Hamlet: summary by acts, characters and analysis of the work

“Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1603, though the exact date of publication is uncertain.

The plot of the play revolves around the revenge sought by Prince Hamlet for the death of his father, King Hamlet, who has been murdered by his brother Claudius.

Similar to other tragedies by the author, the protagonist cannot escape a catastrophic fate despite all efforts to avoid it. The play explores universal themes such as life and death, reason and its frailty, and madness.

Act 1
In the royal castle of Elsinore in Denmark, the guards witness the ghost of the late King Hamlet.

Later, Prince Hamlet, the son of the deceased king, learns about the incident from his friend Horatio. He decides to stay awake all night to witness the appearance of his father’s ghost.

Simultaneously, Laertes, Polonius’s son, talks to his sister Ophelia, who is deeply in love with Prince Hamlet, and asks her to forget him. Ophelia promises to heed his advice.

When night falls, Hamlet manages to see the ghost of his father, who confesses that Claudius, his brother, murdered him while he slept. The ghost compels his son to avenge his death.

After this event, Hamlet doubts whether the spirit he saw is truly his father’s and if what he was told is accurate.

Act 2
Laertes leaves for France. Meanwhile, Polonius, his father, asks one of his servants to spy on him.

On the other hand, Ophelia confesses to her father that Hamlet is mad. Later, Polonius decides to speak to the king and queen to alert them about the prince’s behavior, suggesting that his madness may be due to his love for Ophelia.

Later on, some friends of Prince Hamlet arrive at the palace, summoned by the king and queen to find out the reason for the prince’s madness. The guests also hire a group of actors to bring Hamlet out of his state.

Act 3
King Claudius and Polonius want to find out the reason for Prince Hamlet’s madness, whether it is related to his love for Ophelia or not. Later, they discover that this is not the reason for his behavior.

On the other hand, the actors perform their play in the palace. Hamlet guides and alters the course of events within it. In the play, the actors depict the events in the palace concerning the death of Hamlet’s father, where his brother kills him and then marries his wife.

Claudius is surprised and immediately leaves the place, indicating his guilt. Hamlet then contemplates whether or not to kill him.

The prince talks to his mother, who tries to understand her son’s strange behavior. During the conversation, Polonius eavesdrops hidden behind the curtain. In the dialogue, Hamlet reproaches his mother for hastily marrying his uncle. Following this, the prince hears a noise that leads him to kill Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius.

Finally, the ghost of the late king appears in the room, but only Hamlet can see it. After this event, Gertrude considers her son mad.

Act 4
In this act, Hamlet is sent into exile to England, a decision made by King Claudius, who sends him there to be killed.

On the other hand, Ophelia loses her sanity after the death of her father. Also, Laertes returns from France with the intention of avenging the crime.

Faced with what happened, Claudius tries to make Laertes believe that Hamlet is responsible for Polonius’s death. Later, Horatio brings news of the prince, who returns to Denmark after encountering problems during his journey by sea.

Then, Claudius and Laertes decide to plan Hamlet’s death through a duel in which Laertes will attend with the edge of his sword coated with poison.

Finally, Gertrude announces the tragic death of Ophelia in the river.

Act 5
In this act, Ophelia’s burial takes place. At the beginning, two gravediggers prepare the girl’s tomb. Then, Hamlet and Horatio appear. One of the workers finds the skull of Yorick, a well-known jester whom the prince was close to as a child.

Later, Ophelia’s funeral procession, led by Laertes, arrives, and Prince Hamlet learns of the young woman’s death.

Back at the palace, Hamlet confesses to his friend Horatio that he altered Claudius’s letter to spare his life but, in return, asked for the deaths of his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Afterward, the duel between Laertes and Hamlet takes place, where the former injures the latter with the poisoned sword. Despite this, the prince continues to fight and manages to wound Laertes.

On the other hand, Gertrude dies after drinking from the poisoned cup. Laertes, repentant, reveals that Claudius poured the poison into the cup. Filled with rage, Hamlet kills his uncle.

Before dying, Hamlet asks his friend Horatio to make Prince Fortinbras the future heir to the throne of Denmark.

Finally, the prince’s last wish is fulfilled, and Fortinbras orders a funeral in his honor.

Characters in Hamlet
He is the protagonist of this tragedy, the son of the late King Hamlet of Denmark and his wife Gertrude.

The young prince has a kind character and often reflects on everything that happens to him. Hamlet is intelligent and has a philosophical profile as he tries to navigate his life guided by thought and moral questioning.

However, at one point in the play, he shows an impulsive nature. This happens when he mercilessly kills Polonius, mistaking him for his uncle Claudius.

King Claudius
He is the uncle of Prince Hamlet, the brother of the late king. He marries Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, after she becomes a widow.

He is the antagonist of the play, the counterpart to the character of Hamlet.

Unlike his nephew, Claudius has an ambitious and criminal profile. He is capable of anything, even killing his own brother, to seize power. He is not guided by morals or justice and does not hesitate to commit crimes.

She is the queen of Denmark and the mother of Prince Hamlet. She was married to the late King Hamlet, but after his death, she marries Claudius, his former brother-in-law.

In the end, Gertrude meets a tragic death when she mistakenly drinks from a poisoned cup.

Father of Hamlet
The former king, he is the father of Prince Hamlet. In the play, he appears as a ghost during the early scenes.

