Scene by Scene Synopsis
Act I, Scene 1: On the castle wall in Elsinore, a sentry, Barnardo, replaces Francisco on guard and is joined by Horatio and Marcellus. Barnardo and Marcellus tell of a supernatural being they have seen. The Ghost of the late King of Denmark silently appears and with-draws. The three agree that this visitation seems especially ominous in view of an impending war with Norway. The Ghost re-enters but disappears again when a cock crows. Horatio decides that they should tell Prince Hamlet of the appearance of his father's spirit.
Act I, Scene 2: Claudius, the King of Denmark, speaks of the recent death of the late king, his brother, and of his marriage to Queen Gertrude, his brother's widow and Hamlet's mother. He also tells of an invasion threat from young Prince Fortinbras of Norway, who is acting without the knowledge of his uncle, the Norwegian king. The King therefore sends Cornelius and Voltemand with a letter to the King of Norway advocating restraint. Laertes, the son of the King’s Lord Chamberlain Polonius, requests permission to return to his studies in France, which the King grants. The King and Queen urge Hamlet to cease mourning his father's death. The King denies Hamlet permission to return to his own studies at Wittenberg; the Queen adds her wish that he stay in Denmark, and Hamlet agrees to do so. The monarchs and their retinue depart. Hamlet remains and muses mournfully on his mother's hasty and incestuous marriage. Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo appear and tell Hamlet about the Ghost. With great excitement, he arranges to meet them on the castle wall that night.
Act I, Scene 3: Laertes, leaving for France, warns his sister, Ophelia, about Hamlet's affection for her, which he says cannot be permanent in view of the prince's royal status. Polonius arrives and gives Laertes moralizing advice on his conduct abroad. Laertes departs with a last word to Ophelia about Hamlet; this triggers a diatribe from Polonius about the suspect morals of young men, and he forbids Ophelia to see the prince.
Act I, Scene 4: The Ghost appears to Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus, and Hamlet speaks to it. It beckons, and Hamlet follows.
Act I, Scene 5: The Ghost confirms that it is the spirit of Hamlet's father. It declares that the prince must avenge his murder: the King had poured poison in his ear. The Ghost departs, and Hamlet vows to carry out its wishes. Horatio and Marcellus appear, and Hamlet swears them to secrecy—about the Ghost and about his own intention to feign madness—as the Ghost's disembodied voice demands their oaths.
Act II, Scene 1: Polonius sends his servant Reynaldo to spy on Laertes in Paris. Ophelia reports that Hamlet has come to her and behaved as if he were insane. Polonius concludes that his separation of Ophelia and Hamlet has driven the prince mad, and he decides to inform the King of this.
Act II, Scene 2: The King and Queen welcome Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, fellow students of Hamlet, who have been summoned in the hope that the prince will confide in them. They agree to spy on their friend. Voltemand and Cornelius arrive to report that the King of Norway has agreed to redirect Fortinbras' invasion to Poland. Polonius then declares—with comical tediousness—that Hamlet is lovesick, producing a love letter from the prince that he has confiscated from Ophelia. He offers to arrange for the King to eavesdrop on an encounter between Ophelia and Hamlet. Hamlet appears; Polonius advises the King and Queen to leave, and he approaches the prince alone. Hamlet answers him with nonsensical remarks and absurd insults. Polonius interprets these as symptoms of madness and departs, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet greets them with more wild talk, and he badgers them into admitting that they have been sent to observe him. Players from the city arrive, and Hamlet welcomes them enthusiastically, asking the First Player to recite a dramatic monologue describing an episode of revenge from the Trojan War. Hamlet requests that the Players perform ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ before the court that night, inserting lines that he will compose. He dismisses the actors and the courtiers and soliloquizes on his delay in avenging the Ghost. He suspects that the spirit may have lied; he will have the Players enact a killing similar to his father's murder, and if Claudius responds guiltily, he will know that the Ghost has spoken the truth.
