The idea of a 'Hamlet overture' had first occurred to Tschaikowsky in 1876. However, by 1888 he had altered these plans when he was asked to write incidental music for a production of Shakespeare's play. The planned performance was cancelled, but Tschaikowsky decided to finish what he had started, in the form of a concert overture. The work adopts the same scheme he used in his other Shakespeare pieces, the fantasy-overture 'Romeo and Juliet' (1869) and the symphonic fantasy 'The Tempest' (1873), in using certain characteristics or emotional situations within the play. The essence of the work is the brooding atmosphere depicting Elsinore, but there is an obvious love theme, and a plaintive melody on the oboe can be seen to represent Ophelia.