Hamlet: Plot Synopsis


                Act I, Scene I 
                Hamlet opens with the sentry, Francisco, keeping watch over the castle at Elsinore.
                He is relieved by Barnardo, who is joined shortly by Horatio and Marcellus. Barnardo
                and Marcellus reveal that they have witnessed an apparition:

                     Marcellus. Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
                     and will not let belief take hold of him,
                     Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us (I.I.23-25).


                The ghost of the late king of Denmark appears and promptly withdraws into the night.
                Horatio recognizes the armour covering the ghost and remarks that it is the very
                armour that the King wore "when he the ambitious Norway combated" (I.I.61).
                Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio suspect that the appearance of the ghostly King is an
                ominous message to all of Denmark, as they prepare for war with Norway. Horatio
                pleads with the apparition to reveal its intentions:

                     ...stay, illusion;
                     If thou hast any sound or use of voice,
                     Speak to me,
                     If there be any good thing to be done
                     That may to thee do ease, and grace to me,
                     Speak to me,
                     If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
                     (Which happily forknowing may avoid)
                     O, speak! (I.I.127-35).


                The ghost, however, refuses to speak, and disappears as the cock crows. Horatio
                decides to tell Prince Hamlet all that has transpired, for he knows that the ghost will
                only reveal his purpose to his son. 

                Act I, Scene II 
                The scene opens with King Claudius of Denmark giving a magnificently ostentatious
                speech on the death of his brother and his marriage to Queen Gertrude, his
                sister-in-law and Hamlet's mother. Claudius dispatches two of his courtiers, Cornelius
                and Voltimand, to Norway as peacekeepers, and he grants Laertes, who has come to
                Denmark specifically for the coronation of Claudius, permission to return to his studies
                in France. With such matters attended to, Claudius focuses on his troublesome
                nephew. He commends Hamlet on the length and severity of his mourning, but insists
                that his "unmanly" grief must come to an end. He reassures Hamlet that his father lost
                a father, and his father before him, and so on. He implores Hamlet not to return to his
                studies in Wittenburg, but to remain in Denmark to fulfill his role of courtier, cousin,
                and son. Gertrude also pleads with Hamlet to stay, and calmly, he agrees: "I shall in all
                my best obey you, madam" (I.II.120). Satisfied with Hamlet's answer, the royal couple
                leave the room. Hamlet is left alone to expound his consuming rage and disgust at his
                mother for her incestuous marriage to Claudius, within a month of his father's death:

                     O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
                     Would have mourn'd longer, --married with my uncle,
                     My father's brother, but no more like my father
                     Than I to Hercules: within a month,
                     Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
                     Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
                     She married; O most wicked speed, to post
                     With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!


                Hamlet is interrupted gratefully by Horatio, along with Barnardo and Marcellus. They tell
                him that the ghost of his father has appeared on the castle wall, and Hamlet is at first
                shocked and disturbed: "Indeed, indeed, sirs, but this troubles me" (I.II.223). The three
                further describe the ghost to Hamlet -- his silvered beard, his pale and sorrowful
                countenance, his full body armour -- and, with excitement Hamlet agrees to meet them
                on the platform, "twixt eleven and twelve". 

                Act I, Scene III 
                Laertes, who is about to leave for France, warns his sister, Ophelia, that Hamlet's love
                for her will undoubtedly not last. He will be the next king, and as such his wants must
                yield to the demands and interests of the citizens of Denmark. When it is no longer
                convenient or appropriate for Hamlet to love her, Laertes cautions, he will cast her
                aside. Ophelia defends Hamlet and Laertes lovingly responds "O, fear me not" (I.III.57).
                Their father, Polonius, enters the room and agrees that Ophelia has been seeing far
                too much of Hamlet. He begins a rant on the state of young men's morality, insisting
                that passion causes them to make false vows. He forbids Ophelia from seeing Hamlet
                again, and she respectfully obeys. 

                Act I, Scene IV 
                Shortly before midnight, Hamlet meets Horatio on the battlements of the castle. They
                wait together in the darkness. From below they hear the sound of the men in the castle
                laughing and dancing riotously; the King draining his "draughts of Rhenish down".
                Hamlet explains to Horatio his dislike of such drunken behaviour. To Hamlet, drinking
                to excess has ruined the whole nation, which is known as a land full of drunken swines
                abroad. It takes away the country's accomplishments and renders men weak and
                corrupt. Then Horatio spots the Ghost approaching. Hamlet calls out to the Ghost and
                it beckons Hamlet to leave with it "as if it some impartment did desire" (I.IV.67) to
                Hamlet alone. Despite the pleading of Horatio and Marcellus, who are afraid that the
                apparition might be an evil entity in disguise, Hamlet agrees to follow the Ghost and the
                two figures disappear into the dark. 

