Here’s a summary of the plot of “Hamlet” covered so far in my Wednesday posts.
“Hamlet” opens at Elsinore Castle. The opening scene takes place in the Guard Post on the roof of the Castle. The night is cold and stormy. It is midnight. Guard Francisco relieves Guard Barnardo. Two men, the soldier Marcellus and a visitor Horatio, join Francisco. While they are talking, something dreadful appears. A giant ghost in armor rises above the three, moaning and groaning, groaning and moaning.
The ghost looks like Hamlet’s dad, in his dad’s armor. He doesn’t say anything. After a while of scaring, he leaves, only to return. Still not speaking, he hovers above the three. Finally at dawn, the ghost leaves. Not knowing what to, Horatio decides to go tell Hamlet since the apparition looked like his father. Hamlet’s dad had suffered a fate worse than death. He had died and been kicked not-quite-downstairs to Purgatory.
As soon as the king died, the king’s bro, Claudius, went and married his widow, Gertrude. This gave him an in with the Council of Elders who were responsible to elect the new king. Claudius it was. The reason for a quick election was obvious. Young Fortinbras of Norway was making goo-goo eyes at Denmark and that was not a good thing. The election was completed before the old king’s son could get back from college in Wittenberg.
Act 1 Scene 2 begins with the royal couple holding court. Hamlet has returned. Claudius’ first act as king is to send the king of Norway a message. The king of Norway is like Claudius. He is the brother of the previous king, Fortinbras. The previous king’s son, Young Fortinbras, is showing his wild oats. He is raising an army and getting ready to invade Denmark. Claudius is warning Norway’s old king to stop his nephew or there will be serious consequences. This is an act that makes Claudius popular. He is showing his subjects that Denmark is safe under his leadership.
Then Claudius and Gertrude and all the court party down. They are really boogeying when Claudius looks across stage and sees his nephew, his wife and brother’s son, Hamlet. Home from college for Daddy’s funeral, he is really sulking. He is none too happy Mom has remarried. If she had just waited, Hamlet might be king. But, no.
Hamlet debates the situation with himself. What to do? What to do? Just at this moment, Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo show up to tell him they have seen a ghost. A real live, rooting-tooting-straight-shooting ghost. “It looks like your dad.” Hamlet says, “I have to see this wonder.”
So we meet Ophelia, Hamlet’s girlfriend. Both Dad and brother are against Ophelia dating Hamlet. They remind her that Hamlet is not just anyone. He’s a prince and cannot freely marry just anyone. She’ll end up as an unwed mother. Laertes goes off to Paris. With Dad’s reluctant permission.
Hamlet goes to the roof in the middle of the night to join Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo. To wait on a ghost who just might be Dad. Just past midnight, Daddy shows. But Hamlet has his doubts that it is truly Daddy.
Something indeed is rotten in Denmark. The ghost, maybe Daddy, maybe not, has affirmed it so. According to Ghostie, Uncle Claudius poisoned Dad. Daddy now wants Hamlet to do Claudius in. So Hamlet goes back to his buds and demands that they not tell a soul about whet has happened up on the roof. On top of that, Hamlet will be playing loco. So don’t get any ideas about treating Hamlet as a sane person. He will not be one. For Hamlet, this will buy him some time to figure out what to do.
Well, now we are off to Act 2. For those of you who need a translation, that is the Second Act. Polonius does not trust Laertes in Paris. So he hires a dude to go spy on his son. The spy leaves and his daughter, Ophelia, shows up. She is distressed. Her boyfriend, Hamlet, showed off at her apartment. He did not have his hat on. He was unkempt. And he was acting nuts. Just plain nuts. She followed Daddy’s advice to avoid Hamlet. And now he has a broken heart. It’s obvious. Hamlet really loved Ophelia with all his heart. Polonius must tell the king.
Polonius tells the king that he knows the reason Hamlet is acting so crazy. Hamlet is crazy in love with her. And he feels she rejected him. Of course, she did. But it was because Daddy insisted she not date Hamlet. He is a prince and she a commoner. Princes can only marry royalty. Claudius isn’t so sure.
Polonius and Rosencrantz and Guildenstein speak to Hamlet. He is not civil to any of them. Then R & G tells him that there is an acting troupe at the front door.
