Hamlet is a play written in about sixteen hundred by
William Shakespeare, and is one of the most popular and influential stories ever.
Hamlet is set in Denmark, at a time when Norway is about to attack, and some dodgy stuff is
happening in the royal castle of Elsinore. Prince Hamlet is the son of King Hamlet and
Queen Gertrude. At the start of the play, King Hamlet has died, and the king’s brother
Claudius has married Gertrude and taken over as king. Prince Hamlet is very upset by all
this, moping around, saying he wants to die and that everything sucks. He’s especially
angry that Gertrude married Claudius so soon after the King’s death.
So Claudius and Gertrude are concerned by Hamlet’s behaviour. They try to cheer Hamlet
up, and when that doesn’t work they get a couple of his old friends, Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern, to spy on him, though Hamlet sees through the deception.
Then a ghost appears to Prince Hamlet, claiming to be his dead father. King Hamlet’s ghost
says that he was murdered by Claudius with poison, and demands that Prince Hamlet avenge
him by killing Claudius. Hamlet isn’t entirely sure that the ghost really is his dead father,
but he agrees to kill Claudius. He tells his friends Horatio and Marcellus that he will
act as though he’s mad, to prevent drawing suspicion.
Hamlet meets with Ophelia, who he has a romantic relationship with. Hamlet acts crazy and awful
to her, telling her he never loved her and to get to a nunnery. Ophelia’s father, Polonius,
says he thinks Hamlet is mad with love, though earlier he was saying that Hamlet doesn’t
love her at all. So Hamlet has a plan to work out for sure
whether Claudius killed King Hamlet. He gets a group of actors to perform a play in which
a king is murdered with poison. Claudius leaves the room in the middle of the play, which
Hamlet sees as proof that his uncle killed his father. Later, Hamlet comes across Claudius,
wrestling with his guilt in prayer. Hamlet almost kills Claudius there and then, but
he decides not to, saying that Claudius might go to heaven if he’s killed while praying.
So then Hamlet is talking with his mother Gertrude, when he hears a noise behind a tapestry
in the room. He thinks it’s Claudius, so he stabs the tapestry but out falls Polonius,
who was spying on the conversation. Having killed Polonius, Hamlet berates his mother
a bit more, telling her not to have sex with Claudius, until the ghost of King Hamlet pops
up again and tells his son to stop mucking around and kill Claudius already.
Claudius is not feeling terribly safe at this point, so he sends Hamlet with Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern to England, with a letter to the King of England saying to kill Hamlet.
Hamlet finds the letter and changes it so it says to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
instead. Meanwhile, Ophelia has gone mad from the death of her dad and her rejection by
Hamlet, and her brother Laertes, Polonius’ other child, has returned from France furious.
He and Claudius make a plan of their own – they’ll challenge Hamlet to a fencing match, but Laertes
will have a poisoned sword, and Claudius will offer Hamlet poisoned wine.
So Hamlet comes home to Denmark, talks with a gravedigger, contemplates death, and finds
out that Ophelia has drowned, apparently in a suicidal fit of madness. He has a fistfight
with Laertes over who loved Ophelia more. And then the fencing match begins. Laertes
cuts Hamlet with his poisoned sword, then they accidentally switch swords and Hamlet
cuts Laertes with the poisoned sword. Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine (seemingly unknowingly),
and Hamlet finally kills Claudius. So almost everyone dies, leaving only Horatio to tell the
tale to Fortinbras, a Norwegian prince who turns up at the end to take over the Danish
throne. So that’s Hamlet. There are lots of interesting
questions to be asked about why the characters do what they do. Like, what’s motivating
Hamlet? What exactly is he so upset about, and why does it take him so long to do anything?
Is Hamlet really pretending to be mad, or does he actually go a bit crazy? What about
his relationship with Ophelia? Did Hamlet ever love her? And what’s going on with
Gertrude – how much does she know? There’s lots of stuff going on in
Hamlet about justice and identity and action and uncertainty and power and gender, and
that’s part of why Hamlet is so popular four hundred years after it was written. It’s
also full of really cool lines, really poetic stuff, and funny stuff. You can easily read
it online if you wanna check it out. Anyway thanks for watching. Let me know if
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