Hamlet Summary - Plot, Theme, Literary Devices & Characters

Hamlet Summary

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Hamlet Summary

Are you studying Hamlet in English lessons and wish to gain prior knowledge? Our Hamlet summary will be helpful for you. Learn the significant events of Shakespeare's Hamlet summary.

The Tragedy of Hamlet is an extended written by William between 1599 and 1601. Set in Denmark, act 1 scene revolves around Prince Hamlet's revenge on Claudius.

This novel has three versions: the first was published in 1603, the second in 1604, and the third in 1623. Each version may include lines and passages that are different from the others.

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Shakespeare wrote this book during political uncertainty and fear, which moved the events. Queen Elizabeth First's royal succession was uncertain since she had no child

The author is an English playwright, poet, and actor. He is a great writer in the English language.

 Short Summary of Hamlet

The story starts with Hamlet mourning his father's murder, the recently deceased ruler in the castle. He also laments about Gertrude, who married Claudius, his uncle, a month after King Hamlet's death. The late King Hamlet then appears to the prince as a ghost, telling him that Claudius murdered him and that he wants him to avenge his death.

Hamlet doubts his dad's demise was natural and plans to do something. Before taking any radical steps or decisive action, he pretends to be mentally ill as he investigates the claims made against Claudius. His situation worsens, and he accidentally kills another man, Polonius, instead of Claudius. Polonius is the father to his girlfriend Ophelia, and when she gets the news, she kills herself by drowning.

The events culminate in a sword fight between Ophelia's brother and Hamlet. Laertes dips his sword in poison, resulting in Hamlet's death. Gertrude and Claudius also die at the end of the story.

This is our Hamlet play summary in simple language; let's break down the story into sections. If you need someone to write a Hamlet summary essay for you, contact our team. We also have other play summaries that you may consider for your coursework. Examples are:

Summary: Tragedy of Hamlet Acts 1-5

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Hamlet Summary by Acts

Hamlet Act 1 

As the Act 1 scene starts, Horatio and two palace guards are having a meeting. The guards alert Horatio about the dreaded sight of the ghost apparition resembling the late ruler. The guards believe the ghost is a bad omen for the empire. Horatio compares the ghost's appearance to events when the mightiest Julius fell in the palmy state of Rome. To his, the ghost bodes some strange eruption to their nation.

Horatio doubts the news. The group later witnesses the ghost's apparition, and Horatio admits it's real. Horatio tries to talk to the ghost, but it disappears when the cock crows. Horatio decides to disclose the occurrence to Hamlet.

Gertrude gets married to Claudius at a beautiful wedding, and he takes the throne. Hamlet isn't happy about the situation. Horatio informs the prince about the ghost apparition.

Polonius is conversing with his kids, Laertes and Ophelia. They advise Ophelia to break the romantic relationship with the prince.

Hamlet sees the ghost, and it reveals to him that Claudius murdered him, so he should avenge his murder. Though Prince Hamlet is disbelieving, Horatio believes in the ghost's appearance.

As Act 1 Scene ends, Hamlet feigns madness and informs his friends Horatio and Marcellus about the plan. He isn't sure whether to trust his own senses or the ghost but has to investigate before settling any unfinished business.

Hamlet Act 2 

Hamlet executes his plan by acting strangely. Ophelia breaks up with the prince when she hears of his extreme behavior. Polonius tells Claudius about Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia, and they decide to spy on him.

Gertrude is also concerned about his child and requests his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to visit him and uncover the cause of his distress. Hamlet fails to answer their questions.

A traveling theatre arrives at the castle. Hamlet requests them to perform about a man who kills his brother and marries his wife to provoke Claudius' guilt.

Act 3 Hamlet

Ophelia meets with Hamlet to return the gifts she had received from him. Hamlet reacts weirdly by telling Ophelia to join a nunnery. His reaction confuses Claudius and Polonius, who has been spying on him. They realize Ophelia isn't the cause of his madness. They decide that the prince should be sent away to England.

The player performs the play as advised, but Claudius storms in and stops them. Hamlet gets convinced that Claudius is the murderer and decides to eliminate him.

Hamlet goes to visit the queen, and they get into an argument. Hamlet laments that her mother's remarriage was hasty. He hears someone and thinks it is Claudius. Hamlet stabs him, only to realize it is Polonius. The ghost appears and warns him not to upset the queen, and the ghost exits. Marcellus arrives at the incident to enquire what has happened, but Hamlet won't answer.

