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HAMLET STUDY GUIDE

ACT 1

Scene 1
The play opens during a bitterly cold night watch outside of the royal Danish palace called
El Sinor. There is a changing of the guards: Bernardo replaces Francisco. Soon two more
characters arrive, Horatio and Marcellus. Last 2 nights Bernardo says tells Horatio they have
seen an apparition, thinking its Old Hamlet, and Horatio says it is not real (voice of reason).
On this third night (patterns of 3). they are talking about the ghost again. Suddenly, it does. The
two soldiers charge Horatio to speak to the ghost but he does not. The ghost disappears just as
suddenly as it arrived. Horatio says the ghost is wearing the same armor he did when he fought
Norway (ghost might be a foreshadowing that Norway/Fortinbras is coming). Horatio says
the ghost might be here to warn Denmark.
● Bernardo asked Horatio to come because if Horatio says the ghost is real it must be
real.

Soon after the ghost’s disappearance, Marcellus asks why he is guarding the city of Denmark.
Horatio answers, saying that the Danish army is preparing for a possible invasion by Fortinbras,
Prince of Norway. We learn that Fortinbras’ father (also named Fortinbras), was killed many
years before in single combat with Old Hamlet, the now-deceased king whose ghost we have
just seen. Now that Old Hamlet has died, presumably weakening the Danes, there is a rumor
that Fortinbras plans to invade Denmark and claim that lands that were forfeit after his father’s
death. Fortinbras has made an army of mercenaries. ALLUSION: Julius Caesar, the omens
before he died.
After Horatio has finished explaining this political backstory, the ghost of Old Hamlet appears
once more. This time Horatio does try to speak to the ghost. When the ghost remains silent,
Horatio tells Marcellus and Bernardo to try to detain it; they strike at the ghost with their
spears but jab only air. A rooster crows just as the ghost appears ready to reply to Horatio at
last (superstition: cockcrows all night keeping bad spirits away). This sound startles the
ghost away. Horatio decides to tell Prince Hamlet, Old Hamlet’s son, about the apparition, and
the others agree.

Scene 2
This scene begins at the court of Claudius and Gertrude, the King and Queen of Denmark.
It is a public event. They have just been married. This marriage has followed quickly after the
death of the former King of Denmark, Old Hamlet, Claudius’ brother. Claudius addresses the
quickness of the marriage, representing himself as in mourning for a lost brother even as he is
joyful for a new wife. Claudius also addresses the question of the young Fortinbras’ proposed
invasion. He says that he has spoken to Fortinbras’ uncle, the King of Norway, who has
made Fortinbras promise to halt any plans to invade Denmark. Claudius sends Cornelius
and Voltemand, two courtiers, to Norway to settle this business. Finally, Claudius turns
to Laertes, the son of his trusted counselor, Polonius. Laertes expresses a wish to return to
France and Claudius grants permission.
At this point, Prince Hamlet, who has been standing apart from the king’s audience this whole
time, speaks the first of his many lines. Hamlet does not like Claudius. Claudius asks Hamlet
why he is still so gloomy. Hamlet’s replies are evasive, cynical, and punning. He declares that
his grief upon losing his father still deeply affects him. Gertrude tells Hamlet to stop wearing
black and mourning his father, and she asks why he appears to be so down. Hamlet
says that he is down and not just seems it and he truly is mourning ( false appearances vs.
reality).Claudius goes into a speech about the unnaturalness of prolonged grief; to lose one’s
father is painful but common, he says, and Hamlet should accept this as nature’s course. He
goes on to say that Hamlet is uneducated, unmanly, stupid, unchrstian, and he tells
Hamlet to keep his thoughts to himself. He expresses a wish that Hamlet remain with them in
Denmark instead of returning to Wittenberg (located in Germany), where he is a student, and
when Gertrude seconds this wish, Hamlet agrees. The king, queen, and all their retinue then
exit the stage, leaving Hamlet alone.
In his first soliloquy, Hamlet expresses the depths of his melancholy and his disgust at his
mother’s hastily marrying Claudius after the death of his father. He declares his father to be
many times Claudius’ superior as a man. Hamlet compares his dad to the sun god and
claudius to a satyr (half man/half goat). Hamlet also says women are weak (his mom
settling for Claudius). Hamlet thinks his mom is dishonoring his father by getting married
so soon. After this soliloquy, Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo enter. At first, Hamlet is too
aggrieved to recognize Horatio, his old school friend, but finally he welcomes Horatio warmly.
He is wondering why Horatio isn’t at school, Horatio says he is skipping, this is unlike Horatio
to skip. After chatting about the state, Horatio tells Hamlet that he has seen his dead father
recently – the night before. “He was a man.” (humanism) - Hamlet. Hamlet asks him to
explain, and Horatio tells the story of the appearance of the ghost. Hamlet decides to attend
the watch that very night in hopes of seeing the ghost himself. Hamlet swears everyone to
secrecy.

