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Hamlet Summaries

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					                         Hamlet – Summaries

Act I Sc.i
The play begins on the outer ramparts of the King‟s palace in Elsinore, the
capital of Old Denmark. It is midnight. Bernardo has come to take over
guard duty from Francisco. As they exchange greetings, Marcellus, another
guard, approaches. He has brought along Horatio, a scholar, to verify the
appearance of the ghost of old King Hamlet, who died recently. The Ghost
appears twice, and Horatio, who was skeptical at first, is convinced of its
presence. He promises to report the Ghost‟s appearance to his friend, Prince
Hamlet, the son of the dead king.

Act I Sc.ii
This court scene is a strong contrast to the bleak first scene of the play.
Claudius, brother to the dead King Hamlet, is now king. Soon after old
Hamlet‟s death, Claudius married the king‟s widow, Queen Gertrude, who is
Hamlet‟s mother. Claudius, who is conducting court business for the first
time, is thinking about the impression he will make. He has planned each
word and action carefully. He transacts several pieces of business, which
move the action of the play forward and smooth over the awkwardness of his
hasty marriage and accession to the throne. Claudius takes measures to
prevent war against Norway. He grants permission to Laertes, son of the
Lord Chamberlain Polonius, to return to France. Finally, he urges the
depressed Prince Hamlet to stay in Denmark rather than return to university
in Wittenberg. In the last part of the scene, Hamlet is alone on stage in the
first of several soliloquies he speaks in the play. These soliloquies, which in
some ways are like a personal journal, give us an opportunity to see the
workings of Hamlet‟s mind; we not only learn what he is thinking, but we
also learn how he thinks. Here, he expresses his depression and anger about
his mother‟s remarriage. After the soliloquy, Horatio, Marcellus and
Bernardo arrive to tell Hamlet about his father‟s ghost. Hamlet promises to
join them on the castle platform that night.

Act I Sc.iii
This scene familiarizes us with Polonius‟ family. Laertes is about to leave
for France and is saying goodbye to his sister, Ophelia. He takes the
opportunity to warn her about her romance with Hamlet. Polonius arrives
and gives Laertes advice about how to behave in France. Once Laertes has
departed, Poloius also warns Ophelia that Hamlet‟s intentions may not be
honorable, and he tells her to avoid him. After attempting to defend her
relationship with Hamlet to Polonius, Ophelia accepts her father‟s advice.

Act I sc.iv
Twent-four hours have passed since the Ghost appeared in Scene i. Hamlet,
Horatio, and Marcellus are on the platform of the castle waiting for the
Ghost to reappear. In the background, the blaring of trumpets and the sound
of cannons being fired announce each drink the King takes as he carouses
through the night. When the Ghost appears, Hamlet questions it. The Ghost
beckons Hamlet to follow. Despite his friends‟ warnings, Hamlet ignores the
possible dangers and follows the Ghost.

Act I Sc.v
The Ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius. He accuses
Claudius and Gertrude of having an adulterous relationship before his death,
and he describes exactly how he was poisoned. The Ghost commands
Hamlet to take revenge for these wrongs. Hamlet is horrified by all he learns
and swears to heed the Ghost‟s commands. When he is joined by Horatio
and Marcellus, he does not reveal what the Ghost told him. As his friends try
to calm him, he forces them to swear secrecy about what they have seen.

Act II Sc.i
Polonius dispatches his servant Reynaldo to Paris to deliver some money
and also gather information about Laertes‟ behavior. Ophelia enters, upset
and frightened, and tells Polonius about a disturbing visit she has just had
from Hamlet. Hamlet‟s clothing was in disarray. He did not speak to
Ophelia, but he seemed to be painfully taking his leave of her. Polonius
quickly concludes that rejected love has caused Hamlet to go mad. He
decides to inform the King immediately.

