“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare (c. 1599)

“Hamlet” by Shakespeare

Can't you see the resemblance?
Can’t you see the resemblance?

Act 1 Scene 1

Guards are changing shifts at night along the castle walls. A ghost has been appearing walking around at night. Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, wants to see it for himself but doesn’t quite believe it.

He shows up but he won’t to them and then disappears. Horatio recognizes it as the recently deceased king. Horatio explains the king had been involved in a political battle close to war with the Prince of Norway, Fortinbras.

The ghost comes back but then disappears as morning breaks. They promise to tell Hamlet and maybe the ghost will talk.

Act 1 Scene 2

King Claudius eulogizes his brother, King Hamlet (Jr’s father) and explains why he has married Hamlet’s widow, Gertrude. It was important to appear strong and united in a dangerous time with Norway tempted to take over. He sends two ambassadors to find out what’s going on.

Claudius asks why Hamlet he’s down Gertrude encourages him to cheer up and move on from his father’s death. Hamlet thinks this has happened all too fast.

Claudius thinks it’s sweet that he mourns his father but he reminds him all fathers die. To go on like this is morbid and immature. “Snap out of it – that’s life. I’m your father no. Don’t go back to Wittenberg, stay here.”

Hamlet is upset that it’s only been two months and she’s already shacked up with her dead husband’s brother. Horatio and his guards tell him about the ghost. They set a date to see it later that night.

Act 1 Scene 3

Laertes and Ophelia have a chat before he runs off to France. He warns her that Hamlet is up to no good and just trying to get in her pants.

Polonius comes in and gives Laertes a bunch of advice: don’t talk too much, stick by your friends, don’t spend too much, don’t borrow or lend money, don’t be fake and just be yourself. He leaves.

Ophelia and Polonius discuss Hamlet. He says he’s stupid and she’s too young and naive to know what’s really going on. Nothing’s happened yet but still, Polonius doesn’t like it because it’s a trap. She will obey her father.

Act 1 Scene 4

Hamlet, Horatio and the guards wait for the ghost to arrive. It’s cold and they listen to Claudius whooping it up downstairs. Hamlet complains these constant parties make Danes look foolish and weak abroad.

The ghost arrives. Hamlet is shaking but asks the ghost to speak and explain himself. The ghost motions Hamlet to follow him to speak alone. The guards don’t like it but he goes anyway.

Act 1 Scene 5

The ghost speaks and tells Hamlet that he is indeed his father. Hamlet must avenge his murder done by Claudius. The ghost says nasty things about Gertrude who sunk low to marry his brother.

Claudius poured poison into his ear as he was sleeping. Although he is dead, he’s upset about the betrayal of Gertrude and Claudius, the usurpation of his power and leaving Denmark weak. Hamlet and his friends swear never to speak of this meeting.

 

Act 2 Scene 1

Polonius sends his servant to check up on Laertes in France and make sure he doesn’t get into too much trouble.

Ophelia goes to Polonius scared about Hamlet. She saw him with messed clothes and acting as if he’d seen a ghost. He’s been behaving erratically but nothing sexual or violent. Polonius is afraid that his advice to Ophelia has made Hamlet crazy. They will speak with the king about this.

Act 2 Scene 2

Claudius speaks to Hamlet’s friends. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He asks them to find out what’s been going on. They leave.

Polonius shows up and talks about Hamlet but must find out from the ambassadors sent out earlier to find out what’s been going on in Norway. The elderly king of Norway suspects his son is up to no good and so sends him off to Poland to keep him out of Denmark. They leave.

Polonius thinks Hamlet’s crazy and reads Claudius and Gertrude a letter Hamlet had written to Ophelia. They try to read into it but it’s really just a love letter. Polonius doesn’t want a mental involved with his daughter. They decide to use Ophelia as bait to get something out of him while they hide and listen.

Polonius and Hamlet speak. Hamlet jokes but Polonius mistakes these jokes for meaningless gibberish. They continue and he’s more convinced that he’s mad.

Guildenstern and Rosencrantz speak to him. He tries to hide his depression but fails. They confess that they have been sent by the king and queen. Hamlet asks them not to let on that he’s been so down.

