Scene summaries

Our scene summary of Shakespeare's famous drama "Hamlet" presents the plot clearly and in detail and provides the reader with a broad overview of the events of the tragedy. Not only is the action of the individual scenes described in detail, but in addition to this, the required information about the characters involved, the location and, where possible, the time is provided for each section. Thus, the plot can be fully and quickly grasped even before reading. The essential course of action is elaborated so that a quick orientation in the text is possible. The scene summary forms the ideal basis for working intensively on the text afterwards and for working out an in-depth interpretation and analysis of the text.

Furthermore, our thorough summaries of the five acts provide an overview of the connections and the developments of the action and contribute to the understanding of the drama. 

Act 1

Scene 1

Location: Elsinore in Denmark, a terrace in front of the royal castle

Time: Just after midnight

Characters: Bernardo, Marcellus (two officers), Francisco (a soldier), Horatio (a friend of Hamlet's), ghost of the deceased king of Denmark (Hamlet's father)
 

In the Danish castle Elsinore there is fear of the upcoming war against Norway. Before his death, the recently deceased Danish king Hamlet won a battle against the Norwegian king Fortinbras and thus received all his lands as a pledge of victory. It is precisely these lands that the young Fortinbras, the son of the Norwegian king, now wants to reclaim from Denmark and gathers an army around him in Norway. Denmark is now busy preparing itself for the approaching threat: It is arming for war and has the castle closely guarded, even at night.

During two of these nightly guard shifts, the ghost of the deceased Danish king Hamlet has appeared to the two officers Bernardo and Marcellus. Horatio, a close friend and fellow student of the king's son, who bears the same name as his father, initially believes the observation of the two soldiers to be pure imagination. However, he agrees to stand guard with them on the third night to see the ghost with his own eyes.

Indeed, the ghost appears again that night, but does not allow itself to be addressed by any of the three watchers and disappears with the first cockcrow. Horatio immediately decides to tell his friend Hamlet about the event. He is firmly convinced that the ghost will return and speak to Hamlet.

Scene 2

Location: A state room in Elsinore Castle

Time: Day after scene 1

Characters: King Claudius (Hamlet's uncle and brother of the deceased king), Queen Gertrude (Hamlet's mother, widow of the deceased king and Claudius' new wife), Hamlet, Polonius (chief counsellor), Laertes (Polonius' son), Voltimand and Cornelius (courtiers), lords of the court and retinue, Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus.
 

At the royal court, the marriage between the newly crowned king Claudius and his former sister-in-law Gertrude is celebrated. Claudius delivers the festive speech, in which he movingly mourns the death of his brother, but declares it the duty of the living to think of themselves as well. In the course of his speech, he also sends two courtiers to Norway with a diplomatic message urging the young Fortinbras' uncle to put a stop to his nephew's military build-up. Through this diplomatic move, he hopes to avoid the military conflict with Norway.

Finally, the new king turns to private talks: First he allows Laertes, the son of Polonius, his court secretary, to return to France, and then expresses his displeasure that Hamlet is still mourning his father's death. Gertrude immediately takes the King's side and urges her son to stop thinking about the deceased King. Both ask him to remain at the Danish court and not return to his place of study, Wittenberg.

Hamlet bows to their wishes and only gives free rein to his despair when he is alone. The whole world seems a bleak, false place to him, and he expresses his disdain that his mother has married his uncle so quickly.

Immediately after his emotional outburst, Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus seek him out and tell Hamlet about seeing the ghost of the deceased king during their watch. Hamlet immediately decides to join the guards that very night.

Scene 3

Location: A room in Polonius' house

Time: The same day as in scene 2

Characters: Laertes, Ophelia (Laertes' sister), Polonius.
 

Laertes says goodbye to his sister Ophelia before leaving for France to continue his studies in Paris. He takes this opportunity to warn her not to trust Hamlet's vows of love: They are nothing more than the expression of inconsistent, youthful desire, he says. Moreover, Hamlet cannot freely dispose of his love, but must think of Denmark's consent when choosing a spouse. To preserve her honor and sexual innocence, he urges her not to respond further to Hamlet's expressions of love.

Immediately afterwards, Polonius joins his two children, bids Laertes farewell with his blessing, and uses the meeting with Ophelia to warn her in turn about Hamlet's youthful inconstancy. It is more than foolish to return his affection. She should reject Hamlet more decisively in the future.

Scene 4

Time: Around midnight, on the evening of the same day as in scenes 2 and 3

Location: Terrace in front of the castle

Characters: Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, ghost of the deceased Dane king.
 

While King Claudius' celebration is still in full swing, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus have retreated to the castle terrace to await the ghost of the deceased king. When the ghost appears again, he beckons Hamlet to follow him to a hidden place. Although Hamlet's friends desperately try to prevent him from joining the ghost alone, Hamlet willingly runs after him. His life is worth nothing to him anyway. Marcellus and Horatio follow their friend. They are not comfortable with what is happening in Denmark.

Scene 5

Time: The same night as in scene 4

Location: A hidden part of the castle terrace

Characters: Hamlet, the ghost of the deceased king, Marcellus, Horatio.
 

When Haml...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of PrimeStudyGuides.com, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in