Hamlet, the prince of Denmark is haunted in every sense of the word. His father, the king of Denmark, recently died under mysterious circumstances, and Hamlet’s uncle (his father’s brother) promptly married Hamlet’s mother and ascended the throne. Now, the old king’s ghost has appeared to demand that Hamlet avenge his untimely death—a command that will wreak havoc on the prince’s conscience, the members of the court, and everyone that Hamlet holds dear.
William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is one of the most famous works of English literature ever crafted. The source of the iconic “to be or not to be” monologue, this tale of heartbreak and revenge has been adopted, adapted, and retold countless times since it first graced the London stage more than 400 years ago. It has also been reimagined by numerous composers, and this season, a stunning new operatic rendition comes to the Met. In this contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy, composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn—who drew on the unusual first publication of the play in crafting their text—have distilled the drama into 12 richly detailed scenes. The major plot points are all there, but students and viewers familiar with Shakespeare’s work may be surprised by how the composer and librettist have transformed the Bard’s play. Grappling with issues of identity, belonging, and loyalty, this modern Hamlet is a figure at once tragic and profoundly recognizable—and is a protagonist with whom many teenagers will be able to empathize.
This guide outlines the central themes of the original play and its musical adaptation, inviting teachers and students alike to consider the historical influence of Shakespeare’s work, the intertwined practices of drama and music, and the continued relevance of the human conflicts that arise from honor and duty. The materials on the following pages include an overview of the opera’s characters and plot, an introduction to Jocelyn’s and Dean’s creative process, and classroom activities that will bring the opera’s music and story to life. By delving into Hamlet’s music, drama, and design, this guide will forge interdisciplinary classroom connections, inspire critical thinking, and help students explore this modern rendition of a literary classic.