Summary of “Hamlet”
The ghost of the death king appears to Horatio and the guards. It was wearing full armour, and seemed about to speak, but then walked off, apparently offended by Horatio’s words. Marcellus asks Horatio why Denmark is preparing for war, and why it is necessary to keep such a careful guard. Horatio explains that an invasion is expected from Norway. Thirty years ago the old king Hamlet, young Hamlet’s father, was challenged by the king of Norway, old Fortinbras, to single combat. They agreed that the winner would take a part of the looser’s lands. Old Hamlet killed old Fortinbras, and Denmark took possession of a part of Norway. Now young Fortinbras,son of the dead king of Norway, has decided to invade Denmark to recover the lands lost by his father. At this point the ghost appears again. Again it was about to speak, but when the cock crew it disappeared. Horatio and Marcellus decided to tell Hamlet what they had seen. After old Hamlet’s death, old Hamlet’s brother Claudius married the queen, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, and became the new king of Denmark. Now he appears in his first public audience at court. He introduce Gertrude as his wife (an embarassing moment, since she used to be his sister-in-law), discusses the problem of the imminent invasion from Norway, and speaks to Polonius and his son Laertes, giving the latter permission to go to France. Then Claudius turns to his nephew Hamlet. Hamlet appears at court with the king and queen. Claudius and Gertrude tried to convince him to abandon his black clothes (worn in mourning for his father) and not to go back to university at Wittenberg. Hamlet spokes sarcastically to his uncle, but agreed to stay in Denmark. When he is alone he expresses all his desperate bitterness at his mother’s marriage to his huncle, so soon after his father’s death. He was disgusted by life, and said that he wanted to die. Horatio and Hamlet meet: they are old friends from university. Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost, and Hamlet decides to speak to it the next night. The next scene meet Polonius, the chief counsellor of Claudius, his son Laertes and his daughter Ophelia. Laertes is leaving for Paris: before he goes he gives his sister some cynical advice about Hamlet, who was been courting her. He tells her she must not believe that Hamlet’s feelings for her will last; and moreover a prince like Hamlet cannot choose his wife freely. She must be careful. Ophelia thanks him for his advice, and reminds him thet when when he is in Paris, he must practise as he preaches. Polonius appears, and makes a long farewell speech to Laertes full of advice on life in general.Polonius then talks to Ophelia about Hamlet. He ordered her to stop seeing him, because young men cannot be trusted. She humbly promised to obey her father. Hamlet has joined Horatio and Marcellus on the castle battlements. It is just before midnight, and the king and the court are drinking. The ghost appears and leads Hamlet away; Horatio begs theat it is an evil spirit that will tempt him to suicide. The ghost told Hamlet how Claudius poured poison in his ear while he was asleep, then claimed that he had died of a snake bite. The ghost also suggested that Gertrude had been unfaithful even before he died. As down breaks, the ghost disappears. Hamlet makes Horatio and Marcellus promise to keep the night’s event secret, and warns them that he may pretend to be mad, presumably to mask his real intentions. About a month passes between act 1 and act 2. Hamlet has behaving strangely; Claudius has sent for Hamlet’s old school friends, Rosencratz and Guildenstern, to try and find out what is wrong. Ophelia tells her father how Hamlet broke into her room while she was sewing. His clothing in disorder, an expression of terror on his face, he stared at her without speaking, then went away. Ophelia said nothing either, but went straight to her father. Polonius assumes that Hamlet’s behaviour is caused by unhappy love, and decides that the king must be told. The ambassadors return, saying that the king of Norway has told Fortinbras not to invade Denmark, but to use his troops against Poland. He asks Claudius to give Fortinbras a safe conduct through Denmark. Polonius reads a love letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, but Claudius is not convinced. Polonius discuss Hamlet with the king and queen. He proposed to make Ophelia meet Hamlet ‘by accident’, and listen to their conversation. Then Hamlet come in, and under cover of his madness insultes Polonius in a ambiguos and cryptic way. Then Polonius and Claudius plot to use Ophelia as a decoy in order to spy on Hamlet. Rosencratz and Guildenstern arrived at Elsinore, and were welcomed by him. But Hamlet soon guessed that they were there to spy on him, and he forced them to admit it. Now Hamlet knows that Rosencratz and Guildenstern have been asked to spy on him. He continues to chat with them about the actors. The actors then arrive, and Hamlet asks the principal actor to recite a melodramatic speech about the killing of Priam of Troy and the despair of the wife Hecuba. Hamlet reproached himself for his failure to revenge his father more quickly. He compared himself unfavourably to the actor, who wept real tears for the fictional Hecuba, while he had not done anything for his murdered father yet. Then he remembered that he had a plan to test the ghost’s story: he will get the actors to put on a play wich shows a crime similar to the murder of his father: if his uncle is really guilty, it should be obvious from his face as he watches this play. Rosencratz and Guildenstern report to the king and queen on their talk with Hamlet. They admit that he revealed nothing about the cause of his madness, but they do not mention another embarassing fact: that Hamlet guessed that Claudius had employed them as spies. Hamlet meditate on life and death, and consider the relative nobility of suicide and patient endurance. At the end of the soliloquy, he sees Ophelia with a prayer book in her hands. They start a conversation and Hamlet furiously attacks Ophelia. Either he realise that she is collaborating with his enemies, Polonius and the king, or he makes her the victim of his contempt for women in general. Claudius decided that love was not the cause of Hamlet problems, and is frightened enough to decide to send him to England. Hamlet talks to the actors who are going to perform a play at court. He explains how he would like them to act, criticising