In Grammaticus's tale, Amleth lives on and becomes King of Jutland. Shakespeare may also have drawn upon a lost play by Thomas Kyd , a play referred to as Ur-Hamlet the prefix ur- means original , and a surviving Kyd play, The Spanish Tragedy also spelled The Spanish Tragedie , in which the presentation of the character Hieronimo could have inspired Shakespeare's probing analysis of Hamlet. Regarding Ur-Hamlet, Shakespeare critic and scholar Peter Alexander—editor of a popular edition of the complete works of Shakespeare, first published in —maintains that Ur-Hamlet was actually written by Shakespeare between and as a draft of the final version of the play.
Elsinore is a real town. Within the city limits of Elsinore is Kronborg Castle, said to be the model for the Elsinore Castle of Shakespeare's play. Construction on the castle began in , when Shakespeare was ten, and ended in , when Shakespeare was twenty-one. It is believed that actors known to Shakespeare performed at Kronborg Castle. Other settings in Hamlet are a plain in Denmark, near Elsinore, and a churchyard near Elsinore. Offstage action in the play referred to in dialogue takes place on a ship bound for England from Denmark on which Hamlet replaces instructions to execute him see the plot summary below with instructions to execute his traitorous companions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Tone The tone of the play is somber and foreboding. Horatio is skeptical. Revenge and death are in the air.
Hamlet | Study Guide
Characters Hamlet : Son of a murdered Danish king who was also named Hamlet and nephew and stepson of the present king, Claudius. Hamlet suffers great mental anguish over the death of his father, the marriage of his mother to the suspected murderer Claudius, the brother of the dead king , and the clash between his moral sense and his desire for revenge against his father's murderer. To ensnare the killer, Hamlet pretends madness. Some Shakespeare interpreters contend that he really does suffer a mental breakdown.
Hamlet is highly intelligent and well liked by the citizens, although at times he can be petty and cruel. Hamlet is the protagonist, or main character. Claudius : The new king of Denmark, Hamlet's uncle and stepfather. He becomes king after Hamlet's father, the previous king, is found dead in his orchard. Hamlet suspects that Claudius murdered him. Gertrude : Hamlet's mother and widow of the murdered king. She continues as queen of Denmark after she marries Claudius. That the marriage took place within two months after the late king's funeral deeply disturbs Hamlet.
Polonius : Bootlicking lord chamberlain of King Claudius. A lord chamberlain managed a royal household. Ophelia : Daughter of Polonius. She loves Hamlet, but his pretended madness—during which he rejects her—and the death of her father trigger a pathological reaction in her.
Horatio : Hamlet's best friend. Horatio never wavers in his loyalty to Hamlet. Laertes : Son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia. Circumstances make him an enemy of Hamlet, and they duel to the death in a fencing match near the end the play. As a man who reacts to circumstances quickly, with a minimum of reflection on the meaning and possible outcome of his actions, Laertes contrasts sharply with the pensive and indecisive Hamlet and, thus, serves as his foil. Rosencrantz, Guildenstern : Courtiers and friends of Hamlet who attended school with him. They turn against him to act as spies for Claudius and agents in Claudius's scheme to have Hamlet murdered in England.
Hamlet quickly smells out their deception and treachery. Marcellus, Bernardo : Officers who are the first to see the ghost of Hamlet's father. Francisco : Another officer. Voltimand , Cornelius , Osric : Courtiers who bear messages for the king. Osric informs Hamlet of the fencing match arranged for him and Laertes. A courtier is an attendant at the court of a monarch. Reynaldo : Servant of Polonius. Fortinbras : Prince of Norway, who is on the march with an army.
In battlefield combat referred to in the play but not taking place during the play , old King Hamlet slew the father of Fortinbras and annexed Norwegian territory. Fortinbras seeks revenge. Players : Actors who arrive at Elsinore to offer an entertainment.
Hamlet directs one of them, referred to as the First Player, to stage a drama called The Mouse-trap , about a throne-seeker who murders a king. Hamlet hopes the play will cause Claudius to react in a way that reveals his guilt as the murderer of old King Hamlet. As The Mouse-trap unfolds on a stage at Elsinore, the actors are referred to as the following: Prologue : Actor presenting a one-sentence prologue to the play. Clowns Gravediggers : Two peasants who dig Ophelia's grave. The word clown in Shakespeare's time often referred to a peasant or rustic.
