Plot Summary

Soldiers guard the castle walls of Elsinore. The threat of war with Norway looms. A ghost appears in the likeness of the recently deceased King Hamlet, astounding those standing watch at Elsinore. The soldiers, accompanied by Prince Hamlet’s friend Horatio, tell the prince of what they have seen.

Hamlet is excited by the information. He is suspicious of his father’s death and does not approve of his mother’s wedding to his uncle Claudius. The incestuous nature of the marriage is bad enough, but the fact that it has occurred so quickly following the death of King Hamlet has caused young Hamlet to criticize them both and withdraw himself from their society and confidence.

Polonius, the king’s advisor, does not trust Hamlet; nor does Claudius. Polonius also objects to his daughter Ophelia’s engagement to Hamlet. Polonius instructs Ophelia to reject Hamlet’s suit of love. After the ghost appears to Hamlet, tells him that his father was murdered by Claudius, and urges him to avenge his death, Hamlet tries to see Ophelia. She is obedient to her father, however, and refuses Hamlet even though she loves him and believes he is honorable. Her rejection removes from Hamlet a source of support and confidence.

Hamlet’s inner turmoil is matched by the turmoil at the court of Elsinore. He vows to avenge his father, but as he reflects on the intention behind the action, he struggles to discern the spirit of the thing—whether it is good or bad. Being constantly under the surveillance of Polonius, Claudius, and the two spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern does not help him maintain his composure. Ophelia’s rejection ignites an outburst in him that undermines his own stability. He questions not only the purpose of his mission but also the purpose of life.

As the conflict worsens, a company of actors arrives from town. Their profession is to reflect reality through drama, and Hamlet is momentarily revitalized by their arrival. He uses them to help him determine whether Claudius is...

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Essays About Hamlet