Scene 3
As the scene opens, Laertes is taking his leave of his sister, Ophelia. In the course of their
farewells, Laertes advises her about her relationship with Hamlet, with whom she has been
spending much of her time lately. He tells her to forget him because he, as Prince of
Denmark, is too much to hope for as a husband. He adds that she should vigilantly guard
her chastity, her most prized treasure as a woman. Ophelia agrees to attend to his lesson.
Ophelia tells him to not make mistakes either. He tells Ophelia that it is just a fling and she is
immature and not thinking about the consequences. As Laertes is about to leave, his father,
Polonius, arrives. Polonius gives Laertes a blessing and a battery of advice before sending his
son on his way. Polonius advises Laertes to not borrow money or lend money because it
will ruin friendships, dress well but not too flashy because people judge you on the way you
dress, be true to yourself and then you won’t get caught in a lie, don’t pick a fight but don’t
walk away from one, people hold you to your word, hold on to the friends you have but
slowly make new ones too, and think before you act and speak. “To thine own self be
true” - POLONIUS.
With Laertes gone, Polonius asks Ophelia what they had been talking about as he arrived.
Ophelia confesses that they had been talking about her relationship with Hamlet. She tells
Polonius that Hamlet has made many honorable declarations of love to her but the only thing he
hasn’t done is marry her. Polonius pooh-poohs these declarations, saying, much as Laertes did,
that Hamlet wants nothing more than to assail her chastity and then leave her. Polonius
says that if she ruins her reputation it will also ruin the families reputation. He makes his
daughter promise that she will spend no more time alone with Hamlet. Ophelia says that she will
obey.

Scene 4
At the night watch, Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus await the reappearance of the ghost. They
hear cannons from the castle and Hamlet tells them that this is a sign that Claudius is drinking
pledges. Hamlet goes on a short tirade against the Danish custom of drinking heavily
and says that if Claudius drinks all the time they will think the Danes are drunkards.
His speech is no sooner over than the ghost appears again. Hamlet immediately addresses
the ghost, imploring it to speak. Hamlet asks why he is there and what he should do. The
ghost beckons for Hamlet to come away, apart from the others. Horatio and Marcellus attempt
to keep Hamlet from following the ghost, warning him of the many evils that might befall him.
Hamlet doesn’t listen. He threatens to kill Horatio or Marcellus if they detain him, and when
they stay back he follows the ghost offstage. Hamlet says that he can do because his life
does not mean anything anyways. Horatio and Marcellus determine to follow at a distance to
make sure that no harm comes to their friend. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”
(corruption) - Marcellus

Scene 5
Alone with Hamlet, the ghost finally speaks. He tells Hamlet that he has come on a nightly walk
from Purgatory, where his soul is under continual torment for the sins of his life. The ghost then
reveals that he was not killed by a viper, as officially announced, but was murdered. Moreover,
he reveals that his own brother, Claudius, who now wears his crown and sleeps with
his wife, was the murderer. The ghost tells of how Claudius snuck into his garden while he
was taking his accustomed afternoon nap and poured poison into his ear, killing him most
painfully and sending his soul unpurified into the afterlife. He says he did not get to confess
his sins before he died. The ghost demands vengeance, telling Hamlet not to plot against
his mother, whom he describes as merely weak and lustful, but to focus the whole of his
revenge on Claudius. The ghost then disappears. Hamlet has to avenge his father so that
his father can go to heaven. “Remember me.” (filio obligation) - GHOST
Hamlet, overwhelmed and half-raving, swears that he will kill Claudius. He says Claudius
is a villain. Hamlet now has a reason to live (identity). After he has made this vow, Horatio
and Marcellus arrive. Hamlet does not tell them what the ghost has revealed, but nevertheless
insists that they swear not to speak of the apparition to anyone. They agree. Hamlet says
that everything cannot be explained by logic. “....Horatio, thank are dreamt of in your
philosophy” - HAMLET. Hamlet then insists that they swear again on his sword. They agree
again, confused at these demands. The ghost of Old Hamlet, meanwhile, can be heard under
the stage, insisting along with his son that they swear themselves to secrecy. Hamlet leads
his friends to several different points on stage, insisting that they swear over and over again.
He then reveals, parenthetically, that they might find his behavior in the next while to
be strange – he might pretend to be mad and act otherwise unusually – but that they
must still keep secret what they have seen. He says he is going to start acting a little crazy
(appearances v. reality). After this final agreement, Hamlet leads the others offstage, uneasily
determined to revenge his father’s murder.”The time is out of joint.” -HAMLET (referring to
Claudius being king and his father’s death).

