Presenting an overview of Shakespeare’s Hamlet play, including quick facts, a plot summary, a character review, setting summary, answers to commonly asked questions about Hamlet and links to more indepth reviews.

Quick Hamlet Facts

When was Hamlet written?

1601

What type of play is Hamlet?

Hamlet is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Where is Hamlet set?

Hamlet is set in the cold, dark isolation of Elsinor a bleak, snow-covered region of Denmark. It’s the royal court of the King of Denmark. The atmosphere is established on the cold, windy battlements of the castle. Most of the action takes place in the interior rooms and corridors of the castle and one scene is set in a nearby cemetery. Read more detail on the settings in Hamlet.

What themes run through Hamlet?

The play falls into the genre of the ‘revenge tragedy’, which was very popular in the Jacobean era with its taste for violence and intrigue. Revenge is the most obvious, and one of the main, themes of the play. Although explorations of the idea of appearance and reality are present in all Shakespeare’s plays, it’s more fully developed in Hamlet, with all it’s plotting, intrigues, deceit and hypocrisy. Other themes are the question of what a human being is; death and mortality and suicide. In common with several other Shakespeare plays, there is a clear Christian parallel.

Who are the main characters in Hamlet?

Hamlet, the son of the recently murdered King is the heir to the throne. He has had the crown stolen from him by his father’s villainous brother, Claudius whom the late king’s widow, Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother – has married. Hamlet’s father’s ghost tells him on the battlements that Claudius murdered him. Hamlet is continuously spied on by Polonius, the garrulous Lord Chamberlain of Denmark. His eavesdropping results in his being accidentally killed by Hamlet. Ophelia is Polonius’ daughter. Led on to a possible relationship by Hamlet, then rejected, she commits suicide by drowning. Her brother, Laertes seeks revenge by plotting with Claudius to kill Hamlet.

Other characters are Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, in whom he confides, Rosencranz and Guidenstern, Hamlet’s fellow university students who spy on Hamlet for Claudius, Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway and a troupe of strolling actors and a pair of gravediggers. See a full list of characters in Hamlet.

What’s the main storyline of Hamlet?

  • Hamlet is summoned home to Denmark for his father’s funeral where a ghost appears who claims to be the former king, Hamlet’s father. The ghost claims Hamlet’s father was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, who then married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and took the throne.
  • Hamlet tries to uncover the truth, making himself appear crazy and mistreating his girlfriend Ophelia so as to deflect Claudius’ suspicion. He arranges for a group of actors to perform a play reenacting King Hamlet’s murder by poisoning to gauge Claudius’ response.
  • Hamlet spies on Claudius, then getting angry accidentally kills Polonius, Ophelia’s father. Claudius sends Hamlet to England on a diplomatic mission, but secretly plans to have Hamlet executed. Hamlet escapes and returns in time to see Ophelia’s funeral, who has drowned herself.
  • Claudius arranges a duel between Hamlet and Laertes, Ophelia’s brother. During the duel Gertrude drinks poison intended for Hamlet. Laertes and Hamlet fights, wounding each other with a poisoned rapier and eventually both die. Read a more indepth summary of Hamlet.

Common Questions About Hamlet

Is Hamlet a true story?

Hamlet is not a true story. It is a work of fiction inspired by the tale of the mediaeval Danish ruler, Amleth, from Gesta Danorum a 1200 AD history of Denmark by historian Saxo Grammaticus. The play is a drama in the tradition of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, and influenced by a play by Thomas Kyd, Ur-Hamlet, now lost.

What kind of person is Hamlet?

Hamlet is a highly intelligent, introspective young man. He is witty and entertaining, showing a strong sense of humour throughout, even in the midst of his mental suffering. He is sociable but inclined to be cruel in the way he speaks to people he doesn’t like. Ultimately, he is a serious, thoughtful man.

Who killed Hamlet?

Hamlet dies in a duel with Laertes, the son of Polonius, a courtier who Hamlet has killed by mistake. The duel is a trap, laid by Laertes and the king, Claudius, in which Laertes is armed with a poison-tipped rapier. During the duel the rapiers are swapped a few times and both men are killed by the poison.

How does Ophelia die?

Ophelia commits suicide. Driven mad by the pressures laid on her by the men in the story – her father, Polonius, the king, Claudius, and her lover, Hamlet – she becomes demented and drowns herself. Hamlet, himself under unbearable emotional pressure, rejects her, and that is the last straw for her.

Famous Hamlet Quotes

Hamlet is quite possibly Shakespeare’s most quoted play, with some huge lines throughout the entire play – many from Polonius, the King’s counsellor. And, of course, Hamlet includes perhaps the most famous of all Shakespeare’s lines, spoken by Hamlet himself:

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”

(Polonius, act 1 scene 3)

This above all: to thine own self be true”

(Polonius, act 1 scene 3)

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

(Polonius, act 2 scene 2)

To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

(Hamlet, act 3 scene 1)

Read all of the top quotes from Hamlet listed on this page.

Hamlet Funnies

mock up of tabloid newspaper cover with headline

Buzzfeed’s take on a tabloid newspaper cover featuring Hamlet

Hamlet Play Resources

Delve deeper into Shakespeare’s Hamlet with various Hamlet resources on NoSweatShakespeare. Have a question on Hamlet? Ask it in the comments seciton below!

Hamlet characters
Hamlet settings
Hamlet quotes
Modern English Hamlet ebook
Read Hamlet in modern English
Hamlet plot summary
Original Hamlet text

hamlet quote pinterest image showing

Kenneth Brannagh looks at skull as he speaks to be or not to be soliloquy

Kenneth Brannagh looks at skull as he speaks Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy


4 replies
  1. Saurabh
    Saurabh says:

    A case can be made that Hamlet is a virtuous young man at the beginning of the play, his sense of morality deeply rooted in his religious beliefs, but that he changes dramatically in the play and succumbs to evil himself by its conclusion. Hamlet’s actions in avenging his father’s death are perfectly justified within the context of Hamlet as a revenge play, but when examined within the greater morality that had framed Hamlet’s life and that is referenced often in the play, his actions seem consistent with the evil of those that surround him.

    Hamlet is truly a dynamic character. Upon first returning to court, the idea of committing murder under any circumstances shakes him profoundly. He fears for his immortal soul; even the idea of taking his own life fills him with fear of God’s judgment. However, after Hamlet kills Polonius while Hamlet is in a state of unbearable emotional suffering, Hamlet immediately spirals downward from his previous standards of moral behavior. He plots and accomplishes the deaths of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern with cold calculation; his actions are deliberate and absent any moral inhibition or sense of guilt. This marks a profound change in Hamlet, suggesting that even he, as morally sound as he had once been, is also capable of evil acts.

    Reply
  2. Robin
    Robin says:

    Your facts are wrong. I have not read Hamlet, so i don’t know what shakespeare have written in the play, but i can guarantee you, Elsinor does not lie in Jutland, but instead on the island Zealand. You write, “Shakespeare sets his Hamlet play in the cold, dark isolation of Elsinor in Jutland, ableak, snow-covered region of Denmark.” The Castle Kronborg where the play takes place, lies in Elsinor and that is on Zealand and not Jutland.

    Reply
    • devil14
      devil14 says:

      i have and it is how it was written in the renassinac when shakespeare was around they didnt have the resources we have now sooo they coundnt detrimian the right facts things were different back then

      Reply

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