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Famous Hamlets through the ages

These guys (and girls) made headlines as the Dane way before a certain Mr Cumberbatch

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If anyone else is growing slightly weary of the hysteria surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch's current portrayal of Hamlet (or #Cumberhamlet), we thought we'd handpick a few other stars who've tackled Shakespeare's famed Dane over the years.

Richard Burbage at The Globe (the original)

Burbage, the original hipster, was born in Shoreditch around 1567. As a well-known actor and a good friend of Shakespeare, it may explain how he bagged the coveted role of Hamlet when it was first performed at the Globe. When Burbage died there was such a outcry of grief it almost overshadowed Queen Anne's death. Playing it cool, his gravestone supposedly only bore the words, 'Exit Burbage'.

Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre (1870s)

Irving not only performed the role of Hamlet across the UK and on tour around America but also took over management of the Lyceum Theatre for around 20 years. Plus he was Bram Stoker's real-life inspiration for the character of Count Dracula.

John Gielgud at the Old Vic (1930s)

Gielgud was one of the 'holy trinity' of great actors who dominated the British stage in the mid-20th century (alongside Olivier and Richardson). Directing Hamlet as well as playing the role over 500 times, his productions were triumphs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Laurence Olivier on film (1948)

Olivier won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for his big screen version of Hamlet, which is considered one of the best Shakespeare adaptations of all time. When the movie was released, Olivier said it had been filmed in black and white for artistic reasons but the true reason (as he later admitted) was that he was in the middle of a furious row with Technicolor.

Richard Burton at the Old Vic (1953)

After establishing himself as an acclaimed Shakespearean actor in the 1950s, Burton moved into the film industry and was at one point the highest-paid actor in the world. He later starred in a film version of Hamlet directed by Gielgud and famously married Elizabeth Taylor.

Daniel Day-Lewis at the National Theatre (1989)

Perhaps the last time Judi Dench (pictured as Gertrude opposite Day-Lewis as Hamlet) was not the major talking point
© National Theatre

Jumping forward a few years to one of the most infamous portrayals yet; Daniel Day-Lewis hit headlines when he walked off stage mid performance having (allegedly) seen the ghost of his own father, poet Cecil Day-Lewis. But recalling the incident in a 2012 interview, the three-time Oscar winner claimed it wasn't the full story and bemoaned that it "followed me around for quite some time afterward". Ian Charleson took over at the National and won great acclaim in his final role before his death in 1990. Day-Lewis has never appeared on stage since.

Ben Whishaw at the Old Vic (2004)

© John Lawrence

Ben Whishaw landed the role of Hamlet baby-faced and fresh out of drama school. Described as "an unforgettable and most lovable Hamlet", Trevor Nunn's production launched a young star who has since gone on to find fame in the Bond movies and is currently starring in Bakkhai at the Almeida.

David Tennant at The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon (2008)

© Donald Cooper

In 2008, Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian, "It's a sign of our star-crazy culture that there has been months of speculation about David Tennant's Hamlet" (how about TWO YEARS Michael?!). Riding high on his Doctor Who fame Tennant returned to his RSC roots and impressed critics as well as attracting a wave of new audiences to the theatre. When his West End run was curtailed by a back problem, his understudy Edward Bennett manfully stepped into the breach.

Jude Law at Wyndham's Theatre (2009)

© Alastair Muir

Celebrity hysteria returned when Jude Law took to the stage in Michael Grandage's Donmar West End production. Some critics were sceptical as to whether "a handsome film star" could adequately tackle the role but Law was praised and the production transferred to Broadway after its London run.

Michael Sheen at the Young Vic (2011)

(© Alastair Muir)

In 2011, the celeb-Hamlet baton was handed to Michael Sheen in a controversial production at the Young Vic. A new take on the play saw audiences led through the back entrance of the building into a mocked-up psychiatric institution. Reviews were mixed although high praise was given to Sheen.

Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange (2014)

Peake was far from the first woman to play Hamlet, but is the most high-profile actress to play the role in recent years. Her portrayal in Sarah Frankcom's modern-dress production was praised as a "subtle and knowing performance" that transcended gender.

Hamlet runs at the Barbican Centre until 31 October 2015