All was not well in Denmark. The Norwegian army, led by prince Fortinbras, had long threatened the kingdom. King Hamlet had died suddenly, and only a few weeks later his wife, the Queen Gertrude, married the King’s brother Claudius. This made the people suspicious, for it allowed Claudius to become King, instead of the rightful heir to the throne, the young prince Hamlet.
So heartbroken was Hamlet over his father’s death, and so bitter following his mother’s sudden remarriage, that the young prince became overwhelmed with melancholy, and he soon grew weary of all the world. Sad as it was that Hamlet would not inherit the throne and its ten kingdoms, the young prince was even more upset at the callous way his mother had so quickly forgotten his father’s memory.
Even on the day of his mother’s second marriage, Hamlet dressed in the deep black of mourning, and he refused to join in the gaiety. Nothing his mother could do would bring him any joy.
Hamlet was sure that Claudius had murdered the king. But how was it done? And did his mother join in the plot? These questions plagued Hamlet day and night.
But strange events were afoot in the kingdom. For three nights, the soldiers on the midnight watch, Horatio and Marcellus, had claimed to see an apparition before the palace. The ghostly figure wore the same armor that belonged to the dead king, the soldiers said, and its countenance was sorrowful; but it would not answer when they spoke to it. Once it seemed to lift its head, but in that moment the morning cock crowed, and the apparition vanished.
Hamlet was sure that it was indeed his father’s ghost which had appeared, and on the fourth night he joined the soldiers on their watch, for he was sure the ghost might have a message for him.
The image did appear as predicted, and Hamlet was struck with surprise and fear at seeing the ghostly figure. At first he thought the spirit might be evil; but soon he decided it must be his father, and the prince addressed the apparition directly. “Father, King Hamlet!” cried the prince. “Why have you left your grave and appeared before us?”
The ghost beckoned to Prince Hamlet to step away to a solitary place. Horatio and Marcellus were frightened for the prince’s safety, but Hamlet was determined, and too unconcerned for his own life to hold himself back; so he broke away from his friends and followed the apparition.
When the prince was alone with the ghostly figure, the spirit spoke and announced itself to be the ghost of King Hamlet, who had been poisoned by his brother Claudius as the king took his afternoon nap in the royal garden. A deadly elixir had been poured into the king’s ear. “If you ever did love me, you will revenge my foul murder” cried the ghostly king to the young prince.
Prince Hamlet had vowed to avenge his father’s death – but what could he do? His mind confused and frustrated, Hamlet elected to feign madness. At least, he thought, this would give him time to construct a plan.
Yet Hamlet’s unusual behavior aroused even greater suspicion in those around him. King Claudius sent two of Hamlet’s old classmates, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, to discover what lay behind Hamlet’s behavior.
While the prince was happy to see his old friends, however, he soon deduced that they had taken the side of his enemy, the murderous King.
King Claudius had an advisor named Polonius; and Polonius had two children – a son named Laertes and a daughter named Ophelia. And it was to Ophelia that Hamlet had directed his affections when his heart was not heavy with mourning. But Laertes was suspicious of Hamlet, and he urged Ophelia not to fall in love with the young prince. Polonius himself echoed his son’s suspicions, suggesting that the prince’s strange behavior was caused by the love Hamlet felt for Ophelia. Soon Polonius passed his suspicion along to the king and queen.
Into the kingdom came a troupe of actors, and with their arrival Hamlet conceived a plan. He would stage a play that re-enacted his father’s murder, and confirm the king’s guilt by studying his reaction. “The play’s the thing,” said Hamlet, “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
As Hamlet awaited this confrontation with Claudius, his melancholy took deeper hold and his behavior grew more erratic.
He publicly insulted Ophelia, and privately he wondered if he might be better off dead – or perhaps, never having been born.
“To be, or not to be. That is the question” pondered the prince.
Death, hearing this invitation, came at once to Hamlet to peddle his dark wares. And this was their conversation...
Soon the court assembled for the play, and Hamlet and Horatio studied Claudius’ reactions very carefully. During the performance, however, the king suddenly stood and fled from the room – offering proof to Hamlet’s eyes that the king was indeed guilty of murder.
The prince was still hesitant to act, however. As he crept through the castle, he came upon Claudius in silent prayer, and vulnerable. But to kill a man in prayer would send his soul directly to heaven – a far sweeter fate than King Hamlet had suffered. Hamlet would withhold his revenge for another time.