R&G report back to Claudius. They have nothing to report, except the acting troupe. Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius convince Ophelia to have a little talking to Hamlet. Find out what the Hamster is up to. Claudius and Polonius will eavesdrop.
In the meantime, Hamlet elsewhere does his To-be-or-not-to-be speech, trying to figure out the figure-outtin’. Then Hamlet runs into Ophelia and pounces on her and treats her like dirt.
Now we’re getting to the good part. Hamlet sets Claudius up. He proposes to the actors that they perform “Murder of Gonzago” with a few changes. Changes that will implicate the king if he murdered Hamlet’s dad. There will be a scene in the play that will have the king murdered by poison. The murderer will then take the king’s wife. If Claudius reacts to the play, then that proves that he is guilty. If not, then he is innocent.
Claudius reacts as if he were guilty. He rushes out of the theater. Now that Hamlet has the goods on Claudius, he can proceed with a plan to bring about justice. First he has to visit his mother. On his way to Momsy, Hamlet passes Claudius in the Chapel.
He has the opportunity to do his uncle in, but holds back. You see, if he kills the king while he is praying, Claudius might end up in heaven. Hamlet will wait and get Claudius when there is a hell of an opportune moment. Claudius, in his prayers, admits his guilt and does not repent.
In the queen’s chambers, Hamlet argues with his mother to put Claudius aside. Gertrude, the queen, defends the king. While they are arguing, there is a cough behind the drapes. Hamlet, thinking it is Claudius, stabs the one coughing through the curtains. Polonius, the king’s counselor, falls down dead. Hamlet, after convincing Gertrude to not sleep with the king, drags the body off to God-knows-where.
The queen goes and tells Claudius the news that Hamlet killed Polonius. Claudius decides it’s to England for Hamlet. In the meantime Ophelia visits the king and queen. It is obvious that something major is wrong with her.
On his way to England, he runs into Fortinbras, the future king of Norway, and his army. Hamlet is impressed with the devotion that his army has to him as he crosses Denmark to invade Poland and make a name for himself. He decides that is the kind of prince he would like to be.
While Hamlet is off to England, Laertes returns to Elsinore, wanting revenge for the death of his father. Claudius convinces Laertes that Hamlet was responsible for Polonius’ death. Then Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet. That he was captured by pirates. They treated him fairly and he is returning. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are getting their just desserts in England.
A messenger delivers Hamlet’s letter to Claudius that he is returning to Elsinore. Claudius proposes Laertes meet Hamlet in a fencing match. It is then that Claudius and Laertes learn that Ophelia is dead. There is a rumor that she committed suicide.
When Hamlet returns to Elsinore, does he show up riding a white steed? No. Does he show up in a carriage pulled by six white horses? No. Does he show up leading a big English army? No. He sneaks back, going through the cemetery on his way to the castle. He stops when he chances upon the gravedigger digger Ophelia’s grave. The gravedigger and Hamlet exchange words. The gravedigger hands Hamlet a skull. It is Hamlet’s old tutor. Hamlet calls attention to the fact that life is very fragile.
Ophelia’s body is taken to the grave. While the body is being buried, Laertes cannot accept her death. He jumps into the grave. He is joined by Hamlet who tells them all how much he loved Ophelia. Laertes gives Hamlet a hard time. The two are pulled apart. Everybody returns to the Castle.
Osric comes to Hamlet and says that Claudius has bet on Hamlet in a duel with Laertes. Hamlet agrees to come and fight the duel. But the duel is rigged. Not only does Claudius tip Laertes’ sword with poison, he pours Hamlet a glass of wine that is poisoned as well. The fight begins. While the duel is on, Queen Gertrude takes Hamlet’s glass and toasts her son and drinks the poison. In the meantime, Laertes’ poisoned tip wounds Hamlet. Laertes drops his sword. Hamlet picks it up by mistake and tosses Laertes his old sword. Hamlet wounds Laertes. Gertrude keels over from the poison. Before she dies, she realizes what Claudius had in mind. She tells the world that Claudius is a villain, then she dies.
Hamlet stabs Claudius. Claudius dies a villainous death. Laertes dies. Horatio holds Hamlet in his arms as he dies and declares him a hero. On the way out, Hamlet urges Horatio to live and tell the world his tale. Thus Hamlet, the last of his family, dies. Now Fortinbras is king.