Summary of 'Hamlet' (Higher School Certificate 1998)
Hamlet, William Shakespeare, c. 1599–1601.
Scene 1 - Elsinore Castle; a sentry-post.
Francisco is on guard, and is replaced by Bernardo. Francisco tells Bernardo to watch for Marcellus and Horatio, who share the watch. Horatio and Marcellus then appear. Francisco leaves the watch. Horatio asks Bernardo if a "thing" has appeared again that night.
Bernardo replies that it has not. Marcellus tells Bernardo that Horatio thinks the thing is imaginary. Horatio is there to be shown the thing and thus prove the watchers eyes right. Bernardo then begins to elaborate to Horatio what the thing is. The Ghost then appears, looking like the late King. Horatio challenges it to speak, but it leaves without speaking.
In the discussion following, we learn that the watch is strict because the late King had won much of the wealth of King Fortinbras of Norway in a duel. Young Fortinbras now seeks to avenge his father and regain what he lost. Denmark prepares for invasion.
It is for this reason, that the watchers think The Ghost walks. It is said that similar things happened in Rome before it fell.
The Ghost then returns. Horatio implores it to speak. Marcellus attempts to strike at it. The cock crows, and The Ghost vanishes.
Horatio decides to tell Hamlet what has happened.
"that fair and warlike form/In which the majesty of buried Denmark/Did sometimes march." - Horatio on The Ghost
"this bodes some strange eruption to our state" - Horatio on The Ghost's appearance
"stars with trains of fire and dews of blood" - Horatio on Rome, similar to many of the references to nature echoing the state.
"upon my life/This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him" Horatio, decided to tell Hamlet of The Ghost's appearance
Scene 2 - Elsinore Castle; a room of state.
Claudius is speaking to Voltemand and Cornelius. Claudius expounds that, while grieving his brother, he now thinks of himself and his state as well. He has married his sister in law, and now considers the problem of Fortinbras.
Claudius thinks that Fortinbras has some idea that Denmark is in a state of disorder. Claudius has written to Fortinbras's uncle, an invalid, setting out the state of affairs in Denmark, and suppressing any attempt at war. Cornelius and Voltemand are to go as ambassadors to Norway.
Claudius then speaks to Laertes, who has something to ask. Laertes wants to return to France. His father, Polonius, has given him permission. Claudius gives Laertes leave to go.
Claudius then addresses Hamlet, asking him why he is still so deep in grief for his father. Gertrude tells Hamlet that he must overcome his grief. Hamlet tells Gertrude that his grief runs deeper than his mourning costume.
Claudius tells Hamlet that to continue grieving is unmanly, and rash. It is resisting nature, whose course is death. Claudius continues, reminding Hamlet that he is heir to Denmark, and as a father-replacement (as uncle, stepfather and king) begs him not to return to university.
Hamlet agrees not to return to Wittenberg. Claudius expresses gladness, and leaves for his wine, leaving Hamlet alone.
Hamlet wishes that he could dissolve, or that Heaven had not forbidden suicide. All the world seems alien and wrong to him now, or worse, rotten. Not two months from the death of his father (whom Hamlet expresses great admiration for) his mother has married his uncle. Gertrude had seemed full of love for Old Hamlet, but she has proved false. How could she not have mourned longer?
It cannot come to good.
Horatio then enters. Greeting Hamlet, Horatio tells him that he has come for the funeral. Hamlet replies that it must have been to see his mother's wedding. Hamlet then sighs for his father's loss. Horatio tells Hamlet of The Ghost's appearance. Horatio affirms its resemblance to Old Hamlet.
They arrange to meet at the watch. Hamlet thinks it is a bad omen.
"our sometime sister, now our queen" - Claudius on Gertrude.
"a little more than kin, and less than kind" Hamlet on Claudius - he means, he is more than Claudius's nephew, but entertains no good feelings for him.
"Claudius: How is it that the clouds still hang on you? Hamlet: Not so, my lord. I am too much in the sun" - Claudius is too nice for Hamlet's feelings, also there is the pun sun/son.
"these are but the trappings and the suits of woe" - Hamlet on his mourning attire, and his moods.
"a fault to heaven/a fault against the dead, a fault to nature" - Claudius makes a reference to nature reflecting human affairs.
"an unweeded garden/that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature/possess it merely." Hamlet makes a reference to nature - see directly above.
"a beast that wants discourse of reason/would have mourned longer" - Hamlet on Gertrude.
"A countenance more in sorrow than in anger." - Horatio on The Ghost.
"All is not well./I doubt some fair play." Hamlet on The Ghost being armed.
"Foul deeds will rise,/though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes." - Hamlet.
Scene 3 - Elsinore Castle; the chambers of Polonius.
Laertes farewells his sister Ophelia as he is about to leave for Paris. He implores her to write to him and tells her that he does not trust Hamlet with her. He thinks Hamlet's affection is passing, a folly of youth.
Laertes tells Ophelia that perhaps Hamlet does love her, but his rank in the state must be the first thing in his mind, not her. His choice is not his alone to make. She is only to believe his professions of love as far as the situation warrants.
Laertes warns Ophelia not to lose her honour in any dealings with Hamlet. He warns he to watch herself. One gone, her reputation as a lady is gone forever.