                Act I, Scene V 
                Hamlet will go no further with the Ghost and demands it speak at once. The Ghost tells
                Hamlet that the hour is approaching when it must return to the tormenting flames of
                purgatory and it reveals the hideous and demented truth to an anguished Hamlet, on
                the verge of hysteria throughout the conversation. The Ghost is indeed the spirit of
                Hamlet's father, and he has not died, but has been murdered, poisoned by his own
                brother, Claudius. The ghost disappears, leaving Hamlet horrified and enraged. "O
                villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!" (I.V.106). Hamlet is not yet sure how he will
                carry out his revenge, but he vows to think about nothing else until Claudius has
                suffered for his betrayal. Amidst the echoing cries of the Ghost rising from beneath the
                earth, Hamlet insists Horatio and Marcellus swear that they will not reveal to anyone
                the events of that night. Upon Hamlet's sword the two take their oath, assuring him that
                they will remain silent. Hamlet then calls to his father's spirit "rest, rest" (I.V.179), and
                the scene and entire act closes with the lines that encapsulate Hamlet's whole
                tragedy:

                     So, gentlemen,
                     With all my love I do commend me to you,
                     And what so poor a man as Hamlet is
                     May do to express his love and friending to you,
                     God willing, shall not lack: Let us go together,
                     And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.
                     The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
                     That ever I was born to set it right! (I.V.181-188)



                Act II, Scene I 
                Act II opens in a room in Polonius' house, two months after Hamlet has seen his
                father's ghost. Polonius is making arrangements to send his servant, Reynaldo, to
                Paris to spy on Laertes. Polonius justifies his actions by arguing that he is only
                concerned for the well-being of his son, so far away from home. The frightened
                Ophelia rushes into the room to tell her father that Hamlet came to see her while she
                was sewing, and that it had been a terrifying experience:

                     Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbrac'd,
                     No hat upon his head, his stockings foul'd,
                     Ungarter'd and down-gyved to his ancle,
                     Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
                     And with a look so piteous in purport
                     As if he had been loosed out of hell
                     To speak of horrors... (II.I.77-83).


                Polonius at once assumes that the loss of Ophelia's affections has driven Hamlet
                insane. He expresses regret that he ever asked his daughter to behave so heartlessly
                toward the love-sick prince, and he decides the King must know that Hamlet has gone
                mad. 

                Act II, Scene II 
                King Claudius has noticed Hamlet's strange behaviour even before old Polonius can
                tell his tale. Claudius has summoned two of Hamlet's classmates at Wittenberg --
                Guildenstern and Rosencrantz -- hoping that they will be able to uncover what has
                sparked such a transformation in Hamlet. The two leave to seek out the Prince and
                Polonius is granted license to speak before the King and Queen. He begins a tiresome
                explanation of his theories about the nature of Hamlet's madness, and produces a love
                letter that Hamlet has sent to Ophelia. The Queen believes Polonius is probably right,
                and she knows that her hasty marriage and the death of Hamlet's father have also
                been responsible for his dramatic change in behaviour. In the midst of the discussion,
                the King receives good news from his messengers, Voltimand and Cornelius, back
                from Norway. They inform him that the King of Norway has decided to redirect his
                attack toward Poland, if the Norwegian army is granted safe passage through
                Denmark. Happy with the news, the King turns again to Polonius, and, after more
                tedious pontificating by the old man, the King agrees to eavesdrop on Hamlet when he
                next visits Ophelia. Polonius sees Hamlet approaching and he advises the King and
                Queen to leave him alone with the Prince. Hamlet does speak with Polonius, but his
                answers are nonsensical and rude; due not only to his desire to perpetuate his facade
                as a madman, but also to his utter lack of regard for Polonius, whom he sees as a
                "great baby". After a few moments, Polonius gives up, convinced that Hamlet's
                babbling is a result of his insanity. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter the room and
                Hamlet greets them with excitement. Hamlet makes the two admit that they are spies
                of the King and then gives them an answer to the burning question: the trouble is,
                simply put, melancholia. Rosencrantz tells Hamlet that the players will be there soon,
                and when they do arrive, Hamlet greets them enthusiastically and asks the First Player
                to recite a scene from a story about the Trojan War. Hamlet is so moved that he asks
                the First Player to stop speaking and also to perform a play in front of the court that
                evening. The play will be The Murder of Gonzago, and Hamlet will intermittently add
                dialogue that he himself will write. Polonius leads Rozencrantz and Guildenstern away,
                and Hamlet is left alone, safe to reveal his secret anguish:

                     ...Am I a coward,
                     Who calls me villain, breaks my pate across,
                     Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face,
                     Tweaks me by the nose, gives me the lie i' the throat,
                     As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
                     Ha!
                     'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
                     But I am pigeon-liver'd, and lack gall
                     To make oppression bitter...(II.ii.571-579).


