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Saturday, June 25, 2016
On a dark winter
night, a ghost walks the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered
first by a pair of watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembles
the recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius has inherited the
throne and married the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. When Horatio and the
watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, to see the
ghost, it speaks to him, declaring ominously that it is indeed his father’s
spirit, and that he was murdered by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet
to seek revenge on the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the
ghost disappears with the dawn.
Prince Hamlet devotes
himself to avenging his father’s death, but, because he is contemplative and
thoughtful by nature, he delays, entering into a deep melancholy and even
apparent madness. Claudius and Gertrude worry about the prince’s erratic
behavior and attempt to discover its cause. They employ a pair of Hamlet’s
friends, Rosencrantz 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 and declares that he wishes to ban marriages.
A group of traveling
actors comes to Elsinore, and Hamlet seizes upon an idea to test his uncle’s
guilt. He will have the players perform a scene closely resembling the sequence
by which Hamlet imagines his uncle to have murdered his father, so that if
Claudius is guilty, he will surely react. When the moment of the murder arrives
in the theater, Claudius leaps up and leaves the room. Hamlet and Horatio agree
that this proves his guilt. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him praying.
Since he believes that killing Claudius while in prayer would send Claudius’s
soul to heaven, Hamlet considers that it would be an inadequate revenge and
decides to wait. Claudius, now frightened of Hamlet’s madness and fearing for
his own safety, orders that Hamlet be sent to England at once.
Hamlet goes to
confront his mother, in whose bedchamber Polonius has hidden behind a tapestry.
Hearing a noise from behind the tapestry, Hamlet believes the king is hiding
there. He draws his sword and stabs through the fabric, killing Polonius. For
this crime, he is immediately dispatched to England with Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern. However, Claudius’s plan for Hamlet includes more than
banishment, as he has given Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sealed orders for the
King of England demanding that Hamlet be put to death.
In the aftermath of
her father’s death, Ophelia goes mad with grief and drowns in the river.
Polonius’s son, Laertes, who has been staying in France, returns to Denmark in
a rage. Claudius convinces him that Hamlet is to blame for his father’s and
sister’s deaths. When Horatio and the king receive letters from Hamlet
indicating that the prince has returned to Denmark after pirates attacked his
ship en route to England, Claudius concocts a plan to use Laertes’ desire for
revenge to secure Hamlet’s death. Laertes will fence with Hamlet in innocent
sport, but 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. Hamlet returns to the vicinity of Elsinore just as Ophelia’s funeral
is taking place. Stricken with grief, he attacks Laertes and declares that he
had in fact always loved Ophelia. Back at the castle, he tells Horatio that he
believes one must be prepared to die, since death can come at any moment. A
foolish courtier named Osric arrives on Claudius’s orders to arrange the
fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes.
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. First, Laertes is cut by his own sword’s blade, and,
after revealing to Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for the queen’s death,
he dies from the blade’s poison. 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.
At this moment, a
Norwegian prince named Fortinbras, who has led an army to Denmark and attacked
Poland earlier in the play, enters with ambassadors from England, who report
that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Fortinbras is stunned by the
gruesome sight of the entire royal family lying sprawled on the floor dead. He
moves to take power of the kingdom. Horatio, fulfilling Hamlet’s last request,
tells him Hamlet’s tragic story. Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be carried away
in a manner befitting a fallen soldier.