ACT 2

Scene 1
Act Two begins with Polonius speaking to one of his servants, Reynaldo, about his son, Laertes,
who has by this time returned to Paris. We see Polonius in the act of sending Reynaldo after
Laertes to inquire into his son’s conduct. He instructs Reynaldo very precisely in the method
of obtaining this information. First, Reynaldo is to find out from strangers in Paris about the
prominent Danes in the city without revealing that he has any particular attachment to Laertes.
When Laertes’ name comes up, Reynaldo is to pretend to have some distant knowledge of
him, and is further to suggest that he knows of Laertes as something of a happy-go-lucky youth
given to gambling, drinking, fencing, swearing, fighting, and whoring. He tells Reynaldo to
start rumors in order to find out information. By this path of insinuation, Polonius explains,
Reynaldo will hear from his hypothetical Parisian interlocutor the unvarnished truth about
Laertes’ conduct in France. Having thus prepared Reynaldo to spy on his son, Polonius sends
him off.

Hamlet acts crazy in Ophelia’s private room. He shows up in a mess and shakes her and
then leaves still staring at her. Ophelia enters, distraught. She tells her father that Hamlet
has frightened her with his wild, unkempt appearance and deranged manners. After Ophelia
describes Hamlet’s behavior, she further reveals that, as per Polonius’ orders, she has cut
off all contact with Hamlet and has refused his letters. Polonius reasons, thus, that Hamlet’s
madness is the result of Ophelia’s rejection. He had thought that Hamlet was only trifling
with her, but it turns out (he now declares) that Hamlet was indeed deeply in love with
Ophelia. Polonius hurries off to tell Claudius and Gertrude that he has discovered the reason
for their son’s odd behavior.

Scene 2
King Claudius has made plans of his own to discover the reasons for Hamlet’s supposed
madness. He has summoned two of Hamlet’s school friends, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern, both to comfort his nephew-cum-son and to try to discover the reason for
his distemper (so he says). The two scholars are only too happy to oblige in this task.
After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave the royal presence, Polonius rushes in,
announcing that he has found the reason for Hamlet’s madness. Before he reveals his
news, however, he entreats Claudius and Gertrude to hear from the two ambassadors to
Norway, Voltemand and Cornelius, who have just returned. They report that the King of
Norway, after looking into his nephew Fortinbras’ actions, found out that he was indeed
planning to invade Denmark. The King of Norway then rebuked Fortinbras and ordered
him to abandon his plan of Danish conquest, which young Fortinbras agreed to do.
Voltemand tells Claudius that the Old Norway will pay Fortinbras 60,000 pounds a year to
stop him from attacking Denmark and to keep the peace. Finally, the ambassadors report
that Norway seeks Claudius’ permission to allow Fortinbras passage through Denmark in
this proposed campaign against Poland. Claudius declares his approval of this message and
says that he will consider its details anon.
Polonius steps forward to reveal his discovery. He is sad that he has to tell Claudius why
Hamlet is mad. “Brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward
flourishes, I will be brief.” - POLONIUS. He tells the king and queen, in a very roundabout
way, that he has discovered Hamlet’s foiled love of Ophelia, and that he believes this lost
love to be the root cause of Hamlet’s madness. He reads a letter of Hamlet’s to Ophelia
in front of the king and queen. Letter talks about how Hamlet doubts the sun moves
(Copernicus theory-earth revolves around sun). Polonius says that when he saw Ophelia
and Hamlet were together he told Ophelia that Hamlet was too good for her and they shouldn’t
be together (false appearances). Claudius asks how they might prove this to be the case.
Polonius has a plan. He offers to loose Ophelia on Hamlet while he is reading alone in
the library. Meanwhile, he suggests, he and Claudius could hide behind a tapestry and
observe the meeting. Claudius agrees.
Just then, Hamlet enters, reading. Gertrude and Claudius exit while Polonius attempts to speak
to Hamlet. Hamlet plays with Polonius, mocking him, evading his questions, and turning
his language inside out. Hamlet is calling Polonius a liar. Nevertheless, Polonius “reads
between the lines,” as it were, and interprets Hamlet’s nonsensical replies as motivated by a
broken heart. Polonius gives an aside to the king behind the tapestry (says Hamlet is mad).
Hamlet tells Polonius that he cannot take anything from him and wants Polonius to leave.
Polonius leaves to contrive the proposed meeting between Hamlet and his daughter.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, surprising their friend Hamlet. “Faith, her privates use.”
(calling fortune a whore and saying you have to buy it to have it) - GUILDENSTERN. The
three friends banter philosophically for a good while before Hamlet asks the two why they have
come to Elsinore. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to dodge this question, declaring that they
have come for no other reason than to visit him. Hamlet, though, won’t let them off the hook,
and makes them admit that the king and queen sent for them. When they admit it, Hamlet also
tells them why they were sent for – because he has been deeply melancholy, and has foregone
his accustomed behavior. He sinks deeply into a speech detailing this misery. Hamlet says that
Denmark is a prison. “There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” - HAMLET.
Rosencrantz changes the subject. He tells Hamlet that he and Guildenstern passed a troop of
players on their way to Elsinore. They gossip briefly about the city theaters the troop had left
before coming to Denmark (presumably those of London). Hamlet is asking why they are there
multiple times. He tells R & G that he has been acting strange because of his depression
so that they have something to tell Claudius. Hamlet is not in the mood for people/players
(false appearances vs. reality). Soon the players arrive with a flourish. Polonius rushes back
into the scene, bearing the already stale news that the players have arrived. Hamlet banters
with Polonius in the same mocking vein as before until the players burst into court, at which
point Hamlet rushes up to welcome them. ALLUSION: Hamlet said Polonius is no more a
god than Hamlet is like Hercules. ALLUSION: Globe Theater. Children take globe from
adults like Hercules takes globe from Atlas. ALLUSION: Hamlet also compares Polonius
to Jepthah, a figure in the Old testament. Jepthah is a warrior and he says he will
sacrifice his duaghter. Hamlet says Polonius is sacrificing his daughter if Hamlet cannot
see her. At this time in history, Hamlet says children actors have become popular that
the adult actors have to hit the road. Hamlet questions what the child actors will be when
they grow up.
Hamlet insists upon hearing a speech straight away, and in particular requests a recitation
based on a scene in Virgil’s Aeneid, as related by Aeneas to Dido, recounting the death of
Priam during the fall of Troy. Hamlet himself begins the speech and then cedes the floor to one
of the players, who recites a long and fustian description of Priam’s death by Pyrrhus’ hand
(filio obligation). The player goes on to speak of the wild grief of Hecuba, Priam’s wife, after
her husband has been killed. She yells and cries for her husband’s death unlike Gertrude.
While speaking of her agony, the player begins to weep and shake. Polonius finally cuts
him off and Hamlet agrees.
Before the players retire, however, Hamlet pulls the main player aside and asks him whether
the company knows a certain play, “The Murder of Gonzago.” The player says that they do,
and Hamlet commissions it for the following night, saying that he will write some speeches of
his own to be inserted into the play as written. The player says that this would be fine and then
takes his leave.
Left alone on stage, Hamlet muses about the strangeness of his situation. He asks himself,
“How can this player be so filled with grief and rage over Priam and Hecuba, imaginary
figures whom he doesn’t even know, while I, who have every reason to rage and grieve
and seek bloody revenge, am weak, uncertain, and incapable of action?” He curses
himself and his indecisiveness before cursing his murderous uncle in a rage. Having regained
composure, Hamlet announces his plan to make sure that the ghost of his father is genuine –
that the apparition was not some evil spirit sent to lure his soul to damnation. He declares his
intention to stage a play exactly based on the murder of his father. While it is played he will
observe Claudius. If the king is guilty, Hamlet figures, surely he will show this guilt when faced
with the scene of the crime.

