Hamlet

Hamlet Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
The prince of Denmark, son of Gertrude, nephew of Claudius, and heir to the throne. Hamlet is a deep thinker, focusing on impossible to answer questions about religion, death, truth, reality, and the motivations of others. He even obsessively contemplates the fact that he obsessively contemplates. He loves Ophelia and his mother, but his mother's marriage to Claudius makes him mistrust and even hate all women. He detests all forms of deception, yet plots and pretends to be insane. At times he even seems to be insane. Despite his obsessive thinking, he can act impulsively, as when he kills Polonius. Hamlet is an enigma, a man so complex even he doesn't completely know himself. In other words, he seems like a real person—which has made Hamlet the most well known character in English literature.

Hamlet Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Hamlet or refer to Hamlet. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not "seems."
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.79
Explanation and Analysis:

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O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.33-34
Explanation and Analysis:

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Frailty, thy name is woman!
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.150
Explanation and Analysis:

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Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio
Page Number: 1.2.87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
O, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 1.5.113
Explanation and Analysis:

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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Horatio
Page Number: 1.5.187-188
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

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I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.273-275
Explanation and Analysis:

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What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.327-332
Explanation and Analysis:

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What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), First Player
Page Number: 2.2.586-587
Explanation and Analysis:

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The play's the thing,
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.633-634
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
To be, or not to be, —that is the question:—
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.64-68
Explanation and Analysis:

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Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Ophelia
Page Number: 3.1.131-134
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery ... 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Page Number: 3.2.393-402
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 4, scene 3 Quotes
Claudius: What dost thou mean by this?
Hamlet: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.33-35
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest.... Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Horatio, Yorick
Related Symbols: Yorick's Skull
Page Number: 5.1.190-198
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
We defy augury; there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.233-237
Explanation and Analysis:

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Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Related Characters: Horatio (speaker), Hamlet
Page Number: 5.2.397-398
Explanation and Analysis:

