This Hamlet summary will take around 5 minutes to read, or you can listen to it here:

Read our short Hamlet summary to help you understand the play. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a much loved – and studied – play, set in Elsinore, a bleak region of Denmark. The main themes are revenge, reality, deceit and mortality, and is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies.

Here’s a brief Hamlet summary:

Prince Hamlet’s student friend, Horatio, goes to the battlements of Denmark’s Elsinore castle late at night to meet the guards. They tell him about a ghost they have seen that resembles the late king, Hamlet. It reappears and they decide to tell the prince. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, having become king, has now married Hamlet’s widowed mother, Gertrude.

In the court, after envoys are sent to Norway, the prince is dissuaded from returning to university. Hamlet still mourns his father’s death and hearing of the ghost from Horatio he determines to see it for himself. Laertes, son of the courtier, Polonius, departs for France, warning his sister, Ophelia, against thinking too much of Hamlet’s attentions.

The ghost appears to Hamlet and tells him that he was murdered by Claudius. The prince swears vengeance and his friends are sworn to secrecy as Hamlet decides to feign madness while he tests the truth of the ghost’s allegations. He rejects Ophelia, as Claudius and Polonius spy on him seeking to find a reason for his sudden strange behaviour. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, former student friends of Hamlet, are summoned by Claudius and their arrival coincides with that of a group of travelling actors. The prince knows these players well and they rehearse together before arranging to present Hamlet’s choice of play before the king and queen, which will include scenes close to the circumstances of the old king’s death. At the performance Hamlet watches closely as Claudius is provoked into interrupting the play and storming out, resolving to send the prince away to England. Hamlet is summoned by his distressed mother and, on the way he spares Claudius whom he sees kneeling, attempting to pray. To kill him while he is praying would send his soul to heaven rather than to the hell he deserves.

Polonius hides in Gertrude’s room to listen to the conversation, but Hamlet detects movement as he upbraids his mother. He stabs the concealing tapestry and so kills the old man. The ghost reappears, warning his son not to delay revenge, nor to upset his mother.

As the army of Norway’s King Fortinbras crosses Denmark to attack Poland, Hamlet is sent to England, ostensibly as an ambassador, but he discovers Claudius’s plan to have him killed. Outwitting this plot Hamlet returns alone, sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in his stead. During Hamlet’s absence, Ophelia goes mad as a result of her father’s death and she is drowned.

Hamlet returns and meets Horatio in the graveyard. With the arrival of Ophelia’s funeral Hamlet confronts Laertes who, after attempting a revolt against Claudius, has taken his father’s place at the court. A duel is arranged between Hamlet and Laertes at which Claudius has plotted for Hamlet to die either on a poisoned rapier or from poisoned wine. The plans go wrong and both Laertes and Hamlet are wounded, while Gertrude unwittingly drinks from the poisoned cup. Hamlet, in his death throes, kills Claudius, and Horatio is left to explain the truth to the new king, Fortinbras, who returns, victorious, from the Polish wars.

And that’s a quick Hamlet summary. What are your thoughts – anything unclear, or missing? Please let us know in the comments section below.

See summaries of Shakespeare’s other plays >>

Hamlet holds up a skull in front of him

The British actor and director Kenneth Branagh holding a skull in his hand in Hamlet. 1996 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

20 replies
  1. Dan Lampert
    Dan Lampert says:

    Hi again, I found another misspelling in the last paragraph of the plot summary of Hamlet… “wroing” should be “wrong”. Also, at the beginning of the same paragraph, Hamlet is not capitalized. Alas, these are little things that don’t detract from the great value in these summaries. Thank you for publishing them.

  2. Benjamin NC
    Benjamin NC says:

    A reliable source indeed, makiny for easy understanding of the drama text-HAMLET. Thanks for publishing.

    • Ed Goldswain
      Ed Goldswain says:

      Now there’s a question! But on this occasion you’ll have to put your thinking hat on (and do your own homework!) ;)

    • Ryguy
      Ryguy says:

      No. The circumstances hen was dealt with we’re unbearable. He did his best to cope, but in the end failed for all the right reasons

  3. Kendu edet
    Kendu edet says:

    Three ideas are being refered 2 when using HAMLET. One is the title of the book,hamlet,as a character and Hamlet as the late king. Emphasis should be given.

  4. Mark McComas
    Mark McComas says:

    Thanks for publishing this summary. I have never understood Hamlet until I read it. I knew snippets of dialog from high School and had to memorize the first part of the soliloquy, but that was it. Thanks again for going to the trouble. I am 62. I will say that the best performance I ever saw of the play was Sir Laurence Olivier in the (circa
    )1949 version.

  5. poornima-rajan
    poornima-rajan says:

    thank u so much for publishing this summary.Iam feeling very easy to present it in my class. Again thank u so much

    • the guy
      the guy says:

      because his uncle/stepfather was praying for forgiveness and
      Hamlet didn’t want to send him to heaven but to hell so he waited until his uncle sinned again.

    • blue and cat coloured dog
      blue and cat coloured dog says:

      Because his ‘sword’ was too short for his step dad to take and he felt ashamed, but his step dad appreciated the gesture and Hamlet had a pretty little son named Horatio. Horatio went on to slay Fortinbras, the murderer of his dad.

  6. Hamlet Summary
    Hamlet Summary says:

    I find the character of Hamlet quite fascinating and feel that we all can relate to it in one place or the other. The summary here and every where else is as intriguing as the play. I wonder how Shakespeare procured thoughts for such a philosophical play and could win the hearts of the audience. The brilliant measure of depth, versatility and that ‘magical’ touch makes Hamlet the best and I feel honored to read it every time.

  7. Sahil Kumar
    Sahil Kumar says:

    Arguably the greatest work written in English, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a joy to read, and, with a lesson in every sentence, is also enlightening in the upmost. Including some of the most famous lines ever written, Hamlet walks on higher ground than just about anything else.


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