● Things Hamlet realizes in his soliloquy: 1. Hamlet realizes that the play can act but
Hamlet cannot act (show emotion). 2. Hamlet calls himself a coward. 3. Hamlet wants
Claudius to feel guilty watching the play (he is still not completely convinced).

ACT 3

Scene 1
An entourage consisting of the king and queen, Polonius and Ophelia, and Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern enters to begin the Act. Claudius asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern what they
have learned about Hamlet’s malady. The two reply that they have not been able to find
its cause. They do mention, however, that Hamlet was very enthusiastic about the players’
performance that night, which prompts Claudius to agree to attend the play. Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern leave. Polonius invites Claudius to Hamlet’s play and Claudius says he
would love to go. Polonius and Claudius then begin their plan for Hamlet and Ophelia to meet,
hoping to find the root of his madness. Gertrude hopes Ophelia is the cause of Hamlet’s
madness. They instruct Ophelia to pretend that she is simply reading a book and withdraw
behind a tapestry.
Hamlet enters and delivers the most famous speech in literature, (he realizes 3 things)
beginning, 1. “To be or not to be.” (To be alive of to be dead, filio obligation vs. everyone
dealing with him). 2. Hamlet says most people would take their life if they knew about
the afterlife but it is unknown. 3. Hamlet always has the “what if” question. After this
long meditation on the nature of being and death, Hamlet catches sight of Ophelia. After a
short conversation she attempts to return some of the remembrances that Hamlet gave
when courting her. Hamlet says that beauty can hide truth (he can’t tell what she is
really thinking). Hamlet replies caustically, questioning Ophelia’s honesty. He is messing
with Ophelia’s head, telling her off sarcastically and venomously, with the refrain, “Get thee
to a nunnery,” or in other words, “Go become a nun to control your lust.” (Nunnery can also
mean a whorehouse, is she pregnant?). Hamlet is saying Ophelia is two faced, Hamlet asks
where Polonius is and is saying that Ophelia is making him mad (b/c they are behind tapestry
listening). Ophelia goes on to say how Hamlet was a good man, scholar’s mind, soldier’s
eye, agile man, well-behaved, and good in social situations. She says he is deteriorating.
After this tirade, Hamlet exists, leaving Ophelia in shambles.
Claudius and Polonius step out of their hiding place. The king states that he does not believe
that Hamlet is mad because of his foiled love for Ophelia, or really mad at all, but tormented for
some hidden reason. He determines to send Hamlet on a diplomatic mission to England
before he can cause any serious trouble (Claudius thinks Hamlet might know some
things). Polonius endorses this plan, but persists in his belief that Hamlet’s grief is the result of
his love for Ophelia. He consoles his daughter. Polonius suggests in parting that Claudius
arrange a private interview between Hamlet and his mother after the play that evening
and Claudius agrees. Polonius says he will listen in.