Act 4 Hamlet Summary

Claudius sends Hamlet away with his two friends to England. While en route, the prince discovers Claudius's plot for the English King to kill him. In response, he devises a plan to save his life.

Ophelia goes crazy with his father's grief and decides to kill herself. His brother blames Hamlet for his sister's and father's death and decides to revenge. He decides to team up with Claudius and plan how to kill Hamlet.

Hamlet Act 5 

When Hamlet arrives, he finds Ophelia's funeral procession. He fights Ophelia's brother. A duel is arranged with a plan to kill Hamlet. Laertes's sword is dipped in poison, and some poison is put in Hamlet's wine. 

Hamlet refuses to drink wine to the duel. Unfortunately, Gertrude drinks poisoned wine and dies instantly. The fight starts between the two, and Hamlet is killed.

This is the Hamlet Acts summary. If you want more details on each section, don't hesitate to request assistance. We also have a guide that can teach you how to write a summary of a book, so be sure to grasp these skills.

You may also be interested in Hamlet's summary, which is explained by scenes. Below is a brief overview:

Act I

Scene 1: The late King's ghost, Hamlet, is spotted by the guards in Eastmore Castle.

Scene 2: Prince Hamlet is grieving his father's death. He is stressed about her mum's hasty remarriage decision. His friends Marcellus, Horatio, and Bernardo inform him of the ghost's appearance.

Scene 3: Laertes and his father, Polonius, warms Ophelia against falling in love with Prince Hamlet.

Scene 4:  Hamlet witnesses the ghost, and it confirms to him that Claudius committed the murder. The ghost requests the prince to take revenge for his king's death.

Scene 5: Hamlet requests his friends to remain silent on the ghost issue and tarts the mission for revenge.

Act II

Scene 1:  Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on his son in Paris. Ophelia tells the father that Hamlet is behaving strangely.

Scene 2:  Claudius and Gertrude send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet about his strange behavior. The actor's troupe arrives, and Hamlet plans to use it to test Claudius.

Act III

Scene 1: The actors stage the play mimicking the murder of the late King by Claudius. Claudius is irritated and leaves the room, confirming he is the murderer.

Scene 2: Hamlet berates himself for his inaction regarding his dad's murder. Claudius feels threatened and plans to send Hamlet to England.

Scene 3: Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius when praying, but he fails because he might go to heaven.

Scene 4: Hamlet goes to Gertrude and confronts her for the hasty remarriage decision, which shows disloyalty. In an angry mood, Hamlet stabs Polonius, thinking it was Claudius.

Act IV

Scene 1: Gertrude tells Claudius about Polonius's murder. They agree to send Hamlet to England, seeing him as a threat.

Scene 2: Hamlet hides Polonius's body and refuses to answer Guildenstern and Rosencrantz's questions.

Scene 3: Hamlet is sent away to England with a letter addressed to the King to execute him.

Scene 4: Hamlet encounters Norwegian prince Fortinbras, leading an army into Poland. He considers his lack of action.

Scene 5: Ophelia goes mad after her father's death.

Scene 6: Sailors deliver a letter to Horatio to inform him of his return to Denmark.

Scene 7: Claudius and Laertes plan to kill Hamlet using a poisoned sword and drink.

Act V

Scene 1: Hamlet and Horatio bump into Ophelia's funeral in the graveyard. Hamlet is shocked by her death and confronts Laertes.

Scene 2:  Claudius arranges for a fencing match. Hamlet dies after injuries from the poisoned sword. Gertrude drinks poison and dies, too. Laertes also dies in the process.