Ophelia accepts his warning, but hopes that he is not preaching to her while sinning himself. Laertes assures her he is not.
Polonius then enters and gives Laertes warning to watch his behaviour in France. Laertes leaves, reminding Ophelia of his words. She repeats these to Polonius, adding that Hamlet has recently spoken of his affection for her. Polonius calls her a fool, and tells her to have no more to do with Hamlet.
"A violet in the youth of primy nature/Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting" - Laertes on Hamlet's affections for Ophelia.
"His greatness weighed, his will is not his own" - Laertes on Hamlet.
Scene 4 - The sentry-post.
Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are at the sentry post. It is twelve o'clock - when the ghosts walk. Hamlet tells the others that the King is drinking tonight - a custom Hamlet feels is better neglected. He feels it degenerates Denmark in the eyes of its neighbours.
The Ghost enters, and Hamlet recognises his father, and asks him why he walks the earth armed. The Ghost beckons him and Hamlet, against the advice of the others, follows it.
"The dram of evil/Doth all the noble substance of a doubt/To his own scandal." - Hamlet.
"And for my soul, what can it do to that/Being a thing immortal as itself?" - Hamlet on The Ghost.
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" - Marcellus.
Scene 5 - Another part of the fortifications.
The Ghost tells Hamlet that it is nearly time for it to return to its torment, but before it does so it will tell him a tale to drive him to revenge. The Ghost then reiterates that it is Hamlet's father, walking the night and confined by day, until its sins are cleansed. It then states that it was murdered. Hamlet swears revenge.
The Ghost then tells that it is a lie put forth that he died from snakebite. The 'serpent' was his brother. Claudius seduced Gertrude, and when Old Hamlet was sleeping in the orchard, poured poison in his ear.
The Ghost calls Hamlet to revenge, but not against his mother, who is to be left to heaven and to her conscience. The Ghost leaves with the morning.
Hamlet passionately vows revenge. Horatio and Marcellus arrive. Hamlet swears them to secrecy. Hamlet tells them that the ghost was honest, and has them swear not to reveal the events of the night. The Ghost cries from below for them to swear. This changes the stakes to Hamlet - the oath is here and everywhere. He then tells them he is to act mad, and that too they are not to reveal.
After one more cry from the ghost they do swear, and Hamlet declares them his friends, and curses Fate and Time that he is called upon to set all to rest.
"Revenge his most foul and unnatural murder." - The Ghost to Hamlet.
"that I, with wings as swift/As meditation or the thoughts of love,/May sweep to my revenge." - Hamlet.
"The serpent that did sting thy father's life" - The Ghost on Claudius, another 'warped nature = evil' comparison.
"Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/Against thy mother aught." - An instruction to Hamlet.
"And thy commandment all alone shall live" - Hamlet.
"one may smile, and smile, and be a villain." - Hamlet.
"For every man hath business and desire." - Hamlet.
"Hic et ubique [Here and everywhere]" - Hamlet on the terms of the oath now that the Ghost calls from the afterlife.
"The time is out of joint." - Hamlet, cursing his fate.
Scene 1 - The chambers of Polonius.
Polonius gives his servant Reynaldo money and messages for Laertes. He also instructs him to find out about Laertes's behaviour before meeting him. Reynaldo is to inquire of those who know the Danish in France, and tell them he knows Laertes a little. He will talk of gaming, drinking and other 'follies of youth', in order to draw from others tales of Laertes. Reynaldo leaves.
Ophelia enters, in a frightened state. She tells her father that Hamlet came to her when she was sewing in her chambers, badly dressed, looking sorrowful. He grabbed her wrist and held her until she shook, sighed, and left without taking his eyes off her.
Polonius interprets this as love-madness. Hamlet is reacting to Ophelia's rejection of him. Polonius regrets his supposed misinterpretation of Hamlet's actions, and now believes he truly loves Ophelia. He goes to tell the king.
"Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth." - Polonius to Reynaldo.
"And with a look so piteous in purport/As if he had been loosed out of Hell/To speak of horrors." - Ophelia describing Hamlet.
"This is the very ecstasy of love" - Polonius on Hamlet.
Scene 2 - A chamber in the Castle.
The King and Queen enter with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He apologises for hastily summoning them, and speaks to them of Hamlet. He doubts the madness is brought on merely by Old Hamlet's death. He asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to bring him out of his misery, and find out whether it can be cured by anything within the means of others. The Queen promises Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a reward for their efforts. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern agree. They are sent directly to Hamlet.
Polonius enters, with news that the ambassadors have returned from Norway. He then tells Claudius that he knows why Hamlet is mad, but he brings the ambassadors in before he explains. The Queen however, is sure the cause is the death of Hamlet's father, and the marriage between herself and Claudius.
Voltemand tells that the old king of Norway has suppressed his nephew's preparations for war, which he was convinced was aimed solely at Poland. Fortinbras' uncle extracted a promise from him never to attack Denmark, but gave him leave to attack Poland. Claudius agrees to allow Fortinbras to pass through Denmark with his army. Claudius agrees to consider Norway's offering.
