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The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Scenes and Plot

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Hamlet Linked Plot and Scene Summary Edit

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The Plot: Scene-by-Scene Edit

Act I, Scene I Edit

Act I, Scene I


Francisco and Bernardo are palace guards who witness a phantasm in the form of former King Hamlet. Then they discuss this creature and the ongoing activity surrounding the preparations that the Danes are making in advance of an anticipated attack by the Norwegian pretender, Fortinbras, with Horatio and Marcellus, student friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg who have lately returned from that university, and are also doing guard duty at the castle.

Young Fortinbras, nearly the same age as young Hamlet, is seeking to recover his paternity, lost when Hamlet, senior, slew his father in single combat.

The scene closes with the assemblage resolving to divulge the presence of the ghost to young Hamlet.

Act I, Scene II Edit

Act I, Scene II KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE - The King and Queen of Denmark

The son of the late King Hamlet, Prince HAMLET

POLONIUS - Lord Chamberlain

LAERTES - His son

VOLTIMAND, CORNELIUS - Courtiers


King Claudius, after confessing his marriage to his sister, annouces his intent to send ambassadors to negotiate a preclusion to the anticipated attack by young Fortinbras.

Cornelius and Voltimand are commanded to go to Old Norway in pursuit of this mission.

Laertes begs leave to return to France, where he is living apart from the Royal court.

Hamlet confesses his suspicions and dislike of his uncle/father, while Claudius and Gertrude remonstrate with Hamlet, warning him to abandon his dejected stance, and accept them in his father's stead.

Then, Claudius warns Hamlet against returning to college. His mother concurs, and Hamlet agrees to remain at court.

Hamlet then gives voice to the most suicidal and morose sentiments possible.

Though Claudius is described here as my father's brother, elsewhere he refers to himself as Gertrude's brother. Either way, it is evident that the relationship is one of incest.

Here also there is mentioned the penchant of the Danish court to engage in excessive consumption of alcohol.

Horatio announces he saw Hamlet's father.

Hamlet happily receives the news, and interrogates his friends accordingly.

Act I, Scene III Edit

Act I, Scene III - A room in Polonius' house

LORD POLONIUS, and his children, LAERTES AND OPHELIA Enter Laertes and Ophelia

In a farewell speech, Laertes warns his sister against becoming emotionally involved with Hamlet.

Ophelia responds that she will keep her brother's advice, but asks him to do also as he preaches.

Then Lord Polonius adds a double-weight of advice to the occasion.

Then, to Ophelia he addresses himself, counselling her as well not to become involved with Hamlet.

Act I, Scene IV Edit

Act I Scene IV. The platform.

Enter HAMLET, HORATIO, and MARCELLUS with the intent of witnessing the "miracle" of the phantasm.

It appears and Hamlet addresses it.

The ghost beckons Hamlet.

Horatio warns him against following it.

Perhaps the most oft-quoted line from all of Shakespeare's works: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

The ghost confesses itself to be the late King Hamlet.

He states he was murdered and commmands young Hamlet to revenge him.

Though the story fed his subjects was that he'd been killed by a poison snake, King Hamlet's ghost explained that in actuality his brother had poured poison in his ear while while he slept in the royal garden.

However, the ghost admonishes Hamlet to spare his mother his vengeance, leaving her in her sinfulness to her conscience and the powers on high.

Hamlet agrees to carry out his father's will.

Hamlet forces his friends to swear never to divulge what transpired that night.

Act II, Scene I Edit

Act II Scene I A room in POLONIUS' house.

Enter POLONIUS and REYNALDO

In this scene, Lord Polonius retains Reynaldo's services as a spy, and instructs him to follow Laertes to Paris, and through asking leading questions to his friends and acquaintances, find out if the young man is guilty of any indescretions.

Act II, Scene II Edit

Act II Scene II A room in the castle.

Enter KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and Attendants

Claudius, having sent for two other fellow students of Hamlet (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), takes them into his confidence with the intent of discovering "how much Hamlet knows."

Then, the ambassadors, Cornelius and Voltimand return, accompanied by Polonius. They announce that there mission has been a success, and young Fortinbras has been placed under arrrest, and, as a result, has sworn to forego any further attempts on Danish holdings. However, he counters with an entreaty to allow him and his followers free passage through Denmark, so that he might prosecute the wars against the Poles. Claudius promises to consider the request.

