Hamlet abbreviated

On a bitter cold night in Denmark, high on the walls of the king’s castle at Elsinore, the Ghost of the recently deceased King Hamlet returns, seen by three young men: soldiers Barnardo and Marcellus, and by Horatio, Prince Hamlet’s classmate and good friend.

Marcellus brought Horatio along with him that night with hopes “that if again this apparition come, he may approve our eyes and speak of it,” the ‘our’ being Barnardo and Marcellus who tell Horatio the “apparition has twice seen of us.”  Sure enough the Ghost does appear; Marcellus saying to Horatio “Thou art a scholar. Speak to it, Horatio.”  Horatio cries out at the Ghost “What art thou that usurp’st this time of night.  By heaven, I charge thee, speak.”  Marcellus says “It is offended.” The Ghost “stalks away.”  Marcellus asks “Who is ‘t that can inform me what is going on?”  Horatio responds “that can I” and proceeds to offer his thoughts on why “our last king appeared to us.”  While Horatio is offering the soldiers his opinions, the Ghost reappears.  Horatio again begs the Ghost to “speak to me.”  Again the Ghost silently exits.  As the three young men begin to leave, a confident Horatio says “let us impart what we have seen tonight unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life, this spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.” (Observation, Act 1, Scene 1) It’s about at this point when Marcellus famously says “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” giving us an idea of what is to come.

What we do know is that within the last month King Hamlet has died; Claudius, the late king’s brother has married the late king’s widow, Gertrude, Prince Hamlet’s mother.  She is now once again Denmark’s queen.  The prince is not at all happy with this turn of events. 

We also early on learn that Denmark is subject to a potential international incident.  King Claudius sends Voltemand and Cornelius as ambassadors with a paper to be delivered to Norway (the aging king of Norway) “who, impotent and bedrid, scarcely hears on this his nephew’s purpose.”  Young Fortinbras, Norway’s nephew, is thought to be making mischief in Denmark.  The issue is the “message” that young Fortinbras has sent to Claudius. Claudius says the matter includes plans “to pester us with message importing the surrender of those lands lost by his father to our most valiant brother.”  King Claudius believes that young Fortinbras holds a “weak opinion of our worth” and is trying to use this moment “as a dream of his advantage.” (Disclosure, Act 1, Scene 2)

Aware that young Hamlet is out of sorts, King Claudius does his best to try and draw his nephew closer to him and his court, assuring the young prince that he will be the successor king, counseling the sad Hamlet that “you must know your father lost a father, that father lost, lost his.” (Grief, Act 1, Scene 2) Through a classic soliloquy, Shakespeare has young Hamlet provide us with a glimpse of his state of mind, a little irrationally distraught with all these issues he feels he has to deal with, saying “O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.” (Introspection, Act 1, Scene 2) Later Hamlet has a one-on-one talk with the Ghost, who makes it clear (clear as a ghost can) that Claudius killed his father, the Ghost instructing Hamlet to avenge the murder. 

Polonius, one of the late king’s best friends, has a son, Laertes, and Laertes is about to leave for France.  It’s here where Shakespeare, through Polonius and Laertes, gives us some timeless counsel.  As he is about to leave for France, Laertes has an interesting talk with his sister Ophelia, Ophelia being Hamlet’s girlfriend. (Brother to Sister, Act 1, Scene 3) And Polonius, a protective father, worried with the thought that his son might succumb to temptations there in Paris, and that his daughter might be at risk if she gets too involved with the nation’s prince, offers his son and daughter some eternal thoughts on a number of issues, such as “to thine own self be true” and “neither a borrower or lender be” and to his daughter “I do know when the blood burns, these blazes, giving more light than heat, you must not take for fire.” (Father to Son, Act 1, Scene 3) (Father to Daughter, Act 1, Scene 3)

Unnecessarily fretting over thoughts of what his son might be up to there in Paris, Polonius dispatches his servant to France to see how the boy is getting along, telling him he is worried that his son may be spending too much time “gaming, drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling, drabbing ---- you may go so far.” Oh my.  Turning to his daughter, Polonius lets us know that he believes that Hamlet’s unusual conduct, his “madness,” is the result of his daughter having “denied him her love.”

