express [2]

"The Secret Love Life of Ophelia" in Entertainment IAfrica [3] (Accessed Fri, 06 May 2005 12:05 AM)

"The sordid side of Hamlet - The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, King's Head, London", Review in The Guardian [4]


Review: Hamlet in the Sunday Times, 11 May 1947

Review: Hamlet in The Argus Tonight!, 24 April 2007[5]

Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 184, 245.

D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [6].

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg: p.

Loren Kruger 1999. The Drama of South Africa: Plays, Pageants and Publics Since 1910 London: Routledge

ACT programme, 1947.

Maynardville theatre programme, 1964.

PACT theatre programme, 1964.

Theatre programme held by NELM: [Collection: SNEDDON, Elizabeth]: 2007. 11. 8. 4. (NAPAC production, 1964).

University of Cape Town theatre programme, 1969.

PACOFS/CAPAB programme, 1973.

CAPAB theatre programme, 1977.

PACT theatre programme, 1978.

Glass Theatre programme, 1982.

PACT theatre programme, 1987.

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Photograph (NAF 1992) held by NELM: Photograph collection [Collection: ISEA]: 2016. 41. 20. 13. 2. 1. 1.

Baxter Theatre Centre programme, 2005.

"Hamlet", What's On - Western Cape, 3 May 2006[7]



Nicole John. 2017. "Think Theatre presents ‘Hamlet & Othello’" News24 and City Press[8] (Accessed: 2017-01-25 06:03)

Return to

Return to PLAYS I: Original SA plays

Return to PLAYS II: Foreign plays

Return to PLAYS III: Collections

Return to PLAYS IV: Pageants and public performances

Return to South African Festivals and Competitions

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page