When the ambassadors leave, Polonius takes the occasion of the meeting to announce to Claudius and Gertrude his opinion concerning Hamlet, namely that he is insane. In support of his assertion he reads a letter purportedly written by Hamlet to Ophelia. This has been given to him by his cooperative daughter. He goes on to claim that the madness is a result of Hamlet's having been rebuffed in his entreaties by Ophelia.

The three then plot to catch Hamlet in his madness. However, even before they have a chance to do so, Hamlet wanders by, and through acting absent in mind and speaking riddles and barbs, "proves" to them that he his mad.

Then, enter Rosencrantz and Guilderstern, also student chums from the university at Wittenberg. Hamlet suspects they are in league with his parents, however, they shrug off his suspicions, and he confesses his state of mind.

Guilderstern responds by offering to entertain Hamlet through the services of a company of players.

After a brief introduction to the actors, Hamlet agrees, but asks if the actors might recite something written by him. They are amenable to the idea, and Hamlet then announces to the audience that he will catch the King with his play.

=== Act III, Scene I (for a more detailed description of Act III, see below)

Act III, Scene I A room in the castle.

Enter KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, POLONIUS, OPHELIA, ROSENCRANTZ, and GUILDENSTERN

The King and Queen continue to connive with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet's invitation to join him in witnessing the production of the players is tendered the King and Queen.

Then, Claudius and Polonius secret themselves in hopes of gaining proof of Hamlet's mad infatuation with Ophelia, after first sending Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern away.

Gertrude demonstates a maternal concern for her son by hoping out loud for an honorable end to the affair (marriage). This wish will be repeated under more tragic circumstances at the end of her life. Both Polonius and Claudius admit to feelings of guilt in the lines that follow.

To be or not to be..., probably Hamlet's best-known speech. It is a revelation of philisophical proportions, as well as a burning question posed to an eternity of college-age students thereafter.

Ophelia tries to return to Hamlet tokens of his love he has given her previously. He senses a trap, and rejects her offers, denying having made her presents. There follows his "get thee to a nunnery" speech, in which he repeats the injunction four or five times. Ophelia responds with the line, "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!"

The King and Lord High Chamberlain who have witnessed the meeting, now voice disbelief in the theory of madness. Polonius proposes that his mother be the one to put him to the test, and discover the cause of his erratic behavior.

Claudius concurrs, iterating the much-quoted line, "Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go."

Act III, Scene II Edit

Act III, Scene II A hall in the castle.

Enter HAMLET and Players

In this scene, Hamlet coaches the players, teaching them his critical theories of drama, as well as how to play the lines he has written.

Then, enter Enter KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, POLONIUS, OPHELIA, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and others

The "play within a play" is enacted first as a dumbshow, but it's meaning is not lost upon the King and Queen.

The lines that follow reaffirm the meaning of the actors' gestures, and include one of the most best known lines of all times, when Queen Gertrude says in understatement: "The lady protests too much, methinks." Of course, Shakespeare wrote these words to simply mean "she talks too much" with reference to the speech above, as well as the curse uttered in damnation of her remarriage.

The play's name, The Mousetrap, is a recurring theme in literature and art, Orignaly known as "The Murder Of Gonzago".

Then Ophelia and Hamlet go at it again, with Ophelia once again launching the first volley.

The players go on to recite a mystery, where the husband's murder is caused in the same way and under the same circumstances as that of the late King Hamlet. Claudius calls for lights, and the show is ended. All disperse, except Hamlet and Horatio, who then receive Guilderstern who has arrived with a message from Gertrude. She would entertain his presence in her private chambers.

Hamlet, at this point, confounds the audience by giving voice to an ambition quite out of keeping with his previously stated intent upon revenge, but similar to his retort concerning the poor fare which graced his table at the time of the play. He then rebuffs Guiderstern, however Polonius appears, and again demands of Hamlet that he attend his mother.

Hamlet agrees, but what follows is a fearful speech redolent with black magic and witchcraft.

Act III, Scene III Edit

Act III Scene III A room in the castle.

Enter KING CLAUDIUS, ROSENCRANTZ, and GUILDENSTERN

Even as Hamlet prepares for his interview with his mother, Claudius drafts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for a final mission. He instructs them to arm themselves, and using what force that is necessary, to spirit Hamlet off to England.

Then, Polonius enters, and announces his plan to hide behind a screen in Gertrude's chamber, and overhear the ensuing conversation.

Claudius thanks his chamberlain, and then, for the benefit of the audience, confesses himself of his brother's murder.

Hamlet perceives him to be praying, and wonders out loud if now isn't the time to exact revenge. However, he declines in favor of more profane setting for a bloody reprisal, and goes to his mother.