Polonius then advances his story about Hamlet. He reads a love letter from Hamlet to Ophelia. He tells Claudius and Gertrude of his advice to Ophelia, and of her actions, and finally of Hamlet's response. Claudius and Gertrude agree that love could be the cause of Hamlet's madness.
Polonius then proposes to Claudius that they hide behind an arras in the lobby where Hamlet often walks, and they will watch his reaction to Ophelia.
At this time Hamlet enters, and the King and Queen leave before Hamlet reaches them. He speaks to Polonius.
Polonius thinks Hamlet does not recognise him. Hamlet calls him a fishmonger (a pimp), and when Polonius denies this, Hamlet assumes he is something worse. He tells Polonius to mind his daughter, and Polonius believes that his speech of her is a sign of love. They then speak of the book Hamlet is reading, and Polonius notices that Hamlet's speech, while wild, has a certain method to it. Hamlet tells Polonius that if there is anything he would prefer to be rid of than his company, it would be Hamlet's own life. Polonius leaves as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter.
Hamlet welcomes them as old friends. They play on the idea of Fortune as a woman and then Rosencrantz tells Hamlet the world has grown honest. Hamlet disbelieves him, and speaks of Denmark as the worst prison in a world full of them. It is his dreams that make it so.
Hamlet quickly makes Guildenstern confess that they were sent for.
Rosencrantz then tells Hamlet that they passed some players on their way to Elsinore, and he used to enjoy such things. The players are now much reduced, as the public's favour is held by singing children. Hamlet talks about the public's fickleness, both in abandoning the players and in becoming loyal to Claudius, whom they sneered at during his brother's reign.
The players are announced. Polonius arrives and informs Hamlet of the presence and their talents. Hamlet speaks to him of daughters again, as the players enter. Hamlet asks the player to perform a favourite speech of his. The player tells him the story of Pyrrhus. Then Hamlet asks the players to perform the murder of Gonzago the following night. Hamlet says he is to insert a short speech into the play. All leave Hamlet.
Hamlet, in soliloquy, berates himself. The player can dissolve in a fit of passion in a fiction, and Hamlet himself, with the world on his shoulders, does not. He does not act, or weep. He stands around speaking when he should be acting. He decides to have the players perform an act like his father's murder, and hopes Claudius will in surprise reveal his guilt.
"nor th' exterior, nor the inward man/Resembles that it was." - Claudius on Hamlet.
"His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage." - Gertrude speculates on the reason for Hamlet's madness.
"And at our more considered time we'll read/Answer, and think upon this business." - Claudius on the Norway resolution. This quote is a good example of Claudius's skills as a statesman.
"'Lord Hamlet is a prince. Out of thy star." - Polonius relates his advice to Ophelia.
"Denmark's a prison." - Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties; in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!" - Hamlet.
"Man delights not me." - Hamlet.
"'SBlood, there's something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out." - Hamlet, referring to the court's currying to his uncle.
"I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." - Hamlet.
"...O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!/Is it not monstrous that this player here,/But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,...Tears from his eyes... And all for nothing!... What would he do/Had he the motive and the cue for passion/That I have?... Yet I... unpregnant of my cause... can say nothing... Am I a coward?/Who calls me a villain?... I am pigeon livered and lack gall/To make oppression bitter... Bloody, bawdy villain!/Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! O, vengeance!... I the son of a dear father murdered,/Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,/Must unpack my heart with words... murder, though it have no tongue, will speak... The spirit that I have seen/May be a devil, and the devil hath power/T'assume a pleasing shape... I'll have grounds more relative than this" - Hamlet in soliloquy.
Scene 1 - A chamber in the Castle.
Rosencrantz tells Claudius that they have not gotten Hamlet to reveal the causes of his madness, although he was friendly. He tells the King and Queen of the players. Polonius then extends Hamlet's invitation to Claudius and Gertrude and they promise their presence.
The others then leave Claudius and Polonius behind an arras, and Ophelia seemingly alone in the chamber. Hamlet enters, and begins contemplating suicide in soliloquy. He fears however, that death is not an end, but a dreaming sleep, which may be worse than life. He then sees Ophelia. She offers to return his 'remembrances' and he denies giving her any. He then taunts her, claiming that beauty will corrupt honesty, and alternately confirming and denying past love for her. He tells her to go to a nunnery, why would she want to have sons? He advises her otherwise to marry a fool, a wise men knows what women are. He continues that he knows all about their tricks with makeup, and their artful foolishness. He leaves
Ophelia mourns the madness of a man who was once great, envied and admired by all. She believes he is completely mad, and she is grief-stricken. Claudius and Polonius emerge. Claudius has decided that Hamlet is not mad for love, and he senses some danger from him. He then declares Hamlet must go to England, supposedly to deal with affairs of state, in the hope that the change will restore his sanity. Polonius suggests that his mother should speak to him before he leaves, and he will listen on that conversation too. Claudius agrees, and states that he must be watched.
"turbulent and dangerous lunacy" - Claudius on Hamlet.
"a crafty madness" - Guildenstern on Hamlet.
"The harlot's cheek, beautied with plast'ring art/Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it/Than is my deed to my most painted word./O heavy burthen!" - Claudius.
