Act 1: Scene 1
Laertes is planning to leave and is giving advice to his sister about loving Hamlet. He is then talked to by his Father about life lessons such as: ‘borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.’ He describes that it ‘loses both itself and friend’. Polonious in this quote is asking if Hamlet actually loves her or if he is just saying so to ‘get down her pants’. Everyone is warning against Hamlet and that there could be a different side to him.
At night Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are on watch and at midnight canons go off. Hamlet thinks his Father drinks too much and this behavior shames their family. “Do you believe his tensors?” The Ghost appears, doesn’t speak but beckons toward Hamlet. “Go on, I’ll follow thee” Marcellus also says “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” and is an example of foreshadowing.
They then see the ghost of the dead king and he tells them about how he really died. ‘Poison in the ear’ is a phrase used in conjunction with the biblical reference with a ‘serpent in the orchard’. He was poisoned by his own brother who then married his wife. He describes hell as indescribable and Hamlet agrees to seek revenge. He then makes the rest promise by God that they will not speak a work of what had happened to anyone.
Act 2: Scene 1
Polonius is talking to his servant and requests him to go to France to effectively spy on his own son, Laertes. “Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth” means that polonius wants Reynaldo to tell lies about Laertes to people who know him, to gain any truth or rumours about him. “Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling, drabbing-you may go so far.” Reynaldo is allowed to tell any of these lies to gain knowledge.
Reynaldo exits and Ophelia enters. She speaks about Lord Hamlet and says that she is worried about him and his state. “with a look so piteous in purport.” And shortly “he comes before me.” Ophelia describes that Hamlet came to her and-blank faced-stared at her face for a while. Polonius then suggests that it is because he is madly in love with her and apologises for himself boibting Hamlet. “To lack discretion. Come go we to the king.”
The scene begins with Claudius talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are two of Hamlet’s school friends. Polonius asks them to keep an eye on Hamlet and effectively spy on him, he asks this as a question and he rather rudely replied “Put your dread pleasures more into command than to entreaty.” They both leave and Polonius enters. He believes to know the reason why Hamlet has gone mad. “Oh, speak of that. That do I long to hear.” – Claudius. Ambassadors Voltemand and Cornelius from Norway talk with the King and speak about matters of war. The King of Norway was apparently horrified when he discovered plans from Young Fortinbras to attack Denmark (After the death of Old Fortinbras due to Hamlet). Voltemand claims they are going to attack Poland and would like a safe passage through Denmark with their troops. “And at our more considered time we’ll read” is the lazy and not interested reply from the King. Gertrude and The King read a love letter from Hamlet to Ophelia that is shown by Polonius, “At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him.” Polonius agrees to allow Ophelia to see Hamlet. Hamlet enters, reading a book and putting on an act of a madman. He pretends not to know or recognise Polonius and calls him a fishmonger, all the others agree he has gone crazy with love.
Rozencranz and Guildenstern enter and after a cheeky bit of banter Hamlet questions if they are here on their own accord or whether they have been sent for. Being long time friends Guildenstern admits “My lord, we were sent for.” Hamlet speaks for long about the world being a prison for him and everyone is not exciting. The others then say there is a show being put on for him by actors that Hamlet used to enjoy. Hamlet admits that he is only acting mad by saying “I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly”. Shakespeare references him competition in the world of acting and even his own globe theatre. The Play within a play is to begin.
Act 3: Scene 1
Claudius decides with Polonius that they will test if Hamlet is mad with love by using Ophelia as bait. Rosencranz cover up for Hamlet by only suggesting slight madness “He does confess he feels himself distracted”. The King and Polonius hide and Hamlet enters to make his famous ‘To be, or not to be’ speech. In this he contemplates taking his own life if he is too little of a man to do anything about his treacherous uncle. Ophelia enters and confronts Hamlet about his apparent love for her. However he denies this and tells her multiple times to “go back to a nunnery” he is continuously rude to her and sarcastically states she is too good for all men. After they exit and Polonius reports back to the King, who now suspects that Hamlet knows the truth and that is why he has gone crazy. Polonius attempts to assure him that all he said was due to his mad love for Ophelia, however the King makes plans to send Hamlet on a ship to England to collect money they owe him as “haply the seas and countries different” the trip would be suitable for his depression.