Act III, Scene IV Edit

Act III, Scene IV The Queen's Closet

After harsh words are exchanged, Hamlet alarms his mother by forcing her to be seated. Her cries of protest are taken up by the Lord Chamberlain, hidden as he is, and Hamlet responds by drawing and thrusting in the direction of his voice. His cry of "How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" has become a popular way of expressing resentment against eavesdroppers.

For those who believe that Hamlet's mother married his brother, a degree less serious than the crime of marrying her own brother, this line supports their argument.

These lines bring to the fore the argument that Hamlet is, in fact, insane, as his mother fails to see his father's apparition.

Gertrude states that the phantasm is merely a symptom of Hamlet's madness (ecstasy).

Hamlet argues otherwise, and to get free of him she agrees to conspire on his behalf, and, at his urging, profess him to be sane, but feigning insanity. His intent appears to be to cause the King to assume the reverse, since the words will issue from his doting mother's mouth.

Then there follows another line which has been used to the end of creation, and will be for all time, namely, For 'tis the sport to have the engineer Hoist with his own petard. This, and the following reference to "digging a mine one yard below theirs..." contribute to the perception that Hamlet is in actuality suffering through an episode of delusional paranoid schizophrenia.

Act IV, Scene I Edit

Act IV Scene I A room in the castle.

However, Gertrude does not carry through with her promise to abet her son, and reports to Claudius that Hamlet is, in fact, mad.

At the same time she reports the death of Polonius, and Claudius orders his courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to bring the body from Hamlet's hiding place, and put it in the Chapel.

Act IV, Scene II Edit

Act IV Scene II

Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern argue over the disposition of Polonius' corpse. When brought before Claudius, Hamlet declaims with the "politic worms" speech.

He is then sent off to England, his speedy journey accompanied by a letter written by Claudius asking that he be murdered by the English.

Act IV, Scene III Edit

Act IV Scene III Another room in the castle. Enter KING CLAUDIUS, attended. In this scene Hamlet is questioned as to the location of Polonius' body. Then he is ordered off to England. Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are commanded to accompany him.


Act IV Scene IV Edit

A plain in Denmark.

Young Fortinbras and his army enters on the scene. A captain is dispatched to scout the place and meets up with Hamlet. They discuss the campaign against the Poles.

Then Hamlet again soliliquizes, wondering at the ways of greatness, and doubting his own capacity for the same.

Act IV, Scene V Edit

Act IV Scene V

Ophelia breaks down as a result of her father's death, and Gertrude is called upon to help her. Upon hearing her rambles, they call on Horatio to follow and watch over her, and make certain she comes to no harm.

Then, the gentleman returns with more bad news. Laertes has returned from Paris, and is being followed by a sympathetic mob who would have him crowned in Claudius' stead.

However Laertes desires no more than vengeance against the man who killed his father, and thereby hangs the dialogue between the Royal couple and Polonius' son, soon joined by Ophelia, which ends with Claudius' appeal to Laertes to accompany him in search of justice.

Act IV, Scene VI Edit

Act IV Scene VI Another room in the castle.

Horatio is found by a servant, and given a letter from Hamlet. He has returned to Denmark, after having been intercepted by pirates and held for ransom. They intend to seek payment by presenting themselves and their hostage at the Royal court.

Act IV, Scene VII Edit

Act IV Scene VII Another room in the castle.

Enter KING CLAUDIUS and LAERTES

Claudius promises his friendship to Laertes, apologizing for having failed to bring Hamlet to justice.

Then, a letter from Hamlet is brought by a messenger.

The letter is read, and Laertes and Claudius seize the occasion to conspire and set a trap for the prince.

Claudius relates to Laertes the news given him of the young man's prowess at arms.

He then proposes that they arrange a fencing match, where one foil will be sharpened and the other dull. Hamlet will generously grant the choice of swords to Laertes, who might choose the sharp.

Further, Laertes proposes to poison the tip of the sword, ensuring Hamlet's demise given even a touch.

Claudius approves, and adds that he too will have poison ready in a cup of refreshing drink.

Then Queen Gertrude enters with the news that Ophelia has drowned.

Act V, Scene I Edit

Act V, Scene I

A group of grave-diggers (clowns) is found hard at work in a churchyard.

Hamlet and Horatio stumble upon these and a conversation ensues. It is at first of a most morbid character, and then shifts to where Hamlet gains the opinion of the grave-diggers as to the recent events in the Royal household, and the grave being prepared for Ophelia is mentioned, though not her name.

