King Hamlet has died, mourned by his son, Prince Hamlet of Denmark. The King’s funeral is followed fast upon by the marriage of his widow Gertrude, to his brother, Claudius. Hamlet is deeply disturbed by his father’s untimely death and his mother’s ‘o’er hasty marriage’, a state aggravated by the appearance of King Hamlet’s ghost, informing Hamlet that he was in fact murdered by his brother, now husband to Gertrude and King of Denmark.
The dead King asks that his son revenge his death by killing Claudius.
Unsure as to what to do whilst adopting erratic behaviour, Hamlet rejects his soul-mate and lover Ophelia, and dismisses his former classmates, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, summoned by Claudius to Elsinore to help discover the cause of Hamlet’s apparent madness.
A group of players arrive in Elsinore. Hamlet asks them to perform a scene mimicking the murder of King Hamlet by his brother. Claudius reacts violently to the performance, proof in Hamlet’s eyes of his stepfather’s guilt. Called to his mother’s chamber to explain his actions, Hamlet comes upon Claudius deep in prayer, yet finds himself unable to kill him.
Discovering Polonius, Ophelia’s father, spying on him in his mother’s chamber, Hamlet kills him, proceeding then to berate his mother for her shamelessness and debauchery. His father’s ghost appears, reminding Hamlet of his initial mission to revenge his death.
Laertes, Polonius’s son, returns to Elsinore to avenge his father’s death, threatening Claudius and his kingship. Claudius manages to allay Laertes’ violence by convincing him that Hamlet is the guilty one: together, Claudius and Laertes conspire to kill him.
Ophelia appears, apparently driven mad by Hamlet’s rejection and the death of her father. This only serves to harden Laertes’ resolve for vengeance, as does, moments later, Ophelia’s death – she has drowned in a nearby stream.
Hamlet and friend Horatio turn up unwittingly at Ophelia’s funeral, and upon learning of herdeath, Hamlet provokes Laertes.
Through the intermediary of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and according to the plan concocted with Claudius, Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel. Hamlet accepts the challenge.
Many deaths ensue.
By Matthew Jocelyn