"To be or not to be - that is the question:/Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep -/No more - and by a sleep to say we end/The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep -/To sleep - perchance to dream: ay there's the rub,/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause. There's the respect/That makes calamity of so long life./For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,/Th' oppressors wrong, the proud man's contumely/The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,/The insolence of office, and the spurns/That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,/When he himself might his quietus make/With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,/To grunt and sweat under a weary life/But that the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns, puzzles the will,/And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of?/Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,/And thus the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,/And enterprises of great pitch and moment/With this regard their currents turn awry/And lose the name of action." - Hamlet in soliloquy.
"I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in." - Hamlet to Ophelia.
"Those that are married already - all but one - shall live." - Hamlet to Ophelia.
"O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown/The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword/The expectancy and rose of the fair state,/Th' observed of all observers, quite, quite down!" - Ophelia on Hamlet.
"Love? his affections do not that way tend,/Nor what he spake, though it lacked form a little,/Was not like madness. There's something in his soul/O'er which his melancholy sits on brood,/And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose/Will be some danger" - Claudius on Hamlet.
"Madness in great ones must not unwatched go." - Claudius on Hamlet.
Scene 2 - The hall of the Castle.
Hamlet instructs the player on the delivery of his speech; to portray the passion, gently, deeply, but not too tamely, and not to use comedy. Polonius then tells Hamlet that the king and queen will hear the play.
Horatio enters and Hamlet tells him he is among the best of men he knows. Hamlet tells him that he is not merely flattering him. Horatio takes fortune and doom with equal calmness. He is not passion's slave. He then tells Horatio that the play is going to approach close to his father's death, of which he told Horatio. Horatio is to watch Claudius, and if Claudius does not display guilt, then the ghost was a liar. They will compare notes later.
When the royal party enters, Hamlet assumes his madness again, purposefully mistaking Claudius's word fare for 'food'. He then talks to Polonius of Polonius's portrayal of Caesar at university. He takes subtle digs at his mother, and falls to baiting Ophelia on the subject of sex, and how extraordinary it is that his father's memory lives after four months.
The players begin with a dumb show. A king and queen enter, and the kings falls asleep. The queen leaves him. Another man enters and, taking the king's crown, pours poison in the king's ear. The queen finds him dead, but after the body is removed, she is eventually seduced by the killer.
Ophelia comments that the show contains the action of the play, and asks Hamlet if the players will now reveal the meanings. He tells her that they will explain the meaning of anything she does. She scolds him and the play begins.
The king and queen talk of their love, and the queen swears she will be faithful even beyond death. The king tells her this would be difficult, but binds her to it. Gertrude comments that the woman is too verbose for sincerity. Claudius asks whether the dumb show had 'offence' in it. Hamlet replies that they joke. He then tells Claudius that the king and queen are Gonzago and Baptisa, and that Gonzago's nephew, Lucianus, has just entered.
Ophelia comments that he is effectively the play's chorus. He offers to narrate her love to her, and she interprets this as flirtation.
Lucianus then speaks of his poison, and pours the poison into Gonzago's ears. Claudius arises, and Polonius calls for the play to stop. Claudius calls for light and flees. The court follows, leaving Hamlet and Horatio alone. Hamlet now believes the ghost. He calls for music.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, and tell Hamlet that the king is most unwell, angry. The queen has sent them, to call him to speak with her. They then try to get Hamlet to speak of his madness. Hamlet asks them whether they can play the recorders. They cannot, and he assures them that it would be much more difficult to play him. Polonius comes, and summons Hamlet to Gertrude.
Hamlet decides that he will speak, but not act, cruelly to his mother. He will punish her only by words.
"the purpose of playing... to hold... the mirror up to nature, to show virtue" - Hamlet to the player.
"Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man/As e'er my conversation coped withal." - Hamlet.
"thou hast been/As one in suff'ring all that suffers nothing/A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards/Hast ta'en with equal thanks... Give me that man/That is not passion's slave" - Hamlet to Horatio.
"If his occulted guilt/Do not itself unkennel in one speech,/It is a damnèd ghost that we have seen" - Hamlet to Horatio.
"Ophelia: ''Tis brief my lord. Hamlet: 'As woman's love.'"
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." - Gertrude on Baptisa.
"and we that have free souls, it touches us not." - Hamlet baiting Claudius.
"I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound" - Hamlet.
"Sir, I lack advancement." - Hamlet, explaining his 'distemper' to Guildenstern.
"You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass... do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?" - Hamlet to Guildenstern.
"Now I could drink hot blood" - Hamlet explains his mood. He kills Polonius soon.
"Let me be cruel, not unnatural" - Hamlet, explaining his attitude to his mother.
Scene 3 - A chamber in the Castle.
Claudius tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that Hamlet's madness is unsafe, and tells them that they shall escort him to England, so that the king and state shall not suffer from him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern express deep concern over the welfare of Denmark. They leave to prepare for the voyage.
Polonius comes in and tells Claudius that Hamlet is heading for his mother, and he will hide himself in her room, and tell Claudius of what passes. He leaves.
Claudius groans that his crime must reek to heaven, that his guilt overcomes his remorse. He cannot be forgiven while he keeps his crown and queen. He knows that he cannot deceive heaven. He cannot repent, although he tries. He kneels to pray.