Scene 2
Just as the play is about to begin, Hamlet instructs the players on the art of acting, he tells
them to be realistic and not be funny. He sets the players to their preparations and then
conferences with Horatio. After complimenting Horatio in the most sterling terms, Hamlet
asks his friend to assist him in watching the king’s response to the play they are about to see
(apparently Hamlet has by this time told Horatio what the ghost revealed). They will compare
thoughts of the king after the play. Hamlet says Horatio is the most reasonable and
balanced. Horatio seats himself so as to view the king properly. The royal entourage enters.
Hamlet manically chatters with Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia, reserving special
attention for the latter, whom he sits next to and teases. Polonius says he was once in plays
and played Julius Caesar in college. ALLUSION: Caesar gets ‘stabbed’ (foreshadowing?).
The play begins with a “Dumb Show,” which is a pantomime of the drama to come. On stage,
the basic form of the alleged murder is repeated: a king and queen are shown happily married;
the king takes a nap; a poisoner enters and pours something in the king’s ear, killing him; the
poisoner than takes possession of the queen. Ophelia seems confused by this plot but Hamlet
tells her to wait for the speaker of the prologue to explain.
The prologue is a short little jingling rhyme. The player king and queen then immediately enter
the stage. The king mentions that they have been married thirty years. The player queen
expresses a hope that their love last as long over again. The king encourages the queen to
remarry if he dies. The queen protests against this notion vehemently, swearing never to
love another if were to she turn widow. With this, the king falls asleep and the queen exits.
Hamlet asks his mother, Gertrude, how she likes the play, and Gertrude replies with the famous
line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet calls the play “The Mousetrap.”
Claudius is also outspokenly apprehensive about the nature of the play. It continues, however,
with the entrance of Lucianus, the sleeping king’s nephew. This evil character creeps up to the
sleeping player king and pours poison in his ear. Hamlet, unable to contain himself, erupts,
telling everyone that Lucianus will soon win the love of the king’s over-protesting wife.
At this, Claudius rises and orders the play to end. Polonius calls the play off. He retreats
with his retinue. Hamlet and Horatio laugh together, certain now that the ghost was telling the
truth. After a short celebration, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and tell Hamlet that he has
made Claudius very angry (sick with anger). They also say that Gertrude has ordered Hamlet
to meet her in her chamber. They then entreat Hamlet to tell the cause of his distemper. Hamlet
replies mockingly by saying that they are trying to play him like a recorder and that he
won’t let them. Polonius enters and entreats Hamlet again to see his mother. Hamlet finds out
that Polonius will agree to anything. All exit but Hamlet. In a short soliloquy, Hamlet reflects
that he will be cruel to his mother, showing her the extent of her crime in marrying Claudius, but
will not actually hurt her.

Scene 3
Claudius gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a sealed envelope with orders to convey Hamlet
to England and give the envelope to the king there. In highly flattering terms, they agree to do
the king’s bidding and exit. Rosencrantz says anarchy is a wheel where king is center and
attached to everything else. Polonius then enters, saying that Hamlet is going to meet with his
mother, and declaring his intention to hide behind an arras and listen to their conversation. He
exits. Alone, the king looks into his soul. He is deeply disgusted by what he sees. He kneels to
pray, hoping to purge his guilt, but reflects that this penance will not be genuine because he will
still retain the prizes for which he committed murder in the first place, his crown and his wife.
As Claudius is vainly attempting to pray, Hamlet comes up behind him. He reflects
that he now has an opportunity to kill his uncle and revenge his father, but pauses,
considering that because Claudius is in the act of prayer he would likely go straight to
heaven if killed. Hamlet is trying to play God and he doesn’t fill his filio obligation. Hamlet
resolves to kill Claudius later, when he is in the middle of some sinful act. He continues on to his
mother’s chamber.
Scene 4
In the chamber, awaiting Hamlet’s arrival, Polonius hides himself behind one of Gertrude’s
curtains. Hamlet enters. Gertrude attempts to be firm and chastising, but Hamlet comes right
back at her, saying that she has sinned mightily in marrying her husband’s brother. Hamlet
asks his mom what she has turned into. He pulls his mother in front of a mirror, saying that
he will reveal her inmost part, and Gertrude momentarily misinterprets this, thinking that Hamlet
may attempt to murder her. She cries for help. Polonius, hidden from view, also cries out
for help. Hamlet thinks that the hidden voice belongs to Claudius. He stabs Polonius
through the curtain, killing him. He hears a “rat.” ALLUSION: Caesar being stabbed.
When he sees that he has killed Polonius, Hamlet declares the old man to be a “rash, intruding
fool.” Because Hamlet did not take action and because of this an innocent person dies.
Quickly forgetting about this death, Hamlet seats his mother down and presents her with two
portraits, one of her first husband and the other of Claudius. He describes the two as opposites,
the one all nobility and virtue, the other all deformity and vice. Hamlet describes his father as
godlike (Jave, mars, Mercury, etc.). He describes Claudius as a mildew ear. Gertrude is
deeply affected by this comparison and seems to comprehend the enormity of her sin. Hamlet
continues to berate her and describe Claudius in the most foul and hurtful language. While
in the middle of this harangue, Old Hamlet’s ghost appears once more, telling Hamlet to stop
torturing his mother and to remember his duty to kill Claudius. At the ghost’s command, Hamlet
consoles his mother. Gertrude, unable to see the ghost, sees Hamlet talking to thin air and
resolves that he is indeed insane. The ghost exits.
Hamlet tells his mother that he is not in fact insane. He reiterates that she should repent her
marriage to Claudius and tells her in particular to stay away from their shared bed for the night.
After describing the importance of this abstinence in the most colorful terms, Hamlet reminds
his mother that he is ordered to England. “I must be cruel only to be kind.” - HAMLET.
Hamlet says that although he will go to England, he will not trust Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern. “Delve one yard below their mines and blow them to the moon.” - HAMLET.
He exits his mother’s bedroom, dragging the body of Polonius behind him.