                Hamlet still cannot decide what is true or untrue; right or wrong. Is the Ghost an evil
                spirit? Is it tempting the Prince to orchestrate his own demise? Hamlet must be sure of
                his uncle's guilt before seeking revenge. His plan is to reenact the murder of his father
                during the production of The Murder of Gonzago. If Claudius turns pale, Hamlet will
                have his proof:

                     The play's the thing
                     Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king (II.ii.606-07).



                Act III, Scene I 
                Rozencrantz and Guildenstern report to the King that, while Hamlet seems distracted
                and sad, they do not have a concrete reason for his strange behaviour. The King is
                now forced to rely upon Ophelia for information about his nephew. Polonius arranges
                for Ophelia to be in a place where she will surely meet Hamlet, and then he and the
                King hide in wait for the Prince to arrive. Hamlet enters talking to himself, in a state of
                desperation, contemplating suicide:

                     To be, or not to be, that is the question;
                     Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
                     The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
                     Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
                     And by opposing, end them. To die; to sleep,
                     No more...(III.i.56-61)


                Ophelia greets him, holding some trinkets he has given her in happier times. Hamlet,
                enraged at all women because of his mother's betrayal, can show Ophelia not a drop
                of affection. He lashes out at the poor girl, rudely suggesting that she quickly get to a
                nunnery. "Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"(III.i.121). Hamlet charges from
                the room and Ophelia is left to believe that Hamlet has gone utterly mad. But the hiding
                King knows better than to blame Hamlet's behaviour on unrequited love. Fearing for his
                own safety, Claudius decides to send Hamlet away to England, accompanied by
                Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Polonius, who continues to meddle in the whole affair,
                suggests that the Queen will surely be able to discover what troubles her son, and that
                she should meet in private with Hamlet after the play, with himself eavesdropping
                behind the chamber-curtains. The King agrees:

                     It shall be so:
                     Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go (III.i.189-90).




                Act III, Scene II 
                Hamlet coaches three of the Players and stresses the importance of the upcoming
                performance. They must not overact or improvise, for that will ruin the purpose of the
                play. Hamlet then confesses his plan to Horatio and asks him to watch the King's face
                during the poisoning scene. The King, Queen, Polonius, Ophelia, Rozencrantz and
                Guildenstern enter and take their seats. Hamlet, nervous and excited, lies down at
                Ophelia's feet. She tries to make conversation, but again, his answers are confusing
                and hostile. The Murder of Gonzago begins, and the King is visibly shaken. The King
                rises and Hamlet responds "What, frighted with false fire?" (III.ii.263), chiding the King
                for being frightened by a mere play. The King calls for lights and the performance
                comes to an abrupt end. Hamlet and Horatio are left alone to discuss what has
                happened. They agree that the King has indeed behaved as a guilty man would, and
                Hamlet is overjoyed. When Rosencrantz comes in to tell Hamlet that the Queen
                wishes to see him, Hamlet revels in the idea of finally confronting her. "I will speak
                daggars to her, but use none" (III.ii.389). 

                Act III, Scene III 
                Polonius tells the King that Hamlet plans to visit his mother. The King is now aware
                that Hamlet knows his secret, and that he is no longer safe in his own castle. He
                soliloquizes on the crimes that he has committed, and falls to his knees to pray for
                forgiveness. But, he knows the prayer will remain unanswered, for he still enjoys the
                fruits of his treachery:

                     But O, what form of prayer
                     Can serve my turn? "Forgive me my foul murder"?
                     That cannot be, since I am still possess'd
                     Of those effects for which I did the murder,
                     My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
                     May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?


