a dark winter night, a ghost walks the ramparts of Elsinore Castle
in Denmark. On a dark winter night, a ghost walks the ramparts
of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered first by a pair of
watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembles the
recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius has inherited
the throne and married the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. When
Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude
and the dead king, to see the ghost, it speaks to him, declaring
ominously that it is indeed his father’s spirit, and that he was
murdered by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet to seek
revenge on the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the
ghost disappears with the dawn.
Prince Hamlet devotes himself to
avenging his father’s death, but, because he is contemplative and
thoughtful by nature, he delays, entering into a deep melancholy and
even apparent madness. Claudius and Gertrude worry about the
prince’s erratic behavior and attempt to discover its cause.
They employ a pair of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, to watch him. When Polonius, the pompous Lord
Chamberlain, suggests that Hamlet may be mad with love for his
daughter, Ophelia, Claudius agrees to spy on Hamlet in conversation
with the girl. But though Hamlet certainly seems mad, he does
not seem to love Ophelia: he orders her to enter a nunnery and
declares that he wishes to ban marriages.
A group of traveling actors comes to
Elsinore, and Hamlet seizes upon an idea to test his uncle’s guilt.
He will have the players perform a scene closely resembling the
sequence by which Hamlet imagines his uncle to have murdered his
father, so that if Claudius is guilty, he will surely react.
When the moment of the murder arrives in the theater, Claudius leaps
up and leaves the room. Hamlet and Horatio agree that this
proves his guilt. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him
praying. Since he believes that killing Claudius while in
prayer would send Claudius’s soul to heaven, Hamlet considers that
it would be an inadequate revenge and decides to wait.
Claudius, now frightened of Hamlet’s madness and fearing for his own
safety, orders that Hamlet be sent to England at once.
Hamlet goes to confront his mother, in
whose bedchamber Polonius has hidden behind a tapestry.
Hearing a noise from behind the tapestry, Hamlet believes the king
is hiding there. He draws his sword and stabs through the
fabric, killing Polonius. For this crime, he is immediately
dispatched to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
However, Claudius’s plan for Hamlet includes more than banishment,
as he has given Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sealed orders for the
King of England demanding that Hamlet be put to death.
the aftermath of her father’s death, Ophelia goes mad with grief and
drowns in the river. Polonius’s son, Laertes, who has been
staying in France, returns to Denmark in a rage. Claudius
convinces him that Hamlet is to blame for his father’s and sister’s
deaths. When Horatio and the king receive letters from Hamlet
indicating that the prince has returned to Denmark after pirates
attacked his ship en route to England, Claudius concocts a plan to
use Laertes’ desire for revenge to secure Hamlet’s death.
Laertes will fence with Hamlet in innocent sport, but Claudius will
poison Laertes’ blade so that if he draws blood, Hamlet will die.
As a backup plan, the king decides to poison a goblet, which he will
give Hamlet to drink should Hamlet score the first or second hits of
the match. Hamlet returns to the vicinity of Elsinore just as
Ophelia’s funeral is taking place. Stricken with grief, he
attacks Laertes and declares that he had in fact always loved
Ophelia. Back at the castle, he tells Horatio that he believes
one must be prepared to die, since death can come at any moment.
A foolish courtier named Osric arrives on Claudius’s orders to
arrange the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes.
The sword-fighting begins. Hamlet
scores the first hit, but declines to drink from the king’s
proffered goblet. Instead, Gertrude takes a drink from it and
is swiftly killed by the poison. Laertes succeeds in wounding
Hamlet, though Hamlet does not die of the poison immediately.
First, Laertes is cut by his own sword’s blade, and, after revealing
to Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for the queen’s death, he
dies from the blade’s poison. Hamlet then stabs Claudius
through with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink down the
rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies, and Hamlet dies
immediately after achieving his revenge.
At this moment, a Norwegian prince named
Fortinbras, who has led an army to Denmark and attacked Poland
earlier in the play, enters with ambassadors from England, who
report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Fortinbras
is stunned by the gruesome sight of the entire royal family lying
sprawled on the floor dead. He moves to take power of the
kingdom. Horatio, fulfilling Hamlet’s last request, tells him
Hamlet’s tragic story. Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be
carried away in a manner befitting a fallen soldier.