Exposition: the setting is Elsinore, Denmark. King Hamlet has died and some guards tell Prince Hamlet that they think they saw his ghost. Hamlet meets the ghost and it is his father and it tells him that he was poisoned by Claudius who is now the king of Denmark.
But know, thou noble youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown. (Shakespeare 1.5.38-40)
Conflict: Hamlet wants revenge for his father’s death, but he doesn’t know for sure if the ghost is actually his father or the devil and he is indecisive about what he should do.
So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word. (Shakespeare 1.5.110)
Complications: Claudius hires Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet and Polonius also spies on him. Hamlet rejects ophelia, who he once courted. Hamlet tries to figure out if Claudius killed his father. In an attempt to get Claudius to prove his guilt, he gets actors to put on a play that depicts a king being poisoned in the same way the ghost said he was poisoned.
Get thee to a nunnery. (Shakespeare 3.1.123)
Climax: Claudius leaves the play to pray for forgiveness for killing hamlet’s father. Hamlet overhears his guilts and wants to kill him, but he thinks if he kills him while praying he will go straight to heaven. After this, Hamlet stabs polonius through a curtain. Hamlet decides that he is going to avenge his father.
Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest curse upon ’t, A brother’s murder.(Shakespeare 3.3.37-39)
Falling Action: Hamlet speaks to Gertrude about how disgusted he is that she married Claudius. Hamlet killing polonius has him banished to England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go with him with a letter to kill Hamlet in England. Hamlet switches the letter and it kills Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet comes back to Denmark to find that Ophelia drowned herself. Hamlet is challenged by Laertes, who blames Hamlet for the death of Polonius and Ophelia.
One woe doth tread upon another’s heel, So fast they follow.—Your sister’s drowned, Laertes.(Shakespeare 4.7. 160)
Catastrophe: Claudius kills Gertrude with poisoned wine, Hamlet and Laertes kill each other with Laertes’ poisoned sword. Hamlet kills Claudius with the poisoned wine and with Laertes’ sword.