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Act 1

Summary
Scene 1
The play opens during a bitterly cold night watch outside of
the royal Danish palace. There is a changing of the guards:
Bernardo replaces Francisco. Soon two more characters arrive,
Horatio and Marcellus. We learn that Bernardo and Marcellus,
two soldiers, have witnessed an extraordinary sight on both of
the previous nights watches: the ghost of the former King of
Denmark, Old Hamlet, has appeared before them in full armor.
On this third night, theyve welcomed Horatio, a scholar and a
skeptic who has just arrived in Denmark, to verify their ghost
sighting. Horatio initially expresses doubt that the ghost will
appear. Suddenly, it does. The two soldiers charge Horatio to
speak to the ghost but he does not. The ghost disappears just
as suddenly as it arrived.

Soon after the ghosts disappearance, Marcellus asks the other


two why there has been such a massive mobilization of Danish
war forces recently. Horatio answers, saying that the Danish
army is preparing for a possible invasion by Fortinbras, Prince
of Norway. We learn that Fortinbras father (also named
Fortinbras), was killed many years before in single combat
with Old Hamlet, the now-deceased king whose ghost we have
just seen. Now that Old Hamlet has died, presumably
weakening the Danes, there is a rumor that Fortinbras plans to
invade Denmark and claim that lands that were forfeit after his
fathers death.
After Horatio has finished explaining this political backstory,
the ghost of Old Hamlet appears once more. This time Horatio
does try to speak to the ghost. When the ghost remains silent,
Horatio tells Marcellus and Bernardo to try to detain it; they
strike at the ghost with their spears but jab only air. A rooster
crows just as the ghost appears ready to reply to Horatio at

last. This sound startles the ghost away. Horatio decides to tell
Prince Hamlet, Old Hamlets son, about the apparition, and the
others agree.
Scene 2
This scene begins at the court of Claudius and Gertrude, the
King and Queen of Denmark. They have just been married.
This marriage has followed quickly after the death of the
former King of Denmark, Old Hamlet, Claudius brother.
Claudius addresses the quickness of the marriage,
representing himself as in mourning for a lost brother even as
he is joyful for a new wife, his one-time sister. Claudius also
addresses the question of the young Fortinbras proposed
invasion. He says that he has spoken to Fortinbras uncle, the
King of Norway, who has made Fortinbras promise to halt any
plans to invade Denmark. Claudius sends Cornelius and
Voltemand, two courtiers, to Norway to settle this business.
Finally, Claudius turns to Laertes, the son of his trusted
counselor, Polonius. Laertes expresses a wish to return to
France and Claudius grants permission.
At this point, Prince Hamlet, who has been standing apart from
the kings audience this whole time, speaks the first of his
many lines. Claudius asks Hamlet why he is still so gloomy.
Hamlets replies are evasive, cynical, and punning. He declares
that his grief upon losing his father still deeply affects him.
Claudius goes into a speech about the unnaturalness of
prolonged grief; to lose ones father is painful but common, he
says, and Hamlet should accept this as natures course. He
expresses a wish that Hamlet remain with them in Denmark
instead of returning to Wittenberg, where he is a student, and
when Gertrude seconds this wish, Hamlet agrees. The king,
queen, and all their retinue then exit the stage, leaving Hamlet
alone.
In his first soliloquy, Hamlet expresses the depths of his
melancholy and his disgust at his mothers hastily marrying
Claudius after the death of his father. He declares his father to
be many times Claudius superior as a man. After this
soliloquy, Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo enter. At first,
Hamlet is too aggrieved to recognize Horatio, his old school
friend, but finally he welcomes Horatio warmly. After chatting
about the state, Horatio tells Hamlet that he has seen his dead
father recently the night before. Hamlet asks him to explain,

and Horatio tells the story of the appearance of the ghost.