Characters of Hamlet

  1. Hamlet is the protagonist. He is the son of the late leader and nephew of the current King, Claudius. Prince Hamlet is miserable, bitter, and pessimistic. He hates his uncle and is disgusted about his mum's relationship with him. Sometimes, he is indecisive and hesitant; other times, he makes rash and impulsive decisions.
  2. Claudius is the King of Denmark, the brother of the recently deceased King, and Hamlet's uncle. He is the play's antagonist. His sexual appetites and greed for power drive him to kill his brother. Claudius occasionally shows signs of guilt for his actions and sincerely loves Gertrude.
  3. Polonius is the King's chief counselor. He is a verbose, conventional older man who promotes the theme of appearance and reality, as his pursuit of power makes it impossible for him to identify his true self.
  4. Ophelia is Polonius's daughter and Hamlet's girlfriend. She is honest and witty but is manipulated by the men around her.
  5. Horatio is a loyal and trusted friend of Hamlet. He is eager to help Hamlet and keeps the secret of seeing the ghost and his plan of acting crazy. Horatio is a very concerned friend. Horatio begs Hamlet not to engage in the duel, which leads to four deaths: Claudius, Laertes, Gertrude, and Hamlet.
  6. Laertes – Polonius’s son.  He is a student in France, worldly, hotheaded, and obsessed with his family's reputation. Unlike Hamlet, who is passive, he is active, though their character of vengeance is the same.
  7. Gertrude – Denmark’s queen and Hamlet's mother. She loves her son dearly. She seeks affection and status more than facts.
  8. Rosencrantz – Hamlet's friend and an old classmate.
  9. Voltimand and Cornelius – Danish ambassador in Norway
  10. Osric – a member of the court
  11. Marcellus – a Danish soldier
  12. Barnado – a Danish soldier
  13. Francisco – a  Danish soldier
  14. Reynaldo – Polonius's servant
  15. Fortinbras – Prince of Norway. He is motivated by a desire to grow his realm and seek retribution for the murder of his father by King Hamlet.

We have given you a brief analysis of Hamlet's characters, as you should do in your literature. If you need more details and tips on this task, please ask our literature homework help.

Hamlet Setting

The play Hamlet is set in the late 15th Century around Elsinore's royal palace in Denmark. In the palace, the prince is restless and in a dilemma about his father's death. The second act takes place inside the walls of Elsinore, in court. So, Act 1 scene and 2nd take place at Elsinore Castle.

Again, the author writes the book when the world shifts to the Modern era. It is a time when social codes are starting to fade, and new ideas, like the humanist, are being accepted. 

The Plot of Hamlet

The late King Hamlet and his wife, Queen Gertrude, were the parents of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Claudius, his uncle, is King and has wed Gertrude. Norway and the kingdom of Denmark are on the verge of war, and an invasion (headed by the Prince of Norway, Fortinbras) seems likely.

Three sentries inform Hamlet that his dead father's ghost has been sighted. Gertrude and Claudius's hurried marriage raises suspicion. They send two of Hamlet's friends to speak to him to find out what is causing his melancholy because they are also worried about it.

 He decides to track his father's death. When he does, the spirit tells him Claudius killed him and commands Hamlet to exact revenge.

Although he is unsure whether to believe the ghost, Prince Hamlet concurs. To find out the truth, he starts to act insane. Based on this pretended insanity, his encounters with other characters have several misunderstandings and fatalities.

Ultimately, the young Fortinbras travels from Norway to claim the throne after Hamlet and the royal court—including his mother and uncle—have perished.

Themes in Hamlet

You will encounter Hamlet's themes: revenge, corruption, and death. Keep reading to grasp the details.

1. Revenge

The two young men in the play are on a mission of revenge for their father's death. These men are Hamlet, the Prince, and Fortinbras, the King of Denmark. Laertes, Polonius's son, wants revenge for his sisters and father's death, which he blames on Helmet.

The author presents to us how these characters practice revenge. Helmet is cautious and very provocative, while Laertes is hotheaded and acts immediately without a second thought. 

2. Greedy for Power

Claudius kills King Hamlet so that he can inherit his kingdom. He eyed the power for a long time and couldn't see his dream of getting it coming to pass since his brother had an heir. So, his only solution was to eliminate the kind and inherit even his wife.

3. Plight of Women

Ophelia and the Queen are the main female characters in the play. Their experience illustrates a life of oppression and unfairness that women face in society. These two ladies don't have a say in their lives or the situations around them.

4. Death and Corruption

Most characters have been killed due to greediness for power, revenge, and corruption. Apart from the physical deaths, there is the death of moral values. This society is rotten, and there is a lack of humanity. One can easily kill another to fulfill their selfish intentions.

 Again, the perpetrators' friends can't offer opinions on their actions or advice to change. The court system is also filled with corruption; people plot and scheme against each other.

Literary Devices of Hamlet

hamlet literary devices

Hamlet employs various literary techniques, including allegory, similes and metaphors, alliteration, and paradoxes.

  1. Alliteration – where the same sounds and words enhance sentences' rhythm and add a phonetic quality.
  2. Allegory – this story shows the allegory that the universal man faces on Earth. These problems are good and evil in every generation. Hamlet faces both issues and reflects on whether he is doing good or bad.
  3. Conflict – there is a conflict when Hamlet kills Polonius, and the second, Hamlet fights a duel with Laertes. The other mental conflict is the thoughts in Hamlet's mind and those of his opponent, King Claudius.
  4. Similes and Metaphors—the author has used this language to make this play enjoyable. For instance, when Hamlet reflects, "No traveler returns, puzzles will be in the same figure as the dead king."
  5. Paradoxes – where the author uses contradicting ideas in the same statement. "meat baked for the funeral was served for the marriage ceremony."