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Hamlet Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Hamlet appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...without speaking when the cock crows to greet the dawn. Horatio decides they should tell Hamlet, the dead King's son, about the ghost. (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
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Next, Claudius turns to Hamlet, and asks why he is still dressed in mourning clothes. Gertrude wonders why he "seems"... (full context)
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...sons to mourn, but that mourning for too long is unnatural and unmanly. He asks Hamlet to see him as a father, since Hamlet is first in line to the throne.... (full context)
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Gertrude seconds the request. Hamlet promises to obey his mother. (full context)
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All exit but Hamlet. In a soliloquy, Hamlet wishes he could die and that God had not made suicide... (full context)
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Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo enter. Hamlet, who studied with Horatio at Wittenberg, is happy to see his friend, and pleased when... (full context)
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Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost. Hamlet, troubled, decides to watch with the men that night. (full context)
Act 1, scene 3
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...he prepares to leave for France, Laertes warns his sister Ophelia not to fall for Hamlet, a young man whose passions will change, and a prince who must marry to preserve... (full context)
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Polonius asks Ophelia what she was talking about with Laertes. Ophelia answers: Hamlet. After Polonius asks her to explain, she says that Hamlet has expressed his love for... (full context)
Act 1, scene 4
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On the bitter cold ramparts, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus keep watch. Meanwhile, from inside the castle they hear the roar of... (full context)
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The Ghost appears and beckons Hamlet to follow it. But Horatio and Marcellus hold him back: they think the ghost may... (full context)
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Hamlet breaks free of them and follows after the Ghost. (full context)
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Marcellus says "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4.90). They run after Hamlet. (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
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When Hamlet and the Ghost are alone, the Ghost speaks. It claims to be the spirit of... (full context)
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The Ghost commands Hamlet to seek revenge against Claudius for murder and for corrupting Gertrude. Yet the Ghost also... (full context)
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Hamlet promises to do nothing but seek revenge. He curses first Gertrude, "O most pernicious woman!"... (full context)
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Horatio and Marcellus rush in. Hamlet refuses to tell them what happened, saying they'll reveal it. But he does say he... (full context)
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Hamlet despairs at the burden the Ghost has given him: "The time is out of joint.... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
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Ophelia enters, upset. She tells Polonius that Hamlet burst into her room and held her wrists, studying her face and sighing. Then he... (full context)
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Polonius concludes that Hamlet has gone mad with love because, on Polonius's orders, Ophelia stopped speaking with him. (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude greet Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom they summoned to Elsinore to figure out why Hamlet... (full context)
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Polonius enters and says that he has figured out the cause of Hamlet's lunacy. But, first, the ambassadors have returned from Norway. He goes to get them. While... (full context)
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After a long-winded ramble about Hamlet's madness, Polonius reads love letters Hamlet sent to Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude agree that lovesickness... (full context)
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Hamlet enters, reading. The King and Queen leave Polonius alone to talk with him. Polonius speaks... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet greets his old friends warmly, and tells them that Denmark is a prison. They disagree.... (full context)
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Hamlet asks why they've come. They say to visit him, but Hamlet angrily demands whether they... (full context)
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Hamlet cheers up a little when Rosencrantz mentions the arrival of a troupe of players (actors).... (full context)
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Polonius enters with the players. Hamlet mocks Polonius, but greets the players warmly. He asks the First player to act a... (full context)
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Hamlet tells Polonius to treat the players well and give them good lodgings, and privately asks... (full context)
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Alone, Hamlet is furious that the Player could get so emotional over long-dead Hecuba, while he can't... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can't figure out what's behind Hamlet's odd behavior, but tell Claudius and Gertrude that he was excited by the arrival of... (full context)
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...about a "deed" that his "painted words" (3.1.52) can't hide from his conscience. They hear Hamlet coming and hide. (full context)
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In a soliloquy, Hamlet agonizes over whether to kill himself: "To be or not to be" (3.1.55). He thinks... (full context)
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Hamlet asks Ophelia if she's honest, then says beauty corrupts honesty. Becoming angry, he tells Ophelia... (full context)
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Claudius, from his hiding place, decides that Hamlet neither loves Ophelia nor is he mad. Instead, he thinks Hamlet is "brooding" on something,... (full context)
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Polonius still thinks Hamlet loves Ophelia. He requests that after the play Hamlet be sent to talk with Gertrude,... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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Hamlet lectures three of the players on how to act. His lecture focuses on how to... (full context)
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Hamlet has already told Horatio what the Ghost said, and now reveals his plan: the play... (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and others arrive to watch the play. Hamlet tells Horatio he's now going to act insane. (full context)
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Claudius asks how Hamlet is faring. Hamlet responds as if Claudius were using the word "fare" to mean food,... (full context)
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...to act the full play. As the plot becomes clear, Gertrude and Claudius become uncomfortable. Hamlet mocks them, while continuing to launch sexual puns at Ophelia. Claudius asks the name of... (full context)
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Hamlet is triumphant. He tells Horatio that this proves the Ghost was telling the truth. (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and say that his mother wants to see him. Hamlet agrees to go, but furiously tells them they cannot "pluck out the heart of his... (full context)