Yorick : Court jester of old King Hamlet. He amused and looked after the younger Hamlet when the latter was a child. Yorick is dead during the play, But his skull, which one of the gravediggers exhumes in Act 5, Scene 1, arouses old memories in Hamlet that provide a glimpse of his childhood. The skull also feeds Hamlet's morbid preoccupation with death. Claudio : Man who relays messages for the king and queen from Hamlet after he escapes from a ship carrying him to England. Minor Characters : Ship captain, English ambassadors, lords, ladies, officers, soldiers, sailors, messengers, attendants.
Special Character Designations Protagonist : Hamlet is the protagonist, or main character. Plot Summary At midnight behind the battlements at the top of Elsinore castle in eastern Denmark, an officer named Bernardo arrives to relieve Francisco, another officer who has been standing guard in the frigid air during an uneventful watch. Two other men, Horatio and Marcellus, arrive a moment later. Marcellus inquires, "What, has this thing appeared again to-night? The "thing" is a ghost that Marcellus says has appeared twice on the top of the castle to him and Bernardo.
Horatio doubts the story, believing the specter is a child of their imaginations. While Bernardo attempts to convince Horatio of the truth of the tale, the apparition appears again—a ghost in the form of the recently deceased King Hamlet, outfitted in the armor he wore when warring against Norway and slaying its king, Fortinbras. Horatio questions the phantom.
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But just as quickly as it appeared, it disappears. Horatio, grown pale with fright, says, "This bodes some strange eruption to our state" 1. His words foreshadow all the tragic action to follow. The ghost reappears, then disappears again. Prince Hamlet, the son of the late king, learned of the death of his father while studying at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. When he returns to Denmark to attend the funeral, grief smites him deeply.
The king's brother, Claudius, has taken the throne, even though Hamlet has a claim on it as the son of the deceased king. In addition, Claudius has married the late king's widow, Gertrude—Hamlet's mother—in little more than a month after old Hamlet died, a development that deeply distresses young Hamlet. In a soliloquy, Hamlet expresses his opposition to the marriage, his loathing of Claudius, and his disappointment in his mother: A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she follow'd my poor father's body, Like Niobe, all tears:—why she, even she— O, God!
As a first priority as king, Claudius prepares to thwart an expected invasion of Norwegian troops under Prince Fortinbras, the son of a Norwegian king slain in battle years earlier by old King Hamlet. Fortinbras apparently has a double goal: to avenge the death of his father old King Fortinbras and to win back territory the Norwegians lost to the Danes. In the meantime, Hamlet's best friend, Horatio, tells the young prince the amazing story of the ghost. He says two guards, Bernardo and Marcellus, have reported seeing on two nights an apparition of old King Hamlet on the top of the royal castle.
On the third night, Horatio says, he accompanied the guards and himself saw the apparition. Another young man at Elsinore—Laertes, son of the king's lord chamberlain, Polonius—is preparing to leave for France to study at the University of Paris. Before debarking, he gives advice to his sister, Ophelia, who has received the attentions of Hamlet from time to time, attentions that Ophelia apparently welcomes. Laertes advises her that Hamlet's attentions are a passing fancy; he is merely dallying with her. They are, Laertes maintains, mere trifles that are sweet but not lasting. Before he debarks for Paris, Laertes receives advice from his father, Polonius: Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
By and by, Hamlet sees the Ghost but is uncertain whether it is the spirit of his father or the devil in disguise. The Ghost tells him to revenge a "foul and most unnatural murder" 1. According to the Ghost's tale, Claudius poured a vial of poison extracted from a plant of the nightshade family henbane, also called hemblane into old King Hamlet's ear while the king was asleep, robbing him, "of life, of crown, of queen" 1. Claudius had committed the murder when King Hamlet had sin on his soul, the better to send him to the fiery regions of purgatory in Roman Catholic theology, a place or state of being in which a soul purges itself of sin to become eligible for heaven.
Hamlet makes Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus swear on the hilt of his sword where the handle and a protective bar intersect, forming a cross suitable for oath-taking never to reveal what they saw. While attempting to verify the ghost's story, Hamlet tells the others he will pretend to be mad, putting on an "antic [clownish; odd; mentally unstable] disposition" 1. She tells her father, Polonius, the nosy lord chamberlain, that Hamlet had burst in upon her while she was sewing.