It’s here where Hamlet offers his friend Horatio his thoughts on elements of leadership and on his own responsibility to the governed; the two of them biding their time waiting for the return of the Ghost. (Observation, Act 1, Scene 4) The two young men receive a visit from the Ghost while listening to “the flourish of trumpets,” a signal that “the king stays awake tonight drinking.” The Ghost and Hamlet have a nice talk. (Father to Son, Act 1, Scene 5) Separately Ambassadors Voltemand and Cornelius report to Claudius that the Norwegians have their sights set on an insignificant piece of land in Poland and only want to travel through Denmark.  At about this point the king and queen instruct Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, two of Hamlet’s classmates at Wittenberg, to help identify the cause of Hamlet’s “transformation.”  But Hamlet is wise to the king and queen’s ruse. (Disillusionment, Act 2, Scene 2)

By happenstance, a group of actors arrives at Elsinore to provide some Lenten entertainment for the king and his court.  Hamlet inquires if the players have “The Murder of Gonzago” in their repertoire. They do. Hamlet says “We’ll have it tomorrow night.” (Revenge, Act 2, Scene 2)

Entering the stage alone and thinking aloud, Hamlet asks himself the famous question “to be or not to be,” trying to decide whether enduring life’s ills is better than “flying blindly alone to that we know not of.” (Introspection, Act 3, Scene 1) Denmark’s prince, having it all, doesn’t find life easy.  Ophelia enters. It is here where Hamlet abruptly suggests to her that they go their separate ways, saying to her “to a nunnery, go.”  Hamlet exits as Polonius enters; Polonius still believing the “neglected love” from Ophelia is the cause of Hamlet’s professed madness.

The troop of visiting actors is on stage ready to perform, and the royal audience is seated. (Friendship, Act 3, Scene 2) The play, The Murder of Gonzago, quickly develops along the lines of how the ghost of Hamlet’s father described his death: where a king’s brother poisons the king, marries the king’s queen and becomes king himself. (Insight, Act 3, Scene 2) The play seriously disturbs Claudius.  Soon after the play begins, an uneasy King Claudius exits; the others following him out, except for Horatio and Hamlet. Hamlet says “O good Horatio, didst perceive, and upon the talk of poisoning?”  Horatio responds “I did very well note him.”  Guildenstern, Hamlet’s school friend, tells Hamlet that “The king, sir, is in his retirement marvelous distempered.”  Hamlet responds “With drink, sir?”  Guildenstern replies “No, my lord, with anger.”  Guildenstern adds “The queen, your mother, hath sent me to you.  She desires to speak with you in her chambers.” To add to the urgency, Polonius enters to say to Hamlet “My lord, the queen would speak with you and presently.”  Hamlet responds “Then I will come to my mother by and by. Let me be cruel, not unnatural, I will speak daggers to her, but use none.” 

Meanwhile, an infuriated Claudius instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort Hamlet to England, where the king hopes Hamlet can be cured of his purported madness.  But Hamlet more narrowly sees the trip as a one-way trip to England, planned by the king as a way to get rid of him. As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit, Polonius enters to tell the king “my lord, he’s going to his mother’s private chamber.  Behind the arras I’ll convey myself to hear the process.”  When Polonius exits, a remorseful Claudius in a soliloquy lets us know that “My offense is rank, it smells to heaven, a brother’s murder, but pray can I not. What form of prayer can serve my turn?  Forgive me my foul murder?  That cannot be.” (Disclosure, Act 3, Scene 3)  

Upon arriving at her chambers, Polonius tells the queen “He will come straight.  I’ll silence me even here.  Pray you, be blunt with him.”  He then hides behind her bedroom drapes.  When Hamlet angrily says to his mother “you go not till I set you up a glass where you may see the inmost part of you.”  And she cries “Thou wilt not murder me?”  Hearing this line, Polonius gasps, thinking Hamlet might harm the queen.  Hamlet stabs him dead, right through the drapes, not knowing, of course, who was there gasping.  His mother cries “What hast thou done?”  Hamlet says “Is it the king?”  The queen says “what a rash and bloody deed is this.”  Hamlet sarcastically responds “A bloody deed ---- almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother.”  As he pulls Polonius’ body from behind the drapes, Hamlet tries to defend himself, letting his mother know how he sees things.  She finally says “O, speak to me no more.  These words like daggers enter in my ears.  No more, sweet Hamlet.” (Son to Mother, Act 3, Scene 4) The Ghost re-enters, not seen nor heard by the queen; there to remind the young prince “Do not forget.” Hamlet says to his mother “confess yourself to heaven, repent what’s past, avoid what is to come.”  She says “O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in two. I have no life to breathe what thou hast said to me.”  Barely hearing her as he tugs on Polonius, Hamlet says “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room.” 

