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The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark follows the Prince’s personal journey as he realizes his father was poisoned by his uncle so that he could usurp the throne, but his indecision on what to do ultimately leads to the deaths of the entire royal family, including his own.

Hamlet Summary

In Elsinore Castle, Prince Hamlet speaks to a ghost who has been wandering around the castle. It turns out to be his father, King Hamlet, who reveals he was poisoned in the ear by his brother Claudius, who married Queen Gertrude after killing the king and taking the throne. The king orders Prince Hamlet to avenge his death, and while Hamlet initially agrees, he is overwhelmed by the task. His behavior becomes strange and manic. Hamlet devises a plan to test his uncle to see if what the ghost told him was true. A group of actors have come to perform at the castle, and Hamlet instructs them to perform a scene where the king is poisoned in the ear, as the ghost had recounted. If his uncle reacted, Hamlet would know he was guilty of the crime. Sure enough, Claudius excuses himself from the performance and runs off to pray.

Hamlet sees an opportunity to kill him, but is concerned that if he kills him while he is praying, he will go to heaven. Hamlet goes to tell his mother about Claudius’ treachery, but as they speak he hears something behind the curtain. Thinking it is Claudius, he stabs through the curtain; it turns out to be Polonius, Claudius’ chief counselor. Hamlet is banished to England, where Claudius sends orders to have him executed; instead, Hamlet has the two messengers executed and returns to Denmark.

Polonius’ daughter Ophelia, who had been courting Hamlet, is overwhelmed with grief and drowns herself. Her brother Laertes vows revenge against Hamlet, and plots with Claudius to kill Hamlet in a fencing match. Claudius poisons some wine and offers it to Hamlet, who refuses; Gertrude drinks from the goblet and dies. Laertes takes the opportunity to stab Hamlet with a poisoned sword, but in a scuffle, Hamlet gets ahold of Laertes’ sword and stabs him with the poisoned tip, too. Laertes reveals that Claudius poisoned the wine, and Hamlet stabs Claudius and forces him to drink the rest of the wine. King Fortinbras of Norway arrives to find the entire royal family of Denmark dead, and declares himself King of Denmark.

Check out our lesson plans for Hamlet!



Date Published: 1601

Genre: Tragedy

Major Themes: Death; madness; revenge; corruption

Famous Quote: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”



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