Hamlet enters, and decides to kill him. But then he would go to heaven, and Old Hamlet was killed without time to pray, and thus went to purgatory. He decides to kill him when he is drinking, or in bed with Gertrude, or some other unsavoury act, and he will go to Hell. He leaves to go to Gertrude.
The king rises, and sighs that he cannot pray, his words do not lift to heaven.
"I like him not/Nor stands it safe with us/To let his madness range." - Claudius on Hamlet.
"The cess of majesty/Dies not alone, but like a gulf doth draw/What's near it with it." - Rosencrantz.
"Oh, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;/It hath the primal elder's curse on it... Pray can I not... my stronger guilt defeats my strong intent... I am still possessed/Of those effects for which I did the murder/My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen/May one be pardoned and retain the offence?... one cannot repent... O bosom black as death!... All may be well." - Claudius in a guilty frenzy.
"his soul may be as damned and black/As hell, whereto it goes." - Hamlet.
"Words without thoughts never to heaven go." - Claudius.
Scene 4 - The private chamber of the Queen.
Polonius instructs Gertrude to scold Hamlet, and hides. Hamlet enters, and Gertrude tells him how horrified Claudius was. Hamlet tells her he wants to see her innermost soul, and to reflect it back to her. Gertrude is afraid he will kill her. Polonius cries out, and Hamlet kills him with a stroke through the arras. She cries out, and Hamlet tells her that his deed is not as bloody, as killing a king, and marrying his brother. She does not comprehend.
Hamlet thinks he has killed Claudius, and drags the body out. He sees who it is and continues his confrontation with Gertrude. He tells her that her actions make him sick, that they are unwholesome. He compares the brothers, great Hamlet, and inferior Claudius. He thinks she must have sense, but it is paralysed. She is blind. Gertrude tells him that she feels her soul is stained.
He speaks of Claudius as a murderer. The Ghost appears, and Hamlet immediately fears it comes to punish him for his inaction. It assures him it has come to spur him to action. Gertrude asks Hamlet why he speaks to nothing. Hamlet cries that he sees him, pale and angry. She assures him that she sees nothing. He tells her it is his father.
Gertrude is sure he is mad, and he tells her that he is as calm as she is. He advises her, implores her, to beg forgiveness from heaven. She tells him she is pulled two ways. He tells her to live purely, and too reject his uncle. He himself is cursed to be heaven's revenge. He tells her, also, not to let the king wheedle from her the truth of his madness. She tells him she will not breathe a word.
He takes leave of her; he is going to England. He tells her he will outwit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and all his enemies. They leave, Hamlet dragging Polonius's body.
"I set you up a glass/Where you may see the inmost part of you" - Hamlet to Gertrude.
"A bloody deed - almost as bad, good mother,/As kill a king, and marry with his brother." - Hamlet to Gertrude, on the killing of Polonius.
"The counterfeit presentment of two brothers/See what a grace was seated on this brow... Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear/Blasting his wholesome brother." - Hamlet to Gertrude.
"Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight" - Hamlet on Gertrude.
"I see such black and grainèd spots/As will not leave their tinct" - Gertrude, on her soul.
"Do you not come your tardy son to chide?" - Hamlet to The Ghost, a sign that he feels he wastes time. The Ghost feels similarly, and replies "This visitation/Is to whet thy almost blunted purpose."
"My father, in his habit as he lived!" - Hamlet.
"It is not madness/That I have uttered." - Hamlet.
"do not spread the compost on the weeds/To make them ranker." - Hamlet, another weed reference.
"I must be cruel only to be kind." - Hamlet.
"I am essentially not in madness/But mad in craft." - Hamlet.
"My two schoolfellows,/Whom I will trust as I will adders fanged" - Hamlet on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
"O 'tis most sweet/When in one line two crafts directly meet." - Hamlet, the cunning side.
Scene 1 - A chamber in the Castle.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent out of the room to leave the king and queen in peace, and Gertrude tells Claudius that Hamlet is completely mad, and cried 'A rat, a rat!' as he thrust his sword through the arras and killed Polonius.
Claudius realises he would have died, had he been there. He must capture Hamlet, and keep them all safe. Gertrude tells him he has taken the body, weeping for his deed. He summons Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, tells them what Hamlet has done, and bids them to find him. He and Gertrude leave to inform the court of what they are to do.
"Mad as the sea and wind when both contend/Which is the mightier." - Gertrude to Claudius, obeying her son's instructions.
"It had been so with us, had we been there." - Claudius.
"us, whose providence/Should have kept short, restrained, and out of haunt/This mad young man." - Claudius uses truth for his own ends.
"My soul is full of discord and dismay." - Claudius.
Scene 2 - A passage in the Castle.
Hamlet enters, saying the body is 'safely stowed'. He hears men calling for him, and Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and servants enter. They ask him where the body is, and he tells them it has returned to dust. He refuses, saying he can keep his own council as well as he can keep theirs. He calls Rosencrantz a sponge, a spy for the king, and a seeker of reward. The king will not treat him well, Hamlet foretells. They ask for the body to take before the king, but Hamlet gives them himself only.
"Compounded to dust, whereto 'tis kin." - Hamlet, on Polonius's body.
