Hamlet. Summary of the Play.

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This paper deals with Hamlet and the revenge vs suicide problem None



Act I, Scene i:

The play begins on the outer ramparts of Elsinore castle. It is late and

Bernardo, a guard, is on duty waiting for Francisco to relieve him from his

watch. Bernardo is nervous because the previous two nights he and Francisco

have seen a figure who appears to be the ghost of the recently deceased

king wandering around.

Francisco approaches, accompanied by Horatio (Hamlet's only friend and

confident). Even though Horatio dismisses the idea of a ghost, the guards

start to retell the previous nights' encounters. As the guards begin, the

ghost appears before them- much to Horatio's surprise.

The guards urge Horatio to speak with the ghost. Because Horatio is a

student, they feel he should be able to communicate with the ghost, and

their previous attempts to talk with it have failed.

Horatio's attempts

also fail. The scene ends with Horatio stating that he will go and inform

his friend Hamlet of these incredible events.


Act I, Scene ii:

This scene opens in contrast to the first scene. The first scene takes

place on the dark, cold isolated ramparts; this scene begins in a brightly

lit court, with the new king, Claudius, celebrating his recent wedding to

his new wife, Gertrude.

Everyone in the court appears happy and joyful, except one character who is

sitting off to the side. He is dressed in black, the colour of mourning,

and does not like what he sees. The lone figure is Hamlet, the main

character of the play. He is wearing black because it has been only two

months since his father, Hamlet senior the ghost on the battlements, died

and he still is mourning his father's death.

To further upset Hamlet, Claudius' new bride is Hamlet's mother, Gertrude.

Hamlet is upset because his mother married Claudius so soon after becoming

a widow. To add to all the injustices Hamlet is feeling at this time,

Claudius is also related to Hamlet. Hamlet's uncle is now his father-in-law

and Gertrude's brother-in-law is now her husband.

Claudius conducts several pieces of business during the beginning of this

scene. He first tries to take measures to prevent a war with Norway, then

discusses Laertes' request to leave court and go back to school. Claudius

agrees with Polonius, Laertes' father, that Laertes' plan of going back to

school is a good one. He gives Laertes permission to go.

This familial scene brings Claudius' mind to Hamlet. He recognizes Hamlet

is upset and he tries to make amends and urges Hamlet to stay in Denmark,

instead of returning to school. After his mother echoes Claudius' request,

Hamlet agrees to stay.

Hamlet is left on stage after everyone else leaves. He speaks a soliloquy

expressing his anger at the present circumstances in his life and discusses

his depression as a result of these events. The scene ends with Horatio,

Marcellus and Bernardo entering and talking with Hamlet about the ghost

they have seen. Hamlet agrees to join them this coming night to see the

ghost himself.

Note: a soliloquy is the thoughts of a character being expressed

out loud. These thoughts deal with the true feelings of a

character and give insight into what a character is thinking

about and how his mind works. This first soliloquy is one several

spoken by Hamlet throughout the play. Each one gives us further

insight into what Hamlet is feeling at the time.

Text: Act I, Scene ii


Act I, Scene iii:

This scene opens with Laertes saying his goodbyes to his sister Ophelia,

before he leaves for school. We find out from their discussion that Hamlet

has been seeing Ophelia and is very serious about their relationship. He

has been alone with Ophelia on many occasions and has professed his love

for her during these times. He has also given her gifts during these


Leartes, who knows about his sister's suitor, tries to warn Ophelia that

because Hamlet is destined to become King, he can never be serious in his

relationship with her. Hamlet may seem virtuous and noble at this time, he

warns, but he will leave her to fulfill his duties to the kingdom when the

time comes.

She promises to be careful in this relationship and re-asserts that Hamlet

has never taken advantage of her, nor has he ever been anything but a

gentleman in their relationship. The conversation ends with Ophelia

lecturing her brother that he should practice what he preaches and not fall

into any casual relationships foolishly, and not to worry about her.