He is the trigger of the story, responsible for the development of the action. His goal is to convey the truth about his murder to his son.

He is the chamberlain of the kingdom and advisor to the king, also the father of Ophelia and Laertes.

He has a dominant character over his children. At first, he does not like the idea of his son going to France to study, and when he accepts it, he sends his assistant Reynaldo to spy on him.

In the end, Ham

let mistakenly kills Polonius while eavesdropping on his conversation with his mother.

She is the daughter of Polonius and loved by Hamlet, with whom she decides to end her relationship advised by her father and brother. She has a sensitive and kind soul.

When Hamlet kills Polonius, Ophelia cannot overcome her loss and goes mad, leading to her own death.

He is the son of Polonius and the brother of Ophelia. Laertes wants to resume his studies and therefore leaves for France.

He has an impulsive character and shows it when his father is killed, immediately desiring to avenge his death.

At the end of the play, Laertes dies in a duel against Hamlet.

He is Hamlet’s best friend from their time studying together at the University of Wittenberg. Horatio represents reason and sanity within the play. He often acts as the prince’s confidant and wise advisor.

Horatio does not die but witnesses the death of his friend Hamlet.

He is the Prince and son of the late King of Norway, who was killed by the former King Hamlet.

Fortinbras seeks to avenge his father’s death and arrives in Denmark at the end of the play. Before dying, Hamlet requests that he be the next king of Denmark.

Analysis of the Play
The play consists of five acts, which are further divided into scenes. However, this structure was not originally established by the author but by editors. Hamlet’s structure includes:

Exposition: it covers the first act, which revolves around the appearance of King Hamlet’s ghost. It also introduces the background and the current king’s crime. It sets off the play’s catalyst: Hamlet’s revenge.
Rising Action: it spans from the second act to the fourth. This part develops the action. It also contains one of the most famous parts of the play, where Hamlet delivers the soliloquy “To be or not to be.”
Resolution: it takes place in the final act. The revenge is carried out, and consequently, death plays a prominent role. This part portrays the deaths of Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and Prince Hamlet.
Language and Style
This tragedy is written mostly in verse, though prose is occasionally used.

Dialogues and monologues are also integral parts of the play. The dialogues serve to advance the action, featuring a variety of registers depending on each character, ranging from courtly language to colloquialism.

On the other hand, soliloquies have a “philosophical” purpose, where the characters’ great reflections are evident. Hamlet’s soliloquy during the third act is a landmark in world literature.

The main and driving issue of the play. Revenge becomes Hamlet’s great dilemma when he encounters his father’s ghost.

However, he is not the only character contemplating retaliation. Laertes and Fortinbras also seek to avenge the deaths of their respective parents.

This theme is reflected in the actions of some characters in the play. The prime example of falseness is shown by King Claudius, who, through his actions, appears to express sorrow for his brother’s death.

However, the truth is revealed by King Hamlet’s ghost and the play within the play, where Claudius’s demeanor changes upon seeing the scene depicting his brother’s death.

Polonius also exemplifies hypocrisy when he decides to send Reynaldo to France to spy on his son.

In this play, appearances deceive, and often, the true nature of characters is revealed in soliloquies, where their real intentions are exposed.

Death is the tragic fate of many characters throughout the play. It becomes a path considered to end the torment they face. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, the prince deeply desires his own death.

“Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!”

Moreover, betrayal, revenge, or madness are some of the reasons leading to the fatal destinies of other characters such as Polonius, Ophelia, Claudius, Laertes, or Gertrude. Even Prince Hamlet meets his demise at the end of the play.

Reason and Madness
The dilemma that troubles Hamlet the most is whether he should act without thinking or, conversely, be guided by reason.

Externally, the prince appears rational. However, at times, he acts impulsively, such as when he kills Polonius or when interacting with Ophelia.

So, is Hamlet mad or not? This is the initial doubt among some characters in the play, attempting to justify it in some way. However, this uncertainty also extends to the reader as the play progresses.

Moreover, is madness the cause of Ophelia’s death? The young woman cannot overcome her father’s death and ends up taking her own life.

Thus, this issue is also significant in the play, prompting readers to question: Is madness a threat looming over human beings?

To be or not to be, that is the question
It is one of the most famous lines from Hamlet, as well as in universal literature. It also encapsulates the spirit of this Shakespearean tragedy.

This soliloquy could also provide answers as to why the play “Hamlet” has managed to endure through time almost intact. Despite the centuries, this story encompasses internal conflicts of the human self, its existence, and doubts about its actions. Reason versus impulsion.

To be or not to be, that is the question.

Just as human spirit’s dilemmas transcend time, Hamlet is and will remain a “living” play as long as we are thinking beings who must make decisions. Because this work by Shakespeare is the eternal representation of human doubt and despair.

You may also be interested in: To be or not to be, that is the question

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet, considered one of the most significant writers of all time.

He was born in the small English town of Stratford-on-Avon, into a prosperous family.

In 1582, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he lived in London. There, he created different theater companies and worked for the court.

Shakespeare wrote numerous theatrical pieces that stand out due to his extraordinary command of language. His works have surpassed the test of time, and many of them continue to be successfully performed.

Among his titles, notable ones include: “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Julius Caesar,” “The Tempest,” and his poetic work, the Sonnets.

Hamlet: summary by acts, characters and analysis of the work
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