● Hamlet does 3 important things when he is with his mother: 1. Hamlet asks his
mother to repent. 2. He asks her to never sleep with Claudius again. 3. He tells her
to not let Claudius know that he is pretending to act crazy.

ACT 4

Scene 1
Immediately after Hamlet exits, dragging Polonius’ body, we see Claudius asking Gertrude to
explain what has happened. She tells him of Hamlet’s accidental killing of Polonius and
Claudius realizes that he could have just as easily been slain. Gertrude says Hamlet is
crazy. Claudius asks where Hamlet has gone and Gertrude says that he has taken the body
away. The king orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet and discover where he
has taken Polonius’ corpse. Claudius says they must send Hamlet to England at dawn.
Claudius tells Gertrude to call their wisest friends and ask them what they should say
about Hamlet killing Polonius.

Scene 2
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern question Hamlet about Polonius’ whereabouts. Hamlet evades
their questions playfully, accusing his former friends of sycophancy to the king and leading them
on a wild goose chase. Hamlet says R & G are spnges for Claudius. He also says they are
like pieces of apple in an apes mouth (they mean nothing to Claudius).

Scene 3
Claudius is greatly distracted by the death of Polonius and the attempt to find the body.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter with Hamlet. Claudius says that everyone loves Hamlet
and it won’t look good on him if they are sending Hamlet out of the country. Claudius
questions Hamlet as to where he has taken Polonius. After some morbidly humorous replies,
Hamlet reveals that he hid Polonius “up the stairs into the lobby.” Hamlet says Polonius
will be dinner soon. The king sends attendants to find the body. Claudius then tells Hamlet
that he is to depart immediately for England, as planned. Hamlet mockingly departs, leaving
Claudius to reflect on his plans for Hamlet. Claudius says he is leaving for his safety. He has
prepared letters asking the English king, whom Denmark has recently defeated in war, to kill
Hamlet as part of the duties owed by right of conquest.The letters are orders to kill Hamlet to
the king of England.

Scene 4
Next we see Fortinbras’ Norwegian army. They are at the borders of Denmark. Fortinbras
sends one of his captains to the court of Claudius to ask permission to cross Denmark
in the course of their march to Poland. The captain travels on and Fortinbras and the rest
of the army exit. The captain meets with Hamlet, who is being conveyed by Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to the ship to England. Hamlet asks the captain about his army and his purpose
in going to Poland. The captain says that in Poland there is “a little patch of ground” which
Norway claims as her own. He describes this land as perfectly worthless and small. Hamlet
suggests that the Poles will not likely defend such a piece of land, but the captain sets him
straight, saying that Poland is already garrisoned and ready for their dispute. Hamlet wraps
up his conversation with the captain. He hangs back from the others marching to the ship
and delivers a long soliloquy on the irony of this occasion – these men are off to risk their
lives for a worthless piece of land, while he, who has every reason to risk his life in the
cause of revenge, delays and fails to act. Hamlet realizes he is a coward and jealous of
Fortinbras’s honor. Hamlet resolves to recast his mind to bloody thoughts. Ironically, however,
just after making this resolution he continues on toward England, leaving Denmark behind him.