                Hamlet, on his way to his mother's chamber, sees the King kneeling in prayer, and his
                first thought is how simple a task it would be to plunge a sword into his uncle's back.
                But that will not do, for the King would be murdered in a state of repentance and would
                surely go to heaven. This would be a benefit and not revenge. He wants to kill Claudius
                in the same state of sin as his father was in when Claudius poisoned him -- that is, not
                "full of bread" -- not penitent and fasting. Hamlet wants the King to die when he is
                drunk or enraged or in his incestuous bed with the Queen. So the Prince goes, and the
                King is left to finish his empty prayer. 

                Act III, Scene IV 
                Polonius is already in the Queen's chamber, unable to resist telling her exactly what
                she should say to the Prince. As he is speaking, they hear Hamlet down the hall,
                screaming "mother, mother, mother!" (III.iv.5). Polonius hides behind the wall hanging,
                intending to report every word that is said to the King. The Queen, terrified that Hamlet
                has come to murder her, cries out for help, and foolish Polonius echoes her cry from
                behind the curtain. Hamlet, thinking the King has followed him into the room, thrusts
                his sword into the drapery and pierces Polonius. When Hamlet realizes he has killed
                the wrong man, he stops to briefly address the situation, but shows no deep regret for
                taking Polonius' life. Hamlet holds Polonius himself directly accountable:

                     Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell;
                     I took thee for thy better; take thy fortune;
                     Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger. (III.iv.32-34)


                After this brief acknowledgement of Polonius' death, Hamlet attacks his mother with a
                barrage of insults and accuses her of being a hypocrite and a harlot. She is
                bewildered, and begs Hamlet to have mercy, but he is relentless. The Ghost, who has
                before expressed his concern for Gertrude, appears before Hamlet and reminds him
                to take pity on the Queen and to "step between her and her fighting soul". Hamlet, with
                now a calm and civil tone, urges Gertrude to confess her sins and refrain from further
                intimacy with the King. He bids her goodnight and looks again upon the body of
                Polonius. Hamlet is aware of the severity of his deed: "[I] will answer well/The death I
                gave him" (III.iv.76-77). Hamlet leaves, dragging Polonius' body behind him. 

                Act IV, Scene I 
                The Queen informs the King that Hamlet has killed Polonius in a fit of madness, and
                he orders Rozencrantz and Guildenstern to find the body. Claudius, happy he now has
                a reason to send Hamlet away, tells Gertrude that they will report Hamlet's crime to his
                council. 

                Act IV, Scene II 
                Scene II opens in another room in the castle, where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
                find Hamlet alone. They confront him, asking "[w]hat have you done my lord, with the
                dead body? (IV.ii.5). Hamlet, scornfully contemptuous of the two courtiers, calls
                Rosencrantz a "sponge", and is outraged that they dare demand an answer from him:
                "what replication should be made by the son of a king?" (IV.ii.12-13). They persist and
                order him to accompany them back to the King. Hamlet replies: "The body is with the
                king, but the king is not with the body" (IV.ii.27-28). Although this makes perfect sense
                -- Polonius is with the King, Hamlet's father, but Claudius remains alive -- the courtiers
                believe him to be incoherent. Hamlet agrees to see the King and runs off stage. He
                yells out to begin a game of hide-and-seek: "hide fox, and all after" (IV.iii.30-31). The
                fox is Polonius, for whom everyone is searching. 

                Act IV, Scene III 
                In a meeting room in the castle, Claudius sits with his lords, and reports to them that
                Hamlet has killed his lord chamberlain. He tells them that the Prince must be exiled to
                England, but the public, who love Hamlet, must not know the true reason why he is
                leaving. Rosencrantz brings the guarded Hamlet before the King:

                     King: Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?
                     Hamlet: At supper.
                     King: At supper, where?
                     Hamlet: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
                     convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your
                     worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures
                     else fat to us, and we fat ourselves for maggots:
                     your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable
                     service, two dishes, but to one table: that's the end. (IV.iii.17-25)


                Hamlet finally tells Claudius that the body is on the stairs that lead into the lobby. The
                King informs Hamlet that he must leave for England, for his own safety. Hamlet slyly
                replies that he knows the King's real purpose for sending him away, but he
                nonetheless gladly obliges and bids farewell to his mother. When Hamlet exits the
                room, the King demands that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern follow the Prince closely,
                and they rush off. Claudius is now alone to reveal his sinister plan: he will send letters
                to England, a country "raw and red/After the Danish sword" (IV.iii.60-61), threatening
                war unless they assassinate Hamlet when he lands on British soil. 