At this point, Polonius enters and gives his son one more lecture before he

leaves on how to conduct himself when he goes back to school. The fatherly

advice includes thoughts on not borrowing or lending money, because it can

cause more problems than it is worth. He also tells his son not to say

things that might make others think he is foolish, to hold his tongue and

to be careful of getting into quarrels, but once in one give a good show

for yourself. Finally, before Leartes leaves, Polonius tells him to be

'true to himself.' In other words, if you do the right things for the right

reasons you can never do any wrong to others.

The scene ends with Polonius discussing with Ophelia her relationship with

Hamlet. He, like Laertes, does not trust Hamlet's intentions, because

Hamlet is young and young men have no honour; they have only one thing on

their minds- sex. Although Ophelia has no reason to distrust Hamlet's

intentions, she obeys her father's wishes and agrees she will not see

Hamlet any more.

Text: Act I, Scene iii


Act I, Scene iv:

It is the night following Horatio's first encounter with the ghost and it

finds him, the guards and Hamlet on the platform waiting for the ghost.

There is a celebration going on in the castle and Hamlet explains to

Horatio that it is customary for the king to hold a celebration where

cannons are shot off in honour of the King's health. This celebration is

something Hamlet does not agree with; it is too excessive and other

countries look upon the Danes as foolish because of it.

The ghost appears and Hamlet, realizing that it does look like his father

-the old king-, approaches it and asks that it speak to him. At this point,

Hamlet doesn't know whether or not the ghost is there for good or evil

purposes. The ghost beckons Hamlet. When Hamlet considers going with the

ghost, Horatio and Marcellus try to dissuade him. They are concerned for

his safety. If the ghost is there for evil purposes, it might lead Hamlet

to his death. Hamlet forces his way past them and follows the ghost. The

scene ends with Horatio and Marcellus following Hamlet to try and protect


Text: Act I, Scene iv


Act I, Scene v:

On another part of the platform, the ghost tells Hamlet that he is indeed

Hamlet's father and that he was murdered. The ghost asks Hamlet to revenge

his 'most foul, strange, and unnatural murder' and Hamlet heartily agrees.

Hamlet is shocked when the ghost goes on to tell him that he was murdered

by his own brother, Claudius. Unlike the story Claudius told the court,

that a serpent stung and killed the old king, the ghost tells Hamlet that

during his afternoon nap in the orchard Claudius crept in and poured poison

in the king's ear.

The ghost goes on to tell Hamlet about how Hamlet's own mother was

adulterous with Claudius, before the ghost's death. He alos has Hamlet

promise him that he will leave her deeds to be judged and punished by God,

and that Hamlet should not take revenge on her himself. The dawn comes,

forcing the ghost to return to the hellish underworld he must inhabit,

because of the wrongful deeds he did prior to his own death.

Hamlet is very angry about the events the ghost told him of, and swears

that he will remember the ghost and what the ghost asked of him. He also

swears that he will forget all trivial matters and that his life will be

focused on one event, avenging his father's murder.

Horatio and Marcellus find him and Hamlet has them swear that they will

reveal to no one the events surrounding the ghost. The ghost calls up from

below for them to swear when they seem hesistant to do so. Before the scene

ends, Hamlet warns his friends that he will put on an 'antic disposition'

for everyone to see. In other words, he will pretend to be crazy until he

can avenge his father's death.

Text: Act I, Scene v


Act II, Scene i:

As we find out later in the scene, apparently Hamlet has been following the

plan he told Horatio about, putting on an 'antic disposition.'

The scene opens with Polonius sending Reynaldo to Wittenberg to give

Laertes money. Although Reynaldo's quest at first appears straight-forward,

Polonius also gives Reynaldo the added duty of spying on Laertes. Because

Polonius is concerned for his family name, he wants to find out all about

Laertes' actions and goings-on.

Even though Reynaldo states that he was going to make some discreet

inquires into Laertes' actions, he is shocked when Polonius tells him to do

whatever he can, short of dishonouring Laertes, to find out what Laertes is

up to; including making up stories about incidents that didn't happen in

hopes of freeing men's tongues to tell stories concerning Leartes that

Reynaldo may not have heard about. Even though Reynaldo doesn't agree with

Polonius' way of gathering information, he gives in to Polonius' request.