A travelling troupe of actors arrive at the cast and Hamlet talks theater shop with them as he’s really into it. They exchange soliloquys from various plays. He asks them to put on a murder play that closely resembles the conditions of his father’s death in order to provoke a confession or reaction from Claudius.

 

Act III Scene I

Claudius and Gertrude check in with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet’s been feeling bad but isn’t specific about why. He districts them whenever they try to speak about it but he picked up when the actors came around.

Claudius and Polonius decide to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia when they speak.

Hamlet contemplates life and death (To be or not to be…). Death is merely the ending of pain and grief but most people fear it because they fear what is beyond it.

He approaches and she tries to return the things that he had given her before. He tells her that he doesn’t want them because he never really loved her. He also tells her that men are by their nature untrustworthy. If she is pure, she should join the nuns. He calls her names and says mean things and then leaves.

She thinks he’s lost the plot and starts sobbing. Claudius and Polonius come in to speak to her. Claudius doesn’t think that Hamlet’s completely crazy but does think that he should be sent to England before things get hairy.

Polonius agrees but thinks it’s still about him and Ophelia. He wants Gertrude to be the real judge of his situation.

Act III Scene II

Hamlet instructs the actors on how to deliver the speech that will get to Claudius. Polonius, Claudius and Gertrude among others come in to watch the play.

The play starts. Hamlet gives a lot of side commentaries. The play pokes at both characters of Gertrude and Claudius. The real ones seem very uncomfortable at the play’s accusations. The play reenacts the very scene of Hamlet’s father’s death. This gets Claudius to jump up and storm out of the room with all his entourage following him.

Horatio and Hamlet muse about Claudius’s reaction. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz come in and inform Hamlet that his mother wishes to see him. He lets them have it about their spying on him.

Before going to see Gertrude, Hamlet tells himself that he ought to be rough with her verbally but not physically.

Act III Scene III

Claudius is fuming about the play and orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take Hamlet to England. They leave and Polonius comes in and tells him that he’s going to spy on Hamlet and Gertrude.

Thinking he’s alone, Claudius confesses (to God?) how guilty he feels and how he’ll have to live with the guilt of the murder for the rest of his life. Hamlet is watching but doesn’t want to kill him in mid-confession. He wants him dead with a dirty soul, not a clean one.

Act III Scene IV

Polonius warns Gertrude he’ll be hiding behind a curtain to spy on her conversation with Hamlet.

Hamlet won’t be lectured by his mother who invokes his father’s name. She screams and Polonius cries out. Hamlet stabs at the curtain killing Polonius, only upset about it because it wasn’t Claudius.

Gertrude doesn’t understand Hamlet’s hatred for Claudius. Hamlet hates her for marrying the murderer of his father less than two months after his death. Why should Hamlet keep quiet?

She won’t hear any more and admits how horrible she’s been but he carries on.

The ghost comes into the room in the middle of all of this. Hamlet speaks to it and Gertrude, not being able to see it, thinks Hamlet’s gone crazy. He doesn’t accept that and tells her to beg forgiveness from him, the ghost and to heaven. She is to leave Claudius because he is evil. He feels a little bad about Polonius but is willing to live with the consequences.

Then he thinks better of it…. He wants to use Gertrude to get to Claudius. She accepts this and feels broken by the whole experience. He has to go to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and will plan his revenge there for some day.

 

Act IV Scene I

Claudius comes in and asks what happened. She explains that Hamlet’s lost his mind and has killed Polonius. Claudius has to get Hamlet out of the county because he’s dangerous and seems to know something.

Act IV Scene II

Hamlet’s hidden the body and Rosencrantz demand the he tell them where it is but Hamlet considers them betrayers and won’t say.

Act IV Scene III

Claudius wants to deal with Hamlet before shit gets out of hand. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern drop him in. Hamlet stalls but eventually reveals where he’s hidden the body. Claudius orders Hamlet to be sent to England and reveals that he’s asked the English king to kill him.

Act IV Scene IV

Fortinbras marches across Denmark on the way to Poland. Hamlet, along with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz run into Fortinbras’s Captain who tells them they are on a fool’s errand and they will likely die for nothing. Hamlet resolves to fight for something in avenging his father’s murder.

