Most of the action of play occurs in and around the castle at Elsinore in Denmark. King Hamlet is dead, and Prince Hamlet has returned to Denmark from school in Wittenberg, Germany, only to discover that Queen Gertrude, his mother, has married his Uncle Claudius. Claudius has had himself crowned king.
Hamlet is informed that what is apparently the ghost o f his dead father has appeared to the palace guards (I, ii). When he later confronts the ghost, Hamlet learns that Claudius murdered his father and hastily married Queen Gertrude (I, v).
Throughout the play, the ongoing border disputes and political machinations amongst Denmark, Norway, and Poland serve as a backdrop for the action in the Danish court (I, ii; II, ii; IV, iv; V, ii). Prince Fortinbras, whose father was killed by Hamlet's father, is a man of action, and his character serves as a foil to the contemplative Prince Hamlet.
Polonius (Lord Chamberlain), his son Laertes and daughter Ophelia are also important characters in this drama. Polonius and Laertes are concerned about Ophelia's romantic involvement with Prince Hamlet and caution her against such a relationship. Polonius also provides fatherly advice to Laertes as he leaves for Paris (I, iii).
Hamlet's emotional turmoil over his father's murder has left him in a visibly agitated condition, which some members of the court have interpreted as madness. Claudius and Gertrude, concerned for his welfare, summon two of Hamlet's oldest friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in the hopes that they can learn what is troubling him. (II, ii). Hamlet is immediately skeptical about their surprise visit. Anxious to confirm his own suspicions regarding the source of Hamlet's trouble, Polonius arranges a meeting between Ophelia and Hamlet, as he is convinced that Hamlet's love for Ophelia is...