The king becomes seriously concerned for himself as well as the state when he learns that Hamlet has killed Polonius.  Hamlet rebuffs the efforts of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (whom he now trusts not at all) to let them know where he has taken Polonius’ body; they being asked by the king to find out.  Later Hamlet mildly taunts the king, before letting him know where he can find the body. (Tease, Act 4, Scene 3)

Right after the play, called “The Mousetrap” by Hamlet, Claudius had told Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that “I like him not, nor stands it safe with us to let his madness range.  Therefore I your commission will forthwith dispatch, and he to England shall along with you.”  Fortinbras, meanwhile, continues to move his troops through Denmark on their way to Poland. (Honor, Act 4, Scene 4) Having angered the king by playing games with him concerning the whereabouts of Polonius’ body, the king uses the opportunity to tell Hamlet that “for thine especial safety must we send thee hence.  Therefore prepare thyself.  The bark is ready, and the wind at help, for England.” 

Separately, Ophelia enters singing sad refrains and speaking almost incoherently of lost love. (Fear, Act 4, Scene 5) As the king and queen worry over the state of Ophelia’s mind, Laertes enters, having returned from France, an angry young man, upset not knowing the cause of his father’s sudden death. (Proposal, Act 4, Scene 7)

Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet letting him know that he has escaped the ship at sea and that the two of them must soon meet and talk.  Hamlet also lets him know that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are still on board, still heading for England.  The king, to his dismay, also receives a letter from Hamlet letting him know that he will soon return to Denmark and wants to see him.  At about this time the king and Laertes hatch a scheme where Laertes will challenge Hamlet to a duel, Laertes having had fencing lessons in Paris.  Laertes will have poison on the tip of his foil and the king will add poison to the wine that will be available to the prince.  Separately, we learn that Ophelia has drowned when she “fell in the weeping brook” and “that her garments, heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch to muddy death.”

Soon after Hamlet’s return to Denmark, Hamlet and Horatio greet the gravedigger preparing Ophelia’s grave. (Death, Act 5, Scene 1) Hamlet, holding skulls, offers comments, including the famous one about Yorick, the late king’s jester, asking “Where are your gibes now; your songs?”  Hamlet and Horatio step aside as the king, queen, Laertes and others enter, leading Ophelia’s funeral procession.  Laertes promptly jumps into the grave crying “hold off the earth awhile till I have caught her once more in mine arms.”  Laertes’ dramatic moment angers Hamlet, who rushes forward crying “what is he whose grief bears such an emphasis. This is I, Hamlet the Dane.”  Laertes and Hamlet fight a little and are soon separated, Laertes saying “The devil take thy soul.” (Resentment, Act 5, Scene 1) A little later, at the castle at Elsinore, Hamlet brings us up to date on events that occurred at sea, and how he was able to escape, saying “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.” (History, Act 5, Scene 2)

Osric, an aide to Claudius, enters to tell Hamlet that the king would like for Laertes and him to have a friendly duel, including side bets.  Hamlet agrees, unaware of the king’s and Laertes’ plans.  The stage is set with a table, chairs, foils and cups of wine. (Acceptance, Act 5, Scene 2) They begin their “playful” duel.  The queen has a drink from a cup, not knowing that the wine in the cup has been poisoned, the king crying “Gertrude, do not drink.”  But she does and she dies.  Hamlet then forces the king to drink from the same cup.  The king does and he dies.  Meanwhile, Hamlet had been scratched by Laertes’ rapier, tipped as it was in poison.  As Laertes and Hamlet continue their duel, they inadvertently exchange their foils.  A few more moments into the heat of the duel, Hamlet scratches Laertes with the poisoned-tipped foil.  Both Hamlet and Laertes fall; Laertes soon dies.  A dying Hamlet suggests to Horatio that Fortinbras should be named Denmark’s king, his final words being “I do prophesy th’ election lights on Fortinbras; he has my dying voice.” Fortinbras and the English Ambassador enter, reporting that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are dead.  Speaking of Hamlet, Fortinbras says “He was likely to have proved most royal.”  

Copyright © 2010 Abbreviated Shakespeare