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Hamlet Synopsis

Place: Denmark at the castle of Elsinore.

Act 1

Scene 1: The Coronation Hall

The royal Danish court is celebrating the coronation of Queen Gertrude who has married Claudius, brother of the late King Hamlet. Claudius places the crown on Gertrude's head. All leave, and Prince Hamlet, son of the late King and Gertrude, enters. He is upset that his mother has remarried so soon. Ophélie enters, and they sing a love duet. Laërte, Ophélie's brother, enters. He is being sent to Norway and gives his farewells. He entrusts Ophélie to the care of Hamlet. Hamlet refuses to join Laërte and Ophélie as they leave to join the banquet, and goes off in another direction. Courtiers and soldiers, on their way to the banquet, enter the hall. Horatio and Marcellus tell the soldiers that they have seen the ghost of Hamlet's father on the ramparts of the castle the previous night and go off to tell Hamlet.

Scene 2: The Ramparts

Horatio and Marcellus meet Hamlet on the ramparts. The Ghost appears, Horatio and Marcellus leave, and the Ghost tells his son that Claudius murdered him with poison. The Ghost commands Hamlet to take vengeance on Claudius, but Gertrude must be spared. The Ghost withdraws. Hamlet draws his sword and swears to avenge his father.

Act 2

Scene 1: The Gardens

Ophélie, reading a book, is concerned at Hamlet's new indifference. Hamlet appears in the distance, but leaves without speaking. The Queen enters. Ophélie says she would like to leave the court, but the Queen insists she should stay. Ophélie leaves the garden and King Claudius enters. Gertrude suspects that Hamlet now knows about the murder of his father, but Claudius says he does not. Hamlet enters and feigns madness. He rejects all overtures of friendship from Claudius, then announces he has engaged a troupe of actors to perform a play that evening. Claudius and Gertrude leave, and the players enter. Hamlet asks them to mime the play The Murder of Gonzago and then sings a drinking song, playing the fool, so as not to arouse suspicion.

Scene 2: The Play

The King and Queen and the other guests assemble in the castle hall where the stage has been set up. The play begins, and Hamlet narrates. The play tells a story similar to the murder of Hamlet's father. After the "poison" is administered, the "assassin" places the "crown" on his head. Claudius turns pale, rises abruptly, and commands the play to stop and the actors to leave. Hamlet accuses Claudius of the murder of his father, and snatches Claudius' crown from his head. The entire assembly reacts in a grand septet with chorus.

Act 3

Closet Scene

In the Queen's chambers Hamlet delivers the monologue "To be or not to be", then hides behind a tapestry. Claudius enters and prays aloud of his remorse. Hamlet, deciding Claudius' soul may be saved, if he is killed while praying, delays yet again. Polonius enters and in his conversation with Claudius reveals his own complicity. The King and Polonius leave, Hamlet emerges, and Gertrude enters with Ophélie. The Queen tries to persuade Hamlet to marry Ophélie, but Hamlet, realizing he can no longer marry the daughter of the guilty Polonius, refuses. Ophélie returns her ring to Hamlet and leaves. Hamlet tries to force Gertrude to confront her guilt, but she resists. As Hamlet threatens her, he sees the Ghost, who reminds him he must spare his mother.

Act 4

The Mad Scene

After Hamlet's rejection, Ophélie has gone mad and drowns herself in the lake.

Act 5

Gravediggers Scene

Hamlet comes upon two gravediggers digging a new grave. He asks who has died, but they do not know. He sings of remorse for his ill treatment of Ophélie. Laërte, who has returned from Norway and learned of his sister's death and Hamlet's role in it, enters and challenges Hamlet to a duel. They fight, and Hamlet is wounded, but Ophélie's funeral procession interrupts the duel. Hamlet finally realizes she is dead. The Ghost appears again and exhorts Hamlet to kill Claudius, which Hamlet does, avenging his father's death. The Ghost affirms Claudius' guilt and Hamlet's innocence. Hamlet, still in despair, is proclaimed King to cries of "Long live Hamlet! Long live the King!".