How can we help?

You can also find more resources in our Help Center.

24 terms

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

complete summary of Shakespeare's Hamlet, including Act summaries, major character analysis, themes, motifs, symbols
STUDY
PLAY
in context
1st performed July 1602; mirrors real story of Danish prince; transforms revenge story into play whose problems resonate with fundamental concerns of Renaissance; demonstrates how difficult it is to know people and to understand motivations, feelings, mental states
Act I
The ghost of King Hamlet demands that his son Hamlet kill Claudius, the current king and Hamlet's uncle.
*watchmen & Horatio first to see ghost, they tell Hamlet
*Hamlet reluctantly agrees to stay in Denmark
*Polonius forbids Ophelia to see Hamlet & Laertes leaves for France
Act II
Hamlet pretends to be crazy, hesitates to kill Claudius, and increasingly feels alienated from everyone else.
*Ophelia tells Polonius that Hamlet has accosted her, acting crazy
*Hamlet feels betrayed by school friends and worries Gertrude and Claudius with crazy behavior
Act III
Reeling from Claudius's violent reaction to a play, Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius.
*Hamlet contemplates suicide and spurns Ophelia when he suspects that she has betrayed him
*Hamlet almost kills Claudius but because Claudius is praying hesitates
*Hamlet kills Polonius behind the curtain
Act IV
Claudius sends Hamlet to England, but Hamlet manages to return, resolved to kill Claudius.
*On way to England, Hamlet encounters Fortinbras of Norway, resolves to stop wallowing and start acting
*Ophelia goes mad and drowns, Laertes demands revenge and plots with Claudius
Act V
Denmark is purged of corruption as Claudius's treachery is exposed and everybody dies.
*Hamlet meets gravedigger, realizes all men turn to dust
*Gertrude drinks poison wine, Laertes stabs Hamlet, Hamlet stabs Laertes and Claudius
*Hamlet tells Horatio to live to tell story, Fortinbras to become king
Characters in Hamlet
Bernardo and Marcellus
Caludius
Fortinbras
Francisco
Queen Gertrude
The Ghost
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Horatio
Laertes
Ophelia
Osric
Polonius
Reynaldo
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Voltimand and Cornelius
Hamlet
more than meets eye, but not forthcoming about true nature; becomes obsessed with proving Claudius's guilt, plagued with questions about afterlife, suicide, what happens to bodies after death; discontent with state of Denmark, family, and world; contemplates own death and option of suicide
Claudius
Hamlet's antagonist; shrewd king, contrast with other male characters; most concerned with power; politician; craftiness undoes him in the end
Gertrude
actions and feelings are hard to read; craves affection and has strong instinct for self-preservation; best in social situations
Horatio
Hamlet's close friend. Loyal and helpful throughout the play. Only major character to survive past the last act.
Ophelia
Polonius's daughter, Laertes's sister, and Hamlet's sometime love. A sweet and innocent young girl, Ophelia obeys both Polonius and Laertes. Ophelia is smart and loving, but madness and death overtake her.
Polonuis
The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius's court, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. Polonius is a pompous, conniving old man.
Themes
the impossibility of certainty
the complexity of action
death
Motifs
incest and incestuous desire
ears and hearing- language is slippery
Symbols
Yorick's skull
rot
the impossibility of certainty
Hamlet questions what people around him take for granted- ghosts exist, ghost of Hamlet's father is what it appears to be, ghost has reliable information; wonders if our actions have intended consequences; refusal to act paralyzes Hamlet
the complexity of action
Hamlet questions if can act in controlled way; Claudius's power grab leads to his death
death
Hamlet ponders spiritual aftermath and physical remainders of death
incest and incestuous desire
Gertrude and Claudius were siblings-in-law, subtle hint found in Laertes' relationship with Ophelia; strongest overtones found between Hamlet and Gertrude
ears and hearing
language is slippery; communicate facts, but also distort truth, manipulate people, further corrupt quests for power
Yorick's skull
makes Hamlet think about inevitability of death and bodily disintegration; reveals fascination with physical consequences of death
rot
draw explicit connections between moral legitimacy of ruler and the health of a nation; upright Fortinbras's rise to power suggests Denmark will be strengthened
major conflict
Hamlet struggles with doubts and difficulties as he considers killing his uncle Claudius to avenge his father's death.