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Hamlet's age


I suppose that many of you had to know Shakespeare's drama literally by heart, but I didn't, so I'm coming up with this question. In the book it's clearly stated, that prince of Denmark must be about thirty years old - it's definitely an adult age now, let alone in former times. Despite of that fact, Hamlet's emotional problems are rather those characteristic for young people. This charater is also associated with a young man. In addition he is often portrayed as such in plays or films.

The question of Hamlet's age is crucial for the interpretation of the book - if we look at prince's feelings, thoughts and behaviours bearing in mind that he is a grown-up man, it almost indicates some serious mental problems, doesn't it? Why did Shakespeare described this character in that way? What did he mean by that?

Brooke Dolara

New Member
That question has been tossed around a lot, and pretty much hasn't led to a general consensus. From the various adaptations onscreen, Hamlet's age ranges from that of around 18 to as old as possibly 35. The "contemporary" adaptations, in my guess an attempt to lure in young audience members with familiar names, would place Hamlet at around 18-20 years old. Michael Almereyda's Hamlet, as portrayed by Ethan Hawke (groan) is a sulky college student. The film adaptation of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead also depicts Hamlet in his teenage years. However, adaptations such as Mel Gibson's Hamlet & Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet showcase the lead at a later point in life, in their twenties. Of course, these directors also portrayed Hamlet in their respective movies, and were considerably older than 29 during production.
Stage adaptations run the same gamut in terms of guessing Hamlet's age. Derek Jacobi's run as Hamlet on stage at that point in his career would pinpoint Hamlet's age at around 29, whereas Keanu Reeves(yes, your reading this correctly)'s portrayal has Hamlet at around 20, again.


New Member
If we do not take into account the different movies, but study the text itself. If we look at the last act (third act) scene I, we find the following conversation between Hamlet and the Clovn. (my bold markings)

Hamlet. How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us. By the Lord, Horatio, this three years I have taken note of it, the age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier he galls his kibe.- How long hast thou been a grave-maker?
Clown. Of all the days i' th' year, I came to't that day that our last king Hamlet overcame Fortinbras.
Hamlet. How long is that since?
Clown. Cannot you tell that? Every fool can tell that. It was the very day that young Hamlet was born- he that is mad, and sent into England.
Hamet. Ay, marry, why was be sent into England?
Clown. Why, because 'a was mad. 'A shall recover his wits there; or, if 'a do not, 'tis no great matter there.
Hamlet. Why?
Clown. 'Twill not he seen in him there. There the men are as mad as he.
Hamlet. How came he mad?
Clown. Very strangely, they say.
Hamlet. How strangely?
Clown. Faith, e'en with losing his wits.
Hamlet. Upon what ground?
Clown. Why, here in Denmark. I have been sexton here, man and boy thirty years.

This coins Hamlet to be 30 at the end of the play.
Taking into consideration some remarks on how long it takes Hamlet to be brought back to England and the time taken for Laertes to get back from Paris. My guess is that he would be around 29 in the beginning of the play.

There have been made remarks that the conversation that point out that Hamlet is 30 was made so that the age of Hamlet would be roughly the same as the actor playing him at the premiere.



Well-Known Member
At least tZar is on topic and offers some interesting observations. Hurray for thread bumps.


New Member
Surely it has to be looked at from an historical viewpoint, taking into account both life expectancy and general trends in human behaviour at the time of writing, to make a proper analysis. What is applicable to an age bracket now may not necessarily fit at any given point in history.


New Member
I feel like rambling a bit :rolleyes: - I'll try to make it short...

Surely it has to be looked at from an historical viewpoint, taking into account both life expectancy and general trends in human behaviour at the time of writing, to make a proper analysis. What is applicable to an age bracket now may not necessarily fit at any given point in history.

I agree with you on that, and must add on my own account that the age of Hamlet is not that big a deal.
For me the most interesting thing of Hamlet is the way we are show how to become ourselves. I see the whole play as a question of who is who. The first line "Who's there?" sets the entire tone of the play. Everyone is covered in some way; no one and nothing is who and what they are. Polonius killed behind a curtain, Hamlet going 'insane' playing someone he is not. All something leading up to the pivoting point of him having 'to be or not to be' and at the same time realising that "We are arrant knaves, all; / believe none of us." The love between Hamlet and Ophelia was not what it passed it self to be.

So the question of the development of an adolescent to a man does not apply explicitly to youth, but as an existentialistic point of having to 'take' ourselves and be what we are. This might be a typical question in teen years, but it also applies to other ages, which makes the age of Hamlet, maybe not indifferent, but at least less interesting.