Prince Hamlet of Denmark, the main character in Shakespeare's famous play Hamlet, is one of the most complex figures in Western literature. Faced with avenging the murder of his father by killing his uncle, Hamlet struggles with the conflict between good and evil, weakness and strength, and his own indecision.
Hamlet is based on a legendary character found in Danish and Icelandic myths and folktales. An early version appears in an Icelandic saga of the A . D . 800S. Later the Prose Edda, a book of Norse* mythology from the 1220s, mentions a man named Amloi or Amlothi, whose story is similar to that of Hamlet.
Another source for the legend is Historiae Danicae (Danish Histories), written by Saxo Grammaticus in the 1100s. The work contains a story about a figure named Amleth who, like Hamlet, slays the uncle who has murdered his father. Modern scholars have found characters in early Celtic* mythology that seem related to the legend of Hamlet as well.
In Shakespeare's play, first performed in about 1600, Hamlet's uncle Claudius has murdered Hamlet's father and married his mother. Although eager for revenge, Hamlet is reluctant to act. The play focuses on his emotional turmoil and eventual acceptance of his fate. Although Hamlet finally kills Claudius, his actions lead to his own death as well as the deaths of others, including his mother.
saga story recounting the adventures of historical and legendary heroes; usually associated with Icelandic or Norse tales of the Middle Ages
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.