A Synopsis of Hamlet

A Synopsis of Hamlet

By Scott Bartelson, Management Associate

Czachórski: Actors before Hamlet

Czachórski: Actors before Hamlet

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is home from school to mourn the death of his father, King Hamlet, who has died two months earlier. Hamlet is disgusted by the marriage of his newly widowed mother, Queen Gertrude, to his Uncle, King Hamlet’s brother, Claudius, who now has the throne.

Shortly thereafter, a ghost has appeared to guards on nightly watch as well as Hamlet’s good friend, Horatio, who thinks the spirit has a likeness to the former King Hamlet. When prompted to speak by Horatio, the ghost will not. Horatio asks Hamlet to wait for the ghost and see if it will speak to him. The ghost of his father beckons Hamlet to follow him and reveals that his brother Claudius poisoned him in the ear. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s murder.

Meanwhile, Laertes, son to the King’s advisor Polonius is set to return to France. Before he leaves, he tells Ophelia, his sister, to be weary of Hamlet’s affections towards her. Polonius gives Laertes advice on how to act abroad and orders Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet.

Hamlet’s sanity begins to be questioned by all. Claudius and Gertrude are both concerned; Polonius suggests it is Ophelia’s rejection of his advances. Claudius and Polonius decide to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia. Claudius further employs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two childhood friends of Hamlet, to spy on him further. Hamlet quickly realizes their intentions.

 Second Quarto cover page of Hamlet

Second Quarto cover page of Hamlet

A troupe of players happens to be in town and Hamlet utilizes the actors to determine the validity of his father’s murder. He will have them perform the very act of murder, killing a king through poison in the ear, which the ghost has claimed. He asks Horatio to watch Claudius’ reaction throughout the play. While the court is watching, Claudius is enraged and leaves the play convincing Hamlet that he is the murderer.

Hamlet comes upon Claudius in the chapel, kneeling down to pray. He considers killing him then and there, but since Claudius is in mid-prayer, and will therefore go to heaven if he dies, Hamlet decides to wait until Claudius is committing some sin, so that he will go to hell like Hamlet’s father before him.

Hamlet meets Gertrude in her room and an argument ensues. When he hears Polonius who is hiding behind the curtain shout for help, he stabs him thinking it is Claudius. The ghost appears to Hamlet to refocus him on the task of killing Claudius.

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, whose father’s lands were seized by the late King, decides to head to Denmark. Claudius demands that Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern head for England. Claudius has sent a letter with them ordering Hamlet’s execution during the trip. While at sea, however, Hamlet discovers his planned murder and switches the orders, causing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be executed. Hamlet returns to Denmark.

Meanwhile back at Elsinore, Ophelia has gone mad with grief. Laertes returns from France and learns it was Hamlet who has killed his father, Polonius. Claudius suggests that Laertes duel with Hamlet and poisons the tip of Laertes foil for a fatal blow. If Laertes loses the duel, Claudius will put poison into a drink for Hamlet. Gertrude enters and announces that Ophelia has drowned.

In the graveyard, Hamlet reminisces on a friend of his whose skull he has found. When the processional arrives with Ophelia’s corpse, Laertes and Hamlet argue. A duel is scheduled.

During the fight, Gertrude accidentally drinks from the poisoned chalice and dies. Hamlet is wounded with the poisoned sword, but in a scuffle, the foils are switched and Laertes is also wounded with the poisoned foil. In dying, Laertes confesses Claudius’ plot to kill Hamlet. Hamlet stabs Claudius and Hamlet dies asking Horatio to tell his story. The Norwegian forces arrive at Elsinore, and Prince Fortinbras seizes control of Denmark.