Hamlet has been called one of the world’s “great creations of tragic poetry” (Sigmund Freud) and an “artistic failure” (T.S. Eliot); its central character has been declared insane, melancholic, rational and philosophically insightful, a hyper-sensitive poet, a brutal killer, and a prototypical case of the Oedipal complex. The play has probably engendered more critical commentary than any other work of English literature. Why has Hamlet become so central to the literary canon? Why has it proved so popular with spectators, readers, and literary critics over the years? And which Hamlet (there are at least three) is Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Through an intensive, semester-long study of the play, we will explore its central themes and problems; the relationship among its early texts (first quarto, second quarto, first folio); and its diverse history of performance, editing, and interpretation over the past four centuries. Work for the course will include several research exercises; one presentation that poses questions for the week’s discussion; an annotated bibliography and abstract for the final paper; and a culminating 10-15 page essay.