Hamlet is a story of how the ghost of a murdered king comes to haunt the living with tragic consequences. A vengeful ghost and a brother’s murder, dominate the gloomy landscape of Hamlet’s Denmark.
The play opens with an encounter between young Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, and his father’s ghost. The ghost tells Hamlet that he was killed by his brother Claudius, who then quickly married his widowed queen, Gertrude. The ghost presses Hamlet to seek revenge on the man who stole his throne and his queen, and Hamlet vows to do so
Meanwhile, Claudius and Gertrude worry about the prince’s erratic behavior employ a pair of Hamlet’s friends, Roseandncrantz and Guildenstern, to watch him. When Polonius, the pompous Lord Chamberlain, suggests that Hamlet may be mad with love for his daughter, Ophelia, Claudius agrees to spy on Hamlet in conversation with the girl. But though Hamlet certainly seems mad, he does not seem to love Ophelia, he orders her to enter a nunnery.
Hamlet seizes upon an idea to test his uncle’s guilt – in a play in which a scene closely resembling the sequence by which Hamlet imagines his uncle to have murdered his father. When the moment of the murder arrives in the theater, Claudius leaps up and leaves the room. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him praying so decides to wait.
Hamlet goes to confront his mother, in whose bedchamber Polonius is hiding. He stabs through the fabric, killing Polonius, thinking he is the king. He is immediately banished to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with sealed orders for the King of England demanding that Hamlet be killed.
Ophelia goes mad with grief after her father’s death and drowns in the river. Polonius’s son, Laertes then returns from France in a rage. Claudius convinces him that Hamlet is to blame for his father’s and sister’s deaths. Meanhwile news comes thatHamlet has returned to Denmark after pirates attacked his ship to England, Claudius concocts a plan to Laertes’ desire for revenge to secure Hamlet’s death – a fencing match.
Claudius will poison Laertes’ blade so that if he draws blood, Hamlet will die. As a backup plan, the king decides to poison a goblet, which he will give Hamlet to drink should Hamlet score the first or second hits of the match.
The sword-fighting begins. Hamlet scores the first hit, but declines to drink from the king’s proffered goblet. Instead, Gertrude takes a drink from it and is swiftly killed by the poison. Laertes succeeds in wounding Hamlet, though Hamlet does not die of the poison immediately. Hamlet then stabs Claudius through with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink down the rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies, and Hamlet dies immediately after achieving his revenge.
Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play, tragicomic, complex and one of the best of his era. It is a psychologically gripping and morally ambivalent play that will haunt you long after its final scene ends. Like his other great play, Romeo and Juliet, the hero dies.