Hamlet Synopsis

 

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Tenor
Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, the King, Bass-Baritone
Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, the Queen, Soprano
Polonius, a Lord, Bass
Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter, Soprano
Laertes, Polonius’ son, Baritone
Ghost, Hamlet’s father, the former King, Tenor
Horatio, a friend of Hamlet’s, Baritone
Marcellus, a guard, Tenor
Bernardo, a guard, Baritone
Francisco, a guard, Bass
Osric, a courtier, Baritone
A Priest, Bass
An Actor, Bass
A Servant, Tenor

 

Elsinore, Denmark

 

1, 1. Atop the ramparts of the royal castle, a ghost appears to Horatio and several guards. As it bears a striking resemblance to the recently-deceased king, they resolve to tell the king’s son, Prince Hamlet, in the hopes he will be able to communicate with it.

 

1, 2. The next day, at a wedding feast celebrating the marriage of Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, to his uncle, the newly-crowned king Claudius, Hamlet decries the speed with which his mother re-married after the death of his father. As the guests leave, Horatio enters and describes to Hamlet the familiar appearance of the ghost the night preceding; Hamlet agrees to meet Horatio and the guards on the ramparts that night in the hopes that it will appear once again.

 

1, 3. In a room in the castle, Laertes prepares to leave for Paris, but first counsels his younger sister, Ophelia, on the dangers of becoming romantically involved with Hamlet, with whom she has been linked previously, stating that he couldn’t possibly be serious about her due to his royal obligations. Their father, Polonius, enters to see his son off, then confronts Ophelia on the same subject, recommending sternly to her that she cut off all contact with Hamlet.

 

1, 4-5. Atop the ramparts, the ghost appears to Hamlet; it leads him away from the guards, where it reveals itself as his father, poisoned by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, and doomed to purgatory until his murder is avenged – which Hamlet swears to undertake. As the ghost vanishes, Horatio and Marcellus re-appear, and Hamlet swears them to secrecy, revealing to them his plan to feign madness in order to spy on his uncle and mother.

 

2, 1. Ophelia rushes into Polonius’ suite, terrified by Hamlet’s recent visit to her, where he appeared disheveled and disconnected from reality. Polonius concludes that he must be losing his sanity out of his unrequited love for her, and they leave to inform the king.

 

2, 2. Polonius confronts Claudius with his theory on Hamlet’s madness, and to test it, the two hatch a plan to hide while they observe the prince’s interaction with Ophelia. As Claudius and Gertrude leave, Hamlet enters with a troop of actors, instructing Polonius to make them feel at home. As the troop exits with Polonius, Hamlet holds the lead actor back, asking him if he could learn extra lines if the prince inserted them in the following night’s performance. The actor agrees, and exits, leaving Hamlet alone, who surmises that if Claudius is indeed responsible for his father’s death, he’ll surely show his guilt when confronted with the scene of the crime.

 

3, 1. As Polonius and Claudius listen in the shadows, Hamlet muses on his best course of action – or inaction. Ophelia enters, wishing to return the letters and other romantic keepsakes Hamlet has sent her, but Hamlet refuses them, claiming that he never loved her, and recommending she join a convent before he leaves. Heartbroken over the decay of Hamlet’s mind, Ophelia laments his descent into madness. Polonius emerges to comfort her, while Claudius, still unconvinced that Hamlet’s madness is a matter of the heart, commits to sending him away to England, but only after hatching a plan for Polonius to hide in Gertrude’s room so that they may learn more about what is troubling the prince.

 

3, 2. Wanting to confirm what the ghost revealed to him, Hamlet stages a brief theatrical production for the royal court, in which a king is murdered by having poison poured in his ear. At the climactic moment, Claudius rises and exits in a rush, as Polonius calls for the lights and the curtain falls.