Hamlet decides to attend the watch that very night in hopes of
seeing the ghost himself.
Scene 3
As the scene opens, Laertes is taking his leave of his sister,
Ophelia. In the course of their farewells, Laertes advises her
about her relationship with Hamlet, with whom she has been
spending much of her time lately. He tells her to forget him
because he, as Prince of Denmark, is too much to hope for as
a husband. He adds that she should vigilantly guard her
chastity, her most prized treasure as a woman. Ophelia agrees
to attend to his lesson. As Laertes is about to leave, his father,
Polonius, arrives. Polonius gives Laertes a blessing and a
battery of advice before sending his son on his way.
With Laertes gone, Polonius asks Ophelia what they had been
talking about as he arrived. Ophelia confesses that they had
been talking about her relationship with Hamlet. She tells
Polonius that Hamlet has made many honorable declarations
of love to her. Polonius pooh-poohs these declarations, saying,
much as Laertes did, that Hamlet wants nothing more than to
assail her chastity and then leave her. He makes his daughter
promise that she will spend no more time alone with Hamlet.
Ophelia says that she will obey.
Scene 4
At the night watch, Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus await the
reappearance of the ghost. They hear cannons from the castle
and Hamlet tells them that this is a sign that Claudius is
drinking pledges. Hamlet goes on a short tirade against the
Danish custom of drinking heavily. His speech is no sooner
over than the ghost appears again. Hamlet immediately
addresses the ghost, imploring it to speak. The ghost beckons
for Hamlet to come away, apart from the others. Horatio and
Marcellus attempt to keep Hamlet from following the ghost,
warning him of the many evils that might befall him. Hamlet
doesnt listen. He threatens to kill Horatio or Marcellus if they
detain him, and when they stay back he follows the ghost
offstage. Horatio and Marcellus determine to follow at a
distance to make sure that no harm comes to their friend.

Scene 5
Alone with Hamlet, the ghost finally speaks. He tells Hamlet
that he has come on a nightly walk from Purgatory, where his
soul is under continual torment for the sins of his life. The
ghost then reveals that he was not killed by a viper, as
officially announced, but was murdered. Moreover, he reveals
that his own brother, Claudius, who now wears his crown and
sleeps with his wife, was the murderer. The ghost tells of how
Claudius snuck into his garden while he was taking his
accustomed afternoon nap and poured poison into his ear,
killing him most painfully and sending his soul unpurified into
the afterlife. The ghost demands vengeance, telling Hamlet not
to plot against his mother, whom he describes as merely weak
and lustful, but to focus the whole of his revenge on Claudius.
The ghost then disappears.
Hamlet, overwhelmed and half-raving, swears that he will kill
Claudius. After he has made this vow, Horatio and Marcellus
arrive. Hamlet does not tell them what the ghost has revealed,
but nevertheless insists that they swear not to speak of the
apparition to anyone. They agree. Hamlet then insists that
they swear again on his sword. They agree again, confused at
these demands. The ghost of Old Hamlet, meanwhile, can be
heard under the stage, insisting along with his son that they
swear themselves to secrecy. Hamlet leads his friends to
several different points on stage, insisting that they swear
over and over again. He then reveals, parenthetically, that
they might find his behavior in the next while to be strange
he might pretend to be mad and act otherwise unusually but
that they must still keep secret what they have seen. After this
final agreement, Hamlet leads the others offstage, uneasily
determined to revenge his fathers murder.

Act 2
Summary
Scene 1
Act Two begins with Polonius speaking to one of his servants,
Reynaldo, about his son, Laertes, who has by this time
returned to Paris. We see Polonius in the act of sending
Reynaldo after Laertes to inquire into his sons conduct. He
instructs Reynaldo very precisely in the method of obtaining
this information. First, Reynaldo is to find out from strangers
in Paris about the prominent Danes in the city without
revealing that he has any particular attachment to Laertes.
When Laertes name comes up, Reynaldo is to pretend to have
some distant knowledge of him, and is further to suggest that
he knows of Laertes as something of a happy-go-lucky youth
given to gambling, drinking, fencing, swearing, fighting, and
whoring. By this path of insinuation, Polonius explains,
Reynaldo will hear from his hypothetical Parisian interlocutor
the unvarnished truth about Laertes conduct in France.
Having thus prepared Reynaldo to spy on his son, Polonius
sends him off.

