The play begins on the outer ramparts of Elsinore castle. It is late and Francisco, a guard, is on duty waiting for Bernardo to relieve him from his watch. Francisco is nervous because the previous two nights he and Bernardo have seen a figure who appears to be the ghost of the recently deceased king wandering around. Bernardo approaches, accompanied by Horatio (Hamlets only friend and confident). Even though Horatio dismisses the idea of a ghost, the guards start to retell the previous nights encounters. As the guards begin, the ghost appears before them- much to Horatios surprise.
The guards urge Horatio to speak with the ghost. Because Horatio is a student, they feel he should be able to communicate with the ghost, and their previous attempts to talk with it have failed. Horatios attempts also fail. The scene ends with Horatio stating that he will go and inform his friend Hamlet of these incredible events. Text Act I, Scene i Act I, Scene ii This scene opens in contrast to the first scene. The first scene takes place on the dark, cold isolated ramparts this scene begins in a brightly lit court, with the new king, Claudius, celebrating his recent wedding to his new wife, Gertrude.
Everyone in the court appears happy and joyful, except one character who is sitting off to the side. He is dressed in black, the colour of mourning, and does not like what he sees. The lone figure is Hamlet, the main character of the play. He is wearing black because it has been only two months since his father, Hamlet senior the ghost on the battlements, died and he still is mourning his fathers death. To further upset Hamlet, Claudius new bride is Hamlets mother, Gertrude. Hamlet is upset because his mother married Claudius so soon after becoming a widow.
To add to all the injustices Hamlet is feeling at this time, Claudius is also related to Hamlet. Hamlets uncle is now his step-father and Gertrudes brother-in-law is now her husband. Claudius conducts several pieces of business during the beginning of this scene. He first tries to take measures to prevent a war with Norway, then discusses Laertes request to leave court and go back to school. Claudius agrees with Polonius, Laertes father, that Laertes plan of going back to school is a good one. He gives Laertes permission to go. This familial scene brings Claudius mind to Hamlet.
He recognizes Hamlet is upset and he tries to make amends and urges Hamlet to stay in Denmark, instead of returning to school. After his mother echoes Claudius request, Hamlet agrees to stay. Hamlet is left on stage after everyone else leaves. He speaks a soliloquy expressing his anger at the present circumstances in his life and discusses his depression as a result of these events. The scene ends with Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo entering and talking with Hamlet about the ghost they have seen. Hamlet agrees to join them this coming night to see the ghost for himself.
Note a soliloquy is a thought a character expresses out loud. These thoughts deal with the true feelings of a character and give insight into what a character is thinking about and how his mind works. This first soliloquy is one of several spoken by Hamlet throughout the play. Each one gives us further insight into what Hamlet is feeling at the time. Text Act I, Scene ii Act I, Scene iii This scene opens with Laertes saying his goodbyes to his sister Ophelia, before he leaves for school. We find out from their discussion that Hamlet has been seeing Ophelia and is very serious about their relationship.
He has been alone with Ophelia on many occasions and has professed his love for her during these times. He has also given her gifts during these visits. Leartes, who knows about his sisters suitor, tries to warn Ophelia that because Hamlet is destined to become King, he can never be serious in his relationship with her. Hamlet may seem virtuous and noble at this time, he warns, but he will leave her to fulfill his duties to the kingdom when the time comes. She promises to be careful in this relationship and reasserts that Hamlet has never taken advantage of her, nor has he ever been anything but a gentleman in their relationship.
The conversation ends with Ophelia lecturing her brother that he should practice what he preaches and not fall into any casual relationships foolishly, and not to worry about her. At this point, Polonius enters and gives his son one more lecture before he leaves on how to conduct himself when he goes back to school. The fatherly advice includes thoughts on not borrowing or lending money, because it can cause more problems than it is worth. He also tells his son not to say things that might make others think he is foolish, to hold his tongue and to be careful of getting into quarrels, but once in one give a good show for yourself.
Finally, before Leartes leaves, Polonius tells him to be true to himself. In other words, if you do the right things for the right reasons you can never do any wrong to others. The scene ends with Polonius discussing with Ophelia her relationship with Hamlet. He, like Laertes, does not trust Hamlets intentions, because Hamlet is young and young men have no honour they have only one thing on their minds- sex. Although Ophelia has no reason to distrust Hamlets intentions, she obeys her fathers wishes and agrees she will not see Hamlet any more. Text Act I, Scene iii Act I, Scene iv
It is the night following Horatios first encounter with the ghost and it finds him, the guards and Hamlet on the platform waiting for the ghost. There is a celebration going on in the castle and Hamlet explains to Horatio that it is customary for the king to hold a celebration where cannons are shot off in honour of the Kings health. This celebration is something Hamlet does not agree with it is too excessive and other countries look upon the Danes as foolish because of it. The ghost appears and Hamlet, realizing that the ghost does look like his dead father, approaches it and asks that it speak to him.