Symbolism in Hamlet's Tragedy

There are several examples of symbolism in Hamlet's play summary. Symbolism illuminates the struggles of various characters and the play's themes.

  • Ophelia's flowers - She takes different flowers and distributes them to everyone, each with a specific meaning. Pansies mean resemblance, and columbines mean a pair of affection.
  • Yorick's skull symbolizes death, which Hamlet meets at night in the graveyard. This skull represents the mortality of all matter, no matter its status. Hamlet grieves Yorick because he was a lively friend who made him happy, but now he is just a dead pile of bones.
  • Poison - has been used in the play several times and represents betrayal and deceit. For instance, Claudius uses poison to kill Hamlet's father. The current King, Claudius, betrayed his brother to take over the powers. 

Again, poison is used as deceit in the fencing match between Hamlet and Claudius. A blade tainted with poison is meant to kill Hamlet.

Hamlet Genre

As we have discussed, Hamlet is a play in the tragedy genre, so people refer to it as The Tragedy of Hamlet. A tragedy is a story in which the protagonist or the hero goes from good fortune to bad. For instance, a narrative may start in a good mood but end in disorder, thus becoming a tragedy.

In our Hamlet Summary, the events around the main character turn from bad to worse. We find him mourning his dad and getting into a deeper mess after the ghost appears to him and when seeking revenge.

Historical Context of Hamlet

Hamlet was composed during the later years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. People were anxious about the long reign's succession since it signaled the end of a protracted period of unrest and the onset of a new era of peace.

What is Horatio's role in this play?

Horatio is a faithful and steadfast friend to Denmark's prince. They schooled together at Wittenberg University. He facilitates the following events in the play:

  • Horatio admits to seeing King Hamlet's ghosts, though he is initially skeptical. The ghost resembles the late lord and seems to wear the King's armor.
  • Horatio helps the prince make decisions, especially when overwhelmed by emotions. Horatio suggests to the prince the best actions to take when indecisive.
  • He was a keen observer and interpreter. Horatio describes the incidents to the audience and Hamlet, especially the ghost's appearance.
  • He offered unwavering loyalty to the prince of Denmark. As requested, Horatio decided to keep the prince's secrets, such as the simulated madness.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the central theme in Hamlet?

The solid theme in this Shakespeare novel is revenge. Most characters quest to seek revenge for the injustice they faced. For example, Hamlet seeks vengeance for his dad's murder.

2. Why does Shakespeare use sleep as a metaphor for demise in Hamlet?

Sleep is a temporary escape and final rest from ordinary life. Hamlet views dying as the only escape from his pain and suffering. Death will offer him rest from all the struggles he is going through.

3. Where was Hamlet when he was killed, and who killed him?

Hamlet's demise occurred in Denmark, in the Elsinore castle. He was killed by Laertes's sword, which was tipped with poison.

4. Why is Hamlet a tragedy?

It's a tragedy because:

  • Hamlet meets a tragic demise
  • Hamlet's indecisiveness leads to his downfall
  • The story ends in a massive carnage where significant characters die
  • The play is filled with loss, like the loss of the late King
  • Weighty themes create a tragic atmosphere like vengeance

5. What inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet?

Shakespeare witnessed many revenge plays during his time. Hamlet follows the broad strokes of that genre. Again, he borrowed from earlier plays, such as:

  • A story written by Thomas Kyd dealt more with revenge
  • The tale of Saxo Grammaticus had a vengeful Danish prince named Amleth.

6. What do Hamlet's soliloquies show?

  • Reveals his character of intelligence, wit, and introspection capacity
  • Explores central themes like inaction, revenge betrayal, mortality
  • Development of the plot through process and decision-making. In the "to be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet contemplates suicide but ultimately decides to seek revenge.

7. Where did Hamlet go to school?  

Hamlet attended Wittenberg University, as Shakespeare explains.

8. Apart from Hamlet, can I get other book summaries?

Yes, we have dozens of summaries, such as:

To Finalize

Hamlet's book presents the issues that occur in our society. We see greed for power, murder, revenge, and politics. The author presents the themes and the plot in an exciting way and structure. We hope this summary has informed you about this book's significant subjects. If you still have more questions, order our services from the platform.

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