Ophelia enters as Reynaldo leaves and her father, seeing that she is

distressed, asks her what is troubling her. Ophelia relates a strange

encounter she has just had with Hamlet. He came to see her in complete

dissarray. His clothes were a mess and his appearance was pale and sickly.

She goes on to say that Hamlet grabbed her hand and studied her at arms

length. He didn't say anything, but after a perusal of her face he shook

his head threee times and gave out a wail that was piteous and profound. He

then dropped her arm and, without taking his eyes off Ophelia, walked out

of the room.

Polonius, thinking that Hamlet is still madly in love with Ophelia,

believes his request for Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet is the cause of his

recent apparent madness. He tells Ophelia that they must report this

incident to the King. They leave, after Polonius chastises himself for

making what appears to be a wrong judgement regarding Hamlet's true

feelings for Ophelia.

Text: Act II, Scene i


Act II, Scene ii:

The action takes place two months after Hamlet has met with the ghost. The

scene opens with Claudius and Gertrude talking to two of Hamlet's friends,

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It seems that Hamlet has been acting

strangely for the past couple of months, and no one is able to find out

why. Although Gertrude guesses it is because of the death of his father and

her overhasty marriage, Claudius is not so sure this is the reason. Because

Claudius and Gertrude are unable to find out the reason for Hamlet's

madness they send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the hopes that they

will be able to find out the truth. Both gentlemen agree to spy on Hamlet

to find out the cause of his madness after Gertrude tells them they will

gain the king's money, thanks and recognition.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave to find Hamlet. Polonius enters at the

same time as the messengers sent to Norway return with news regarding

Fortinbras. Polonius tells the King and Queen that he has found out the

cause of Hamlet's madness, and will tell them after they hear the news from

the messengers.

Voltimand and Cornelius enter and report to the king that they met with

Fortinbras' uncle and have found a way to stop Fortinbras' plan to attack

Denmark. The uncle, after finding out the true goal of Fortinbras' army,

rebukes Fortinbras for his deeds and tells him to forget this plan.

Fortinbras obeys his uncle's wishes and with his uncle's help decides to

use his army to attack the 'Polacks.' The king looks over a paper that has

Fortinbras' plans for crossing safely through Denmark on his way to fight

the Polacks, and turns his attention to Polonius.

Polonius tells the King and Queen about his suspicion that Hamlet's madness

is caused by Ophelia's rejecting Hamlet's affections. Although the queen

believes Polonius' speech is too long-winded, and chastises him for his

round-about ways, he brushes her off and continues with his theories. As

proof of his suspicions, he reads a letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia that

expresses his love and feelings for her. Seeing that the king and queen

don't agree with his assumptions as whole heartedly as he does, Polonius

tries to prove his theory by approaching Hamlet himself. He ushers the King

and Queen out as Hamlet approaches.

Although Polonius tries his best to pin down Hamlet's thoughts, he fails.

Hamlet not only manages to evade Polonius' questions, but he seizes the

opportunity and slanders Polonius and his foolish, meddling ways without

Polonius' realization. Polonius leaves after realizing that there is a lot

of meaning in Hamlet's rantings.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and Hamlet greets them affectionately.

Hamlet is pleasant and cheerful to them until he finds out that they are

there to spy on him and report to the King the reason for Hamlet's madness.

Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hesitant to admit they were sent

for, they cannot deny it further when Hamlet convinces them that he knows

they were sent for.

The focus of the conversation changes to acting and the theatre when

Rosencrantz informs Hamlet that players (entertainers) are on their way to

the castle to perform a play for the King. They discuss the use of child

actors in the theatre and Hamlet takes another opportunity to insult

Polonius when he comes in to tell Hamlet about the players. When Hamlet

makes a remark about a 'fair daughter' in a play, Polonius believes he is

hinting at Ophelia. They are interrupted by the entrance of the players.

Hamlet greets the players warmly and asks the leader to recite a passage he

once heard player speak. Hamlet remembered the recital because the player

spoke it in such an honest and passionate way. The player recites a passage

concerning the death of Priam, during the Trojan war. After the speech,

Hamlet asks Polonius to take excellent care of the players and to find them

quarters. Hamlet talks with the First Player about inserting some lines

that Hamlet will make up into the play they are presenting tomorrow. The

player agrees to Hamlet's request and leaves. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

leave and Hamlet is alone on stage to give his second soliloquy.

