The main setting is Elsinore Castle in eastern Denmark, on the Oresund strait separating the Danish island of Sjælland (Zealand) from the Swedish province of Skåne and linking the Baltic Sea in the south to the Kattegat Strait in the north. Elsinore is a real town. Its Danish name is Helsingor. In Shakespeare's time, Elsinore was an extremely important port that fattened its coffers by charging a toll for ship passage through the Oresund strait. Modern Elsinore, or Helsingor, is directly west of a Swedish city with a similar name, Helsingborg (or Hälsingborg). Within the city limits of Elsinore is Kronborg Castle, said to be the model for the Elsinore Castle of Shakespeare' play. Construction on the castle began in 1574, when Shakespeare was ten, and ended in 1585, when Shakespeare was twenty-one. It is believed that actors known to Shakespeare performed at Kronborg Castle. Other settings in Hamlet are a plain in Denmark, near Elsinore, and a churchyard near Elsinore. Offstage action in the play (referred to in dialogue) takes place on a ship bound for England from Denmark on which Hamlet replaces instructions to execute him (see the plot summary below) with instructions to execute his traitorous companions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Hamlet -- Plot Synopsis
After the death of his beloved father King Hamlet, a grief-stricken Prince Hamlet returns home from his studies in Wittenburg to the Danish court at Elsinore. Hamlet senior’s brother, Claudius, has assumed the old king’s place in more ways than one -- as ruler of Denmark and as a second husband to Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother--with less than two months having passed since the king’s death. The prince, profoundly disturbed by the shocking speed of these events, struggles to find meaning in his radically altered world.
The old king’s ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius and exhorts him to kill Claudius in revenge; Hamlet vows to think of nothing else, but his restless intellect soon plunges him into uncertainty about the rightness of the deed he’s sworn to do. He comes up with a plan to act as if he is mad to conceal his true intentions from the new king while he seeks concrete proof of his guilt. Hamlet had shown a romantic interest in Ophelia, but her father, Polonius, intervened, insisting she reject the prince’s attentions. Hamlet’s subsequent odd behaviour, especially with Ophelia, leads Polonius to conclude that he has been driven mad for want of her love. Claudius distrusts his step-son and sends to Wittenburg for two of his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, hoping they will get Hamlet to reveal his true state of mind. Self-doubting and guilt-ridden about his failure to act on his vow of revenge, Hamlet seizes on the opportunity presented by the visit of a band of traveling players and has them reenact the death of the old king in front of the new. Claudius reacts violently to the play, giving Hamlet his proof and a renewed resolve to act, which he does later that night in his mother’s chamber when he mistakes an eavesdropping Polonius for Claudius, killing him. Hamlet’s murderous intentions now revealed, Claudius immediately acts to eliminate him. He sends Hamlet to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; a secret letter Hamlet’s former friends carry will ensure his speedy execution by that country’s king. But Hamlet outsmarts his enemies and makes his way back to Denmark, only to find that Ophelia, driven mad by his rejection and her father’s murder, has drowned under circumstances that suggest suicide. Laertes, her brother, returns from university in Paris for her funeral. He vows vengeance against Hamlet for the deaths of his father and sister. Claudius and Laertes plot together against Hamlet, making arrangements for a duel between the young men that isn’t what it appears to be: both Laertes’s sword and a cup of wine to be offered by the king are poisoned. Hamlet is cut by Laertes’ s poisoned sword, but winds...
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