Act IV Scene V

Gertrude speaks with Ophelia, who’s gone mad since Polonius’s death. It’s clear that she’s crazy but also incredibly sad. She sings childish songs and speaks a lot of gibberish.

Laertes returns from France, demanding explanations. A crowd forms around him in his support. Claudius won’t say much other than it wasn’t his fault.

Ophelia comes back into the room, talking her non-sense. This breaks Laertes’s heart and makes him press Claudius for answers.

Act IV Scene VI

Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet saying that he’d been taken prisoner away from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They agreed to take him home. The messenger is one of these pirate sailors, who will go see the king about a reward and Horatio is to meet Hamlet outside the castle walls.

Act IV Scene VII

Claudius tries to calm down Laertes by telling him that Hamlet was Polonius’s murderer. He also says that he couldn’t do anything because Gertrude’s so attached to him and it would cause a riot due to Hamlet’s popularity.

A messenger delivers a letter from Hamlet to Claudius asking to meet alone.

Claudius has a trick to get back at Hamlet without raising suspicion or a ruckus. He’ll get Hamlet to engage in a duel with Laertes. Laertes’s sword will be sharp enough to cut Hamlet and they’ll put some poison at the end. There will also be some poison drinks lying around. You know… just in case.

Gertrude busts in informing them that Ophelia has drowned in her madness. This dumbfounds Laertes and this gets him convinced that the duel is the right thing to do.

 

Act V Scene I

2 gravediggers prepare a grave for a recently deceased woman. They debate if she should be having a Christian burial. If she killed herself, she shouldn’t as suicide is a sin. She’s lucky she’s so rich to get them to fudge the coroner’s report.

Horatio and the Hamlet entering. They look at all the graves wondering what these people’s lives where like and what’s going on with them now.

Hamlet and one of the diggers chat about the dead lady to be buried and about dead bodies in general. He looks at a skull of a friend of his, Yorick the court jester. Hamlet wonders were all his jokes and gregariousness are now, merely dust. Everything alive, great and small is now dust.

The king, queen, Laertes all come in. Hamlet and Horatio hang back to watch in secret. They are burying Ophelia. Hamlet is shocked and in an effort to prove that he loved Ophelia more than Laertes, they wrestle on her grave. The king separates them and tells them to handle this back at the castle.

Act V Scene II

Hamlet tells Horatio how he escaped from the ship. He was taken away from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Once aboard the pirates’ ship, he forged a letter from the king, asking that whoever finds him to dispatch with his 2 “captors”. He doesn’t regret asking them to be killed. Fuck them. They betrayed him. He does feel bad about Polonius for Laertes’s sake. He wants to make it up to him.

A messenger comes in and tells Hamlet that Claudius has placed a bet on Hamlet in a duel with Laertes. Hamlet gets a feeling things will go badly but doesn’t want to avoid whatever fate has got in store for him.

Everyone goes into the big room. Hamlet apologizes to Laertes. He seems to accept it but still wants to duel Hamlet for pride. Claudius presents a cup. If Hamlet gets a hit in the first two chances, then he will put a pearl in the cup for Hamlet to have and take a drink from. Hamlet gets strikes in the first two chances, but doesn’t want to drink.

Gertrude drinks for him and starts gagging. Claudius knows that’s her ass. He then tells Laertes not to cut him just yet, but does he listen? Nope. They get into a tussle and somehow their swords are exchanged. Hamlet cuts Laertes. Gertrude dies.

Laertes confesses the plan that he and Claudius came up with. Hamlet runs after Claudius and forces him to finish the cup that killed Gertrude. Claudius dies. Hamlet and Laertes realize time is running out. They apologize to each other. Hamlet instructs Horatio to tell the story as it really happened. Hamlet and Laertes die.

Fortinbras shows up to see a room full of dead people and asked Horatio what happened. He showed up to tell Claudius that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead as the letter has instructed. But now he sees this is his chance to claim the throne of Denmark. Hamlet is given a soldier’s burial a multi-gun salute.

Video Summary of Act I:

Video Summary of Act II:

Video Summary of Act III:

Video Summary of Act IV:

Video Summary of Act V:

Video of My Thoughts on the Text:

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