The Ur-Hamlet (the German prefix Ur- means "original") is a play by an unknown author, thought to be either Thomas Kyd or William Shakespeare. No copy of the play, dated by scholars to the second half of 1587, survives today. The play is known to have been staged in London, more specifically at The Burbages' Shoreditch Playhouse as recalled by Elizabethan author Thomas Lodge. The play is known to have a character named Hamlet; the only other known character from the play is a ghost who cries, "Hamlet, revenge!"
What relation the Ur-Hamlet bears to Shakespeare's more commonly known play Hamlet is unclear: it may contain events supposed to have occurred before Shakespeare's tragedy or it may be an early version of that play; the First Quarto in particular is thought perhaps to have been influenced by the Ur-Hamlet.
Thomas Nashe, in his introduction to Greene’s Menaphon (1589), writes in a riddling way that seems to leave clues regarding the identity of playwrights who have left the trade of noverint (lawyer’s clerk) to turn to writing, and who are being influenced by the Roman playwright Seneca, who "if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets…" Nashe then writes that his followers are like the "kid" in Aesop. The reference to "Hamlets" vouches for the idea that a Hamlet-play existed as early as 1589. Other references, are interpreted by some to contribute to the idea that Thomas Kyd, who was a noverint, and a Seneca-influenced playwright, and whose name is a homophone of Aesop’s "kid", might be the author of the Hamlet that Nashe mentions.
Some suggest that the Ur-Hamlet is an early version of Shakespeare's own play, pointing to the survival of Shakespeare's version in three quite different early texts, Q1 (1603), Q2 (1604) and F (1623), and offer the possibility that the play was revised by the author over a period of many years. While the exact relationship of the short and apparently primitive text of Q1 to the later published texts is not resolved, Hardin Craig has suggested that it may represent an earlier draft of the play and hence would confirm that the Ur-Hamlet is in fact merely an earlier draft of Shakespeare's play. This view is held in some form or another by Harold Bloom, Peter Alexander, and Andrew Cairncross, who stated, "It may be assumed, until a new case can be shown to the contrary, that Shakespeare's Hamlet and no other is the play mentioned by Nashe in 1589 and Henslowe in 1594". Harold Jenkins, in his 1982 Arden edition, dismisses this assertion.
- Bloom, Harold (1998). Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead. ISBN 1-57322-120-1.
- Edwards, Philip, ed. (1985). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The new Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22151-X.
- Jenkins, Harold, ed. (1982). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The Arden Shakespeare. London, England: Methuen. ISBN 0-416-17910-X.
- Knutson, Rosyln L. (April 21, 2016). "Hamlet". Lost Plays Database. Retrieved August 22, 2018.