Act III, Scene 1: Polonius instructs Ophelia to meet Hamlet while he and the King eavesdrop. The two men hide them-selves as Hamlet approaches, meditating on the value of life, and Ophelia greets him. He passionately rejects her with a wild diatribe against women. He leaves her grieving for his apparent madness. The King tells Polonius that he has decided to send Hamlet on a mission to England, accompanied by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Polonius suggests further surveillance in the meantime, proposing that his mother summon Hamlet after the performance by the Players; he, Polonius, will spy on their conversation.
Act III, Scene 2: Hamlet lectures the Players on acting, saying that overacting and improvisation are distractions from a play's purposes. The court assembles, and the Players perform an introductory Dumb Show, in which a murderer kills a king by pouring poison in his ear as he sleeps. He then takes the king's crown and exits with the king's wife. The Player King and Player Queen then speak; she asserts that she will never remarry if he dies, but he insists that she will. He then rests, falling asleep. Another Player, in the part of Lucianus, speaks darkly of the evil powers of poison and pours a potion in the ear of the Player King. The real King, distressed, rises and leaves in anger. Hamlet exults in the success of his plan. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and then Polonius, deliver the Queen's summons to Hamlet, and he agrees to go to her, but not before ridiculing them. He prepares himself to meet his mother, feeling great anger but reminding himself not to use violence against her.
Act III, Scene 3: Polonius tells the King that Hamlet is on his way to the Queen's chamber, where he, Polonius, will spy on their meeting. He goes, and the King soliloquizes about his murder of his brother. He says that he has been unable to pray for forgiveness because he is conscious that he is still enjoying the fruits of his crime—his brother's kingdom and his widow. He tries again to pray; Hamlet enters, sees the King on his knees, and contemplates killing him on the spot. He reflects, however, that, if the King dies while at prayer, he will probably go to heaven and the revenge will be incomplete. He decides instead to wait until he finds the King engaged in some sin, however petty, and then kill him, ensuring that his soul will go to hell.
Act III, Scene 4: Polonius hides behind a curtain in the Queen's chamber. Hamlet arrives; he attempts to make his mother sit down, and she cries for help. Polonius cries out also, and Hamlet stabs him through the drapery, killing him. After expressing regret that his victim was not the King, Hamlet condemns his mother's behavior. He compares the virtues of his father to the vices of his uncle; the distraught Queen's cries for mercy only enrage him more. The Ghost appears. The Queen, unaware of its presence, thinks Hamlet is mad as he speaks with the spirit. The Ghost reminds Hamlet of the vengeance he must exact, urges pity on the Queen, and departs. Less violently than before, Hamlet urges his mother to confess her sins and refuse to have sex with the King. He leaves, dragging the body of Polonius with him.
Act IV, Scene 1: The Queen tells the King that Hamlet has killed Polonius. The King sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to recover the body.
Act IV, Scene 2: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern confront Hamlet. He mocks them, refusing to tell them where the body is, but he goes with them to the King.
Act IV, Scene 3: The King tells his Lords that Hamlet is dangerous, yet, because of the prince's popularity, his exile to England must seem routine. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern return with Hamlet under guard. Hamlet expounds humorously on corpses before revealing where he has put Polonius' body. The King tells Hamlet that he is being sent to England immediately for his own safety. The King's entourage escorts Hamlet to the boat, leaving the King alone to muse on his plot: he is sending letters to the English that threaten war unless they kill Hamlet immediately.
Act IV, Scene 4: Hamlet, accompanied by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, encounters a CAPTAIN (6) from Fortinbras' army, on its way to Poland. The Captain speaks of Fortinbras' war as a fight over a small, insignificant piece of territory. Hamlet compares himself, unable to avenge his father's death, with the 20,000 men who will fight and die for an inconsequential goal. He vows that in the future, he will value only bloody thoughts.