Hamlet is angry with himself for procrastinating and failing to take

revenge for his father's death. He is upset because he is unable to show

the passion in real life that the player can show on stage. He can't

believe that an actor can show anger and even cry for a fictitious event

when he can't, despite all his reasons to show these emotions. He tries to

incite his passion by stating events that would make him angry, but

realizes all he is doing is talking about what he should do. Realizing that

he isn't further helping himself with these speeches, he makes a plan that

will give him the proof he needs to show Claudius' guilt in Hamlet's

father's death.

Because there is still doubt about whether or not the ghost was Hamlet's

father asking Hamlet to avenge his death, or an evil spirit trying to get

Hamlet into trouble, Hamlet decides to get proof of Claudius' guilt before

proceeding further. Hamlet believes he can obtain his proof by watching

Claudius' reaction to a murder acted out by the players similar to that of

Hamlet's father's murder.

Text: Act II, Scene ii


Act III, Scene i:

This scene opens with Claudius, the King, asking Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern if they have discovered the cause of Hamlet's madness. After

admitting they did not find the cause, but were treated well by Hamlet,

they inform the King and Queen that Hamlet is happy that there is going to

be a play presented tomorrow and he hopes that Claudius and Gertrude will

attend. Pleased that there is something that amuses Hamlet, they both

decide to attend the play and they urge Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to try

and stimulate his interest further.

Claudius asks Gertrude to leave beca so that he and Polonius can observe a

clandestine meeting they set up between Hamlet and Ophelia. They tell

Ophelia to pretend she is praying and they go and hide. Hamlet enters and

gives a soliloquy on his thoughts about himself committing suicide. He sees

Ophelia, and when she tries to return some gifts that he had given her, he

claims he never gave her any. They have a discussion wherein Hamlet denies

ever loving Ophelia and berating her and women in general for their

trickery and pretentiousness.

When Hamlet leaves, Claudius and Polonius enter. Claudius is convinced that

Hamlet's madness does not stem from his love for Ophelia, but that it is

something else that is afflicting his soul. Claudius realizes that Hamlet's

actions are a danger to those around him. He decides to send Hamlet to

England, hoping a change of atmosphere will settle his heart. The scene

ends with Claudius stating that Hamlet should be watched.

Text: Act III, Scene i


Act III, Scene ii:

Hamlet gives some last minute instructions to the players and they proceed

to get ready to perform the play. Hamlet confides in Horatio that he has a

plan to test his uncle's guilt. He tells Horatio that he has asked the

players to reinact the murder of Hamlet's father. By seeing Claudius'

reaction to the murder, Hamlet will know for sure whether or not the ghost

was telling the truth. Horatio agrees to watch the king's reaction.

The play, The Mousetrap, is introduced and gets underway. When the murder

scene is enacted, Claudius calls for lights and storms out. Hamlet and

Horatio discuss the king's reactions and both are convinced that Claudius

killed the old king.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, tell Hamlet the king is very upset and

then they ask him why he has been so upset lately. Hamlet, tired of their

meddling, confronts them and demands to know why they are trying all these

games to get information from him. He tells them that he is too smart to be

caught in their traps. Polonius enters and tells Hamlet that the Queen

wishes to speak with him.

Text: Act III, Scene ii


Act III, Scene iii:

This scene gives insight into Claudius' thoughts and gives the audience

proof regarding Hamlet's and the ghost's assertions that Claudius killed

Hamlet's father.

The king, frightened, prepares to send Hamlet to England, with Rosencrantz

and Guildenstern to accompany him. Polonius enters and tells the King that

Gertrude is going to talk to Hamlet and try and come to an understanding

regarding his madness, while he (Polonius) hides and listens to the

conversation. Polonius leaves and Claudius is left on stage.

