Shakespeare – Module 6: Tragedy: Hamlet Plot Summary – 3 of 5

WHAT: Today you will learn the main events in the Shakespeare play, Hamlet.

By the end of this study session you will be able to:

✔ Name the main characters and describe their relationship to each other
✔ Sequence the play’s main events / say what happens

Today you will need:
✎ A pen
☰ Some paper to write on
♫ Some headphones or a space where you can play videos out loud

Here are the play’s main characters:

Hamlet, the prince of Denmark
Ghost, the ghost of king Hamlet
Gertrude, the Queen, prince Hamlet’s mother
Claudius, the King, brother of dead King Hamlet and now married to Gertrude
Horatio, Hamlet’s trusted friend
Polonius, the royal advisor
Laertes, the son of Polonius
Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius and Hamlet’s girlfriend
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two members of Claudius’s royal court, who spy on Hamlet for Claudius

1) Read this summary of the play:

Hamlet is a young prince in Denmark who was supposed to become king when his father (also named Hamlet) died. Instead, the throne was seized by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, who also married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Hamlet meets a ghost of his dead father, who tells him that he was poisoned by Claudius and demands that Hamlet kill Claudius in revenge.

Hamlet is at first not sure whether to believe the ghost, so he tries to investigate. He pretends to be mad to hide what he is doing. As the play goes on, it becomes hard to tell if Hamlet is actually mad or still just pretending. His behaviour causes him to fall out with Ophelia, a girl he was in love with. He eventually has the idea of getting some actors to put on a play of a king being killed in the way the ghost described to see if Claudius reacts guiltily. Claudius panics when he sees the play, and Hamlet sees this as confirmation that he is a murderer.

Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius in the castle chapel, but cannot bring himself to do it. While waiting outside, he gets into an argument with his mother. Someone moves behind a curtain and Hamlet, thinking it is Claudius, stabs him. It turns out that he has killed Polonius, a royal advisor and Ophelia’s father. Claudius orders Hamlet to be exiled to England. He sets up a plot to have Hamlet killed, but Hamlet escapes and returns to Denmark. Meanwhile, Ophelia has been suffering from madness after falling out with Hamlet. After learning that he has killed her father, she drowns herself. Hamlet reappears at Ophelia’s funeral and gets into a fight with her brother Laertes. Laertes blames Hamlet for his sister and father’s deaths and wants to take revenge. He challenges Hamlet to a sword fight. Hamlet agrees.

The sword fight is arranged to take place at the castle. To get Hamlet killed, Claudius gets Laertes to fight with a sword that has poison on the blade, and brings some poisoned wine in case this does not work. The sword fight begins. After some fighting, Laertes wounds Hamlet and poisons him. During a break, the swords are mixed up and Hamlet ends up fighting and wounding Laertes with the poisoned sword. Laertes shows regret for what he has done and tells Hamlet about the poison as he dies. Meanwhile, Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine by mistake and dies. Realising that he is also dying, Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink the rest of the wine. In his last moments, Hamlet tells his friend Horatio that Fortinbras, a Norwegian prince, should be named as the next King of Denmark.

YOU DO: Finish this sentence:
2) Having read the plot summary, I think Hamlet’s biggest flaw (problem) was… because…

3) Watch this video of the plot of Hamlet (8 minutes).

4) Check your knowledge of the characters and plot using the quiz below:

a) Who is the play’s protagonist (main character)?


b) What was Hamlet’s father called?

King Hamlet

c) Who is Hamlet’s uncle and also marries his mother?


d) According to the ghost of Hamlet’s father, how was he murdered?

He says Claudius poured poison into his ear while he was asleep.

e) Who was Hamlet in love with?


f) What happened to Ophelia?

She killed herself because she was so upset about the breakdown in her relationship with Hamlet and the death of her father.

g) Why does Hamlet choose to put on a play about a king being killed in the same way the ghost claims he was killed?

So he could watch Claudius’ reaction to see whether or not he acts guilty.

h) Who challenges Hamlet to a sword fight?

Laertes, because he blames Hamlet for the death of his father and sister, Ophelia.

i) Who dies at the end of the play?

Hamlet, Claudius, Hamlet’s mother (Gertrude) and Laertes.