Summary of Hamlet


Act I.

The play begins in Denmark with the news that King Hamlet of Denmark has recently died. Denmark is now in a state of high alert and preparing for a possible war with Young Fortinbras of Norway. A ghost resembling the late King Hamlet is spotted on a platform before Elsinore Castle in Denmark. King Claudius, who now rules Denmark, has taken King Hamlet’s wife, Queen Gertrude as his new wife and Queen of Denmark.

King Claudius fearing Young Fortinbras may attack, has sent ambassadors to Norway to urge the King of Norway to restrain young Fortinbras from his intentions. In Denmark, Hamlet distrusts King Claudius. Both the king and queen do not understand why Hamlet mourns his father’s demise even after two months. Hamlet, in his first soliloquy, explains that he does not like his mother’s hasty marriage with the next King of Denmark which has taken place within a month of his father’s death.

Laertes, the son of Lord Chamberlain Polonius, gives his sister Ophelia some brotherly advice. He warns Ophelia not to fall in love with Hamlet. Polonius also tells his daughter Ophelia not to return Hamlet’s affections for her since he fears Hamlet is only using her.

Hamlet meets the Ghost of his father, King Hamlet and learns from him that he was poisoned by King Claudius, the present king of Denmark. The Ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death and refrain from punishing Queen Gertrude for remarrying. Hamlet swears Horatio and Marcellus to shut their mouths over Hamlet meeting the Ghost.

Act II.

Polonius learns from Ophelia that a badly dressed Hamlet met her, studied her face and eventually left. Polonius thinks that Hamlet’s strange behaviour is because Ophelia has rejected him. Polonius decides to disclose to King Claudius the reason for Hamlet’s odd behaviour.

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King Claudius instructs two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to find out what is causing Hamlet’s strange transformation. Queen Gertrude says that only King Hamlet’s death and her recent remarriage could be stressing Hamlet.

Polonius has his own theory about Hamlet’s transformation; it is caused by Hamlet’s love for his daughter Ophelia. Hamlet makes a plan to use a play in order to test if King Claudius really killed his father as King Hamlet’s Ghost told him.

Act III.

The King’s spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report to King Claudius about Hamlet’s behaviour. Hamlet is eager for King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to watch a play tonight which Hamlet has added lines to.

King Claudius and Polonius overhear the private conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia. At this moment Hamlet suspects that Ophelia is spying on him.

After determining the main cause of Hamlet’s disturbance, King Claudius decides to send him to England. The King agrees to Polonius’ plan to listen in Hamlet’s conversation with his mother after the play. The play planned by Hamlet is performed.

The main play called “The Murder of Gonzago” is performed, causing King Claudius to react in a way which convinces Hamlet that his uncle indeed poisoned his father. Hamlet pretends not to know that the play has offended King Claudius. Hamlet agrees to speak with his mother in private.

King Claudius admits his increasing fear of Hamlet and decides to send him overseas to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in order to protect himself. In a soliloquy, King Claudius reveals in soliloquy his own knowledge of the crime he has committed (poisoning King Hamlet) and realizes that he cannot escape divine justice.

Queen Gertrude attempts to scold her son but Hamlet instead scolds his mother for her actions. Queen Gertrude cries out in fear, and Polonius echoes it and is stabbed through the arras, where he was listening in. Hamlet continues scolding his mother but the Ghost reappears, asking him to be gentle with the Queen. Now Queen Gertrude also repents upon her actions and decides not to live with King Claudius.

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Act IV.

King Claudius speaks with his wife, Queen Gertrude. He learns of Polonius’ murder which shocks him. Queen Gertrude lies for her son, saying that Hamlet is as mad as a tempestuous sea. King Claudius, scared of Hamlet, decides to have Hamlet sent away to England as soon as possible. He also sends courtiers and spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out where Hamlet has hidden Polonius’ body so they can take it to the chapel.

Hamlet refuses to tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where Polonius’ dead body is hidden. He calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern lapdogs revealing his true awareness that they are not his friends.

Hamlet, then, is brought before the King. The two exchange words, clearly blaming each other, each aware that the other is a threat. Hamlet tells King Claudius where Polonius’ body is. King Claudius threateningly orders Hamlet to leave for England. With Hamlet gone, King Claudius reveals his plans for Hamlet to be killed in England, freeing King Claudius from further worry from this threat.

Young Fortinbras marches his army across Denmark to fight the Polish. Hamlet laments that he does not have strength like that of Fortinbras. Hamlet asks himself why he cannot fight for the honour when his father has been killed and his mother married a man who was responsible for his father’s death.

The death of Polonius leaves its mark on Ophelia who becomes mad from the pain of losing her father. Laertes storms King Claudius’ palace, demanding to see his father and wanting justice when he learns that his father has been killed. King Claudius remains calm telling Laertes that he too mourned his father’s loss.

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Horatio is greeted by sailors who have news from Hamlet. Horatio follows the sailors to learn more. King Claudius explains to Laertes that Hamlet killed his father, Polonius. Regarding hamlet a common enemy, they plot Hamlet’s death at a fencing match to be arranged between Laertes and Hamlet. Laertes learns of his sister Ophelia’s death by drowning.

Act V.

Hamlet and Horatio speak with a cheerful gravedigger. Hamlet famously realizes that man’s accomplishments are temporary and holding the skull of Yorick, creates a famous scene about man’s insignificance and inability to control his fate following death.

At Ophelia’s burial, the Priest reveals that Ophelia committed suicide, angering Laertes. Hamlet fights Laertes over Ophelia’s grave because he believes he loved Ophelia more than her brother.

Hamlet explains to Horatio how he avoided the death which was planned for him in England and how he killed the two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet reveals his desire to kill King Claudius.

Summoned by Osric to fence against Laertes, Hamlet arrives at a hall in the palace and fights Laertes. Queen Gertrude drinks a poisoned cup made for Hamlet.

Hamlet wins the first two rounds against Laertes but is stabbed and poisoned fatally in the third round. Exchanging swords amidst fighting, Hamlet wounds and poisons Laertes who explains that his sword is poison-tipped.

Now dying, Hamlet also stabs King Claudius with the same sword and kills him.

Hamlet, dying, tells Horatio to tell his story and not to commit suicide. Hamlet recommends Young Fortinbras as the next king of Denmark. Horatio promises to tell the story we have just read, ending the play.

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