Ophelia enters, distraught. She tells her father that Hamlet


has frightened her with his wild, unkempt appearance and
deranged manners. After Ophelia describes Hamlets behavior,
she further reveals that, as per Polonius orders, she has cut
off all contact with Hamlet and has refused his letters. Polonius
reasons, thus, that Hamlets madness is the result of Ophelias
rejection. He had thought that Hamlet was only trifling with
her, but it turns out (he now declares) that Hamlet was indeed
deeply in love with Ophelia. Polonius hurries off to tell Claudius
and Gertrude that he has discovered the reason for their sons
odd behavior.

Scene 2
King Claudius has made plans of his own to discover the
reasons for Hamlets supposed madness. He has summoned
two of Hamlets school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
both to comfort his nephew-cum-son and to try to discover the
reason for his distemper (so he says). The two scholars are
only too happy to oblige in this task.
After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave the royal presence,
Polonius rushes in, announcing that he has found the reason
for Hamlets madness. Before he reveals his news, however,
he entreats Claudius and Gertrude to hear from the two
ambassadors to Norway, Voltemand and Cornelius, who have
just returned. They report that the King of Norway, after
looking into his nephew Fortinbras actions, found out that he
was indeed planning to invade Denmark. The King of Norway
then rebuked Fortinbras and ordered him to abandon his plan
of Danish conquest, which young Fortinbras agreed to do.
Overjoyed at his nephews acquiescence, Norway then
rewarded Fortinbras with a generous annual allowance.
Further, Norway granted Fortinbras leave to levy war against
the Polish. Finally, the ambassadors report that Norway seeks
Claudius permission to allow Fortinbras passage through
Denmark in this proposed campaign against Poland. Claudius
declares his approval of this message and says that he will
consider its details anon.
Polonius steps forward to reveal his discovery. He tells the
king and queen, in a very roundabout way, that he has
discovered Hamlets foiled love of Ophelia, and that he
believes this lost love to be the root cause of Hamlets
madness. Claudius asks how they might prove this to be the
case. Polonius has a plan. He offers to loose Ophelia on Hamlet
while he is reading alone in the library. Meanwhile, he
suggests, he and Claudius could hide behind a tapestry and
observe the meeting. Claudius agrees.
Just then, Hamlet enters, reading. Gertrude and Claudius exit
while Polonius attempts to speak to Hamlet. Hamlet plays with
Polonius, mocking him, evading his questions, and turning his
language inside out. Nevertheless, Polonius reads between
the lines, as it were, and interprets Hamlets nonsensical
replies as motivated by a broken heart. Polonius leaves to
contrive the proposed meeting between Hamlet and his
daughter.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, surprising their friend


Hamlet. The three friends banter philosophically for a good
while before Hamlet asks the two why they have come to
Elsinore. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to dodge this
question, declaring that they have come for no other reason
than to visit him. Hamlet, though, wont let them off the hook,
and makes them admit that the king and queen sent for them.
When they admit it, Hamlet also tells them why they were sent
for because he has been deeply melancholy, and has
foregone his accustomed behavior. He sinks deeply into a
speech detailing this misery.
Rosencrantz changes the subject. He tells Hamlet that he and
Guildenstern passed a troop of players on their way to
Elsinore. They gossip briefly about the city theaters the troop
had left before coming to Denmark (presumably those of
London). Soon the players arrive with a flourish. Polonius
rushes back into the scene, bearing the already stale news
that the players have arrived. Hamlet banters with Polonius in
the same mocking vein as before until the players burst into
court, at which point Hamlet rushes up to welcome them.
Hamlet insists upon hearing a speech straight away, and in
particular requests a recitation based on a scene in Virgils
Aeneid, as related by Aeneas to Dido, recounting the death of
Priam during the fall of Troy. Hamlet himself begins the speech
and then cedes the floor to one of the players, who recites a
long and fustian description of Priams death by Pyrrhus hand.
The player goes on to speak of the wild grief of Hecuba,
Priams wife, after her husband has been killed. While
speaking of her agony, the player begins to weep and shake.
Polonius finally cuts him off and Hamlet agrees.
Before the players retire, however, Hamlet pulls the main
player aside and asks him whether the company knows a
certain play, The Murder of Gonzago. The player says that
they do, and Hamlet commissions it for the following night,
saying that he will write some speeches of his own to be
inserted into the play as written. The player says that this
would be fine and then takes his leave.
Left alone on stage, Hamlet muses about the strangeness of
his situation. He asks himself, How can this player be so filled
with grief and rage over Priam and Hecuba, imaginary figures
whom he doesnt even know, while I, who have every reason
to rage and grieve and seek bloody revenge, am weak,
uncertain, and incapable of action? He curses himself and his