Then the skull of Yorick, formerly the King's jester, is discovered. Thus, Hamlet's "skull" speech.

Then, enter a procession with the corpse of Ophelia.

Hamlet, upon realizing the identity of the deceased surprises them, and then leaps into the open grave with Laertes, who has descended to take into his arms the body of his sister.

The two struggle for a moment, with Hamlet then affirming his love for Ophelia, while Gertrude again states that her son is mad.

Act V, Scene II Edit

Act V, Scene II

After the scene opens with a conversation between Horatio and Hamlet, Osric arrives with the invitation to a fencing matchwith a mythical French nobleman. The wager is made, however, before there gathers the King and Queen, a request is tendered Hamlet to "warm up," by fencing with Laertes.

The duel begins, and Hamlet scores a hit. Then, Hamlet touches Laertes again, Gertrude celebrates with a draught from the poisoned cup.

Laertes than seizes the initiative, and wounds Hamlet, though in the subsequent scuffle, they exchange rapiers, Hamlet taking the poisoned sword in hand, and wounding him, in turn.

Hamlet inquires of his mother, and she cries out that she has been poisoned.

Then Laertes admits to having poisoned the sword, and Hamlet, realizing he is to soon die, stabs Claudius with it.

Laertes dies after first asking forgiveness of Hamlet.

Hamlet, dying, asks Horatio to defend his reputation after he has passed. Horatio is prepared to die, as well, but Hamlet siezes the cup to deter him from drinking of the poisoned wine.

Hamlet, in dying, gives his blessing to young Fortinbras (presumably as far as concerns his quest to recover his paternity), while Horatio utters the immortal lines, "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"

Then, though the ambassador entering upon the scene tells Horatio that Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are dead, that Hamlet's commandment had been fulfilled, Horatio denies his ever having given the order.

Horatio and Prince Fortinbras decide upon a fitting memorial for the dead, and the play ends.


Act III, A Commentary Edit

Selections 5 http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html, 6 http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_6.html and 7 http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_7.html
Now, let's start with supporting evidence, a kind of "I was there, really... I was."
First, it's the act where Claudius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are shown to be "out to get out of Hamlet" the source of his malaise, but also his motives. Unwittingly, they are also giving him the opportunity to stage his famous "Mousetrap" play.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor214414
You were there if you clicked on the above link.
Here also Queen Gertrude, shows what she wanted for her son, as she will again at Ophelia's funderal. Here she begs the girl to "cure" Hamlet from his wildness with her virtue.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor223153
Polonius instructs his daughter in virtue, reading to her from a book, before sending her on a mission to the "mad" Prince, once and for all to find out what troubles him so.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor224989
You were there if you clicked on the above link.
Now, Hamlet gives his most famous speech, one of the six soliloquies, a few lines later.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor227375
You were there if you clicked on the above link.
Thereafter, Ophelia encounters Hamlet, and tries to return tokens of love and affection which he has given her previously.
Perhaps he senses a trick, but he curses her soundly.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor255147
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor265518 Curse
You were there if you clicked on the above links.
Now this curse was overheard as planned, and Hamlet has given away that his trouble comes not from his love of Ophelia. Claudius begins to make plans to send him off to England, while Polonius continues to believe that love is at the root of the "madness." Thus, he goes to Gertrude to make another trap, and thus the famous speech to mother in her bedroom.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_5.html#anchor274880 Polonius expressing his faith that love is still the problem.
Now Scene II is the scene of the play-within-a-play, The Mousetrap.
The link below will take you to the lines where Hamlet reinforces Polonius in his belief that love is the problem, as well as show Hamlet to be a cad. He now speaks with Ophelia in mincing or love-lorn tones.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_6.html#anchor195207

The pantomime precedes the play, and Claudius and Gertrude know from then on they are found out.
However, Polonius and Gertrude conspire for another forced meeting, and the famous bedroom scene ensues, but not before the famous dire soundings of witchcraft soliloquy.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_7.html#anchor169367
Meanwhile Claudius not only finalizes arrangements with R.and G. for the voyage to England, but also confesses to the audience his guilt.
http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_7.html#anchor190231
In the lines following Hamlet seems to have overheard the confession, but stays swift vengeance for a bloodier ending to his hated uncle.
Scene IV is where Polonius gets it. Hamlet is now an exterminator and on the run. The scene concludes with Hamlet dragging away Polonius' body. I am certain by now in the play that everybody is now sure that Hamlet is mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad... and crazy, too.

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