• Year Published: 1599-1602.
  • Pages: 289.

Hamlet Summary

Upon being summoned from his German school back to his home in Denmark for attending his father’s funeral, Prince Hamlet becomes depressed. It is shocking for him when he discovers that his mother Gertrude has already married his Uncle Claudius who now sits on the throne. Hamlet calls the marriage as ‘foul incest’ and suspects a foul play since his uncle has crowned himself as the king despite Hamlet being the true heir to the throne.

The ghost of King Hamlet visits the castle and Hamlet’s suspicions are further confirmed. The complaining ghost says that he cannot rest in peace since he was murdered and is now spending his days walking on Earth in Purgatory. He calls on Hamlet and tells him to avenge his death but also instructs him to spare Gertrude, he tells Hamlet to let her fate be decided by heaven. Claudius defends himself by saying telling Hamlet that the Ghost poured poison into King’s ear in his sleep.

Hamlet then behaves in a mad manner so that he can observe the conversations and interactions within the castle but gets even more confused and begins to question the trustworthiness of the Ghost. What in case the ghost is an evil scheme sent to trick him into murder? Hamlet is in agony as he thinks of himself as a coward and cannot stop thinking, words hold great importance to the reflective Hamlet but his world only prizes actions.

To test the truth behind ghost’s tale, Hamlet enlists a group of players to perform a modified version of a play known as The Murder of Gonzago. Hamlet has modified the play to include a scene where the murder as described by the ghost is recreated; he calls the modified play as ‘The Mousetrap’. The staged murder scene reveals that Claudius is conscience-stricken upon watching the play; he leaves the room saying that his vision is unclear and he cannot breathe properly. Hamlet then resolves to murder Claudius now that he’s convinced of his villainy, but notes that ‘conscience does make cowards of us all’.

Due to his reluctance to kill Claudius, Hamlet results in the death of six other people. The first death is of Polonius who is stabbed by Hamlet through a wall-hanging while the old man is spying on Hamlet and Gertrude in the private chamber of Queen. Hamlet is punished for this act as he is exiled to England by Claudius. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being school acquaintances of Hamlet had previously been called by Claudius from Germany to Denmark to spy on Hamlet. They are now instructed by Claudius to hand over Hamlet to the King of England for execution but Hamlet realises the plot and instead makes arrangements such that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern end up being hanged.

Ophelia is morose after her father’s death and erratic behaviour of Hamlet and drowns in a sad state singing love songs. Laertes who has returned from France in order to avenge the death of his father now watches his sister Ophelia slowly succumb to madness. He vows that he will punish Hamlet for Ophelia’s death at her funeral after exchanging blows with Hamlet over who loved Ophelia best.

Laertes then plots along with Claudius so that he can kill Hamlet but drops his poisoned sword amidst the sword fight. Hamlet grabs the poisoned sword proceeding to cut Laertes with it; before dying Laertes confesses that the sword was poisoned and Hamlet will die as well shortly. Horatio points out to Hamlet at this time “The Queen falls.” Gertrude had drunk a toast to her son thinking that her son is the one winning the fight from a poisoned cup which Claudius had kept for Hamlet. Following this, the queen dies. A dying Laertes further confesses his contribution in the plot and explains how the death of Gertrude is on the hands of Claudius. Hamlet is infuriated beyond measure and stabs Claudius using the poisoned sword before pouring down the remaining poisoned wine down his throat.

Before dying, Hamlet declares that after his death the throne shall be taken by Prince Fortinbras of Norway whose father had been killed by King Hamlet in the past. He then asks his friend Horatio to accurately explain the truth of events which led to this bloodbath and breathes his last breath releasing himself from the chains of words by saying “The rest is silence.” The play ends with Prince Fortinbras ordering a funeral with full military honours for Prince Hamlet as his first act as the King of Denmark.

Hamlet Characters

Hamlet is a rich piece of literature and can be easily counted among the top works of Shakespeare. This tragedy has been revered by enthusiasts of classical plays and has often been quoted by people. The fame of Shakespeare includes his ability to detail characters in varying shades of grey. The characters of Hamlet are thus highly regarded by literature fans.

The major characters of Hamlet are:

Hamlet: Being the title character, he is the protagonist of the play. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark and around 30 years of age when the play begins. Hamlet’s mother is Queen Gertrude and he is the son of King Hamlet who has passed away recently, his uncle Claudius is presently the king. The character of Hamlet is that of a melancholy and bitter man who is also very cynical. His heart his filled with hatred towards his scheming uncle and he is disgusted by the sexuality of his mother. Hamlet is a thoughtful man who often reflects upon different situations and has studied from the University of Wittenberg. Although at most times Hamlet is shown to be of hesitant and indecisive nature, sometimes he can be impulsive and rash in his actions.