Hamlet begins by speaking to three of the players about how to act. Firstly not to over act and then “not too tame either”. Rosencranz and Guildenstern are in on the plan to keep looking at the King and see if he reacts when the players play the death of Hamlets father and murder by his uncle. He jokingly asks if he should lie at Ophelia’s lap. During the play the King angrily storms out after the player king pours poison into the old King’s ear, as was said to have happened in real life by the ghost.
Horatio agrees that the King is guilty because of his actions “upon the talk of the poisoning”. Guildenstern and Rosencranz enter and Hamlet describes his uncle as dis-tempered, with anger and not drink this time (alcoholism had not even been thought about in that period of time). Guildenstern is asked continuously whether he plays the flute and then asks why, if he can’t why he decided to play Hamlet instead. Polonius tells Hamlet that his Mother would like to have a private word with him in her bedroom.
The King has a conversation with Rosencranz and Guildenstern to plan to send Hamlet away from Denmark. Then after instructing Polonius to spy on Hamlet and his mother’s conversation “Behind the areas I’ll convey myself” the King tries to confess his sins on his own. Hamlet arrives, draws his sword and in usual fashion proceeds to say a monologue and give excuses to himself for why he should wait to kill the King. This time it is because he sees his uncle confessing his sins and thinks that if he kills him there his uncle will go to heaven because he has wiped his sins clear with a confession. He says he needs to murder him “when he is drunk asleep…or in the’incestuous pleasure of his bed.”
What he does not realise is that the King does not believe he is clean from sins while he is still gaining from killing his brother- while he is still on the thrown. So by dramatic irony the audience realises that Hamlet could have killed him then and there.
Polonius and Gertrude enter and Polonius instructs the Queen to speak firmly to her son and hides behind a curtain “I’ll silence me even here”. Hamlet enters and is promptly told he has offended his father. “Mother, you have my father offended” is replied referring to Hamlet’s dead father. Hamlet continues to confront his mother about her guilt for marrying the King’s brother. Hamlet says “you may see the inmost part of you” where it could mean looking into to her soul or something meaningful on those lines- but Gertrude thinks that he is referring to murdering her. Polonius shouts out and Hamlet stabs through the curtain and kills Polonius. “Is it the King” he asks hopefully, however they realise it is Polonius. After more of Hamlet accusing the Queen the Ghost enters, only for Hamlet to notice. He comments on how Hamlet was set out to kill the King but now rests killing Polonius and shouting at his mother. Assuming he will be sent to England Hamlet agrees to himself he will man up and do the deed, then drags Polonius off stage.
Act 4: Scene 1
The King, Gertrude, Rosencranz and Guildenstern are gathered to hear the Queen give the news about Polonius being slayed by Hamlet. The Queen says “bestow this place on us a while” indicating to the others who then leave. “Whips out his rapier, cries ‘A rat, a rat'” the Queen then describes the killing as by Hamlet’s madness although the King full well knows that Hamlet intended to murder Claudius as he thought he was the one concealed behind the curtain. The King says that Hamlet would be a liability to keep in the country so they must keep his killing of Polonius secret- and he will send him to England. Guildenstern and Rozencranz are sent to fetch Hamlet and find Polonius’ body.
Hamlet says “safely stowed” before calling within, with Rosencranz, Guildenstern and some others entering. They ask him where the body is stowed and that he has to come back with them in front of the King. “Take me for a sponge my lord?” Rosencranz asks Hamlet. He says that the at the moment he is soaking up the rewards from the King- but once he has been used, he will be squeeze him out “and, sponge, you shall be dry again”. Then he goes on to say that the King is a thing, the crown passing from person to person. ” the body is with the King, but the King is not with the body” suggesting that his father is not a real King just taking the place of another. They exit.
Back with the King, Claudius debates the Danger of Hamlet. Rosencranz tells the King that Hamlet will not reveal where he has hidden the body of Polonius. Hamlet enters and insults the King using plays on words. “Your worm is only your emperor for diet” and also “two dishes for one table. That’s the end” as he plays on the fact that in the end everyone ends up in the same grave. “A king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.” He says he should search in hell for Polonius or if easier look under the stairs. The King sends Hamlet to board a ship hastened for England. Further than that he plans on killing Hamlet in England “the present death of Hamlet. Do it England”.
As Hamlet is leaving for England he stumbles upon Fortinbras and his army coming through Denmark to supposedly get to Poland. He asks a captain what they are planning to do in Poland and is replied “