"But such officers do the king best service in the end. He keeps them, like an ape, in the corner of his jaw, first mouthed, to be last swallowed." - Hamlet, on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Scene 3 - A chamber in the Castle.
The king is telling some men how dangerous Hamlet is, and explains that his popularity means he must be exiled, not killed. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and tell the king that Hamlet will not reveal where the body is. Hamlet, under guard is brought before the king. Hamlet refuses to tell his uncle where the body is, except to say that worms eat at it. he moves on to a discussion of the cyclical nature of life, that worms eat men, fish eat worms and men eat fish. He ends by saying Polonius is in heaven, but perhaps his body is near the stairs to the lobby.
Claudius tells Hamlet that for his safety he will be sent to England, and Hamlet farewells him with an ironic laugh.
The king sends men after him to get him swiftly away. The king, alone, reveals that a letter will be sent with Hamlet to England, containing instructions for his death. The king cannot rest until it is so.
"He's loved of the distracted multitude,/Who like not in their judgement, but in their eyes" - Claudius, once again using half truth to his advantage, and also showing his judgement as a statesman.
"A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm... a king may go in progress through the guts of a beggar." - Hamlet to Claudius.
"[Polonius is] in heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him i' th' other place yourself." - Hamlet to Claudius.
"By letters congruing to that effect/The present death of Hamlet." - Claudius.
"Like the hectic in my blood he rages... Till I know 'tis done,/Howe'er my haps, my joys were ne'er begun." - Claudius, on Hamlet.
Scene 4 - A coastal highway.
Fortinbras instructs a soldier to go to Claudius and seek permission to travel through Denmark, as per the arrangement negotiated by Voltemand and Cornelius. Hamlet and party arrive, and Hamlet speaks with the soldier. The soldier tells him Norway marches against Poland, to fight for a little patch of land, of value in name only. Poland is, however, defending it. Hamlet thinks on this, and sends his party a little further on.
Hamlet, alone, is stirred to revenge again. He has reason, and the ability to act. The army is going to fight over a patch of land that would not serve as their burial ground if they all died. Hamlet is nothing then, if his father is dead, his mother stained, the murderer king and husband, and he does not act. he swears action.
"This is th' imposthume of much wealth and peace,/That inward breaks, and shows no cause without/Why the man dies." - Hamlet.
"How all occasions so inform against me/And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,/If the chief good and market of his time/Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more./Surely he that made us with such large discourse,/Looking before and after, gave us not/That capability and godlike reason/To fust in us unused. Now whether it be/Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple/Of thinking too precisely on th' event -/A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom/And ever three parts coward - I do not know/Why I yet live to say 'This thing's to do'/Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means/To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me./Witness this army of such mass and charge,/Led by a delicate and tender prince,/Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,/Makes mouths at the invisible event,/Exposing what is mortal and unsure/To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,/Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great/Is not to stir without great argument,/But greatly to find quarrel in a straw/When honor's at the stake. How stand I then,/That have a father killed, a mother stained,/Excitements of my reason and my blood,/And let all sleep, while to my shame I see/The imminent death of twenty thousand men/That for a fantasy and trick of fame/Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot/Whereon the members cannot try the cause,/Which is not tomb and continent/To hide the slain? O, from this time forth/My thoughts be bloody or nothing worth!" - Hamlet.
Scene 5 - A chamber in the Castle.
Gertrude is talking to Horatio and a servant. They are asking her to speak to Ophelia, and she initially refuses. They explain, however, that Ophelia talks of her father, and speaks words that are half-nonsense, that can be interpreted according to the listener. Gertrude lets her in.
Ophelia wanders in, speaking aimlessly and singing alternately of love and death. Claudius enters, and having heard her speak a little, realises her father's death is the cause of her madness. She begins to sing to them of a maiden losing her virginity, and when Claudius and Gertrude begin to express their concern to each other, she talks of her father's burial and takes her leave.
Claudius tells Gertrude that he believes sorrow has destroyed her mind, sorrow for the loss of both Polonius and Hamlet, and Polonius's death at Hamlet's hands. He then tells her that Laertes has returned to Denmark, and refuses to speak of his father's death, except to accuse Claudius of being behind it.
A messenger enters, and Claudius hears a noise outside. The messenger warns Claudius to flee, as Laertes has started a rebellion, and the rebels are steadily fighting through the guards. The people are calling for Laertes to be king. The doors are broken down, and Laertes enters, with some followers. Laertes asks them to leave, and guard the door. Laertes accuses Claudius of Polonius's murder. Gertrude tries to intervene, but Claudius assures her that the divinity of a king shall protect him. Laertes swears revenge on his father's killer. Claudius then reveals that he had no part in his father's death.
Ophelia enters, and Laertes sees she is mad. Ophelia sings to him of a burial and grave. She hands out imaginary flowers; rosemary for remembrance, pansies for thoughts, fennel for flattery, columbines for (perhaps) thanklessness, rue for repentance, daisy for dissembling, but no violets for faithfulness - they died with her father.
When she leaves, the king asks Laertes to bring his most trusted friends, they will decide between them when they have heard Claudius's story.
