Here are the rules (though this be madness, yet there is method in’t):
1. I have included both full and partial Hamlets, though if not a full Hamlet, the character must be actually portraying the Prince in some way—in rare cases, a soliloquy might be enough (basically only if you’re Withnail), but a tossed-off quotation or lofted skull (sorry, Chewy) will not.
2. I’ve also had to exclude legendary (and er, less-legendary) stage performances that I couldn’t at least watch in part through the magic of the internet—I wish I had the chance to experience Ruth Negga’s Hamlet, or David Warner’s (in the scarf!), or Edwin Booth’s, for that matter. But since I can’t, they’re not exactly rankable. This also goes for John Barrymore, John Gielgud, the more recent Simon Russell Beale, etc. Trust me, I know they exist—but any list that includes them must veer irretrievably into the hypothetical.
3. I’ve made an effort to separate the Hamlets from the Hamlets, but there’s some inevitable conflation.
4. It’s obviously impossible to compare serious Hamlets with comic ones, or partial Hamlets with full ones, or old Hamlets with new ones, but I’ve done it anyway. Consider my rankings based on a combination of skill (at achieving whatever style of Hamlet is called for) and essential enjoyability.
5. Exclusion from this list should not necessarily be taken to mean a lack of ranking, and there are definitely more Hamlets in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in this philosophy, but I was as exhaustive as I could be, and listen, you gotta stop somewhere. If Hamlet had known that, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten into all that trouble.
Finally, as always: my list, my opinions. I am not actually one of those people who thinks there is a “definitive” Hamlet—I think everyone has, or should have, their own personal ranking, based on their tastes and experience. This is mine; may it inspire you to further define your own (or just laugh at your desk at the goofy ones—whatever works for you). After all: to thine own self, etc.