Hamlet condensed

On a bitter cold night in Denmark, high on the walls of the Danish king’s castle at Elsinore, the Ghost of the recently deceased King Hamlet appears to Horatio and the guards; Horatio being a good friend and classmate of Prince Hamlet, the late king’s son.  One of the guards had seen the Ghost before and had invited Horatio to join him that night, looking for support “if again this apparition come.”  We know that King Hamlet died within the last month and that Claudius, the late king’s brother, is now king and has married the late king’s widow, Gertrude.  These events have incensed Prince Hamlet, having occurred so soon after his father’s death.

Act 1. The play opens when one of the guards, speaking of the Ghost, cries out to Horatio “thou art a scholar. Speak to it, Horatio.”  Horatio does, but the Ghost remains silent, stalking off, irritating Horatio. Horatio suggests that he will speak to young Hamlet, believing that “this spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.” A guard famously remarks that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”  A troop of Norwegian  soldiers, led by young Fortinbras, moves through Denmark, frightening King Claudius, who dispatches two ambassadors to Norway to make sure these troops don’t provoke an incident.  Knowing Hamlet is out of sorts, Claudius takes him aside, trying to comfort him, saying “you must know your father lost a father, that father lost, lost his.”  A discouraged Hamlet says to himself “O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.” Hamlet does meet up with the Ghost and the two of them have a nice one-on-one conversation, the Ghost letting him know that Claudius had killed him and that the young prince needs to seek revenge.  Polonius, a close friend of the late king’s, has a son, Laertes, and Laertes is about to leave for France. Laertes has a sister, Ophelia, she being Hamlet’s girlfriend. Polonius offers his daughter and son some powerful counsel, such as “to thine own self be true” and “neither a borrower or lender be.” Polonius believes Hamlet’s “madness” is because his daughter has “denied him her love.”  We learn that the Norwegian soldiers were marching through Denmark on their way to Poland to secure a small portion of land. 

Act 2. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude instruct Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to help them identify the reason for Hamlet’s “transformation,” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being two of Hamlet’s classmates, but not really his friends. Hamlet recognizes them to be newly recruited agents of the king.  By coincidence, a troop of actors arrive to entertain the king. Hamlet asks them if they have “The Murder of Gonzago” in their repertoire. They do.  Hamlet tells them “We’ll have it tomorrow night.” 

Act 3. Hamlet enters the stage alone asking himself the famous question “to be or not to be;” asking himself whether enduring life’s ills is better than “flying blindly alone to that we know not of.”  Ophelia enters.  Hamlet uses the occasion to break up with her, saying “to a nunnery, go.” The play “The Murder of Gonzago” begins, following the lines described by the Ghost: a king’s brother poisons the king, marries the late king’s queen, and becomes king. Claudius hears the actors and rushes out of the theatre. Queen Gertrude summons her son to her quarters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are instructed by the king to escort Prince Hamlet to England, Hamlet recognizing it as Claudius’ plan to get rid of him.  Polonius tells Claudius that he will hide behind the drapes in the Queen’s quarters with plans to overhear the prince and the Queen.  Claudius then lets us know that he’s guilty of his brother’s death, saying “My offense is rank, a brother’s murder, but pray can I not. Forgive me my foul murder? That cannot be.” Meanwhile, Hamlet has entered his mother’s quarters and angrily yells at her, causing Polonius to gasp, causing Hamlet to inadvertently, but fatally, stab Polonius through the drapes. Hamlet continues to take it out on his mother, she saying “O, speak to me no more, no more, sweet Hamlet.”  The Ghost appears to Hamlet, telling him “Do not forget.”  Speaking of Polonius, Hamlet says “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room.”

Act 4. Hamlet moderately teases King Claudius, Claudius wanting to know what Hamlet has done with the corpse, Claudius concerned with how he is going to explain recent events to the public.  In no uncertain terms Claudius instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort Hamlet to England.  By this time, Fortinbras has moved his Norwegian troops on through Denmark and into Poland.  By this time Ophelia has deteriorated to the point where she’s singing incoherently of lost love.  Having returned from France, Laertes enters as an angry young man, angry over his father’s mysterious death.  Horatio reports that Hamlet has now returned to Denmark, having escaped from the ship heading for England, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern having remained on board.  Claudius and Laertes hatch a plan to have Hamlet engage Laertes in a fencing duel, Laertes having become a skilled fencer while in France.  The plan is to have Laertes challenge Hamlet to a duel and for Laertes to have poisoned the tip of his foil.  Claudius will have added poison to the wine that will be available to the young prince.  We learn that Ophelia drowned when she “fell in the weeping brook.” 

Act 5. Hamlet and Horatio find themselves in the cemetery.  They greet the gravedigger preparing Ophelia’s grave.  It’s here where Hamlet, holding a skull believed to be the skull of Yorick, the late king’s jester, asks rhetorically “where are your gibes now; your songs?”  Hamlet and Horatio step aside as the king, queen, Laertes and others lead Ophelia’s funeral procession. When Laertes jumps into the Ophelia’s grave crying “hold off the earth awhile till I have caught her once more in mine arms,” Hamlet rushes forward crying “whose grief bears such an emphasis.”  The two of them scuffle.  Hamlet and Laertes prepare for their “playful” duel. The queen drinks from the cup of wine. The king yells “Gertrude, do not drink.” She has and she dies. Hamlet forces King Claudius to drink from the same cup.  He does and he dies. Hamlet is scratched by Laertes’ rapier. They inadvertently exchange foils. Hamlet then scratches Laertes with the poisoned-tipped foil. Both young men fall. Laertes dies. A dying Hamlet suggests that Norway’s Fortinbras be named Denmark’s king. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are reported to have died at sea. Fortinbras says of Hamlet “He was likely to have proved most royal.”