                Act IV, Scene IV 
                On his way to England, Hamlet meets a captain in the army led by Fortinbras, the
                Prince of Norway. Hamlet asks the Captain where they are going and who commands
                the troops, and the Captain tells him that Fortinbras is leading his men to capture a
                "little patch of ground/That hath in it no profit but the name" (IV.iv.18-19). Hamlet is
                impressed by the idea of so many soldiers preparing to die for an inconsequential
                piece of land, and he admires their resolve. He longs to be more like Fortinbras and his
                men -- they do not lament and waste time pondering when honour is at stake, they act.
                Hamlet vows that, if he must still think at all, he will think only bloody thoughts. 

                Act IV, Scene V 
                Scene V opens back at the castle in Elsinore, where Hamlet has been gone a few
                days. The Queen, Horatio, and a gentleman are discussing poor, tormented Ophelia,
                who has shattered under the strain of her father's death and Hamlet's cruelty and has
                gone completely insane. Ophelia enters the room and begins to sing a song about a
                dead lover and another about Saint Valentine's day. The King has arrived and speaks
                gently to Ophelia. She leaves, mumbling good night to the court, and the King asks
                Horatio to follow her. A messenger enters and reports to Claudius that he save
                himself, for Laertes has heard of Polonius' death and holds the King responsible. He
                has raised a rebellion, and his men are crying "Choose we; Laertes shall be king!"
                (IV.v.104). Suddenly, the doors burst open and Laertes rushes into the castle. He
                holds his Danish rebels at bay and speaks to Claudius alone: "O thou vile king/Give
                me my father!" (IV.i.112-13). But Claudius knows how to control the young and
                impetuous Laertes, and soon directs Laertes' rage towards Hamlet. From outside the
                meeting room Laertes hears footsteps. It his his sister, Ophelia, and he greets her with
                a outpouring of grief, vowing that her "madness shall be paid with weight". Ophelia
                replies with a nonsensical song and gives her brother some violets. Laertes,
                overcome with sorrow, cries "Do you see this, O God?". The King offers his
                condolences once more and then suggests to Laertes that he focus on sweet
                revenge. They move to another room to discuss a course of action, and the scene
                comes to a close. 

                Act IV, Scene VI 
                A sailor brings Horatio a letter from Hamlet. He writes of his capture by pirates on his
                way to England. These "thieves of mercy" have released the Prince, on the condition
                that he will repay them when he returns to Denmark. Hamlet finishes the letter by
                asking Horatio to come to him at once, and to ensure that the King receive letters
                intended only for him. Finally, Hamlet writes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have
                continued their course for England. Horatio grants the sailor permission to take the
                letters to the King, imploring him to return swiftly, so that they can meet with Hamlet at
                once. 

                Act IV, Scene VII 
                The King and Laertes meet to discuss Hamlet. The King tells Laertes that he cannot
                harm the Prince directly, out of respect and concern for his beautiful Queen, who loves
                Hamlet above all else. Moreover, Claudius cannot enrage the people of Denmark, who
                adore the Prince and would surely rise up in protest. So the King proposes that they
                arrange a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet, and that Hamlet, thinking it is
                for sport, will use a blunt sword, while Laertes will use his own military sword. To
                ensure Hamlet's death, Laertes will anoint the tip with a poison "So mortal, that but dip
                a knife in it/Where it draws blood, no cataplasm so rare/ ... can save the thing from
                death/That is but scratch'd withal". (IV.vii.142-45). The King then suggests that a goblet
                full of poisoned wine be set out for Hamlet to drink in case he becomes thirsty during
                the match. Suddenly, they hear noise outside the door. The Queen enters with the
                news that Ophelia has fallen off a willow tree branch and drowned. Laertes tries to
                fight his emotion, but storms out of the room. The King, worried that Laertes will act in
                haste and ruin the plan, rushes to follow him. 