His face white, his eyes crazed, he took her by the wrist, peered into her eyes, then left the room. Polonius runs to King Claudius and repeats Ophelia's report. Claudius suspects there is something sane and threatening behind Hamlet's strange behavior. So he directs two school acquaintances of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to watch the prince to find out the truth. When traveling actors come to Elsinore to entertain, Hamlet engages them to stage a play, which he calls The Mouse-trap. In the play, a throne-seeker uses poison to murder a ruler named Gonzago.
Such a revelation would confirm that the ghost was indeed telling the truth. Meanwhile, Fortinbras sends word that he will not make war on Denmark if King Claudius allows him to march through the country to invade Poland. Claudius agrees. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fail to fathom the meaning of Hamlet's "madness," Claudius and Polonius secretly observe Hamlet conversing with Ophelia. During the conversation, Hamlet rejects and insults Ophelia as his apparent madness worsens.
His words deeply wound her, and there is a question whether he is transferring to poor, frail Ophelia the loathing and anger he feels toward his mother for her marriage to Claudius. Claudius, unsure whether Hamlet pretends insanity to disguise a scheme or is really mad, decides to rid the court of his unsettling presence by sending him to England on a contrived political mission. There, while conducting the court's business, he will be murdered. While the actors present the play, they stage a murder in which an actor pours ''poison'' into the ear of another actor playing the ruler, Gonzago.
The scene so unnerves King Claudius that he rises and ends the play abruptly. His reaction convinces Hamlet of Claudius's guilt. Claudius murdered Hamlet's father; there can be no doubt of it. Queen Gertrude reproves Hamlet for upsetting Claudius by staging the play. Hamlet in turn rebukes her for her hasty marriage. Polonius, meanwhile, has positioned himself out of sight behind a wall tapestry called an arras to eavesdrop.
When Hamlet sees the tapestry move, he stabs through it and kills Polonius, thinking he is Claudius. After Hamlet discovers his fatal mistake, the ghost reappears to remind Hamlet of his duty. When Hamlet speaks with the apparition, Gertrude cannot see the ghost and concludes that her son is indeed insane. Later she tells Claudius that Hamlet, in a fit of madness, killed Polonius. Claudius sends Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who carry sealed papers ordering Hamlet's execution after the ship's arrival. At sea, Hamlet discovers the papers in a sealed packet while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are asleep and writes a new commission ordering the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then re-seals the papers and places them in the packet.
The next day, pirates attack the ship. Hamlet escapes and hitches a ride with them back to Denmark.
When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive in England and present the sealed papers, they are executed. Meantime, Ophelia, distraught over her father's death and the apparent loss of Hamlet's love, drowns in a brook—at first floating until her clothing, heavy with water, pulls her down. She had climbed a tree and crawled out on a limb. The limb broke, and she fell into the water. The consensus at Elsinore is that she committed suicide.
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Upon his return to Denmark, Hamlet encounters Horatio and they pass through a cemetery where two men are digging a grave. The first gravedigger sings as he digs and throws out a skull. Shocked, Hamlet tells Horatio, "That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once; how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain's jaw-bone, that did the first murder! The man continues to dig and throws out another skull.
Hamlet says, "May not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? After Hamlet strikes up a conversation with the gravedigger, the latter tells him that the second skull was that of Yorick, old King Hamlet's jester when Hamlet was a child. Holding the skull, Hamlet recites a short speech about Yorick that underscores Hamlet's preoccupation with death.
A funeral procession approaches.
Hamlet Summary & Study Guide
Hamlet is unaware that the body being borne aloft is Ophelia's. It is she who will be lowered into the grave. When Hamlet sees her face, and when Laertes sees the face of Hamlet, the two men grapple, tumbling into the grave. Laertes means to avenge the deaths of his father, Polonius, and his sister, Ophelia. Attendants part them, and Hamlet declares, I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum. For good measure, Claudius prepares poisoned wine he will offer Hamlet during the match. Osric, a courtier and messenger of the king, informs Hamlet of the details of the match.
Hamlet is unaware of the deadly plot against him. During the competition, Hamlet performs brilliantly, and Claudius offers him the cup of wine. But Hamlet and Laertes fight on. Meanwhile, Gertrude takes the cup, telling Hamlet, "The queen carouses to thy fortune" 5.
