laurence olivier
Laurence Olivier (1907 - 1989) and Jean Simmons as Hamlet and Ophelia, in Olivier's film version of Shakespeare's HamletGetty

Arguably William Shakespeare's greatest masterpiece out of all the tragedies, Hamlet has been played time and time again by the world's greatest actors. It is often considered a career-defining role that plonks stars into serious-acting grounds with a one way ticket to Hollywood (if done well).

As the Bard's play which ranks among the most influential tragedies in English literature, it is also one of his most performed and the protagonist, Prince Hamlet of Denmark, can be portrayed in a number of ways, meaning actors get to play with a big blank white canvas if having the honour of landing the role. IBTimes UK takes a look at some the most memorable Hamlets from the screen and stage over the years as Shakespeare fans celebrate the 400th anniversary since his death.

Laurence Olivier

It can be said that there was no greater Shakespearean actor than the legendary Laurence Olivier. No one could quite grasp the roles of Richard III, Othello and Henry V quite like the classically trained English theatre veteran. Olivier transplanted his ardent passion for Shakespeare on the silver screen in the 1940s, and adapted Hamlet in 1948 by both directing and starring in it. Whilst many believed that Shakespeare's delicate tragedies were only suitable for the stage, Olivier proved critics wrong with one of his finest and most eloquent performances of his life, securing his legend on both film and the stage.

Jude Law

Perhaps Olivier set the bar a little high, but movie star Jude Law, more renowned for his cheeky chappy roles as handsome heartthrobs in the likes of Alfie and The Holiday, took the plunge and cast himself in a very different light by totally nailing his rendition of the doomed Prince of Denmark. Perhaps aware of his unshakable pretty boy persona, Law's Hamlet is the pertinent modern day heterosexual young man, in touch with his emotions and unafraid of showing vulnerability. Balanced with a good dose of toughness, Law made one of the most unforgettable Hamlets when he graced the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End in 2009 and subsequently on New York's Broadway.

Richard Burton

With one of the most booming, monumental voices the acting world has been auspicious enough to hear, nothing much could go wrong when Burton took on a Shakespeare role, unless he fluffed up the lines. Luckily, Welsh-born Burton didn't solely rely on his dulcet tones which he once described as the "deep dark answer to the valleys" in a Parkinson interview, as his 1964 stage production of Shakespeare's famous tragedy was a big hit. Deliberately staged in the style of a dress rehearsal but performed in front of a live audience, Burton solidified himself as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of all time, reverberating classic lines such as "To be or not to be…that is the question" with clarity and enunciative perfection. The film was supposed to be shown in cinemas for a fortnight and then destroyed, luckily two prints survived.

Benedict Cumberbatch

Described as "one of the sanest of Danes" for his performance of Hamlet in 2015, Cumberbatch depicted a concise and rational delivery of the prince. Captivating without rattling your bones, the Sherlock star took Hamlet to a whole new level and appeared victorious without the mood swings, inviting his female devotees to faint and swoon as expected. Offering a complex mix of warmth, palpable intelligence and the endurance of his subtle agonizing grief, Cumberbatch is up there with the greatest Hamlets of them all.

David Tennant

The role that transformed Tennant from a caterpillar into a butterfly, the Doctor Who star saw his acting reputation blossom for his quirky, wildly humorous and surprisingly refreshing take on Hamlet. Amidst his foolish and capricious antics, Tennant's wide-eyed, vigorous rage struck fear into the audience, giving us an extreme spectrum of character traits drowned in his inherent madness. Undoubtedly the performance that shaped his career and put him on the map as a theatrical force to be reckoned with, Tennant won't and has not been remembered just for playing the Time Lord, and rightly so.