Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Hamlet, Prince of

by William Shakespeare
(1564 - 1616)

Type of Work:

Tragic drama


Elsinore, Denmark; c. 1200

Principal Characters

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and son of the
former king The Ghost, Hamlet's dead father

Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, and Queen of


Claudius, Hamlet's uncle and new stepfather,
and now, King of Denmark

Polonius, Claudius'chief counselor

Laertes, Polonius' son

Ophelia, Polonius' obedient daughter

Horatio, Hamlet's faithful friend

Story Overveiw

Prince Hamlet bitterly opposed the marriage
of his mother, Gertrude, to Claudius, her own brother-in-law, so soon after
her husband's death. Moreover, Hamlet had a strange suspicion that the
new king - his stepfather and former uncle - had somehow plotted his father's
mysterious demise, and he refused to cease mourning his natural father,
now two months dead.

As Hamlet languished in resentfulness,
he was approached by his close friend Horatio, who revealed that for three
nights now castle guards had seen the former king stalking the parapets
as a ghost. He persuaded the prince that his father must have some message
of importance to impart, and thus Hamlet should wait with him that night
for the ghost to appear again.

The bloody apparition was indeed the image
of Hamiet's father. In horror, the son listened with Horatio as the dead
king described how his brother Claudius had seduced Gertrude, and how the
two of them together had arranged for his murder, while claiming that a
serpent had injected the fatal poison.

Hamlet was appalled - though not entirely
surprised - at this revelation. But he was even more shaken when the ghost
made a desperate plea: he ordered Hamlet to avenge his death by killing

Claudius, but cautioned that Gertrude must be spared; heaven alone should
punish her for her sins.

Now, Hamlet considered himself an intellectual,
not a soldier or a man of action. This charge to exact revenge posed a
real dilemma in the prince's mind. He swore Horatio to secrecy concerning
the ghost and continued for the next few days to fret on what he must do.

Filled with suppressed anger toward both
his mother and Claudius, and torn between doing his duty in honor and carrying
out a most distasteful and bloody task, Hamlet began to act more and more
erratic. Ophelia, his lady friend and the daughter of the new king's most
trusted counselor, Polonius, reported Hamlet's eccentric behavior to her
father. Polonius insisted that Hamlet had become demented, and cautioned

Ophelia to keep her distance. He then reported Hamlet's bizarre turn to
the king and queen.

Perceiving Hamlet as a possible threat
to the throne, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius hired two dull-witted courtiers,

Rosencrantz and Guildeiistern, to spy on the prince, to learn whether he
in fact coveted their power or was merely mad. But Hamlet, within minutes,
recognized the charade and the motives behind it, and caustically mockcd
them. And shortly, it seemed to Hamlet that everyone - including Ophelia
was a spy and an informant for King Claudius and Queen Gertrude.

By now the prince was dashed by doubts
and worries. He began to wonder if his father's ghost had really appeared;
maybe it had been a vision from the devil instead. After all, the thought
of murdering Claudius, vile and hated though he was, still repelled Hamlet.

But soon he struck upon an idea: a company of traveling actors visited

Elsinore, and Hamlet persuaded them to perform a murder scene that was
actually a reenactment of the death of the old king. He was sure that if

Claudius and Gertrude had in fact killed his father, their guilt would
play on their faces and show in their actions.

The play proceeded. Sure enough, Claudius
became so unnerved both by the drama and by Hamlet's sly, taunting comments,
that he stormed from the performance, with Gertrude close behind.

Gertrude immediately sent for her insolent
son. When he visited her in her room to discuss the matter, Polonius was
hidden behind a curtain, listening. Soon the exchange between mother and
son grew more heated and violent. When Polonius cried out for the guards,

Hamlet, thinking he was Claudius, stabbed through the curtain and killed
him. Amid this confusion, the ghost of Hamlet's father once more appeared
(invisible to Gertrude) and again reminded his son of his original commission:
to kill Claudius.

With renewed determination, Hamlet gripped
his dagger and made for Claudius'bedchamber. But when he entered the room,
prepared at last to do the deed, he found Claudius praying. This undid
the prince's resolve; be could not slay this man while in the posture of
supplication to God - a prayerful soul, he reasoned, would be swept straight
to heaven, and Claudius deserved nothing higher than hell. So, the prince
once again