Dating the play

Rebecca Brown explains how we know when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.


In 1602 an entry was made in the Stationers' Register of 'A book called the Revenge of Hamlet prince of Denmark as it was lately acted by the Lord Chamberlain his Servants'. At this time, only members of the Stationers' Company were permitted to publish material for sale: any member wishing to print a book had to enter its title in advance in the Register. Some of the titles were never actually printed and remained only entries but the Register has proved an invaluable fund of information for later students of literature.

A further clue to the date of Shakespeare's play is the topical reference, in Act 2 Scene 2, to 'an eyrie of children, little eyases', performing children who have stolen the applause of theatre-goers from their elders and betters. In London in 1601, a company of boy players were enjoying great success at the Blackfriars Theatre, at the expense of the adult companies performing at other venues. So 1601 is the likeliest date of composition. At this time, Shakespeare was also writing Twelfth Night.

Written by Rebecca Brown © RSC

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Teaching Shakespeare