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Polonius enters, repeating Gertrude's request to see him. Hamlet pretends to see odd shapes in a non-existent cloud. Polonius also pretends to see the... (full context)
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All exit but Hamlet, who says to himself that he could "drink hot blood" (3.2.360), but forces himself to... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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Claudius says Hamlet is a danger, and orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to prepare to leave for England. They... (full context)
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Polonius enters with news: Hamlet is headed to Gertrude's room, where Polonius will hide behind a tapestry. (full context)
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Hamlet enters. He draws his sword to kill Claudius and be revenged. But it occurs to... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
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Polonius and Gertrude wait for Hamlet in Gertrude's chamber. Polonius advises her to be tough with Hamlet. Just then they hear... (full context)
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Hamlet enters. Gertrude says he has offended his father (i.e. Claudius). Hamlet says that she's offended... (full context)
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From his hiding place behind the tapestry Polonius hears Gertrude's cry and calls for help. Hamlet, mistaking Polonius for Claudius, stabs Polonius through the tapestry. (full context)
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Gertrude shouts, "What a rash and bloody deed!" (3.4.27). Hamlet responds, "As bad… as kill a king, and marry with his brother" (3.4.29). Gertrude is... (full context)
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Hamlet forces Gertrude to look at a picture of his father and compare it to one... (full context)
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Hamlet tries to convince Gertrude that he's sane, and begs her to confess her sins, to... (full context)
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Hamlet exits, dragging Polonius's body after him. (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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Claudius sees that Gertrude is upset. She says Hamlet was acting insane, and in his madness killed Polonius. (full context)
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...best to explain the murder to the public, and sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet. (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find Hamlet. They ask where Polonius's body is. Hamlet responds in riddles and insults—he calls Rosencrantz a... (full context)
Act 4, scene 3
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Claudius mulls how to deal with Hamlet. The killing of Polonius has convinced him that Hamlet is too dangerous to remain nearby,... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter with Hamlet. Claudius asks where Polonius is. Hamlet answers that Polonius is feeding worms. He explains that... (full context)
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Claudius sends Rosencrantz to get the body, then tells Hamlet that to protect him he will send him immediately to England. Hamlet agrees, though he... (full context)
Act 4, scene 4
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The captain runs into Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and happily tells them the land about to be fought over is... (full context)
Act 4, scene 7
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Alone with Claudius, Laertes asks why Claudius didn't punish Hamlet for killing Polonius. Claudius answers: First, he loves Gertrude and she's Hamlet's mother; second, Hamlet... (full context)
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A messenger enters with letters from Hamlet. Claudius is bewildered at Hamlet's return. Laertes is pleased: now he'll get his chance at... (full context)
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Claudius reveals his plan: they will poison Laertes's sword. The slightest scratch will kill Hamlet. As a backup, Claudius decides to poison a glass of wine and offer it to... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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Hamlet and Horatio enter. The second gravedigger exits. The first gravedigger throws up a skull he... (full context)
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Hamlet asks the gravedigger how long it takes a body to decompose. The grave digger points... (full context)
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Horatio says Hamlet is considering "too curiously"—is overthinking things. (full context)
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Hamlet and Horatio hear a noise and hide. Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, a priest, and other lords... (full context)
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Laertes jumps into Ophelia's grave to embrace her once more. Hamlet, shocked and distraught at Ophelia's death, follows Laertes into Ophelia's grave and claims to have... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
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In Elsinore, Hamlet tells Horatio that he discovered that the letters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bore to England asked... (full context)
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Hamlet says he has no sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who gave up their honor to... (full context)
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A dandyish nobleman, Osric, enters. Hamlet gets him to agree first that it's cold, then that it's actually hot. Osric announces... (full context)
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Horatio says that Hamlet will lose the wager. Hamlet says he'll win a fair fight, but he has a... (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and the entire court enter to watch the duel. Hamlet apologizes to Laertes. Laertes won't accept the apology until he can consult an expert on... (full context)
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Claudius announces that if Hamlet gets one of the first three hits he will drink to Hamlet's health and then... (full context)
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Hamlet scores the second hit. Gertrude lifts the poisoned cup to drink in Hamlet's honor. Claudius... (full context)
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They duel. Laertes wounds Hamlet, drawing blood. They scuffle, and in the scuffle end up exchanging swords. Hamlet wounds Laertes. (full context)
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Gertrude falls. Claudius claims Gertrude fainted because she saw Hamlet and Laertes bleeding, but Gertrude says the wine was poisoned. She dies. (full context)
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Hamlet stabs Claudius and then forces him to drink the poisoned wine. Claudius dies. (full context)
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Laertes forgives Hamlet and asks for forgiveness. Laertes dies. Hamlet forgives him. (full context)
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Horatio wants to kill himself, but Hamlet forbids it: Horatio must tell Hamlet's story to the world. (full context)
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...returning victorious from Poland, and fired the blast to honor English ambassadors arriving to Denmark. Hamlet says that Fortinbras should be made King of Denmark, then dies. (full context)
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Horatio begins to tell the story of what has happened in Denmark. Fortinbras orders Hamlet be honored as a soldier, since he would have made a great king. (full context)