365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

254. Plot summary: “Hamlet”

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Though Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is a play that is considered to be infinitely complex, it is possible to summarize the action into its most important points, making it much easier for a reader or audience member to follow.

“Hamlet” begins when a group of night watchmen and friends of Prince Hamlet are gathered together at the castle to witness a strange phenomenon: the ghost of the late King Hamlet. It appears, and they agree they must tell the prince.

Hamlet has returned from university for both his father’s funeral and his mother’s (Gertrude)  wedding – to his uncle. The fact that she has married Claudius so soon after her husband’s death angers Hamlet, and the fact that she married her brother-in-law disgusts him. Hamlet is invited to see the ghost of his father. When he does, King Hamlet’s ghost tells his son that he was murdered by Claudius and that Hamlet must avenge his death.

Hamlet sets out to do just that, by enlisting the help of his best friend, Horatio, and by feigning madness to confuse everyone into divulging information. Things take a nasty turn against Hamlet’s plan when Polonius, the father of Hamlet’s love Ophelia, tells Ophelia that she must break it off with Hamlet. She obeys, and Hamlet becomes angry and even violent against her.

When a group of players show up to put on some entertainment at the castle, Hamlet takes advantage of this. He concocts an idea to put on a play that mirrors the events that led to his father’s death and his uncle’s unnatural crowning, and hopes that this will spook Claudius into a reaction. It does just that, and Hamlet’s proof to himself is evident.

Gertrude summons her son, angry with him for upsetting Claudius so much. Hamlet curses her and, when he hears a sound behind the curtain in her room and thinks it is Claudius himself, stabs the spy through the curtain. It turns out not to be Claudius at all, but Polonius. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears once more, though Gertrude cannot see him, and it becomes unclear whether Hamlet’s madness is all for show anymore. He drags and hides the body of Polonius.

Claudius sends Hamlet away with his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were summoned by Claudius to spy on the prince for him. While on the ship to England, Hamlet learns that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were taking him to his death, so he rewrites the order to doom the two of them instead. Deus ex pirates show up and Hamlet is allowed to board their ship and return to Denmark.

When he returns, he finds that Ophelia has died. She had gone mad from grief when Polonius died, and drowned herself as a result. Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, swears he will kill Hamlet for this and teams up with Claudius to do just that. They poison a sword and Laertes challenges Hamlet to duel.

At the duel, Claudius toasts to Hamlet by dropping a pearl – really poison – into a glass of wine. Gertrude ends up drinking the wine, and dies shortly thereafter. Hamlet manages to kill Claudius for this, but it is soon clear that he himself will not live – the poisoned sword has done its work, and due to a mix-up during the fight, Laertes has literally fallen upon his own sword too. Both men find peace with each other, and Hamlet dies beside his friend Horatio.

In the end, the Norwegian army storms in (there is a political subplot that is often cut out of long productions) and finds the macabre scene. Hamlet’s body is carried out of the place in a royal fashion, and the tragedy finds its end.


Written by Caroline Mincks

June 12, 2010 at 8:54 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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