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.