indecisiveness before cursing his murderous uncle in a rage.


Having regained composure, Hamlet announces his plan to
make sure that the ghost of his father is genuine that the
apparition was not some evil spirit sent to lure his soul to
damnation. He declares his intention to stage a play exactly
based on the murder of his father. While it is played he will
observe Claudius. If the king is guilty, Hamlet figures, surely
he will show this guilt when faced with the scene of the crime.

Act 3
Summary
Scene 1
An entourage consisting of the king and queen, Polonius and
Ophelia, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enters to begin the
Act. Claudius asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern what they
have learned about Hamlets malady. The two reply that they
have not been able to find its cause. They do mention,
however, that Hamlet was very enthusiastic about the players
performance that night, which prompts Claudius to agree to
attend the play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave. Polonius
and Claudius then begin their plan to loose Ophelia on Hamlet
and mark their encounter, hoping to find the root of his
madness. They instruct Ophelia to pretend that she is simply
reading a book and withdraw behind a tapestry.

Hamlet enters and delivers the most famous speech in


literature, beginning, To be or not to be. After this long
meditation on the nature of being and death, Hamlet catches
sight of Ophelia. After a short conversation she attempts to
return some of the remembrances that Hamlet gave when
courting her. Hamlet replies caustically, questioning Ophelias
honesty. He then berates Ophelia, telling her off sarcastically
and venomously, with the refrain, Get thee to a nunnery, or
in other words, Go become a nun to control your lust. After
this tirade, Hamlet exists, leaving Ophelia in shambles.
Claudius and Polonius step out of their hiding place. The king
states that he does not believe that Hamlet is mad because of
his foiled love for Ophelia, or really mad at all, but tormented
for some hidden reason. He determines to send Hamlet on a
diplomatic mission to England before he can cause any serious
trouble. Polonius endorses this plan, but persists in his belief
that Hamlets grief is the result of his love for Ophelia. He
consoles his daughter. Polonius suggests in parting that

Claudius arrange a private interview between Hamlet and his


mother after the play that evening and Claudius agrees.
Scene 2
Just as the play is about to begin, Hamlet instructs the players
on the art of acting, telling them to act naturally and to avoid
bombast. He sets the players to their preparations and then
conferences with Horatio. After complimenting Horatio in the
most sterling terms, Hamlet asks his friend to assist him in
watching the kings response to the play they are about to see
(apparently Hamlet has by this time told Horatio what the
ghost revealed). Horatio seats himself so as to view the king
properly. The royal entourage enters. Hamlet manically
chatters with Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia,
reserving special attention for the latter, whom he sits next to
and teases.
The play begins with a Dumb Show, which is a pantomime of
the drama to come. On stage, the basic form of the alleged
murder is repeated: a king and queen are shown happily
married; the king takes a nap; a poisoner enters and pours
something in the kings ear, killing him; the poisoner than
takes possession of the queen. Ophelia seems confused by this
plot but Hamlet tells her to wait for the speaker of the
prologue to explain.
The prologue is a short little jingling rhyme. The player king
and queen then immediately enter the stage. The king
mentions that they have been married thirty years. The player
queen expresses a hope that their love last as long over again.
The king encourages the queen to remarry if he dies. The
queen protests against this notion vehemently, swearing never
to love another if were to she turn widow. With this, the king
falls asleep and the queen exits. Hamlet asks his mother,
Gertrude, how she likes the play, and Gertrude replies with the
famous line, The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Claudius is also outspokenly apprehensive about the nature of
the play. It continues, however, with the entrance of Lucianus,
the sleeping kings nephew. This evil character creeps up to
the sleeping player king and pours poison in his ear. Hamlet,
unable to contain himself, erupts, telling everyone that
Lucianus will soon win the love of the kings over-protesting
wife.
At this, Claudius rises and orders the play to end. He retreats

