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The protagonist of the play is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. When the play opens, Hamlet has been summoned from the University at Wittenberg on account of the sudden death of his father, who supposedly died from snakebite. He returns to find that his mother has already wed his father's brother. The hasty marriage and sudden death cause Hamlet a considerable degree of unhappiness. His trouble is intensified when the Ghost of his dead father tells him his death was not accidental; instead it was a murder carefully perpetrated by his own brother Claudius, the new King of Denmark. The Ghost asks Hamlet to avenge his death. Hamlet struggles with the duty left to him, unsure of how to proceed. In the end, he does exact vengeance, but at the cost of his own life and the lives of those dearest to him.
Claudius is Hamlet's antagonist and the villain of the play. He begins his evil deeds by murdering his own brother (Hamlet's father), then marrying his widowed wife (Hamlet's mother). Hamlet learns from the ghost of his father that Claudius is the murderer; as a result, he spends the entire play trying to gain his revenge against Claudius. When Claudius realizes that Hamlet has begun to suspect him, he arranges to have the Prince killed. When his first plan fails, he creates several back-up plans with the assistance of Laertes, a hasty and impulsive young man whose sister Ophelia has been in love with Hamlet. Though his plot succeeds in killing Hamlet, he also dies in the final moments of the play. Hamlet stabs him, then forces him to drink poisoned wine.
The climax of the play is the Hamlet-Laertes duel. Claudius has fixed the outcome of the duel in such a way that Hamlet will perish no matter what. But there are also several events related to the duel. Queen Gertrude accidentally drinks some poison intended for Hamlet and dies. Hamlet, wounded by Laertes' poisoned sword, stabs his opponent. Before he dies, Laertes tells Hamlet about the evil plots of Claudius and the poison now coursing through Hamlet's veins. He tells the wounded prince his death is very near. Before he dies, Hamlet stabs Claudius and forces him to drink poison. When the Prince of Norway enters, the dying Hamlet makes him ruler over Denmark.
The play ends in tragedy for Hamlet, for he is overcome by Claudius, his antagonist,
and dies; at least, however, he does get his revenge against Claudius,
stabbing the king. Fortunately, Denmark is at least spared. Hamlet's friend
Horatio acts as a witness to all that has transpired. He absolves Hamlet
of guilt in the bloody tragedy and reveals to all the treachery of the
King. Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, prepares a military burial for
Hamlet and assumes control of the country, restoring order.
SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The King of Denmark is killed by an apparent snakebite while sleeping in the garden. His brother Claudius assumes the throne and marries the widowed Queen, Gertrude, within weeks of the King's death. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark and the dead King's son, mourns for his father and anguishes over his mother's hasty remarriage, considering it as unnatural as incest.
The play opens outside the castle grounds, where three guards have been witnessing the appearance of a Ghost who looks like the dead King. They ask the Prince and his friend Horatio to come see the Ghost. Prince Hamlet speaks to the apparition, who claims to be the spirit of his dead father. In a private conversation, the Ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius, in fact, murdered him. The Ghost asks Hamlet to avenge his murder. Hamlet takes his responsibility to seek vengeance for his father very seriously, perhaps too seriously.
Hamlet is in love with Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius (the Lord Chamberlain); however, the father commands Ophelia to reject Hamlet's advances. Polonius and his son Laertes believe Hamlet will never marry Ophelia since her rank is beneath his. Although Ophelia is very much in love with Hamlet, she is an obedient child; as a result, she complies with her father's commands. Satisfied that his sister is now safe, Laertes goes off to France in pursuit of a good time. Ophelia and her father are left to look after one another. When Hamlet feigns madness in order to observe the new King and his mother, Polonius tells the King that Hamlet's madness is because of unrequited love for Ophelia. He orders Ophelia to return Hamlet's advances to test this theory. Hamlet spurns Ophelia, however, breaking her heart.
The King begins to suspect that Hamlet knows about the murder, but Hamlet is hesitant and full of anxiety over how to proceed. When at last he moves to punish Claudius, he accidentally kills Polonius. Ophelia, on hearing the news of her father's death, loses her mind and drowns in the river. Claudius, now more fearful than ever that Hamlet will eventually expose him, makes arrangements for Hamlet to die. Hamlet, however, escapes Claudius' plans and returns to Elsinore to exact revenge.
Laertes, now seeking revenge against Hamlet on behalf of his father and sister, challenges Hamlet to a duel. Secretly, he has conspired with Claudius to make sure Hamlet dies in the battle. The sword he uses is poisoned, as is Hamlet's drink. During the duel, the Queen accidentally drinks the poisoned cup and dies. Hamlet and Laertes are both seriously wounded. Before dying, Laertes confesses all to Hamlet, telling him the details of Claudius' plot against him, including the fact that he will die shortly from the poison. Hamlet kills Claudius, then implores his friend Horatio to tell the world the truth about the tragedy. Horatio lives to clear Hamlet's name, and the Prince of Norway comes to restore order to Denmark.