Hamlet

Type: 
Tragedy
First Performed: 
1600-01
First Printed: 
1603
"

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

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The ghost of King Hamlet walks the battlements of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. His brother Claudius now rules and has married his widow, Gertrude. Prince Hamlet goes to the ghost, who tells him Claudius murdered him. He tells Hamlet to avenge his murder.

Hamlet has a melancholy and philosophical nature, so the act of killing his uncle becomes difficult. Mired in doubt, he begins to behave oddly. Claudius and Gertrude decide to hire Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to discover the cause of his behavior. Claudius’ advisor Polonius suggests that Hamlet’s apparent madness could be a result of love for his daughter Ophelia. Claudius and Polonius spy on Hamlet while he talks to Ophelia, but the conversation turns hostile when Hamlet orders Ophelia to enter a convent.

Hamlet instructs a travelling band of players to enact a scene that looks like the murder of his father. Seeing it, Claudius immediately goes to the chapel and prays. Hamlet considers killing him there, but reconsiders when he realizes Claudius’ soul will go to heaven if killed while praying.

In his mother’s bedroom, Hamlet confronts her about marrying his uncle. He hears a sound behind a tapestry and thrusts his sword through it and mistakenly kills Polonius, for which he is sent to England as punishment.

Ophelia’s grief over her father’s death drives her mad and she drowns in the river. Her brother Laertes returns from France. News comes that Hamlet will be returning to Denmark, so Claudius and Laertes plan to kill him in a sport duel by poisoning Laertes’ blade and a goblet of wine, confident that one of the methods will kill him.

In the sword fight, Hamlet scores the first hit but does not drink when Claudius offers him wine. Gertrude drinks instead, dying instantly. In the confusion of the duel, the poison-tipped sword hits both Hamlet and Laertes. With his last breath, Laertes reveals Claudius’ responsibility. Hamlet pours the poisoned wine into the King’s mouth, and he and Claudius die.

Fortinbras, a Norwegian prince, enters with an army and witnesses the carnage. He announces he is now in power.