Scene 5
Back in the court of Denmark, we see Gertrude speaking with a gentleman who explains that
Ophelia has gone mad. She is rambling nonsensically about her father and insisting on seeing
Gertrude. The queen reluctantly admits Ophelia, who proceeds to sing a number of simple
and haunting songs, some of them quite bawdy. The king enters and witnesses her madness.
Ophelia then speaks openly of her father’s untimely demise and hasty, unofficial burial. She
threatens, “My brother shall know of it,” and exits. Claudius reflects on the difficulty of their
situation, admitting that their decision to cover up Hamlet’s deed and bury Polonius so covertly
has gone against them. He says that Laertes has come from France, egged on by people who
see the court as responsible for Polonius’ death.
On cue, a messenger arrives with word that Laertes has come to court with a mob of followers
who wish to depose Claudius and make Laertes king. Laertes bursts in and tells his followers
to wait outside. In a half-crazed state he insists that Claudius give him Polonius. He goes on
to say that he would be a bastard if he didn’t stand up for his father. Claudius attempts
to calm Laertes and tells Gertrude to keep out of their talk and let Laertes question him to his
heart’s content. Claudius tells Laertes that Polonius is dead. He also insinuates that he
and Laertes are on the same side – that he has been injured by Polonius’ death too.
Just as Claudius is about to explain what he means, Ophelia enters again, bearing a bundle of
flowers. The sight of his insane sister deeply grieves Laertes. Ophelia handles all those present
gifts of flowers, each symbolizing a reproach to the receiver. She has herbs for remembrance
of her father’s death: rosemary = remembrance, pansies = thoughts. Ophelia gives
Claudius fennel (means flattery and deceits) and gives Gertrude rue (means sorrow and
repentance). She sings another song about her dead father and exits abruptly. Laertes want
Polonius to have a formal funeral. As she leaves Claudius tells Laertes to inquire into the
matter as deeply as he wishes, confident that he will find himself aligned with Claudius against
Hamlet. Laertes agrees.

Scene 6
A messenger approaches Horatio, saying that some sailors have news for him. Horatio
receives from these sailors a letter from Hamlet. He reads the letter aloud. It recounts an
amazing turn of events: on his way to England, pirates attacked Hamlet’s ship. During the fray,
Hamlet boarded the pirate vessel. The two ships parted with Hamlet still aboard. The pirates
treated Hamlet “like thieves of mercy,” promising to return Hamlet to Denmark in return
for some favors. Hamlet also alludes to a startling development having to do with Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern but says that he must delay telling of this until they meet. He tells Horatio
to follow the sailors to where he is hiding. Horatio says that he will help to deliver the rest of their
letters, one of which is addressed to the king, and then go with them to see Hamlet.

Scene 7
Claudius and Laertes are in conference. The king seems to have explained the strange
occasion of Polonius’ death to Laertes’ satisfaction. Claudius says whoever killed Polonius
wanted to kill me. Laertes asks why he doesn’t punish him. He says that he did not
try Hamlet for two reasons, first, because his mother loves him so much, and second,
because the people of Denmark are supporters of Hamlet. A messenger arrives and
delivers a letter to Claudius, who is greatly surprised to learn that the letter comes from Hamlet.
The letter announces Hamlet’s imminent return to Denmark.
With this in mind, Claudius and Laertes plot to find a means of killing Hamlet without upsetting
Gertrude or the people. They propose to arrange a duel between Hamlet and Laertes, both
of whom are accomplished swordsmen, though Laertes is the more reputed. Claudius
suggests that Laertes be given a sharp sword while Hamlet’s remains blunt. Laertes does
him one better, saying that he will dip his sword in poison so that the least scratch will
kill Hamlet. Claudius says that on top of this he will prepare a poisoned cup and give it to
Hamlet during the fight.
Gertrude enters with yet more tragic news. She says that Ophelia has drowned. She was
watching Ophelia play in the branches of a willow by the water when she fell in. Gertrude says
that Ophelia seemed ignorant of danger and went to her death slowly, singing songs. This news
reignites Laertes’ rage and Claudius goes to console him.

ACT 5

Scene 1
The final Act begins with a conversation between two gravediggers as they dig Ophelia’s grave.
They repeat a rumor that Ophelia committed suicide and wonder whether she ought to
be buried in hallowed ground. Gravediggers (poor people aren’t necessarily dumb) are
having a legal debate about this. We learn that the king has overridden the objections of
the clergy and provided for her burial. After some witty and macabre banter on the nature of
gravedigging, Hamlet and Horatio enter. The main gravedigger sends his partner off for a cup
of liquor and then commences to dig, singing songs all the while. Hamlet appears fascinated
by the gravedigger’s indifference to the gravity of his profession. As the gravediggers throws
various skulls out of the grave, Hamlet wonders whom they might have belonged to in life –
whether a courtier or a lawyer. Hamlet is mad because gravediggers aren’t somber.

