MODERN HAMLET PLOT SUMMARY
Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, is visited by his late father's Ghost who tells him he was murdered. The murderer, Hamlet's Uncle Claudius, who is now the King of Denmark and married to his mother, Gertrude, had poisoned Hamlet's father while he slept.
Hamlet is ordered to take revenge for his murder, but his indecision, madness and his Uncle's political plots keep Hamlet from acting on his impulse for vengeance until it threatens the entire royal family and leads to a bloody end.
MODERN HAMLET CHARACTER ANALYSIS
When we meet the young Prince Hamlet he has just lost his father, the King of Denmark. His mother has also married his Uncle Claudius, which makes things worse, and his depression more acute. Hamlet hates his Uncle and despises his mother Gertrude for marrying another man so quickly after his father's death. When the Ghost of his father reveals what he feared and suspected most—that his father was murdered by Claudius—Hamlet becomes incensed with the need for vengeance but becomes waylaid by his own self-doubt. He contradicts himself often, and this contradiction usually lies between his need and desire for violent revenge and his more philosophical nature. His behaviour follows suit: Hamlet can be impulsive, especially in his murder of Polonius, but hesitant for much of the rest of time.
Claudius is the newly crowned King of Denmark and Hamlet's Uncle. He is also Hamlet's Stepfather after his marriage to Gertrude, the late King's wife. Claudius is an ambitious man. He killed his own brother to take the Danish throne and won over his wife with gifts to gain a Queen. Claudius will do anything to get ahead and to keep his spoils. When both young Fortinbras and Hamlet threaten to undo some of Claudius' peace he solves the problem quite quickly through political cunning and manipulation. He sends Hamlet to England on the pretence of a diplomatic mission, but sends letters with him asking the English King to execute Hamlet. He doesn't do this because he doesn't want to kill Hamlet himself, but because he doesn't want the Danish people to rebel. They love Hamlet too much to see him killed.
Gertrude is the Queen of Denmark and Claudius' wife. She has little to no guilt towards her quick marriage to her late husband's brother. In fact, she seems overjoyed by it. While she has no main influence on the plot, Gertrude is in many of the scenes hoping for a cure for Hamlet's depression, and then his madness. She shows sympathy towards the mad Ophelia and regrets that she will never see Ophelia and Hamlet married. There have been many debates regarding how much Gertrude knew of her late husband's murder, and whether or not she was complicit. Some see her the way that Hamlet describes her. They believe she must be guilty of something because of the lack of remorse she shows marrying her husband's brother. Others have argued that Gertrude is an honest and loving woman who is only doing what she thinks is right for the country. She looks out for everyone's welfare and is a loving and forgiving mother to Hamlet, even though he insults and pushes her away for most of the play. Many negative things about Gertrude are spoken by Hamlet, who is angry with her. His insults, therefore, cannot be entirely trusted as they come from a place of extreme emotion.
The Ghost of Hamlet's late father appears to guards at Elsinore Castle. He does not speak until Hamlet arrives, and then reveals Claudius' involvement in his murder. He begs Hamlet to take revenge on his behalf, particularly as he is damned for sins he had no time to beg forgiveness for. Hamlet blames his indecision to take revenge for his father's death on his doubts about the Ghost. Although it looks and acts like his late father, he believes it could be a devil or demon trying to trick him.
Horatio is Hamlet's closest friend and ally. Hamlet trusts Horatio above all over characters in the play, revealing and sharing news of plots and schemes he has discovered. Horatio remains loyal enough to Hamlet to stay alive at the end of the play, despite his desire to kill himself. Despite his sorrow over Hamlet's death, he stays behind to set the facts straight, tell Hamlet's story and clear his name.
Laertes is Ophelia's brother and Polonius' son. He is a good fencer and is well liked by those that know him. Laertes is fiercely loyal to his family, protects his sister Ophelia by giving her sound advice and is dutiful to his father, Polonius. Hamlet is seriously jealous of his abilities and of the number of compliments he receives from other people.
Ophelia is Laertes' sister and Polonius' daughter. She is an innocent girl who believes Hamlet is in love with her, but follows her father's orders dutifully when he decides Hamlet must be leading her on. Towards the end of the play, Ophelia becomes mad under the stress of her father's murder and Hamlet's refusal of her. Later she falls into a brook, does not know that she is in danger and is pulled underwater by her heavy clothing. She drowns and her death spurs debates of religious rites and suicide, and reignites Hamlet's love for her.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (Rose-en-crants & Guild-en-stern)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been friends with Hamlet for a long time. They grew up together and seem to have a strong bond. They are summoned to Elsinore to help Gertrude and Claudius discover the reason for Hamlet's madness so that they can help him. However, as the play progresses, these two supposed friends start to connive and scheme with Claudius behind Hamlet's back and their loyalty shifts. They even agree to take Hamlet to England where he will be executed by the King.