with his retinue. Hamlet and Horatio laugh together, certain


now that the ghost was telling the truth. After a short
celebration, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and tell
Hamlet that he has made Claudius very angry. They also say
that Gertrude has ordered Hamlet to meet her in her chamber.
They then entreat Hamlet to tell the cause of his distemper.
Hamlet replies mockingly by saying that they are trying to play
him like a pipe and that he wont let them. Polonius enters and
entreats Hamlet again to see his mother. All exit but Hamlet.
In a short soliloquy, Hamlet reflects that he will be cruel to his
mother, showing her the extent of her crime in marrying
Claudius, but will not actually hurt her.
Scene 3
Claudius gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a sealed
envelope with orders to convey Hamlet to England and give
the envelope to the king there. In highly flattering terms, they
agree to do the kings bidding and exit. Polonius then enters,
saying that Hamlet is going to meet with his mother, and
declaring his intention to hide behind an arras and listen to
their conversation. He exits. Alone, the king looks into his
soul. He is deeply disgusted by what he sees. He kneels to
pray, hoping to purge his guilt, but reflects that this penance
will not be genuine because he will still retain the prizes for
which he committed murder in the first place, his crown and
his wife.
As Claudius is vainly attempting to pray, Hamlet comes up
behind him. He reflects that he now has an opportunity to kill
his uncle and revenge his father, but pauses, considering that
because Claudius is in the act of prayer he would likely go
straight to heaven if killed. Hamlet resolves to kill Claudius
later, when he is in the middle of some sinful act. He continues
on to his mothers chamber.
Scene 4
In the chamber, awaiting Hamlets arrival, Polonius hides
himself behind one of Gertrudes curtains. Hamlet enters.
Gertrude attempts to be firm and chastising, but Hamlet
comes right back at her, saying that she has sinned mightily in
marrying her husbands brother. He pulls his mother in front of
a mirror, saying that he will reveal her inmost part, and

Gertrude momentarily misinterprets this, thinking that Hamlet


may attempt to murder her. She cries for help. Polonius,
hidden from view, also cries out for help. Hamlet thinks that
the hidden voice belongs to Claudius. He stabs Polonius
through the curtain, killing him. When he sees that he has
killed Polonius, Hamlet declares the old man to be a rash,
intruding fool.
Quickly forgetting about this death, Hamlet seats his mother
down and presents her with two portraits, one of her first
husband and the other of Claudius. He describes the two as
opposites, the one all nobility and virtue, the other all
deformity and vice. Gertrude is deeply affected by this
comparison and seems to comprehend the enormity of her sin.
Hamlet continues to berate her and describe Claudius in the
most foul and hurtful language. While in the middle of this
harangue, Old Hamlets ghost appears once more, telling
Hamlet to stop torturing his mother and to remember his duty
to kill Claudius. At the ghosts command, Hamlet consoles his
mother. Gertrude, unable to see the ghost, sees Hamlet
talking to thin air and resolves that he is indeed insane. The
ghost exits.
Hamlet tells his mother that he is not in fact insane. He
reiterates that she should repent her marriage to Claudius and
tells her in particular to stay away from their shared bed for
the night. After describing the importance of this abstinence in
the most colorful terms, Hamlet reminds his mother that he is
ordered to England. Hamlet says that although he will go to
England, he will not trust Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He
exits his mothers bedroom, dragging the body of Polonius
behind him.