Act IV, Scene 5: A Gentleman tells the Queen that Ophelia is insane, rambling wildly in senseless speeches that yet seem to convey some unhappy truth. Ophelia enters, singing a song about a dead lover. The King arrives, and Ophelia sings of seduction and betrayal. She leaves, speaking distractedly about a burial. A Messenger appears with the news that Laertes has raised a rebellion and is approaching the castle. Laertes and several Followers break down the door and enter. He demands vengeance for his father's death, and the King promises that he shall have it. Ophelia returns, singing about a funeral, and distributes flowers to the King, the Queen, and Laertes. She sings again, about an old man's death, and departs. The King takes Laertes away to plot revenge on Hamlet.
Act IV, Scene 6: A Sailor brings Horatio a letter from Hamlet. It tells of his capture by pirates who have agreed to release him; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continue to sail to England. Horatio goes with the sailor to meet Hamlet.
Act IV, Scene 7: The King tells Laertes that he cannot act directly against Hamlet, out of consideration for the Queen and because of the prince's popularity. The King proposes a plot: they shall arrange a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes, in which Hamlet will use a blunted sword intended for sport while Laertes shall secretly have a sharp sword. Laertes agrees and adds that he has a powerful poison that he will apply to his sword point. The King further suggests a poisoned glass of wine to be given Hamlet when the sport has made him thirsty. The Queen appears with the news that Ophelia has drowned, and Laertes collapses in tears.
Act V, Scene 1: A Gravedigger who is a Clown speaks with his friend the Other clown, about Ophelia, who has been granted Christian burial although possibly a suicide. He comically misconstrues the law on suicide and jokes about grave-digging. Hamlet and Horatio arrive, and Hamlet meditates on death's leveling of the wealthy and ambitious. He talks with the Grave-digger who displays a skull that had belonged to Yorick, a court jester whom Hamlet had known. The prince reflects on the inevitability of death. Ophelia's funeral procession arrives, accompanied by Laertes and the King and Queen; the Priest declares her death a suicide When Hamlet realizes whose funeral he is witnessing, he rushes forth and tries to fight Laertes, challenging his position as chief mourner. Restrained, he departs in a rage. The King assures Laertes that he will get his revenge.
Act V, Scene 2: Hamlet tells Horatio how he rewrote the King s letter arranging his death, substituting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's names for his own. He assumes that the two courtiers were killed, but he feels no remorse since they were schemers. Osric, an obsequious and mannered courtier, arrives with the King's request that Hamlet fence with Laertes; the King has wagered that Hamlet can win. Hamlet mocks Osric before sending word that he will fight. He tells Horatio that the proposed match makes him uneasy but says that he's prepared to die. The King and Queen, a group of courtiers, and Laertes arrive for the match. The King pours wine to toast Hamlet's first successful round, and he places a pearl-a congratulatory token, he says-in Hamlet's cup. Hamlet and Laertes fence, but after his first victory Hamlet postpones refreshment and resumes the match. The Queen dunks from his cup, although the King tries to stop her. Laertes wounds Hamlet with the poisoned sword, the two fighters scuffle and accidentally exchange swords and Hamlet wounds Laertes. The Queen falls, exclaims that she is poisoned, and dies. Laertes himself is poisoned by the exchanged sword, reveals the Kings plot. Hamlet wounds the King with the sword and then forces him to drink the poisoned wine. Hamlet and Laertes forgive each other, and Laertes dies. Horatio starts to drink the poisoned wine, but Hamlet demands that he remain alive to tell his side of the story Osric announces the return of Fortinbras from Poland- Hamlet declares Fortinbras his successor and dies. Fortinbras arrives and takes command, ordering a stately funeral for Hamlet.
To view other Hamlet sections:
To view the other Plays click below:
To view other Shakespeare Library sections:
Send mail to email@example.com with questions or comments about this web site.
[Home] [Upcoming Shows] [HSC Venues] [Past Productions] [Articles] [HSC Programs]