Hamlet by William Shakespeare Summary – After the mysterious death of King Hamlet, the night guards have seen some paranormal activity during the night watch. Hamlet (the King’s son) is alerted and eventually learns that his Uncle Claudius killed his brother to inherit the throne and marry the Queen Gertrude. Not sure if he can trust the spirit, Hamlet devises a plan to see if King Claudius is guilty. Using a clever play within a play, Hamlet puts on a show about a man who kills his brother and watches Claudius’ reaction. When he sees that Claudius is guilty, he is enraged and goes to kill him but when he sees that Claudius is praying, decides to wait until he’s sinning so that he goes to hell. After accidentally killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England with a note that sentences him to death. Cunningly avoiding death and killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (two disloyal friends), Hamlet returns to find that Ophelia (his old lover) has died from insanity. He challenges Laertes (Ophelia’s brother) to a fencing match. The blades have been poisoned and the wine. The Queen drinks the wine and dies. Hamlet stabs the King. Hamlet and Laertes are stabbed as well. Only Horatio (Hamlet’s BFF) remains to tell the story.
Characters Hamlet – About thirty years old at the start of the play, Hamlet is the son of Queen Gertrude and the late King Hamlet, and the nephew of the present king, Claudius. Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of hatred for his uncle’s scheming and disgust for his mother’s sexuality.Claudius – The villain of the play, Claudius is a calculating, ambitious politician, driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power.Ophelia – Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. Ophelia is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father and her brother, Laertes.Polonius – The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a pompous, conniving old man. Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia.Horatio: Horatio is loyal and helpful to Hamlet throughout the play. After Hamlet’s death, Horatio remains alive to tell Hamlet’s story.Laertes – Passionate and quick to action, Laertes is clearly a foil for the reflective Hamlet.Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
Conflicts Did Claudius really kill King Hamlet – Hamlet is rightly concerned that the ghost might be lying to him, so in order to make sure that Claudius is really guilty, he sets up traps to test his theory. After Claudius’ reaction to the play, Hamlet is sure enough to try and kill him. Fortinbras is coming to take over – The Prince of Norway who was coming to take over Denmark. In the end, he arrives right after everyone dies and takes over easily.Ophelia is crazy and maybe killed herself – After Polonius dies, Ophelia is basically senile. She drowns in a river and it is unclear whether or not it was on purpose. The priest worries that her burial is improper because of the nature of her maybe suicide. Hamlet wants revenge on Claudius – Hamlet wants to kill Claudius but goes through so many steps before getting there. First he confirms that the ghost was telling the truth. Then he waits to kill him when he’s sinning. Finally, he stabs him with a poisoned foible.
Major Themes The Impossibility of Certainty – Hamlet cannot know for sure if the ghost is telling the truth, so he goes through many trials to find out. Not only that, his most famous soliloquy is about the uncertainty of what happens after death. The Nature of Incest – What Gertrude and Claudius have is by no means incest, but Hamlet refers to it as such multiple times, adding a new meaning to the word other than the literal. Incest in this sense is just a relationship that should not happen. Gertrude was marries to King Hamlet and should have been faithful.Revenge Will Kill You – After Hamlet goes through all this trouble to make sure that the ghost isn’t lying to him, he still ends up dead along with nearly the entire cast. His own blindness and slowness to action led to his demise.
Plot Points Hamlet learns from the Ghost of his father that his father was killed by his uncle, who has since married Hamlet’s mother.Hamlet decides to act crazy while figuring out what to do.His uncle Claudius sets spies on him because of his crazy behaviour.Hamlet confirms that the Ghost was telling the truth by putting on a play mirroring the murder of his father. Unfortunately this also tips Claudius off (he was pretty suspicious anyway)Hamlet catches and kills a spy in his mother’s bedroom. Unfortunately it is the king’s advisor Polonius.Claudius sends Hamlet to England.Polonius’s son Laertes comes from France to revenge his father. Claudius tells him that Hamlet had killed Polonius.Hamlet doesn’t get to England because of pirates, and returns to Denmark.Claudius and Laertes set up a fencing match where Hamlet is to be murdered by an unbuttoned poisoned sword and a poisoned cup of wine. Hamlet gets cut by the poisoned sword but so does Laertes, and Hamlet’s mother drinks the poisoned wine. Before he dies, Hamlet stabs and poisons Claudius to death.
Literary Elements Symbolism – One important exception is Yorick’s skull, which Hamlet discovers in the graveyard in the first scene of Act V. As Hamlet speaks to the skull and about the skull of the king’s former jester, he fixates on death’s inevitability and the disintegration of the body.Foils – Fortinbras is a perfect foil to Hamlet. Both Princes who should be Kings after their fathers’ deaths, Fortinbras differs from Hamlet because he is actively doing something about it while Hamlet waits around and hopes for the best. Passionate Laertes is also a foil. Comic Relief -The play is so dramatic that it needs some relief. The graveyard scene at the beginning of Act 5 allows the audience to breathe a little before Ophelia’s funeral.
Meaningful Quotes “A little more than kin and less than kind.””Frailty, thy name is woman!””Neither a borrower nor a lender be…. This above all – to thine own self be true.””Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” “Brevity is the soul of wit.””Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.””The play is the thing/ Wherein i’ll catch the conscience of the king””To be or not to be; that is the question…””Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?””Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.””Do you think I am easier to be played on that a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.””I am justly killed with my own treachery””Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Genre Tragedy