Act 4
Summary
Scene 1
Immediately after Hamlet exits, dragging Polonius body, we
see Claudius asking Gertrude to explain what has happened.
She tells him of Hamlets accidental killing of Polonius and
Claudius realizes that he could have just as easily been slain.
Claudius asks where Hamlet has gone and Gertrude says that
he has taken the body away. The king orders Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to find Hamlet and discover where he has taken
Polonius corpse.

Scene 2
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern question Hamlet about Polonius
whereabouts. Hamlet evades their questions playfully,
accusing his former friends of sycophancy to the king and
leading them on a wild goose chase.
Scene 3
Claudius is greatly distracted by the death of Polonius and the
attempt to find the body. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter
with Hamlet. Claudius questions Hamlet as to where he has
taken Polonius. After some morbidly humorous replies, Hamlet
reveals that he hid Polonius up the stairs into the lobby. The
king sends attendants to find the body. Claudius then tells
Hamlet that he is to depart immediately for England, as
planned. Hamlet mockingly departs, leaving Claudius to reflect
on his plans for Hamlet. He has prepared letters asking the
English king, whom Denmark has recently defeated in war, to

kill Hamlet as part of the duties owed by right of conquest.


Scene 4
Next we see Fortinbras Norwegian army. They are at the
borders of Denmark. Fortinbras sends one of his captains to
the court of Claudius to ask permission to cross Denmark in
the course of their march to Poland. The captain travels on
and Fortinbras and the rest of the army exit.
The captain meets with Hamlet, who is being conveyed by
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the ship to England. Hamlet
asks the captain about his army and his purpose in going to
Poland. The captain says that in Poland there is a little patch
of ground which Norway claims as her own. He describes this
land as perfectly worthless and small. Hamlet suggests that
the Poles will not likely defend such a piece of land, but the
captain sets him straight, saying that Poland is already
garrisoned and ready for their dispute. Hamlet wraps up his
conversation with the captain. He hangs back from the others
marching to the ship and delivers a long soliloquy on the irony
of this occasion these men are off to risk their lives for a
worthless piece of land, while he, who has every reason to risk
his life in the cause of revenge, delays and fails to act. Hamlet
resolves to recast his mind to bloody thoughts. Ironically,
however, just after making this resolution he continues on
toward England, leaving Denmark behind him.
Scene 5
Back in the court of Denmark, we see Gertrude speaking with
a gentleman who explains that Ophelia has gone mad. She is
rambling nonsensically about her father and insisting on seeing
Gertrude. The queen reluctantly admits Ophelia, who proceeds
to sing a number of simple and haunting songs, some of them
quite bawdy. The king enters and witnesses her madness.
Ophelia then speaks openly of her fathers untimely demise
and hasty, unofficial burial. She threatens, My brother shall
know of it, and exits. Claudius reflects on the difficulty of
their situation, admitting that their decision to cover up
Hamlets deed and bury Polonius so covertly has gone against
them. He says that Laertes has come from France, egged on
by people who see the court as responsible for Polonius death.