Laertes grazes Hamlet with the poisoned rapier, breaking his skin and envenoming his bloodstream. Swords wave and poke wildly, and the fencers drop their weapons and accidentally exchange them. Hamlet then wounds Laertes with the same poisoned rapier. Both men are bleeding. A short while later, the queen keels over. To divert attention from the drink and himself, Claudius says Gertrude has fainted from the sight of blood. But Gertrude, drawing her last breath before dying, says, "The drink, the drink; I am poison'd.
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Before Laertes dies, he reconciles with Hamlet and implicates Claudius in the scheme to undo Hamlet. Hamlet then runs Claudius through, killing him. As Hamlet lies mortally wounded from the poison on the tip of Laertes sword, Prince Fortinbras arrives at Elsinore with his army after his conquest of Poland. Hamlet tells Horatio that he wishes the crown of Denmark to pass to Fortinbras. Then Hamlet dies. Ambassadors from England arrive to report the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Horatio announces that he will inform the world of the events leading up to the deaths of Hamlet and the others.
While soldiers bear off the bodies in a solemn procession, canons fire a salute. Conflicts Conflicts drive the action in the play. The main external conflict is between Hamlet and the killer of his father, Claudius. While Hamlet is attempting to confirm Claudius's guilt, Claudius is plotting and executing a plan to murder Hamlet. Hamlet is also in conflict with 1 his mother, whom he believes betrayed the memory of his father by marrying so soon after King Hamlet's death; 2 Ophelia, whom Hamlet treats with perplexing and sometimes insulting behavior; and 3 Laertes, whom Hamlet outraged by killing his father.
Laertes also believes that Hamlet indirectly caused Ophelia's death. Finally, Hamlet is in conflict with himself. Climax and Denouement The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as 1 the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as 2 the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax in Hamlet occurs, according to the first definition, when Hamlet satisfies himself that Claudius is indeed the murderer of his father—thanks to Claudius's guilty response to the players' enactment of The Mouse-trap The Murder of Gonzago.
According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act during and just after the sword fight. The denouement is the conclusion that follows the climax of a play. The conclusion in Hamlet takes place when Prince Fortinbras arrives at Elsinore with his army after his conquest of Poland. While struggling with his conscience, Hamlet time and again postpones carrying out the ghost's decree. In the meantime, he becomes cynical, pessimistic, depressed. Allusions or direct references to Adam, the Garden of Eden, and original sin occur throughout the play.
In the first act, Shakespeare discloses that King Hamlet died in an orchard Garden of Eden from the bite of a serpent Claudius. In the third scene of the same act, Claudius compares himself with the biblical Cain. Like Cain, Claudius kills his brother old King Hamlet.
In his reply, the first gravedigger refers directly to Adam: "Why, there thou sayest: and the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves more than their even Christian. Come, my spade. Laertes seeks revenge against Hamlet for killing his father, Polonius, the lord chamberlain.
Deception Deception is a major motif in Hamlet. On the other, Hamlet conceals his knowledge of the murder. He also wonders whether the Ghost is deceiving him, pretending to be old King Hamlet when he is really a devil. Polonius secretly tattles on Hamlet to Claudius. Hamlet feigns madness. After that scheme fails, Claudius and Laertes connive to kill Hamlet during the fencing match.
However, that scheme also goes awry when Gertrude drinks from a poisoned cup secretly prepared for Hamlet. Ambition Claudius so covets the throne that he murders his own brother, King Hamlet, to win it. In this respect he is like Macbeth and Richard III in other Shakespeare plays, who also murder their way to the throne. Gertrude is torn between loyalty to Claudius and Hamlet. Horatio remains loyal to Hamlet to the end. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, school pals of Hamlet, betray Hamlet and spy on him. Fate, or unabashed plot contrivance, works its wonders in this Shakespeare play.
Christ-like Hamlet Hamlet is like Christ, Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw has observed, in that he struggles against the old order, which requires an eye for and eye. Christ preached against revenge. In so doing he is able to say and do things that confuse and perplex others while he conducts his murder investigation. But, in the process, does he really become mentally unbalanced?
Here's where you'll find analysis about the play as a whole, from the major themes and ideas to analysis of style, tone, point of view, and more. Find the quotes you need to support your essay, or refresh your memory of the play by reading these key quotes. Test your knowledge of Hamlet with our quizzes and study questions, or go further with essays on the context and background and links to the best resources around the web. Get ready to write your paper on Hamlet with our suggested essay topics, sample essays, and more. Hamlet by: William Shakespeare.
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