Plot Summary

Denmark is in an unsettled state as this play begins. Its great king, King Hamlet, has recently died; his brother Claudius has married his wife, Gertrude, and now sits on the throne; his son, the Prince Hamlet of the play's title, is in a deeply sullen mood, still mourning his dead father and appalled at his mother and his uncle for entering into an incestuous marriage; and to top it all, the country is under threat of invasion from Norway.

The event setting the play in motion is Hamlet witnessing the appearance of the ghost of his father. From the ghost he learns that his father was murdered by his brother, Claudius, who now sits on his throne and is married to his wife. Hamlet is horrified, and he resolves to devote himself entirely to revenge.

But revenge doesn't come easily to him. He even doubts that he can believe the ghost. With the help of a travelling troupe of actors, however, he cleverly establishes Claudius' guilt quite apart from the word of the ghost. He is thrown into a state of high excitement, in the course of which he kills the scheming counsellor Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius.

Claudius realises that Hamlet poses a threat to his kingship and his life and resolves to have him killed. He sends him to England on a commission and gives secret orders to the English to execute him on his arrival. However, Hamlet discovers his uncle's treachery and manages to make his way back to Denmark without ever going to England.

On his return he discovers that Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius whom he once loved (or seemed to), has died in an act caused by the madness into which she fell when she discovered that her beloved had killed her father.

With Hamlet back in Denmark the denouement approaches. Claudius now has the assistance of Laertes, son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia, in his plot to have Hamlet killed. Laertes is intent on getting revenge on the prince, whom he holds to be responsible for his family's double...