Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Summary and plot overview

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Hamlet sees the spirit of his deceased father, pretends to go insane with revenge, becomes insane with revenge (debatable), and everyone dies.

A Short Summary

The spirit of the former King of Denmark instructs his son Hamlet to revenge his death by killing his uncle, the new king. Hamlet feigns insanity, ruminates on life and death, and seeks vengeance. His uncle, terrified for his life, also schemes Hamlet’s death. During the last duel, the King, Queen, Hamlet and his opponents die.

A long Summary

Act 1

In the middle of the night, Prince Hamlet and his high school buddy Horatio comes to see the castle guards of Elsinore in Denmark. According to the guards, they had seen the recently deceased king, Hamlet’s father, in the form of a ghost. Horatio and the guards decide to notify Hamlet about the Ghost’s appearance.

As a result of his marriage to Hamlet’s widowed mother, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, became the new King of Denmark. Hamlet is still mourning the death of his father and bemoans the unfaithfulness of his mother. When Hamlet learns about the Ghost, he becomes incredibly curious.

In another scene, Polonius, the royal servant, bids his son Laertes farewell as he prepares to embark for France. Ophelia, Laertes’ sister, is warned to stay away from Hamlet should she become overly enamoured with him.

Hamlet is visited by a ghost who claims to be the spirit of his late father. It is revealed that Claudius, the present king and Hamlet’s uncle, killed his father, and Hamlet swears vengeance for his father’s death. When Hamlet decides to test the veracity of the Ghost’s claims, he resolves to pretend to be insane.

Act 2

Hamlet’s plan goes as expected, and then he starts behaving weirdly. Claudius and Polonius, the royal servant, spy on him as he rejects Ophelia. They had attempted to discover what had triggered Hamlet’s abrupt shift of demeanour, but were unable to do so. Claudius invites Hamlet’s old friends, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, to find out what is wrong with him. They arrive at the same time as a travelling troupe of actors that Hamlet recognises. It is Hamlet’s intention to write about his father’s murder in the play. Hamlet and the performers plan to present Hamlet’s play to the King and Queen to find out their reaction.

Act 3

During the play, Hamlet keeps a tight eye on Claudius to observe what he does. Claudius storms out of the theatre when the performance enrages him. Hamlet will be sent away immediately. By chance, Hamlet sees Claudius kneeling and making an attempt to pray while walking to his mother’s room. It is Hamlet’s belief that if he kills the King now, his soul will instead be sent to paradise. As a temporary measure, Hamlet resolves to put his life on hold.

To protect Gertrude, Polonius skulks in Gertrude’s chamber, fearing her unpredictable son. Polonius may be heard creeping behind the arras as Hamlet enters to reprimand his mother (a kind of tapestry). He kills Polonius by stabbing the tapestry. This time Hamlet’s dad appears to advise him not to put off getting retribution for fear of upsetting his mom.

Act 4

Just as king Fortinbras of Norway crosses Denmark with his army to invade Poland, Claudius sends Hamlet to England, reportedly as an emissary to represent the country. Hamlet finds that Claudius has a plan to assassinate him once he reaches his destination. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to their deaths in his stead when he returns to Denmark on his own.

Rejected by Hamlet, Ophelia is now heartbroken at the loss of her father. She becomes wild and drowns.

Act 5

It is at the graveyard) that Hamlet and Horatio meet to discuss the possibility of both life and death. The burial procession for Ophelia ends up in the same cemetery (what a stroke of luck). Ophelia’s brother Laertes is confronted by Hamlet.

It is decided that Hamlet and Laertes will have a duel. Claudius and Laertes plan to assassinate Hamlet during the match. They aim to kill Hamlet with a poisoned rapier or a poisoned bottle of wine, respectively. As a result of Gertrude accidentally drinking poisoned wine, the scheme goes astray. Hamlet is also wounded by the poisoned blade, but his wounds are not fatal, and Laertes dies

Claudius is assassinated by Hamlet as he embraces death. It is left to Horatio to explain the truth to Fortinbras, the new king, who returns from the Polish wars victorious.


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