Torn by his worries, Hamlet knew he must inform his mother of Claudius’ duplicity, and he set off to meet her in privacy. As he told the queen the news of King Hamlet’s murder, however, the prince heard a cry from behind a curtain. Was King Claudius spying on their private conversation?
Hamlet boldly drew his blade and stabbed violently through the curtain. As the body fell to the ground, Hamlet saw that it was Polonius he had killed.
The queen watched in horror as Hamlet stood over the body of the counselor. Yet Prince Hamlet’s eyes drew upward, to view the ghost of King Hamlet, now standing before him. The spectre chided the prince for his inaction and the prince promised that he would indeed kill Claudius.
Yet through this tense conversation, the queen saw and heard only her son, apparently overwhelmed by madness, speaking into thin air.
It was now clear to King Claudius that Prince Hamlet had become dangerous. Indeed, he might have called for the prince’s execution; but the people loved young Hamlet, and the queen doted on her son. The King found a simple pretext for sending Hamlet off to England, accompanied by Rosencrantz and Gildenstern. On his journey the guards carried a letter from the king which secretly instructed the crown of England to execute Hamlet upon his arrival.
As Hamlet set sail, Ophelia was driven mad with grief at her father’s death, and she took to wandering through the town, singing bawdy and macabre songs. When her brother Laertes returned from his studies in France, he was horrified to learn of all that has happened. Furious at his family’s misfortune, Laertes vows to kill Prince Hamlet.
As Laertes concocts his plan, however, the queen brought sad news. Ophelia, in her madness, had drowned herself.
On his sea journey, Hamlet knew of the many dangers that threatened him. In secret, he opened the letter written by King Claudius – and finding that his own execution was ordered, he skillfully replaced his name with those of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern.
Before the travellers reached England, however, a gang of pirates attacked their ship.
Valiantly, Hamlet seized a weapon and hurled himself aboard the pirate vessel to defend their lives. Yet this heroic action only allowed the courtier’s ship to make its escape, and it sped on toward England, where the altered letter might bring a deserved fate to Hamlet’s old companions.
Sinister though the pirates were, they knew Prince Hamlet to be a valuable prisoner, and he soon had himself released onto the shores of Denmark.
Upon his return, however, Hamlet greeted his friend Horatio and as they made their way to the castle, the two came upon a gravedigger clearing space in the ground. From the Earth the digger pulled an unusual skull – that of Yorick, the beloved jester Hamlet remembered from childhood.
To the graveyard, however, came a funeral procession. For whom was the ground being opened, Hamlet wondered? Sadly, he realized the gloomy purpose for the grand gathering. It was the funeral of his old love, Ophelia.
Ophelia’s brother Laertes wailed in sadness and proclaimed his wish that he should be buried along with his beloved sister. Prince Hamlet couldn’t bear to hear these words – how could foul Laertes claim to love Ophelia more than he? Aloud to the gathering, Hamlet demanded that he would mourn the fair Ophelia even more than her wicked brother.
With this challenge, Laertes proposeda fencing match with Hamlet; in this way Laertes would extract his revenge for his father’s death and his sister’s drowning. Secretly, Laertes plotted to use a poison-tipped sword in the battle – and if his blade did not meet its mark, he would offer poisoned wine to the prince.
When the court later gathered for the duel, however, Laertes found himself unable to land his blade on the prince. In desperation, Laertes launched a surprise attack during a break in the duel. Hamlet felt himself scratched by the sharpened tip of this sword. In the curious confusion that followed, the two blades are switched between the duelists.
As the battle continued, Gertrude took a sip of wine from Prince Hamlet’s cup – not knowing that Claudius had poisoned this as well. Quickly the Queen fell into her final sleep, crying out that she and her son had both been deceived.
And as the queen lay dying, Hamlet at last stabbed Laertes with the poisoned blade.
The prince, himself weakened with poison, now turned toward the king, to fulfill his father’s vengeful wish. Climbing to Claudius’ throne, the prince stabbed the king at last. And as the king fell to the floor, Hamlet poured the last of the poisoned wine into the king’s open mouth.
The prince knew it was now too late to save himself. With his final breath, Hamlet fell into Horatio’s arms, and beseeched his friend to tell the tragic story to the world.
NOTE ABOUT VERSIONS: This version was edited for length only. If you want to use a detail not mentioned in this version of the story, contact me and we'll work something out.
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