"Her speech is nothing,/Yet the unshapèd use of it doth move/The hearers to collection: they aim at it/And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts." - Horatio on Ophelia, an interesting reflection of Hamlet's 'madness'.
"To my sick soul (as sin's true nature is)/Each to my seems prologue to some great amiss./So full of artless jealousy is guilt/It spills itself in fearing to be spilt." - Gertrude.
"He is dead and gone." - Ophelia, an echo of the death theme of the play.
"we know what we are, but know not what we will be." - Ophelia.
"O, this is the poison of deep grief" - Claudius.
"When sorrows come, they come not as single spies,/But in battalions" - Claudius
"judgement/Without the which we are pictures or mere beasts." - Claudius.
"O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!" - Gertrude.
"That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard,/Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot/Even here between the chaste unsmirchèd brows/Of my true mother." - Laertes, echoing Hamlet.
"Do not fear our person./There's such divinity doth hedge a king/That treason can but peep to what it would,/Acts little of his will." - Claudius, forgetting his brother's death, but giving some truth behind Hamlet's refusal to kill him at prayer.
"I'll not be juggled with./To hell allegiance, vows to the blackest devil,/Conscience and grace to the deepest pit... Let come what comes, only I'll be revenged/Most thoroughly for my father." - Laertes echoing Hamlet.
"Why, now you speak/Like a good child and a true gentleman." - Claudius, manipulating Laertes.
"O heavens, is't possible a young maid's wits/Should be as mortal as an old man's life?" - Laertes, on Ophelia.
"Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,/She turns to favour and to prettiness." - Laertes, on Ophelia.
Scene 6 - A chamber in the Castle.
Horatio is told that some sailors have arrived with letters for him. He summons them in, sure that none would write to him save Hamlet. The sailor enters, and tells him the letter is from the ambassador that was sent to England.
Hamlet writes to Horatio that he is to send the sailors on to deliver letters to the king. Their ship was attacked by pirates, and Hamlet was taken captive, and they treated him with mercy, for he will do a favour for them. He summons Horatio to him. He tells him that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are still headed for England - there is a story in that.
Horatio directs the men to take him to Hamlet.
"with as much speed as thou wouldest fly death." - Hamlet's use of this phrase indicates that he would not welcome death.
"I have words to speak in thine ear will make thee dumb; yet they are too light for the bore of the matter." - Hamlet to Horatio.
Scene 7 - A chamber in the Castle.
Claudius tells Laertes that he must now be forgiven, as he did not commit the crime, and Hamlet pursued him also. Laertes agrees, and asks him why Hamlet has not been punished. Claudius replies that Gertrude loves Hamlet to distraction, and that he loves her too much to upset her. the people also love Hamlet too much to bear his execution, and public anger would destroy Claudius.
Laertes swears revenge. The King promises his aid. At this point the messenger enters with letters from Hamlet. The letter informs Claudius that Hamlet is returned, but not how he returned, or with whom. Laertes now has the opportunity for his revenge. Claudius tells Laertes that he had met a great horseman, far his own superior, who had spoken of Laertes as an excellent fencer. Hamlet had been envious of this achievement, and had hoped to play Laertes.
Claudius then has Laertes swear that he would do anything to avenge his father's murder. He tells him that he will arrange a duel between the two men; Laertes and Hamlet. Hamlet will not be suspicious enough to check the foils. Laertes decides to poison the end of his sword with a deadly poison he brought from France. Claudius decides also to poison Hamlet's drink.
Gertrude enters, and tells the two that Ophelia is dead, having fallen into a brook and drowned. Laertes exclaims, and leaves. Gertrude and Claudius follow, for fear he will succumb to rage again.
"The queen his mother/Lives almost by his looks [and] she is so conjunctive to my life and soul... I could not but by her." - Claudius, on Hamlet and Gertrude.
"the great love the general gender bear him" - Claudius, on Hamlet.
"my arrows,/Too slightly timbered for so loud a wind,/Would have reverted to my bow again,/And not where I had aimed them." - Claudius.
"You must not think/That we are made of stuff so flat and dull/That we can let our beard be shook with danger,/And think it pastime." - Claudius.
"I am set naked on your kingdom." - Hamlet to Claudius.
"It warms the very sickness in my heart/That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,/'Thus diddest thou.'".
"There lives within the very flame of love/A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it." - Claudius.
"No place indeed should murder sanctuarize;/revenge should have no bounds." - Claudius to Laertes.
"He [is] remiss/Most generous, and free from all contriving." - Claudius, on Hamlet.
"As one incapable of her own distress." - Gertrude, on Ophelia.
Scene 1 - A churchyard.
Two clowns are talking. The coroner has decided Ophelia will get a Christian burial. The first clown believes that she drowned herself deliberately - it would only be an accident if the water had risen up and drowned her. It has only been ruled otherwise because Ophelia is a noblewoman. They discuss the idea that grave-diggers and gardeners are worthy of honour because they predate the nobility. They tell various jokes about the grave-diggers work lasting the longest.
One of the clowns leave, and Hamlet and Horatio enter. The remaining clown begins to sing. Horatio decided that the digger is used to his job - it has no meaning. The clown is holding a skull, and Hamlet contemplates the difference between life and death. All the skulls are alike, and their lives mean nothing to them now.