Intermission

 

3, 3. Polonius confirms to Claudius his plan to hide in Gertrude’s chambers to eavesdrop on Hamlet’s conversation with her. Left alone, Claudius, overcome with guilt for his crime, begins to pray for forgiveness. Hamlet enters, recognizing the perfect moment to exact his revenge, yet realizing that killing Claudius in a moment of prayer will send his soul to heaven, when he wants it to suffer in hell. He backs away, resolving to wait for a more appropriate moment to avenge his father.

 

3, 4. In Gertrude’s chamber, Polonius conceals himself behind a curtain as Hamlet enters. Fuming, Hamlet challenges his mother verbally, then physically as an altercation ensues; panicked, Polonius calls out for help from behind the curtain. Thinking it Claudius, Hamlet stabs blindly through, killing Polonius. Indifferent to the murder he has committed, Hamlet resumes insulting his mother for her incestuous role in his father’s death. He pushes her further, leveling insults at her now-husband Claudius, and she weakens, unable to take his accusations any further. Just then, the ghost appears to Hamlet, reminding him of his sworn duty. Unable to see the apparition and thinking him mad, Gertrude softens, holding her son, explaining away his visions as a fit of delirium. Unrelenting, Hamlet exhorts her to confess her sin, and exits her chambers dragging Polonius’ body behind him.

 

4, 1 & 3. Claudius enters, finding Gertrude in tears, who describes to him how Hamlet killed Polonius; fearing for the repercussions this will have on Gertrude and himself, Claudius commits that Hamlet will be sent into exile in England the next morning. Left alone, he reveals his plan to have his allies in England kill Hamlet.

 

4, 5. Ophelia, gone mad, visits a reluctant Gertrude. Claudius enters as Ophelia leaves, and laments her insanity as part of a growing number of tragedies impacting him all at once. Just then, Laertes arrives, fuming, eager for revenge, and supported by a public in revolt, who wish him to become king. Though eager to avenge Polonius’ murder, Laertes is emotionally leveled by the sight of his sister Ophelia, who re-appears in a fit of madness. Claudius takes advantage of Laertes’ weakness to enlist him in a plot to punish the party ultimately most responsible for Polonius’ death – Hamlet.

 

4, 7. As Claudius explains his rationale for not punishing Hamlet more severely, a servant enters with the news that Hamlet has returned from England, leaving Claudius and Laertes to work out the details of their plot to kill him. Just then, Gertrude arrives, announcing that Ophelia has drowned herself. Laertes, overcome by emotion, leaves, stoking Claudius’ fears that his rage may derail their plans.

 

5, 1. At Ophelia’s funeral, a priest informs Laertes that the ceremony will be limited as a result of her suspected suicide. Indignant, Laertes throws himself onto the casket, wishing to hold her one final time, and asking the undertakers to bury him with her. Hamlet, having returned quickly – and unharmed – from his exile and watching from a distance, sees that it’s Ophelia who has died, and rushes to challenge Laertes’ emotions, claiming they’re nothing compared to what he himself is feeling. The two fight, and Hamlet confesses his love for Ophelia – and his brotherly love for Laertes, as well. Thought mad by all, he leaves the funeral as Claudius and Laertes confirm their plans to kill him.

 

5, 2. As Claudius explains the rules of the challenge, Hamlet and Laertes prepare to fence. Hamlet quickly scores a point, and Claudius offers him a drink to celebrate; suspecting it has been poisoned and no longer able to carry on, Gertrude takes it instead and drinks it, to Claudius’ protests. Hamlet and Laertes continue their bout, and as Laertes lands a hit with his poisoned blade, the two become entangled, and switch swords. Hamlet returns a hit with Laertes’ blade. Gertrude collapses, identifying the poisoned cup as the cause. Laertes is the next to fall, telling Hamlet the murder weapon is in his hand, that he has little time to live, and implicating Claudius.  Hamlet attacks Claudius, killing him, before collapsing next to Laertes. The two exchange forgiveness for one another before Laertes dies. As Fortinbras’ army is heard advancing in the distance to claim the crown, Hamlet asks Horatio to tell the king-to-be the story of all that happened in Elsinore as a cautionary tale, and then, he dies.

© 2017-2019 by Erik Lautier.