Ophelia: Daughter of Polonius and a beautiful young woman, Ophelia is the love of Hamlet’s life. Ophelia is a sweet natured girl filled with innocence who obeys her father and brother (Laertes) at all times. She gives in to the schemes of Polonius for spying on Hamlet. She remains maidenlike even as she slowly descends into madness and finally succumbs to death by drowning.

Claudius: He is the present King of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle. Being the antagonist of the play, Claudius plays a villainous role of an ambitious and calculating politician. He is driven by the need of sexual pleasures and a lust for power but at times he also shows guilt and humanity. His love for Gertrude is also sincere.

Gertrude: She is the Queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet. She has been married to Claudius recently. Although she is portrayed as a shallow and weak woman who is more inclined towards affection and status, her love for Hamlet runs deep even though she does not share his urgency for righteousness or truth.

The other important characters in Hamlet are:

Horatio: A colleague of Hamlet at the University of Wittenberg, he is a close friend to Hamlet. Horatio remains helpful to Hamlet and maintains his loyalty towards him throughout the play. Horatio is the one who tells the story of Hamlet after his death.

Polonius: Father to Laertes and Ophelia, Polonius is Lord Chamberlain in the court of Claudius. He is a pompous man with conniving schemes.

Laertes: He is the son of Polonius and remains in France for the most part of the play. His nature is the exact opposite of Hamlet as he is quick to action and a passionate person.

The Ghost: He is a spectre of Hamlet’s father and claims to have been murdered by Claudius. Though he calls upon Hamlet to avenge him, the identity of the ghost is not confirmed. Hamlet speculates that the ghost could be an evil trick to persuade and deceive him into committing a murder.

There are many other characters in Hamlets who hold their own special places in the play. Since Shakespeare was the master of literature, each character has been defined and detailed with serene beauty and requires reading the play to understand them properly.

Hamlet Topics

Hamlet is a play that was written by William Shakespeare. It adopts the context of the Kingdom of Denmark. The play pays attention majorly to Prince Hamlet’s quest to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet’s uncle-Claudius is responsible for his father’s death in a bid to take over the throne. Some of the main characters are Ophelia, Claudius and Polonius.

The topics discussed in this play are as follows:

The topic of Suicide in Hamlet

This is a topic that has been greatly accorded attention in this play. The writer is trying to understand the human perception about suicide. The question of why human beings fail to commit suicide despite possessing the power to do so is manifested by Hamlet. In fact, he wonders why human beings choose to surpass all the challenges and injustices in their odyssey of life yet they have the option of suicide.

The topic of Political dynamics in Hamlet

This play is a manifestation of the political landscape and the issues surrounding Denmark. With the untimely death of the king, there appears to be no hope for redemption for the kingdom. Political instability is likely especially that the king was murdered by his own brother and Prince Hamlet is on a mission to seek revenge for it.

The topic of Relationships in Hamlet

Hamlet wallows in a state of confusion about love. He conveys an attitude of mistrust when it comes to love issues. This has been propagated by his mother-Gertrude who has failed to honour his father’s memory. Hamlet goes through several trials and tribulations in his life as he mourns the death of his father. He is frustrated by his mother’s actions of remarrying a short while after his father passes on. His mother’s actions make him believe that she did not have any love at all for his father. The thought of it breeds fear in him.

The topic of Women in Hamlet

Gertrude and Ophelia are the only two female characters in this play. Hamlet feels that these two men have undermined the trust he has for them. In his mad state, he thinks the two have conspired against him.

The topic of Madness in Hamlet

Hamlet demonstrates an intensified degree of insanity throughout this play. He does it with so much skill that anyone who reads the play perceives him to be mad in reality. The temptation to think that Hamlet is actually mad is evident as the play unfolds more. This is so because his life is encircled by so many unpleasant issues that he has to cope with. Hamlet’s decision to switch from his sanity nature to a state of madness is deliberate. It is a strategy that he endorses in order to conceal his true intentions to his adversaries. It is a tactic he incorporates so well through his tone of language to divert the attention of his foes. The main reason he does so is to investigate the death of his father. He aspires to find out how Claudius is connected to it as well.

Hamlet Quotes

Hamlet is a rich and eloquent play filled with a myriad of amazing and awe-filling quotes. While some people claim that every sentence of the play is a quote in itself, there are certainly some which have garnered more fame. Some of these quotes are:

The Queen falls 

By Horatio: As Laertes falls to the ground during the duel between Hamlet and Laertes;

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