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Richard Burbage as Hamlet
 
The following article was originally published in Hamlet From the Actor's Standpoint. Henry P. Phelps. New York: Edgar S. Werner, 1890.

Richard Burbage: The First HamletRichard Burbage (1566-1619) was the first of the long, unended line of Hamlets. [1] "King Dick," as his fellow actors called him because of his greater fame as Richard III, was short and stout, to which is attributed the reason why Shakespeare made Hamlet "fat and scant of breath." How he played or even dressed the part, no one knows. Not one word written during his lifetime descriptive of him as an actor has come down to us, although after his death, this tribute among others was paid to his memory:

"He's gone, and with him what a world are dead,
Friends every one, and what a blank instead;
Take him for all in all, he was a man
Not to be matched, and no age ever can.
No more young Hamlet, though but scant of breath
Shall cry 'Revenge' for his dear father's death.
Oft have I seen him leap into the grave
Suiting the person which he seemed to have
Of the mad lover with so true an eye
That there I would have sworn he meant to die."

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  1. It has also been claimed that Joseph Taylor and John Lowin, both members of the Globe Company in Shakespeare's time, played Hamlet, and both have been called the original Hamlet, the latter by Schlegel and Payne Collier; the former by Davies. Downes, in his "Roscius Anglicanus," says: "Sir William Davenant having seen Mr. Taylor, of the Black-Friar's Playhouse, act this part (who was instructed by the author Shakspeare), remembered him so well that he taught Mr. Betterton in every article; which, by his exact performance, gained the actor esteem and reputation." Mr. Austin Brereton, who for his "Some Famous Hamlets" (1884), investigated the matter carefully, concluded that "there is no record whatever of Lowin having even so much as appeared in the character. Taylor certainly acted Hamlet, but he did so after Burbage."
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