The Ur-Hamlet (the German prefix Ur- means "primordial") is the name given to a play by an unknown author, thought to be either Thomas Kyd, an English dramatist or the more well known English playwright, 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.
Some scholars believe that the Ur-Hamlet had influence from the German work, Der Bestrafte Brudermord.
Because Nashe apparently alludes to Thomas Kyd in the same passage of his Menaphon introduction, and because of similarities between the Shakespearean Hamlet and Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Kyd is believed by many to be the author of the lost Ur-Hamlet,
Certain other scholars believe that the play 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), suggesting the possibility that it 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 that "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.
The mainstream view which still holds is that Q1 is simply a garbled unauthorised version of the text, explaining the quick publication of the corrected version, Q2.
- 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. "Hamlet." - Lost Plays Database. N.p., `19 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <https://www.lostplays.org/index.php?title=Hamlet#.22Fossils.22_of_.22Ur-Hamlet.22_in_Q1>.