On cue, a messenger arrives with word that Laertes has come


to court with a mob of followers who wish to depose Claudius
and make Laertes king. Laertes bursts in and tells his followers
to wait outside. In a half-crazed state he insists that Claudius
give him Polonius. Claudius attempts to calm Laertes and tells
Gertrude to keep out of their talk and let Laertes question him
to his hearts content. Claudius tells Laertes that Polonius is
dead. He also insinuates that he and Laertes are on the same
side that he has been injured by Polonius death too.
Just as Claudius is about to explain what he means, Ophelia
enters again, bearing a bundle of flowers. The sight of his
insane sister deeply grieves Laertes. Ophelia handles all those
present gifts of flowers, each symbolizing a reproach to the
receiver. She sings another song about her dead father and
exits abruptly. As she leaves Claudius tells Laertes to inquire
into the matter as deeply as he wishes, confident that he will
find himself aligned with Claudius against Hamlet. Laertes
agrees.
Scene 6
A messenger approaches Horatio, saying that some sailors
have news for him. Horatio receives from these sailors a letter
from Hamlet. He reads the letter aloud. It recounts an
amazing turn of events: on his way to England, pirates
attacked Hamlets ship. During the fray, Hamlet boarded the
pirate vessel. The two ships parted with Hamlet still aboard.
The pirates treated Hamlet like thieves of mercy, promising
to return Hamlet to Denmark in return for some favors.
Hamlet also alludes to a startling development having to do
with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern but says that he must
delay telling of this until they meet. He tells Horatio to follow
the sailors to where he is hiding. Horatio says that he will help
to deliver the rest of their letters, one of which is addressed to
the king, and then go with them to see Hamlet.
Scene 7
Claudius and Laertes are in conference. The king seems to
have explained the strange occasion of Polonius death to
Laertes satisfaction. He says that he did not try Hamlet for
two reasons, first, because his mother loves him so much, and
second, because the people of Denmark are supporters of

Hamlet. A messenger arrives and delivers a letter to Claudius,


who is greatly surprised to learn that the letter comes from
Hamlet. The letter announces Hamlets imminent return to
court.
With this in mind, Claudius and Laertes plot to find a means of
killing Hamlet without upsetting Gertrude or the people. They
propose to arrange a duel between Hamlet and Laertes, both
of whom are accomplished swordsmen, though Laertes is the
more reputed. Claudius suggests that Laertes be given a sharp
sword while Hamlets remains blunt. Laertes does him one
better, saying that he will dip his sword in poison so that the
least scratch will kill Hamlet. Claudius says that on top of this
he will prepare a poisoned cup and give it to Hamlet during the
fight.
Gertrude enters with yet more tragic news. She says that
Ophelia has drowned. She was watching Ophelia play in the
branches of a willow by the water when she fell in. Gertrude
says that Ophelia seemed ignorant of danger and went to her
death slowly, singing songs. This news reignites Laertes rage
and Claudius goes to console him.

Act 5
Summary
Scene 1
The final Act begins with a conversation between two
gravediggers as they dig Ophelias grave. They repeat a rumor
that Ophelia committed suicide and wonder whether she ought
to be buried in hallowed ground. We learn that the king has
overridden the objections of the clergy and provided for her
burial. After some witty and macabre banter on the nature of
gravedigging, Hamlet and Horatio enter. The main gravedigger
sends his partner off for a cup of liquor and then commences
to dig, singing songs all the while. Hamlet appears fascinated
by the gravediggers indifference to the gravity of his
profession. As the gravediggers throws various skulls out of
the grave, Hamlet wonders whom they might have belonged
to in life whether a courtier or a lawyer.

Hamlet approaches the gravedigger and exchanges witticisms


about this morbid work. The gravedigger informs Hamlet about
the length of time it takes bodies to decay in the ground. He
then produces a skull from the grave that he says has been
lying there for twenty-three years. The gravedigger says that
this is the skull of Yorick, the old kings jester. Hamlet is
amazed he knew Yorick and loved him as a child. He takes
up the skull and speaks about Yorick, a topic that leads him to
consider the nature of mortality more generally.
A procession interrupts Hamlets reveries Claudius, Gertrude,
and Laertes march toward the grave along with a priest and an
entourage bearing a body. Hamlet notices that the burial is
less elaborate than usual, signifying that the deceased was a
suicide. He and Horatio stand aside while Laertes argues with
the priest about the paltriness of the burial rites. In the course
of his arguing with the priest, Laertes reveals to Hamlet that