Act II Sc. ii
Two months have passed. Two old friends of Hamlet‟s, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, arrive at the court and agree to spy on Hamlet for Claudius
and Gertrude. Polonius enters and announces the return of the two
ambassadors sent to Norway, and reports that the military threat from
Norway has been resolved. He also tells Claudius and Gertrude that
Hamlet‟s rejected love for Ophelia is the cause of Hamlet‟s apparent
madness, and he offers to arrange an „accidental‟ meeting between Hamlet
and Ophelia so that he and Claudius can spy on their conversation. Hamlet
enters, reading a book. Polonius makes conversation with him and Hamlet
replies quite irrationally, but Polonius recognizes that there is truth buried in
Hamlet‟s mad words. Hamlet then greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
warmly, but he soon realizes they are on a spying mission. When he tells
them how depressed he is, they try to cheer him up with news about some
traveling actors visiting the court. Hamlet greets the players warmly, and
asks the lead actor to insert an extra few lines into the play The Murder of
Gonazago, to be performed before the King the next night. In a soliloquy,
Hamlet chastises himself strongly for procrastinating in regard to his father‟s
murder. No longer certain that the Ghost was sincere, he decides to test
Claudius‟ guilt by watching his reaction to a play in which old King
Hamlet‟s murder will be re-enacted.

Act III Sc.i
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report to the King that they have not found
the cause of Hamlet‟s strange behavior. Polonius and Claudius go ahead
with their plan to eavesdrop on Hamlet‟s conversation with Ophelia.
Polonius makes a comment about hypocrisy. This troubles Claudius and
prompts him to reveal his guilty conscience in an aside to the audience.
Hamlet enters alone, thinking aloud once again about the human condition.
Then he catches sight of Ophelia praying. When Ophelia tries to return some
love tokens Hamlet gave her earlier, Hamlet replies by insulting Ophelia and
women in general. Claudius is not convinced by what he has overheard that
Hamlet is mad, but he claims that Hamlet is dangerous. He announces his
plan to send Hamlet on a mission to England. Polonius still insists that
Hamlet‟s behavior is caused by lovesickness, and suggests eavesdropping on
a conversation between Hamlet and his mother.

Act III Sc.ii
Hamlet gives the actors some last-minute advice on how to perform the play.
He then confides in Horatio, telling him of his plan to test Claudius‟ guilt.
Horatio promises to observe Claudius‟ reaction to the play. When the King
and Queen, Polonius, Ophelia and the rest of the court enter, Hamlet again
plays the madman. The performance of The Mousetrap begins with a “dumb
show” or pantomime of the plot. Then the play itself gets underway. At the
moment when the murder of the King is enacted, Claudius walks out, putting
an end to the performance. Hamlet and Horatio are both convinced of
Claudius‟ guilt. As the scene ends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern return to
tell Hamlet that the King is angry. Polonius informs Hamlet that his mother
wishes to speak to him.
Act III Sc.iii
Claudius‟ plans are moving ahead quickly as he prepares Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to accompany Hamlet to England. Then, alone on stage,
Claudius struggles with his conscience and tries to pray for forgiveness. He
knows, however, that prayer alone will not bring forgiveness if he con tinues
to benefit from his sin. Hamlet enters, sees the King at prayer and debates
with himself whether or not to kill him.

Act III Sc.iv
Polonius hides behind a tapestry in the Queen‟s room just as Hamlet is
arriving. When Hamlet speaks harshly to Gertrude, she fears that he might
hurt her and she cries out. When Polonius also cries out, Hamlet thinks he
has caught Claudius spying and thrusts his sword through the tapestry,
killing Polonius. As Hamlet is shaming his mother for marrying Claudius,
the Ghost appears to Hamlet. Gertrude, however, cannot see the Ghost and
thinks Hamlet must be insane. After Hamlet convinces Gertrude of his own
sanity and of her immorality in marrying Claudius, she promises to lie to the
King by telling him that Hamlet is indeed mad.

Act IV Sc. i
Gertrude reports Polonius‟ death to Claudius. She also follows through on
her promise to Hamlet and confirms that he is mad. Claudius resolves to
send Hamlet away to England immediately. He sends Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to recover Polonius‟ body and then departs with Gertrude to
met with their advisors.

