Hamlet | William Shakespeare

Summary of: Hamlet
By: William Shakespeare

Introduction

Dive into the gripping world of ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare, a powerful story of love, betrayal, and revenge set in the dark kingdom of Denmark. Through this summary, you’ll explore the shifting alliances, secrets, and schemes that characterize life at Elsinore Castle, experiencing the intricacies of human relationships and the dilemmas faced by the tragic hero, Prince Hamlet. You’ll encounter unforgettable characters, profound soliloquies, and thought-provoking themes that demonstrate Shakespeare’s mastery of the English language and drama. Embrace the shadowy landscapes of the human psyche, as you witness the struggle between appearance and reality, confront the inevitable force of mortality, and ponder the meaning of life and existence.

Hamlet learns of his father’s murder

The Ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to him and reveals that his murder was not natural, urging Hamlet to take revenge.

The play Hamlet starts with the appearance of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father to the soldiers guarding Elsinore Castle. The ghost’s presence instills fear in the soldiers who believe it foretells doom in the ongoing war with Norway and Prince Fortinbras. Prompted by the soldiers, the Ghost disappears without uttering a word. The soldiers share this information with Hamlet, the late king’s son, who is disgusted with his mother’s remarriage to King Claudius, his uncle. The Ghost appears to Hamlet, revealing the secret of his death – he was poisoned by Claudius, who has now taken his place as the king. The Ghost urges Hamlet to avenge his murder while asking him to spare Gertrude, his mother. Hamlet swears the sentries to secrecy, and he is left with the burden of avenging his father’s murder. Hamlet’s soliloquy, “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,” portrays his anguish, troubled mind, and disgust with current events. Thus, the play begins with the Ghost’s revelation to Hamlet, setting the scene for the drama that will follow.

Hamlet’s Madness

Prince Hamlet’s erratic behavior towards Ophelia alarms her father, Lord Chamberlain Polonius, who believes Hamlet’s unrequited love has driven him insane. When Polonius shares his suspicions with the royal couple, Hamlet unexpectedly arrives on the scene, appearing to be absorbed in a book. As Polonius attempts to decipher Hamlet’s madness, his responses baffle and confuse Polonius with their hidden meanings. However, Hamlet shows awareness when he recognizes his former schoolmates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, sent by the king to spy on him. The scene leaves the audience in suspense as Hamlet’s true intentions remain unclear.

Hamlet’s Plan

Hamlet devises a plan to confirm the ghost’s story and accuses himself of being a coward. He invites a theater troupe to enact his father’s murder and watches Claudius closely. He appears lively and asks the actors to recite verses he has written. Polonius and the king plan to observe his madness during a meeting with Ophelia, where Hamlet ponders the meaning of life and abuses her. He demands she become a nun.

The Mousetrap

Hamlet implements his plan and presents “The Mousetrap,” a play that mirrors the murder of his father. Claudius is visibly shaken and orders for Hamlet to be sent to England. However, during his prayer, Hamlet hesitates when he draws his sword to kill Claudius, hoping to prolong his agony and ensure he is going to hell.

Hamlet’s Turmoil

Hamlet’s mental state worsens after accidentally murdering Polonius. As he prepares to leave for England, pirates ambush his ship. He is released and returns to Denmark, where he vows to take action.

Queen Gertrude becomes worried after watching a play and calls her son, Hamlet, to speak with him. Meanwhile, Polonius eavesdrops on their conversation by hiding behind a curtain. Hamlet’s disrespectful and threatening response to the Queen’s accusations leaves her wanting to end their conversation immediately. Polonius, who intends to rush to her defense, moves behind the curtain, and Hamlet, mistaking him for the king, stabs him. Hamlet curses Claudius and accuses his mother of betrayal, but she doesn’t reveal her level of involvement in the murder.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern urge Hamlet to reveal the location of Polonius’s corpse, but he only responds with mockery. These events confirm Claudius’s desire to have Hamlet killed as soon as possible, however, as he is popular with the country’s people, murdering him in Denmark would be too risky. Claudius arranges for Hamlet to be sent to England, and he agrees to leave. However, on his way to England, pirates ambush his ship, and he is taken hostage.

As Hamlet prepares to leave for England, he sees Prince Fortinbras, the energetic, young leader of the Norwegians, on his campaign against Poland. He resolves to stop his indecisiveness and finally take action. Upon his unexpected return, Hamlet is more determined than ever to avenge his father’s death. Meanwhile, Claudius is concerned as he fears the blame for Polonius’s murder may fall on him.

In conclusion, the summary showcases the turmoil and emotions that Hamlet experiences after accidentally killing Polonius. The events that transpire during his journey out of Denmark only serve to intensify his desire to take action and expose Claudius.

Tragedy and Deception

Ophelia’s madness, Laertes’ uprising, and the plot against Hamlet culminate in a tragic end.

Following the death of her father, Ophelia spirals into madness, singing and carrying flowers. Meanwhile, Polonius’s son Laertes forms a rebellion against the king, believing him to be responsible for the murder. However, Claudius manipulates Laertes into thinking Hamlet is guilty instead. Together, they scheme to kill Hamlet in a “friendly” duel using a poisoned weapon and chalice. As they plan, they learn that Ophelia has drowned. The story ends tragically with the deaths of Hamlet, Laertes, the queen, and Claudius. Deception and treachery ultimately lead to the downfall of all involved.

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