the dead body is that of Ophelia. Gertrude steps forward to


say farewell to Ophelia. Laertes follows. In his intense grief,
Laertes leaps into his sisters grave to hold her body again and
orders the gravediggers to bury him alive. Provoked by this
show of grief, Hamlet then reveals himself. After grappling
with Laertes, Hamlet declares that he loved Ophelia more than
forty thousand brothers could. The king and queen dismiss his
avowal as madness. Hamlet then exits and Horatio follows
him. After they have left, Claudius reminds Laertes of their
plan to take care of Hamlet.
Scene 2
Hamlet explains to Horatio what happened on his journey to
England. He says that he strongly suspected Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern of foul play, and so decided to apprehend their
letter to England. In the letter he found an order for his death.
Hamlet then devised a substitute letter asking for the deaths
of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He happened to have a
signet ring in the shape of the seal of Denmark, and so sealed
the letter. Hamlet then replaced the letter while Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern were asleep. At this point, pirates attacked
the vessel, as related previously.
A courtier, Osric, interrupts Hamlet and Horatio. In very ornate
and silly language, Osric declares to Hamlet that Claudius has
proposed a contest of swordsmanship between Laertes and he.
Hamlet and Horatio mock Osrics pompous and artificial
mannerisms. Eventually Hamlet agrees to enter the contest.
When Horatio worries that Laertes is better at swordplay than
he, Hamlet declares that he has been in continual practice for
some time.
A table is prepared and the king, queen and other figures of
state gather to watch the swordfight. Hamlet begs Laertes
pardon both for his outburst at Ophelias grave and for his
rash killing of Polonius. Laertes appears to accept this apology
but declares that his honor will not be satisfied until they have
had their contest. Hamlet and Laertes choose their swords.
Laertes nonchalantly chooses the unblunted sword with the
envenomed blade. As they prepare to fight, Claudius proposes
a drink to Hamlet.
The fight begins with Osric as referee. Hamlet wins the first
point and the king offers him a drink to refresh himself,
dropping a poisoned pearl in the wine just before he hands it

over. Hamlet declines to take the drink for the time being.
They play another round and Hamlet again wins a point. After
this second pass, Gertrude toasts to Hamlets health. She
takes up the poisoned chalice and has a drink despite Claudius
protestations. Hamlet and Laertes have a third pass which
ends in a draw.
After this pass, while Hamlet is unguarded, Laertes wounds
Hamlet with the poisoned rapier. They scuffle and Hamlet ends
up with Laertes poisoned sword. He wounds Laertes with it.
Just then, the queen collapses. She declares that she has been
poisoned by the drink and then dies. Hamlet asks for the
treachery to be found out and Laertes confesses the plan
hatched by the king and he. He says that they are both
inevitably going to die, having been wounded by the poisoned
blade. Hamlet takes the envenomed sword and wounds
Claudius, then forces the king to drink from his poisoned cup.
Claudius dies. Laertes asks Hamlets forgiveness and then also
dies. Hamlet, knowing that he is about to die also, asks
Horatio to explain this bloody spectacle to the confused
onlookers. Horatio, on the contrary, wishes to die with his
friend, but Hamlet convinces him to live a while and clear his
name. Hamlet declares that Fortinbras should become King of
Denmark. He then dies the rest is silence.
A flourish is heard and Osric brings news that Fortinbras has
arrived from his victory in Poland with ambassadors from
England. Fortinbras enters the court only to find four noble
bodies sprawled out on the floor. The ambassadors from
England enter with news that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
have been killed. Horatio explains that Claudius would not
have welcomed this news even if he had been living to receive
it. He orders that the royal bodies be taken up. Horatio further
promises to explain the story behind the deaths, a story full of
carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts; / Of accidental judgments,
casual slaughters; / Of deaths put on by cunning and forced
cause. In short, he promises to tell the story of Hamlet.
Fortinbras agrees to hear it. He adds that, given the death of
the Danish royalty, he will now pursue his own claims to the
throne. Finally, Fortinbras declares that Hamlet shall receive a
soldiers burial. Some soldiers take up his body and bear it
from the stage.