Hamlet approaches the gravedigger and exchanges witticisms about this morbid work.
Gravedigger says he had been digging since Hamlet was born, the digger doesn’t know
he is talking to Hamlet. Hamlet asks the digger why Hamlet was sent to England. He
replies by saying he is crazy and crazy people are all in England. The gravedigger informs
Hamlet about the length of time it takes bodies to decay in the ground. He then produces a skull
from the grave that he says has been lying there for twenty-three years. The gravedigger says
that this is the skull of Yorick, the old king’s jester. Hamlet is amazed – he knew Yorick and
loved him as a child. He takes up the skull and speaks about Yorick, a topic that leads
him to consider the nature of mortality more generally. Hamlet comes to the conclusion
that death is all the same unless you have a personal connection with a person. Hamlet
realizes he wants to be remembered more.
A procession interrupts Hamlet’s reveries – Claudius, Gertrude, and Laertes march toward the
grave along with a priest and an entourage bearing a body. Hamlet notices that the burial is
less elaborate than usual, signifying that the deceased was a suicide and an aristocrat.
He and Horatio stand aside while Laertes argues with the priest about the paltriness of the
burial rites. In the course of his arguing with the priest, Laertes reveals to Hamlet that the dead
body is that of Ophelia. Gertrude steps forward to say farewell to Ophelia. Laertes follows. In
his intense grief, Laertes leaps into his sister’s grave to hold her body again and orders
the gravediggers to bury him alive. Provoked by this show of grief, Hamlet then reveals
himself. After grappling with Laertes, Hamlet declares that he loved Ophelia more than forty
thousand brothers could. The king and queen dismiss his avowal as madness. Hamlet then
exits and Horatio follows him. After they have left, Claudius reminds Laertes of their plan to take
care of Hamlet. Claudius also says instead of a funeral stone they will have something
that grows on the grave (like flowers - can’t do funeral stones for suicides).

Scene 2
Hamlet explains to Horatio what happened on his journey to England. He says that he strongly
suspected Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of foul play, and so decided to apprehend their letter
to England. In the letter he found an order for his death. Hamlet then devised a substitute
letter asking for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He happened to have a
signet ring in the shape of the seal of Denmark, and so sealed the letter. Hamlet then
replaced the letter while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were asleep. At this point, pirates
attacked the vessel, as related previously. It says to kill R & G instead.
A courtier, Osric, interrupts Hamlet and Horatio. In very ornate and silly language, Osric
declares to Hamlet that Claudius has proposed a contest of swordsmanship between Laertes
and he. Hamlet and Horatio mock Osric’s pompous and artificial mannerisms. Osric is a suck
up to the king. Eventually Hamlet agrees to enter the contest. When Horatio worries that
Laertes is better at swordplay than he, Hamlet declares that he has been in continual practice
for some time.
A table is prepared and the king, queen and other figures of state gather to watch the
swordfight. Hamlet begs Laertes’ pardon both for his outburst at Ophelia’s grave and for
his rash killing of Polonius. Laertes appears to accept this apology but declares that his honor
will not be satisfied until they have had their contest. Hamlet and Laertes choose their swords.
Laertes nonchalantly chooses the unblunted sword with the envenomed blade. As they prepare
to fight, Claudius proposes a drink to Hamlet.
The fight begins with Osric as referee. Hamlet wins the first point and the king offers him a drink
to refresh himself, dropping a poisoned pearl in the wine just before he hands it over. Hamlet
declines to take the drink for the time being. They play another round and Hamlet again wins a
point. After this second pass, Gertrude toasts to Hamlet’s health. She takes up the poisoned
chalice and has a drink despite Claudius’ protestations. Hamlet and Laertes have a third
pass which ends in a draw.
After this pass, while Hamlet is unguarded, Laertes wounds Hamlet with the poisoned
rapier. They scuffle and Hamlet ends up with Laertes’ poisoned sword. He wounds
Laertes with it. Just then, the queen collapses. She declares that she has been poisoned
by the drink and then dies. Hamlet asks for the treachery to be found out and Laertes
confesses the plan hatched by the king and he. He says that they are both inevitably going to
die, having been wounded by the poisoned blade. Hamlet takes the envenomed sword and
wounds Claudius, then forces the king to drink from his poisoned cup. Claudius dies.
Laertes asks Hamlet’s forgiveness and then also dies. Hamlet, knowing that he is about
to die also, asks Horatio to explain this bloody spectacle to the confused onlookers.
Horatio, on the contrary, wishes to die with his friend, but Hamlet convinces him to live
a while and clear his name. Hamlet declares that Fortinbras should become King of
Denmark. He then dies – “the rest is silence.”
A flourish is heard and Osric brings news that Fortinbras has arrived from his victory in Poland
with ambassadors from England. Fortinbras enters the court only to find four noble bodies
sprawled out on the floor. The ambassadors from England enter with news that Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern have been killed. Horatio explains that Claudius would not have welcomed
this news even if he had been living to receive it. He orders that the royal bodies be taken up.
Horatio further promises to explain the story behind the deaths, a story full of “carnal, bloody,
and unnatural acts; / Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters; / Of deaths put on by cunning
and forced cause.” In short, he promises to tell the story of Hamlet. Fortinbras agrees to hear
it. He adds that, given the death of the Danish royalty, he will now pursue his own claims to
the throne. Finally, Fortinbras declares that Hamlet shall receive a soldier’s burial. Some
soldiers take up his body and bear it from the stage.