Polonius is a lord and adviser to Claudius. He has two children, Laertes and Ophelia, and he looks out for their welfare. This is a man full of good intentions who rarely goes about his plans without the use of trickery. Polonius gives speeches that are long winded and idiotic, and is often teased for it by Hamlet. Polonius is also often confused about character's motivations. He can't understand Hamlet's madness, despite his unfounded claim that he does, thinks that Claudius is an excellent man and suspects his son, Laertes, of poor behaviour in France. So much so that he sends a servant to spy on him and question his acquaintances!
Osric is a courtier who is summoned by Claudius to send a message to Hamlet about the fencing duel. We learn through Hamlet that Osric owns a fantastic deal of land and has tried to make himself look and sound like an upper class man by talking pretentiously. He does talk in a confusing manner, and Hamlet often has to ask him what he is talking about. Hamlet thinks Osric is a foul man, but we do not learn much more about him to agree or disagree with Hamlet.
Young Fortinbras (Fort-in-braz)
Fortinbras is the young prince of Norway and named after his late father, the King of Norway. Fortinbras wants revenge for his father's death who was killed by Hamlet's father during a war which also lost Norway a lot of territory. He begins the play gathering an army together, which is disbanded when his Uncle finds out about it. Hamlet later admires Young Fortinbras and his army for having the tenacity to fight for land in Poland, even though it means nothing to them. Fortinbras ends the play with a claim to the Danish throne and looks set to become the next King of Denmark.
Marcellus is a Sentinel guard at Elsinore Castle and loyal to Hamlet. He is one of the first men to see the Ghost of the dead King marching. He vows to keep the Ghost a secret and tries to keep Hamlet from venturing off with the Ghost by himself. He follows Hamlet with Horatio to make sure that the Ghost has not harmed him.
Reynaldo is Polonius' servant. He is asked to spy on Laertes and ask his friends and acquaintances leading questions to trick them into telling him what Laertes has actually been up to. Polonius suspects he has been gambling and behaving badly. Reynaldo is worried that these questions might harm Laertes' reputation, especially if people think he is accusing him of this kind of behaviour. That Reynaldo would feel comfortable enough to question Polonius suggests that he has been with the family for a long time and that he has their best interests at heart. He is most loyal to Polonius, however, and leaves for France to do as he is asked.
Gravediggers (also known as the Clowns)
The two Gravediggers meet in the churchyard. The Gravedigger and the Other discuss Ophelia's recent death and whether or not she should be given religious rites after killing herself. They conclude the only reason she would have been given these rights is due to her status as a rich woman, pinpointing a class divide. Neither seems particularly affected by death, and the Gravedigger sings as he digs and tosses skulls of the dead around. They are realists, rather than characters of extreme emotion.
Barnardo is another Sentinel in the King's guard and a loyal friend to Hamlet. He and Marcellus have witnessed the Ghost of the late King Hamlet marching. He is the first to see the Ghost resembles the late King and begs Horatio to speak to it. Beyond this not much more is known about his character.
EXCERPT FROM HAMLET IN PLAIN AND SIMPLE ENGLISH
Elsinore. A platform before the castle
FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO
No, you answer me. Identify yourself.
Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.
I am an officer in the king’s court.
Long live the king!
Bernardo, is that you?
You are late.
You come most carefully upon your hour.
It’s only twelve o’ clock. Go to bed already, Francisco.
'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
Thanks. It’s cold and I am sick of it.
For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
Have things been quiet on your guard?
Have you had quiet guard?
Quiet as a mouse.
Not a mouse stirring.
Well, good night. If you see Horatio and Marcellus, tell them to hurry up.
Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
I think I hear them now. Stop! Who’s there?
I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?
Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS
We are friends.
Friends to this ground.
And we work for the Dane.
And liegemen to the Dane.
Be on your way then.
Give you good night.
Goodbye, soldier. Who has relieved you?
O, farewell, honest soldier:
Who hath relieved you?
Bernardo took my place. Good night.
Bernardo has my place.
Give you good night.
What? Is that you, Horatio?
What, is Horatio there?
A part of me is here.
A piece of him.
Welcome, Horatio and Marcellus.
Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.
Has that thing appeared again tonight?
What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?
I haven’t seen anything.
I have seen nothing.
Horatio doesn’t believe me; says it is all in my head. We have seen the ghost twice, so I invited him to stand guard with us tonight. If the apparition comes, he will see for himself.
Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
Nonsense. It will not appear again.
Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
Let’s sit down and we will tell you, although you are skeptical, what we have seen the last two nights.
Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen.
Ok, let’s sit. I will listen to Bernardo’s story.
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
Last night, about one o’clock, with the light from that star in the west, Marcellus and I--
Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,--
Be quiet. Look, here it comes again!
Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!
It looks just like the dead king.
In the same figure, like the king that's dead.
You are smart, Horatio, speak to it.
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
It does look like the king; doesn’t it, Horatio?
Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio.
It does, and I’m both scared and curious.
Most like: it harrows me with fear and wonder.
It acts like it wants to say something.
It would be spoke to.
Ask it something, Horatio.
Question it, Horatio.
What are you out at the time of night ready for war and resembling the dead king of Denmark? In the name of God, say something!
What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak!
It is offended.
It is offended.
See, it’s going away!
See, it stalks away!
Wait, stay. Speak! I command you to speak!
Stay! speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!
It’s gone and would not say anything.
'Tis gone, and will not answer.
What do you think now, Horatio? You look a little pale and scared. You think it’s more than some fantasy?
How now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?
I swear, I never would have believed if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.
Doesn’t it look like the king?
Is it not like the king?
I know that armor as well as I know myself. He wore it during the battle with Norway when he killed the Polacks on their sleds. So strange.
As thou art to thyself:
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown'd he once, when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
This is the second time at this very hour that it has walked around like a soldier.
Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
I don’t know what this means, but I have a funny feeling something is going to happen in our country.
In what particular thought to work I know not;
But in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.
Okay, let’s sit down and talk about what is going on. Why do we stand guard every night, and why are cannons being made? Why are we buying foreign weapons and ships are being built every day of the week. Do you think something is about to happen?
Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?
I think I know. As you know, the king, we just saw in his ghostly form, was the enemy of Fortinbras, the king of Norway. Fortinbras dared the king to fight and was killed by the seemingly valiant Hamlet. According to a signed contract, Fortinbras forfeited his land, as well as his life, to his conqueror. Our king had signed a similar contract. Now, his son, the young Fortinbras, seeks revenge and the return of his father’s land. He has commissioned the help of some lawless men. I think that is the reason for the frenzy of activity, including our watch and the procurement of weapons.
That can I;
At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet--
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him--
Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,
Well ratified by law and heraldry,
Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror:
Against the which, a moiety competent
Was gaged by our king; which had return'd
To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
Had he been vanquisher; as, by the same covenant,
And carriage of the article design'd,
His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other--
As it doth well appear unto our state--
But to recover of us, by strong hand
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost: and this, I take it,
Is the main motive of our preparations,
The source of this our watch and the chief head
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.
I think you’re right. That explains why the king, responsible for these wars, comes walking around in his armor on our watch.
I think it be no other but e'en so:
Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch; so like the king
That was and is the question of these wars.
There is definitely trouble brewing. Even in the great city of Rome, before the murder of Julius Caesar, the dead arose from their graves and walked the streets, speaking gibberish. There were other signs and omens, too, like shooting stars and solar eclipses. The fates are warning us. But wait! Here comes the ghost again! (Enter Ghost.) I’ll go to it, even though I don’t want to. Stay, ghost. If you can, speak to me. If there is anything I can do to ease your pain, tell me. Or, if you know something that would help our country, please speak. If you have some hidden treasure here on earth, which makes you uneasy, let us help you. (The cock crows.) Stay and speak! Stop the ghost, Marcellus.
A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me:
If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid, O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it: stay, and speak! Stop it, Marcellus.
Should I hit it with my sword?
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?
Yes, if it doesn’t stop.
Do, if it will not stand.
It’s gone! (Exit Ghost.) We shouldn’t have used force on the ghost of the king. Anyway, it is an apparition and can’t be touched. We were stupid to think otherwise.
We do it wrong, being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence;
For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
And our vain blows malicious mockery.
It was about to speak when the cock crowed.
It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
And then it started to act scared like someone guilty of a crime. I have heard when the cock crows, a sign that day is approaching, ghosts must return to where their spirits are confined. We just saw that for ourselves.
And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit his
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
It also started to fade when the cock crowed. Some say, at Christmas, the rooster crows all night long, and ghosts, fairies, and witches are too fearful to work, because the time is so sacred.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
I have heard that, too, and partially believe it. But, the morning is near, and I think we should tell Hamlet what we have seen. The spirit does not know us, but I bet my life, he will speak to him. Do you agree we should tell Hamlet about the ghost?
So have I heard and do in part believe it.
But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill:
Break we our watch up; and by my advice,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?
Let’s do it, and I know where he is this morning, a most convenient place.
Let's do't, I pray; and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.