At this point, Hamlet doesnt know whether or not the ghost is there for good or evil purposes. The ghost beckons Hamlet. When Hamlet considers leaving with the ghost, Horatio and Marcellus try to dissuade him. They are concerned for his safety. If the ghost is there for evil purposes, it might lead Hamlet to his death. Hamlet forces his way past them and follows the ghost. The scene ends with Horatio and Marcellus following Hamlet to try and protect him. Text Act I, Scene iv Act I, Scene v On another part of the platform, the ghost tells Hamlet that he is indeed Hamlets father and that he was murdered.
The ghost asks Hamlet to revenge his most foul, strange, and unnatural murder and Hamlet heartily agrees. Hamlet is shocked when the ghost goes on to tell him that he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius. Unlike the story Claudius told the court, that a serpent stung and killed the old king, the ghost tells Hamlet that during his afternoon nap in the orchard Claudius crept in and poured poison in the kings ear. The ghost goes on to tell Hamlet about how Hamlets own mother was adulterous with Claudius, before the ghosts death.
He also has Hamlet promise him that he will leave her deeds to be judged and punished by God, and that Hamlet should not take revenge on her himself. The dawn comes, forcing the ghost to return to the hellish underworld he must inhabit, because of the wrongful deeds he did prior to his own death. Hamlet is very angry about the events the ghost told him of, and swears that he will remember the ghost and what the ghost asked of him. He also swears that he will forget all trivial matters and that his life will be focused on one event, avenging his fathers murder.
Horatio and Marcellus find him and Hamlet has them swear that they will reveal to no one the events surrounding the ghost. The ghost calls up from below for them to swear when they seem hesitant to do so. Before the scene ends, Hamlet warns his friends that he will put on an antic disposition for everyone to see. In other words, he will pretend to be crazy until he can avenge his fathers death. Text Act I, Scene v Act II, Scene i As we find out later in the scene, apparently Hamlet has been following the plan he told Horatio about, putting on an antic disposition.
The scene opens with Polonius sending Reynaldo to Wittenberg to give Laertes money. Although Reynaldos quest at first appears straightforward, Polonius also gives Reynaldo the added duty of spying on Laertes. Because Polonius is concerned for his family name, he wants to find out all about Laertes actions and goings-on. Even though Reynaldo intended to make some discreet inquires into Laertes actions, he is shocked when Polonius tells him to do whatever he can, short of dishonouring Laertes, to find out what Laertes is up to, including making up stories about incidents that didnt happen.
Even though Reynaldo doesnt agree with Polonius way of gathering information, he gives in to Polonius request. Ophelia enters as Reynaldo leaves and her father, seeing that she is distressed, asks her what is troubling her. Ophelia relates a strange encounter she has just had with Hamlet. He came to see her in complete disarray. His clothes were a mess and his appearance was pale and sickly. She goes on to say that Hamlet grabbed her hand and studied her at arms length. He didnt say anything, but after a perusal of her face he shook his head three times and gave out a wail that was piteous and profound.
He then dropped her arm and, without taking his eyes off Ophelia, walked out of the room. Polonius, thinking that Hamlet is still madly in love with Ophelia, believes his request for Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet is the cause of his recent apparent madness. He tells Ophelia that they must report this incident to the King. They leave, after Polonius chastises himself for making what appears to be a wrong judgement regarding Hamlets true feelings for Ophelia. Text Act II, Scene i Act II, Scene ii The action takes place two months after Hamlet has met with the ghost.
The scene opens with Claudius and Gertrude talking to two of Hamlets friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It seems that Hamlet has been acting strangely for the past couple of months, and no one is able to find out why. Although Gertrude guesses it is because of the death of his father and her overhasty marriage, Claudius is not so sure this is the reason. Because Claudius and Gertrude are unable to find out the reason for Hamlets madness they send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the hopes that they will be able to find out the truth.
Both gentlemen agree to spy on Hamlet to find out the cause of his madness after Gertrude tells them they will gain the kings money, thanks and recognition. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave to find Hamlet. Polonius enters at the same time as the messengers sent to Norway return with news regarding Fortinbras. Polonius tells the King and Queen that he has found out the cause of Hamlets madness, and will tell them after they hear the news from the messengers. Voltimand and Cornelius enter and report to the king that they met with Fortinbras uncle and have found a way to stop Fortinbras plan to attack Denmark.
