THE PLOT OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S HAMLET

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  • Hamlet and friends see a ghost of King Hamlet who reveals his death was not accedental: He was murdered. "I’m the ghost of your father, doomed for a certain period of time to walk the earth at night, while during the day I’m trapped in the fires of purgatory ... Everyone was told that a poisonous snake bit me when I was sleeping in the orchard. But in fact, that’s a lie that’s fooled everyone in Denmark. You should know, my noble son, the real snake that stung your father is now wearing his crown" (Shakespeare 1.5.2).
  • EXPOSITION
  • Hamlet debates if the ghost was real, and decides he must stage a play to reveal if Claudius will react to seeing a murder similar to that the ghost described. "I need better evidence than the ghost to work with. The play’s the thing to uncover the conscience of the king" (Shakespeare 2.2.24).
  • CONFLICT
  • Claudius, who is suspicious of Hamlet's mental status, hires Hamlet's former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to secretly  spy on him and report back. "Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...  You’ve probably heard about the “change” that’s come over Hamlet ... get Hamlet to have some fun, and find out if there’s anything in particular that’s bothering him, so we can set about trying to fix it" (Shakespeare 2.2.1).
  • COMPLICATIONS
  • After Claudius leaves the play and Hamlet's suspicions are confirmed, Hamlet decides to delay taking his revenge because Claudius is praying. "I could do it easily now. He’s praying now. And now I’ll do it. (draws sword) And there he goes, off to heaven. And that’s my revenge. I’d better think about this more carefully" (Shakespeare 3.3.3).
  • CLIMAX
  • Hamlet rages at Gertrude for being married to Claudius. "That was your husband. Now look at this other one. Here is your present husband, like a mildewed ear of corn infecting the healthy one next to it" (Shakespeare 3.4.4).
  • FALLING ACTION
  • Hamlet, Laertes, Claudius, and Gertrude all end up dead after dueling; Horatio is the only one left to tell the story.  "Oh, I’m dying, Horatio! This strong poison’s overpowering me. I will not live to hear the news from England. But I bet Fortinbras will win the election to the Danish crown. He’s got my vote as I die. So tell him that, given the recent events here—oh, the rest is silence" (Shakespeare 5.2.17).
  • CATASTROPHE
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