                Act V, Scene I 
                Ophelia is to be buried in the churchyard and the two gravediggers preparing her grave
                find it unusual that someone who has committed suicide be buried on sacred ground.
                They agree that Ophelia is receiving a Christian burial because she is a gentlewoman,
                belonging to "great folk". They banter back and forth, trying to alleviate the boredom of
                digging. Hortaio and Hamlet come upon the scene just as the second gravedigger is
                leaving to fetch some liquor from a nearby tavern. Hamlet is disturbed that the first
                gravedigger, who has begun to sing a love song, can be so happy on such a solemn
                occasion. Horatio replies that habit has made the gravedigger indifferent to the gravity
                of his work. The gravedigger produces a skull that belonged to the King's jester and
                Hamlet takes the skull, sparking his thoughts on death and its power to ravage even
                the most wealthy and powerful of people. A funeral procession approaches, and
                Hamlet sees the King and Queen and Laertes and asks who has died. Laertes,
                hysterical with grief, leaps into the grave, crying "Hold off the earth a while/Till I have
                caught her once more in mine arms" (V.i.250-51). When Hamlet realizes who is being
                buried, grief overcomes him too, and he leaps into the grave with Laertes, and they
                begin to grapple. The King's attendants pull them out of the grave, and Hamlet
                exclaims: "I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers/Could not, with all their quantity of
                love/Make up my sum" (V.i.270-72). Hamlet is restrained and leaves the funeral,
                sorrowful and bewildered at Laertes' behaviour and hostility towards him: "What is the
                reason that you use me thus?/I lov'd you ever" (V.i.290). Hamlet did not intend to
                murder Polonius; it was an accident brought on by the old man himself. And Hamlet
                was en-route to England when Ophelia fell ill, so he really does not understand
                Laertes' rage. The King asks Horatio to go with Hamlet, and reminds Laertes of their
                plan for revenge. 

                Act V, Scene II 
                Back at the castle, Hamlet expresses regret for his outlandish behaviour at the grave
                site. He converses with Horatio, telling him that he intercepted the letter Claudius sent
                to England, and replaced his own name on the death warrant with the names of the
                courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet presumes that they met their end in
                England, but their deaths are not on his conscience, for they were destroyed by their
                own persistent meddling. Horatio is shocked by Hamlet's cynical apathy: "Why, what a
                king is this!" (V.ii.62). Hamlet reminds Horatio of the horrible events that have
                transpired, and asks him if it is not his right to feel anger and thirst for vengeance. The
                courtier Orsic enters and welcomes Hamlet back to Denmark. Orsic tells Hamlet that
                the King requests him to fight Laertes in a fencing match. The King has placed his
                bets on Hamlet, and has wagered a fine collection of goods: Barbary horses, French
                rapiers and poniards, and gun carriages. Hamlet accepts the challenge, believing that
                it is indeed only a friendly match. He does expresses a hint of apprehension "thou
                wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart" (V.ii.202), but he dismisses it, telling
                Horatio that he is prepared to die if fate commands it so. The court assembles to
                watch the match, and the Queen takes her place at the elaborately decorated head
                table. The King puts Laertes' hand into Hamlet's to start the duel. Hamlet begs Laertes'
                pardon, denying that he ever meant to hurt anyone. Laertes pretends to accept
                Hamlet's apology, saying "I do receive your offer'd love like love/And will not wrong it"
                (V.ii.241-2). They fight, and Hamlet easily wins the first round of combat. The King
                pours wine to toast Hamlet's success and tries to persuade Hamlet to stop and take a
                drink of the poisoned brew. The Prince does not want to interrupt his winning streak
                and refuses the wine, placing the goblet on the table beside the Queen. Gertrude is
                thirsty and, despite the King's plea, drinks from the cup. The fight intensifies and
                Laertes wounds Hamlet. But in the ensuing scuffle, they exchange rapiers, and Hamlet
                pierces Laertes with the poisoned sword. In a whirlwind of confusion, the Queen falls
                and dies after telling Hamlet that she has been poisoned. Laertes, knowing he will be
                dead in moments, exclaims "I am justly kill'd with mine own treachery" (V.ii.297). He
                confesses to Hamlet that he has poisoned his sword and that Hamlet will too be dead
                in less than a half hour. Laertes admits to plotting against Hamlet and casts blame
                upon the King. Hamlet stabs Claudius with Laertes' sword and forces him to drink the
                wine that has killed Gertrude: "Here thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane/Drink
                off this potion: is thy union here?/Follow my mother" (V.ii.315-7). Laertes, with his dying
                breath, asks Hamlet to exchange forgiveness with him, and absolves him of Polonius'
                murder. Horatio tries to drink the poisoned wine, but Hamlet pleads with him to stay
                alive and tell the world his story. Although he lay dying, Hamlet remembers his people
                will be left without a king and so he chooses Fortinbras, the valiant Prince of Norway,
                to rule Denmark. Hamlet is finished: "The rest is silence" (V.ii.348). Hortaio bids a final
                adieu to his noble friend:

                     Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet
                     prince,
                     And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!


                Fortinbras orders four captains to carry Hamlet away and give him a soldier's burial,
                and he salutes Hamlet's kingly virtues as the play comes to a close. 

By: Amanda Mabillard