the formal, bombastic style, and praising a more naturalistic restraint. Hamlet tells Horatio to observe Claudius carefully during the play, for it will contain a scene similar to the assassination of the old king. The actors performe ‘The murder of Gonzago’ at court. Apparently in a panic as a consequence of what he had seen, Claudius runs out of the theatre. After the play has been interrupted, Hamlet is jubilant. He has proof of Claudius’ guilt, and he tells Horatio he his now convinced of the honesty of the ghost. But other people have interpreted Claudius’ reaction in a different way: it seems to the queen and the court that Hamlet has threatened his uncle, and that Claudius rushed out of the play in anger at his nephew’s violent and offensive behaviour. Rosencratz and Guildenstern come to call Hamlet to an interview with his mother, and to make one more attemt to discover his secret. For a while he pretends to trust them, and confesses that he is suffering from frustrated ambition, then he becomes angry, comparing himself to a musical insrument on which they are trying to play without knowing how. Polonius arrives, and repeats the message that Hamlet is expected by his mother in her ‘closet’. Claudius, shaken by the play, kneels down to pray, though he cannot bring himself to repent. Hamlet comes in behind him, and considers killing him straight away. But he decides that to kill him while he is praying would mean sending his soul to heaven, while Claudius deserves to go to hell. Polonius hides behind the curtain in Gertrude’s closet, and Hamlet goes in to speak to her. Hamlet confronts his mother in her ‘closet’. Polonius is hiding behind a curtain, and when Hamlet hears him call out, he killed him, thinking it was Claudius. Then he begin reproaching his mother for the second remarriage. At this point the ghost appears again to Hamlet, although his mother cannot see it. He reminds Hamlet that his task was to punish Claudius, not the queen. Seeing her son talking to the empty air, Gertrude takes this like one more sign of madness. But Hamlet says he is only pretending to be mad, making her promise not to say anything to Claudius about this. Before he leaves, he tells her once more to avoid his uncle’s bed. Gertrude tells Claudius that Hamlet has killed Polonius; Rosencratz and Guildenstern are sent to ask where he has hidden the body, but Hamlet won’t give them a serious answer. Claudius also fails to discover What Hamlet has done with the corpse, and tells him he must go to England for his own safety. But after Hamlet goes out, Claudius confides in soliloquy his intention to have his nephew killed as soon as he arrives there. On his way to England, Hamlet meets Fortinbras and his army, who are preparing to march through Denmark to Poland. Hamlet talks to a captain, and discovers that this great military expedition has no useful purpose. Fortinbras hopes to capture a little ‘patch of ground’ in Poland which is not worth having. When he is alone, Hamlet compares his own hesitations with Fortinbras readiness to sacrifice the lives of twenty thousand men for nothing. As a consequence of Polonius death Ophelia becomes mad, singing confusely about her love and her father. Laertes had gathered supporters to rebel against Claudius, and break into the king’s palace demanding to know who killed his father. When Laertes sees his sister’s condition, he becomes even more enraged. But Claudius denies responsability and advises him to wait. Claudius explains to Laertes that his enemy is Hamlet. Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet saying that his ship has been attacked by pirates, and he has escaped. Another letter is brought to Claudius: Hamlet writes that he is coming back to Denmark ‘naked’(unarmed) and ‘alone’. Claudius suggests a plot to Laertes: he will arrange a duel between him and Hamlet, and Laertes will use a sword without a protective button on the point. Since he is a better fencer than Hamlet, it will not be difficult to kill him as if by accident. Laertes decides that he will also put poison on his sword. Claudius adds yet another guarantee: he will offer Hamlet a poisoned drink when he is thirsty. At this moment Gertrude enters and announces that Ophelia has drowned in a little stream: it is not clear whether it was suicide or an accident. The scene begins in a graveyard: a man is digging Ophelia’s grave. Hamlet and Horatio arrive; they listen to his jokes about death. As the man digs up old bones, Hamlet asks him about his profession. Hamlet and Horatio talk to the gravedigger about death and corruption, and Hamlet meditates on the skull of Yorich, his father’s clown. Then they saw the funeral procession for Ophelia arrive. After watching Laertes make an exhibition of his grief, Hamlet, infuriated by his histrionics, step forward to reveal himself ‘Hamlet the Dane’- that is king of Denmark. Laertes attack him, but he fight him off and mocked his exaggerated behaviour, saying that he had loved Ophelia much more than any brother could. Hamlet describes to Horatio his adventures on the voyage to England. Suspecting a trap, he opened and read the letters that Rosencratz and Guildenstern were carrying to the king of England and found that they contained orders for his execution. So he sobstituted another letter, ordering instead the execution of Rosencratz and Guildenstern. Then they were attacked by pirates; Hamlet excaped and returned to Denmark, while Rosencratz and Guildenstern continued towards England. A gentleman comes in with Claudius’ proposal for a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet. Laertes is considered by far the better fencer, so Hamlet only has to win five rounds out of twelve in order to win the match. Hamlet and Horatio both suspect a trap, but they react differently. Hamlet has got a presentimemt of death but he wants to fight however. Laertes and Hamlet start to fight and after two rounds and Hamlet is winning; but Laertes hurts Hamlet incorrectly with the poisoned point of his sword. Meanwhile the queen has drinked inadvertently the poison prepared for Hamlet. Hamlet attacks Laertes and takes his sword. Then he hurts Laertes who immeditely fall down; the queen dies. Laertes says that the king is the author of the machination and dies. Hamlet, before diing, kills Claudius with the remaining poison. Then Hamlet makes Horatio promise to tell his story: his honour, at least, will be preserved. After Hamlet’s death Fortinbras arrives with the intention to takes possession of the throne.