Act IV Sc.ii
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to find out from Hamlet where Polonius‟
body is hidden. Hamlet refuses to tell them. When they say he must go with
them to Claudius, Hamlet leads them on a chase.

Act IV Sc.iii
Hamlet is brought before Claudius and eventually reveals where Polonius‟
body is hidden. Claudius informs Hamlet that he must go to England for his
own safety. Once Claudius is alone, he reveals his plan to send the King of
England a letter containing instructions to kill Hamlet as soon as he reaches
England.
Act IV Sc. iv
This outdoor scene takes place as Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are about to embark for England. On a plain near the seashore, Fortinbras
and his army walk by. One of Fortinbras‟ captains tells Hamlet about their
military campaign, in which thousands of soldiers have died to protect
Norway‟s honour. Hamlet is deeply moved and, in a soliloquy, he criticizes
his own inaction by comparing himself to Fortinbras.

Act IV Sc.v
Hamlet‟s murder of Polonius has driven Ophelia out of her mind and stirred
up Laertes and his followers to take revenge. At the beginning of the scene,
Ophelia appears, singing songs and making allusions which seem to make
no sense, but which, in fact, do tell her story. Not yet aware of his sister‟s
madness, Laertes storms into the palace demanding vengeance on Claudius,
whom he thinks is responsible for Polonius‟ murder. The King no sooner
calms Laertes than Ophelia re-enters, and Laertes is overwhelmed with grief
over her madness. Claudius leads him away to talk in private about the
circumstances of his father‟s death. The King hints that he will help Laertes
avenge his father.

Act IV Sc.vi
Sailors have brought letters from Hamlet to Horatio and the King. From the
letter to Horatio we learn that Hamlet has escaped from the ship bound for
England, and has returned to Denmark. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have
continued the voyage to England.

Act IV Sc.vii
This scene introduces a strong counterplot against Hamlet. It begins with
Claudius convincing Laertes that Hamlet was responsible for Polonius‟
murder. The letter from Hamlet is delivered, announcing his return to
Denmark. Claudius manipulates Laertes into a plan to kill Hamlet in a
dueling match. Laertes adds to the plan by offering to put a deadly poison
on the end of his sword. Claudius suggests a cup of poisoned wine for
Hamlet, if the first plan fails. The conversation is interrupted by Gertrude,
who announces that Ophelia is dead.

Act V Sc. i
Two gravediggers (played by clowns) are preparing Ophelia‟s grave. As
they pass the time joking about their work, Hamlet and Horatio approach
and join in their conversation. Hamlet comes upon the skull of Yorick, a
court jester who entertained Hamlet in his childhood. Ophelia‟s funeral
procession approaches and Hamlet learns that Ophelia is dead. When Laertes
expresses his grief by leaping into Ophelia‟s grave, Hamlet also leaps in and
fights with him. As the scene ends, Claudius reminds Laertes of their plan to
murder Hamlet.

Act V Sc.ii
Hamlet tells Horatio what took place on board the ship and what is in store
for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Osric, an affected courtier, comes to tell
Hamlet that Claudius has proposed a duel between Hamlet and Laertes.
Hamlet satirizes Osric‟s artificial manners, but agrees to the proposal. In
private, Hamlet confesses to Horatio that he has a sense of foreboding.
Despite Horatio‟s advice, however, he decides to go ahead with the duel.
Before the duel, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes. During the sword play, the
King drops poison into a cup intended for Hamlet but instead, Gertrude
drinks the poisoned wine as Claudius looks on. Laertes wounds Hamlet with
a poisoned sword. Then, in a scuffle, the swords are mixed up and Hamlet
poisons Laertes with the same sword. The Queen dies, and then Laertes dies
after telling Hamlet of all the treachery. Hamlet finally kills Claudius. As the
play ends, Hamlet urges Horatio to live on and tell his story to the world.
Fortinbras approaches with his army and just before he dies, Hamlet chooses
Fortinbras as the new king. Following Fortinbras‟ instructions, Hamlet is
carried off the stage like a soldier. Peace is restored to Denmark.

				
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