The uncle, after finding out the true goal of Fortinbras army, rebukes Fortinbras for his deeds and tells him to forget this plan. Fortinbras obeys his uncles wishes and with his uncles help decides to use his army to attack the Pollacks. The king looks over a paper that has Fortinbras plans for crossing safely through Denmark on his way to fight the Pollacks, and turns his attention to Polonius. Polonius tells the King and Queen about his suspicion that Hamlets madness is caused by Ophelias rejecting Hamlets affections.
Although the queen believes Polonius speech is too long-winded, and chastises him for his roundabout ways, he brushes her off and continues with his theories. As proof of his suspicions, he reads a letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia that expresses his love and feelings for her. Seeing that the king and queen dont agree with his assumptions as whole heartedly as he does, Polonius tries to prove his theory by approaching Hamlet himself. He ushers the King and Queen out as Hamlet approaches.
Although Polonius tries his best to pin down Hamlets thoughts, he fails. Hamlet not only manages to evade Polonius questions, but he seizes the opportunity and slanders Polonius and his foolish, meddling ways, without Polonius realization. Polonius leaves after realizing that there is a lot of meaning in Hamlets ranting. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and Hamlet greets them affectionately. Hamlet is pleasant and cheerful to them until he finds out that they are there to spy on him and report to the King the reason for Hamlets madness.
Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hesitant to admit they were sent for, they cannot deny it further when Hamlet convinces them that he knows they were sent for. The focus of the conversation changes to acting and the theatre when Rosencrantz informs Hamlet that players (entertainers) are on their way to the castle to perform a play for the King. They discuss the use of child actors in the theatre and Hamlet takes another opportunity to insult Polonius when he comes in to tell Hamlet about the players.
When Hamlet makes a remark about a fair daughter in a play, Polonius believes he is hinting at Ophelia. They are interrupted by the entrance of the players. Hamlet greets the players warmly and asks the leader to recite a passage he once heard the player speak. Hamlet remembered the recital because the player spoke it in such an honest and passionate way. The player recites a passage concerning the death of Priam, during the Trojan war. After the speech, Hamlet asks Polonius to take excellent care of the players and to find them quarters.
Hamlet talks with the First Player about inserting some lines that Hamlet will make up into the play they are presenting tomorrow. The player agrees to Hamlets request and leaves. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave and Hamlet is alone on stage to give his second soliloquy. Hamlet is angry with himself for procrastinating and failing to take revenge for his fathers death. He is upset because he is unable to show the passion in real life that the player can show on stage. He cant believe that an actor can show anger and even cry for a fictitious event when he cant, despite all his reasons to show these emotions.
He tries to incite his passion by stating events that would make him angry, but realizes all he is doing is talking about what he should do. Realizing that he isnt further helping himself with these speeches, he makes a plan that will give him the proof he needs to show Claudius guilt in Hamlets fathers death. Because there is still doubt about whether or not the ghost was Hamlets father asking Hamlet to avenge his death, or an evil spirit trying to get Hamlet into trouble, Hamlet decides to get proof of Claudius guilt before proceeding further.
Hamlet believes he can obtain his proof by watching Claudius reaction to a murder acted out by the players similar to that of Hamlets fathers murder. Text Act II, Scene ii Act III, Scene i This scene opens with Claudius, the King, asking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they have discovered the cause of Hamlets madness. After admitting they did not find the cause, but were treated well by Hamlet, they inform the King and Queen that Hamlet is happy that there is going to be a play presented tomorrow and he hopes that Claudius and Gertrude will attend.
Pleased that there is something that amuses Hamlet, they both decide to attend the play and they urge Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to try and stimulate his interest further. Claudius asks Gertrude to leave so that he and Polonius can observe a clandestine meeting they set up between Hamlet and Ophelia. They tell Ophelia to pretend she is praying and they go and hide. Hamlet enters and gives a soliloquy on his thoughts about himself committing suicide. He sees Ophelia, and when she tries to return some gifts that he had given her, he claims he never gave her any.
They have a discussion wherein Hamlet denies ever loving Ophelia and berating her and women in general for their trickery and pretentiousness. When Hamlet leaves, Claudius and Polonius enter. Claudius is convinced that Hamlets madness does not stem from his love for Ophelia, but that it is something else that is afflicting his soul. Claudius realizes that Hamlets actions are a danger to those around him. He decides to send Hamlet to England, hoping a change of atmosphere will settle his heart. The scene ends with Claudius stating that Hamlet should be watched. Text Act III, Scene i