Like all Shakespeare texts on Genius, our text of Hamlet is based on the version available via MIT, which has hosted the Web's first edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare since 1993. We're proud to draw on this tradition of open online scholarship in offering our annotated Hamlet to readers worldwide.
To the lasting melancholy of scholars, no authoritative text of Hamlet exists. Like most modern Hamlet editions, the version offered here is a composite text: a combination of the Second Quarto (a.k.a. Q2, 1604) and First Folio (F1, 1623) editions of the play. There is also a "bad" First Quarto (Q1, 1603): an abridged, possibly unauthorized version discovered in 1823 and rarely incorporated into modern editions. Some Q1 line readings are of scholarly interest (or comic value) and have been noted in annotations. The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quarto editions of the play (Q3, Q4, Q5, 1611-37) are derivatives of the earlier editions and have not informed our text.
Q2 and F1 readings frequently differ, often in minor but sometimes in significant ways. In a few cases we've departed from the MIT Shakespeare text in preferring the Q2 reading of a passage to the F1 reading or vice versa. (Our authority on the sources of variant readings has been the Riverside Shakespeare, Second Edition, 1997, G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin eds.)
As with annotations, we welcome suggestions from scholars regarding improvements to the quality of the text. There can never be a perfect edition of Hamlet—one more reason it's impossible to pluck out the heart of the play's mystery—but we aim to offer the best version available online.