In Claudius' soliloquy, he admits to killing his brother and starts to

realize the difficulties he is in. He tries to attone for his sins by

praying, but he finds that although he can say the words to ask for

forgiveness, he doesn't believe what he is saying. Unbeknownst to Claudius,

Hamlet enters while Claudius is at prayer. Although this seems like the

perfect opportunity for Hamlet, a chance to kill Claudius after proving

Claudius' guilt in the murder, Hamlet refuses to go ahead with the deed. He

is afraid that because Claudius is praying, Claudius' sins will be

forgiven. Because Hamlet doesn't want Claudius to have a chance to go to

heaven, or to purgatory where Hamlet's father now resides, he leaves.

NOTE: It is ironic that when Hamlet has an opportunity to kill

Claudius and get away with killing him, he hesitates because he

doesn't want there to be a chance that Claudius wouldn't suffer

in the afterlife. What Hamlet didn't know was that Claudius

couldn't pray and if he had killed Claudius, he would have had

his revenge. Another thing to note, if Hamlet kills Claudius now,

the deaths that occur later in the play would not have happened.

Text: Act III, Scene iii


Act III, Scene iv:

Polonius hides behind a curtain as Hamlet enters into mother's chamber.

When the Queen is confronted by an angry and erratic Hamlet, she panics and

screams for help. When Polonius hears her scream, he thinks Hamlet is

trying to kill her and he yells out. Hamlet, who suspects that Claudius is

hiding behind the curtain, draws his sword and stabs at the sound.

The Queen, horrified at what Hamlet has done, tries to chastise him, but

Hamlet says his deed is nowhere as bad as killing a king and marrying the

old king's wife. Hamlet goes on to explain to the Queen all that he

believes she has done wrong, including wronging her old husband's memory.

He tries to show her the differences between the old king and

Claudius,attributing only good qualities to his father and negative

qualities to Claudius.

Hamlet gets excited when confronted with Gertrude's misplaced love; he

doesn't understand how she can forget her husband so easily. The ghost

enters. The Queen thinks Hamlet is mad (crazy), because she cannot see the

ghost Hamlet sees. The ghost reminds Hamlet that Hamlet is to leave the

judgement of Gertrude to God and not to harm her. Hamlet tries to convince

Gertrude that the ghost is real, but fails.

Hamlet tells Gertrude to forgo any romantic encounters with Claudius, to

save herself, and tries to get her to help with the plans he is making for

revenge on Claudius. He asks her to tell Claudius that she believes that

Hamlet is of sound mind, that he is only pretending to be mad. He also

warns her not to try and play the type of game he is playing. Hamlet,

dragging Polonius' body behind him, leaves a very shaken Gertrude after

reminding her that he must leave for England.

Text: Act III, Scene iv


Act IV, Scene i:

Gertrude explains to Claudius that she believes Hamlet is truly mad and

that as proof, he has killed Polonius and taken away the body. Claudius,

after being thankful that he wasn't the one killed, asks where Hamlet went.

She cannot tell him, and Claudius tries to comfort her by telling her that

they will soon be rid of him, because of his trip. Claudius calls for

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. After telling them that Hamlet has killed

Polonius, he asks them to go and find Hamlet, get Polonius' body and to put

Polonius' body in the chapel.

The scene ends with Claudius informing Gertrude that they must inform the

court of what has happened and the reasons why they are sending Hamlet

away. He is afraid that if he doesn't present Hamlet as being the only

guilty person, people might start to think Claudius had something to do

with the murder.

Text: Act IV, Scene i


Act IV, Scene ii:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come across Hamlet, who has by this time

safely hidden Polonius' body. Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern demand

that Hamlet tell them where the body is he refuses. They then tell Hamlet

the King wishes to see him; they leave with him.

Text: Act IV, Scene ii


Act IV, Scene iii:

Claudius informs some of his Lords of his plan to send Hamlet away.. He

tells them that a dangerous man cannot run loose, and that Hamlet will be

given the opportunity to think about his crimes; Hamlet will not be

punished. Hamlet, according to Claudius, is trying to protect his secret of

killing the old king. If he sends Hamlet away and Hamlet meets with an

'accident', then he can maintain his innocence by claiming he previously

had the opportunity to have Hamlet killed, but he choose to send him away


When Hamlet is brought before Claudius, he at first doesn't tell the king

where the body is. Hamlet waits for his own opportunity to inform the king

of Polonius' whereabouts. The king sends some attendants to retrieve the


Claudius informs Hamlet that Hamlet must be sent away immediately, because

of Polonius' murder. When Hamlet is taken away, and Claudius is left on

stage alone, we are told that Claudius is preparing a trap for Hamlet.

