Thomas Kyd (1558—1594) is best known as the author of The Spanish Tragedy, a play that shares several similarities with Shakespeare's Hamlet. These similarities include a ghost demanding vengeance, a play-within-the-play used to trap the (suspected) murderer and (feigned or real) madness.

Kyd is also thought to have written a play now identified as Ur-Hamlet, which may have been an earlier version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. According to the Wikipedia article about the Ur-Hamlet

Some scholars[who?] believe that the Ur-Hamlet had influence from the German work Der bestrafte Brudermord.

The Wikipedia article about the German play mentions several scholars in the section about the relationship between that play and Hamlet but has fairly little to say about the play's relationship to the Ur-Hamlet. Volume 1 of Simon Williams's Shakespeare on the German Stage (Cambridge University Press, 2004) contains the following footnote discussing the relationship between Hamlet (especially the First Quarto of that play), the Ur-Hamlet and Der bestrafte Brudermord:

The vexed question of the relationship between Der bestrafte Brudermord and the various versions of Hamlet is discussed in detail by Reinhold Freudenstein in Der bestrafte Brudermord: Shakespeares Hamlet auf der Wanderbühne des 17. Jahrhunderts (Hamburg, 1958). He reviews the thirty-five articles on the subject written between 1857 and 1958. Four of these claim it was based solely on the first quarto, four of them on both quartos, one of them on the First Folio, seven of them on the First Folio and the Ur-Hamlet, and nineteen of them on the Ur-Hamlet alone. Some authorities even believe Der bestrafte Brudermord may be translation of the Ur-Hamlet. Freudenstein insists that whoever wrote it did not base his version on any source, but used whatever elements he felt would please the audience.

Based on the above quote, the first scholarly publication about the relationship between Der bestrafte Brudermord and the Ur-Hamlet may have been published in 1857. Is that unnamed publication the first one to claim that the German play influenced the Ur-Hamlet? Or did that publication assume the influence was in the opposite direction?

  • @PeterShor Perhaps some Wikipedia editors inverted the direction of influence. Claims that the German play influenced the Ur-Hamlet are based on the assumption that there was an English translation of Der bestrafte Brudermord, if I remember correctly.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 22:35

1 Answer 1


The first such claim probably was made in the Wikipedia article you mention. It's a pretty flimsy claim that would collapse under the slightest scrutiny, and there's no evidence that any scholar has made such a claim.

The scholarly consensus around Der bestrafte Brudermord is that it is a version of Hamlet based upon performances in Germany of Shakespeare's play by traveling actors in the early 17th C. In The "Bad" Quarto of Hamlet: A Critical Study (1941), George Ian Duthie says:

There is not the slightest doubt that Der bestrafte Brudermord represents an English play, carried over to Germany by English travelling actors about the end of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century. We know that English actors went to Germany as early as 1586; and we know that a play called Tragoedia von Hamlet einen Printzen in Dennemark was performed by English actors at Dresden in 1626. (p. 248)

In the monograph you mention in the question, Der bestrafte Brudermord: Shakespeares Hamlet auf der Wanderbühne des 17. Jahrhunderts, Reinhold Freudenstein notes that the earliest proposed date for the production of Der bestrafte Brudermord is 1616. He does not accept this date, and argues that the first performance that can be dated with certainty was in 1626, the same Dresden performance Duthie mentions. Even accepting the earlier date, Der bestrafte Brudermord still postdates Hamlet by at least fifteen years. The exact date of Hamlet's first performance is uncertain, but it might have been as early as 1599, and was certainly no later than 1601, when the "bad" quarto was printed.

In his introduction to the 1982 Arden Shakespeare edition of Hamlet, Harold Jenkins writes:

Since BB is neither a text nor a source of Shakespeare's play, it cannot legitimately claim extended treatment here. But since it has often been held (wrongly in my belief) to descend from the Ur-Hamlet and so to afford illumination on Shakespeare's source, the question of its precise relation to Shakespeare's Hamlet cannot quite be ignored. (p. 112)

Jenkins also mentions Der bestrafte Brudermord earlier, in his discussion of the Ur-Hamlet:

There have been numerous attempts to reconstruct [the Ur-Hamlet] in detail; but since they depend on working back fom one or both of the First Quarto and the German play Der bestrafte Brudermord on the now untenable assumption that these somehow derive from it rather than from Shakespeare's play, such attempts need not concern us. (p. 85)

Whether or not Der bestrafte Brudermord actually derives from the Ur-Hamlet is beside the point for the purposes of this answer. The point is that when the relationship of the German play to the Ur-Hamlet is considered, the premise is always that the former derives from the latter, and never vice-versa. Given that fifteen years separate the terminus ante quem of Shakespeare's Hamlet and the terminus post quem of Der bestrafte Brudermord, there are no grounds to argue that the latter influenced the Ur-Hamlet, which by definition would predate Hamlet.

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