Hamlet emerges, and speaks with the grave-digger about whose grave he digs. The clown finally reveals that it is a woman's grave. The clown tells Hamlet that he has been a grave-digger since Hamlet's birth thirty years ago, Hamlet who was sent to England. The clown shows him a skull that has been in the graveyard for twenty three years - that of Yorick, the king's jester. Hamlet remembers Yorick, the laughing jester, whom he loved as a child. Hamlet considers what happens to humanity after death.
Ophelia's funeral party enters. A priest is explaining to Laertes that although Ophelia will receive some ceremony, as a young maiden, her death was too doubtful for a complete funeral. Hamlet realises who the dead woman is. Gertrude scatters the grave with flowers, mourning the woman whom she had hoped to see marry Hamlet. Laertes curses Hamlet, and leaps into the grave to hold Ophelia for the last time, and begs them to bury him. Hamlet cries out and follows Laertes into the grave. Laertes attacks him. Hamlet tells him that he could not have loved Ophelia as much as Hamlet himself. Hamlet wants them all to be buried alive. Claudius has them dragged from the grave, and charges Horatio to look after Hamlet. He reminds Laertes that his revenge is coming.
"The houses he makes last till doomsday." - The Clown, speaking about grave-diggers.
"That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once." - Hamlet.
"Alas, poor Yorick!" - Hamlet.
"Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust." - Hamlet.
"Now pile your dust upon the quick and the dead." - Laertes.
"I have in me something dangerous,/Which let thy wisdom fear." - Hamlet, to Laertes.
"I loved Ophelia." - Hamlet.
Scene 2 - The hall of the Castle.
Hamlet and Horatio enter. They are discussing Hamlet's escape. Hamlet had been unable to sleep, thinking he was trapped. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern slept, he stole their letter, and found it contained instructions for his head to be cut off. He wrote a new letter, instructing that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be killed upon the reading of the letter, and sealed it with his father's seal. The following day the pirates attacked.
Hamlet has no sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they brought it upon themselves. Hamlet intends to do as much as possible before Claudius finds out what he has done. For a start he will be more guarded around Laertes.
Osric enters, and Hamlet tells Horatio that Osric is a idiot. Osric has been sent to tell Hamlet that Claudius has a bet that Hamlet would beat Laertes in swordplay. The rules are that in twelve passes, Laertes could not hit Hamlet thrice. Hamlet agrees.
As the king and queen walk down, Horatio warns Hamlet that he will lose. Hamlet says he has been in practice. Horatio warns him to avoid anything that he mistrusts. Hamlet decides to trust to fate.
Claudius begins the formalities. Hamlet gives Laertes a formal apology for all he had done, claiming madness. Laertes replies that he is forgiven, but his honour compels him to continue with the duel. Hamlet does not check the foils.
Claudius sets out the cups, and assures Hamlet that upon his first hit, he will drink to his health. Hamlet scores the first hit, but declines a drink. They continue and Hamlet scores the second hit. Gertrude drinks for Hamlet, from the poisoned cup, although Claudius asks her not to.
Laertes's desire for revenge is weakening. They continue however, and during the fight switch rapiers. Both are cut. Gertrude collapses, and tells Hamlet the drink was poisoned. She dies. Laertes reveals the plan to Hamlet, and blames Claudius. Hamlet cuts Claudius and forces him to drink the poison. Claudius and Laertes die. Hamlet begs Horatio to tell the story to the world. Horatio wants to die with Hamlet, and Hamlet takes the cup from him. Hamlet gives his dying vote for Fortinbras to be king.
Fortinbras enters, and sees the carnage. An ambassador with him informs those remaining that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, and Horatio denies that Hamlet gave that order. Horatio promises to tell the story. Fortinbras claims his traditional right to the kingdom, and Horatio will aid him by relating Hamlet's last words. He orders a soldier's funeral for Hamlet.
"Our indiscretion sometime serves us well/When our deep plots do pall, and that should learn us/There's a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will." - Hamlet.
"He should the bearers put to sudden death/Not shriving time allowed." - Hamlet's instructions to the English King.
"Why, even in that was heaven ordinant." - Hamlet.
"So Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go to't." - Horatio.
"'Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes/Between the pass and fell incensèd points/Of mighty opposites." - Hamlet.
"He that hath killed my king, and whored my mother,/Popped between the election and my hopes" - Hamlet, on Claudius.
"If your mind dislike anything, obey it." - Horatio.
"I am punished with a sore distraction." - Hamlet to Laertes.
"His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy." - Hamlet to Laertes.
"I am justly killed with mine own treachery." - Laertes.
"O my dear Hamlet!" - Gertrude.
"thou incestuous, murd'rous, damnèd Dane" - Hamlet to Claudius.
"what a wounded name,/Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me." - Hamlet.
"Now cracks a noble heart." - Horatio.
"carnal, bloody and unnatural acts... accidental judgements, casual slaughters... deaths put on by cunning and forced cause" - Horatio.
"He was most likely, had he put on/To have proved most royal." - Fortinbras, on Hamlet.
Summary of 'Hamlet' (Higher School Certificate 1998) by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.
Note that the text of Hamlet itself is in the public domain.
Last modified: 25 June 2003