Claudius is sending notes to the king of England informing him that Hamlet

is to be executed immediately after his arrival. Claudius is looking out

for his own self-interest.

Text: Act IV, Scene iii


Act IV, Scene iv:

Fortinbras' army is on the outskirts of Denmark. Fortinbras sends his

captain in to tell Claudius how his campaign went.

Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern meet up with the captain, who informs

them the army that they see is Fortinbras'. The Captain discusses the

futility of the battle that they fought, where thousands of men died, over

a barren patch of land. The captain leaves and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

preceed Hamlet to the ship; they are taking Hamlet to England.

Hamlet is left alone on stage. In this soliloquy, he compares his inaction

to date with Fortinbras' action. Once again his view of himself is

negative. He criticizes himself for the things he has still left


NOTE: There is a parallel between this soliloquy and the one in

Act II, Scene ii. Hamlet is comparing his inadequacies and

indecisions with other characters who appear to be more direct

and willing to take the initiative, and who have better control

over their emotions. The reader is to be reminded of the

comparison between The First Player's show of emotion and

Hamlet's inabiltiy to show that type of emotion. Although Hamlet

has many valid reasons to pursue his revenge against Claudius, he

has held off. Fortinbras has no real reason to attack Poland, but

he will because it provides him with a task which reflects his


Text: Act IV, Scene iv


Act IV, Scene v:

Gertrude encounters a 'mad' Ophelia in this scene. Unlike Hamlet's feigned

madness, Ophelia really is insane. She sings about death and behaves


Claudius enters and Ophelia's songs hint at grief regarding her father's

death. Claudius is amazed at Ophelia's condition and asks how long she has

been like this. When Ophelia leaves, he asks Horatio to follow her and to

protect her from doing herself harm.

While Claudius laments all the misfortunes that have befallen Ophelia

recently, a noise is heard outside the castle. Laertes has come back to

Elsinore after he hears about his father's death. Laertes believes that

Claudius had something to do with the death of Polonius.

Although Laertes is upset over the events that have recently occurred and

is seeking revenge against Claudius for his father's death, Claudius

manages to talk him out wanting to harm him. Claudius uses his courage and

cunning to disarm Laertes and convinces him that all Laertes' misfortunes

are caused by Hamlet.

Text: Act IV, Scene v


Act IV, Scene vi:

Horatio meets with sailors who have messages from Hamlet. They give Horatio

a letter which recounts Hamlet's adventures on his sea voyage. It seems

that pirates attacked the ship that Hamlet was on and through misadventure,

Hamlet was captured and taken prisoner. Everyone else on the ship escaped

unharmed and continued on to England. The note also tells Horatio that

Hamlet has an incredible story to tell him when he arrives back tomorrow, a

story that will make Horatio 'dumb'.

Text: Act IV, Scene vi


Act IV, Scene vii:

Claudius convinces Laertes that he is innocent in Laertes' father's death

and that Hamlet is to blame.

A messenger enters with Hamlet's letter and Claudius is amazed to find that

Hamlet is still alive. Claudius reads the letter to Laertes. Hamlet is

writing to inform the King that he has returned to Denmark and tha he

wishes to meet with Claudius tomorrow.

Claudius, concerned about Hamlet's untimely return, advises Laertes to have

a dueling match with Hamlet. In this match, Claudius plans to have Laertes

kill Hamlet. They plan to cover the tip of Laertes's sword with poison.

Once Hamlet is struck with the sword, he will die. Hamlet's death will end

Claudius' worries about anyone finding out about his involvement in his

brother's death. To further ensure Hamlet's demise, Claudius intends to

present Hamlet, if he scores the first 'hit', with a poisoned goblet of

wine. This way, Hamlet will be killed.