Hamlet

Hamlet Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
Prince of Denmark, son of the late King Hamlet and Queen Gertrude, and nephew and stepson to Claudius. Hamlet is one of the most famous figures in Western literature, and, in the world of the theater, one of the most complicated, difficult, and yet sought-after roles ever created. Hamlet’s existentialism, immaturity, and layered, constructed personality make him an odd leading man—a protagonist in a revenge play that is less about the revenge itself and more about tearing down notions of whether vengeance is ever justified (or ever enough). Hamlet, a university student, delivers several long monologues and soliloquies throughout the play which plunge the depths of his psyche—or at least seem to—as he tries to figure out the difference between what society has led him to believe and what his own core beliefs truly are. For instance, though Hamlet’s father’s ghost charges him with securing vengeance for Claudius’s brutal act of regicide, Hamlet isn’t sure whether there is truly any honor in revenge—and his inability to decide one way or the other results in his halting, hobbling inaction, his endless musings on the nature of life and death, and his festering inability to tell the difference between what is real and what is perceived. Shakespeare uses Hamlet to explore the nihilism that takes over once one begins to see life and death as arbitrary and meaningless, and to imagine what cruelties, betrayals, and charades one might resort to as a result of that nihilism. Hamlet’s despicable treatment of his lover Ophelia and his mother Gertrude, his slaying of Polonius, and his public humiliation of Claudius are all consequences of his inability to act simply and decisively—and yet with every day that Hamlet refuses to take action, kill his murderous stepfather, and claim the throne for himself, the “rotten” core of Denmark grows more and more unstable, and vulnerable to foreign interference. Anxious, poetic, brooding, and yet oftentimes rebellious and playful, Hamlet’s contradictory personality, convoluted speeches, and tragic fate make him one of Shakespeare’s best-known characters, and one of theater’s greatest enigmas of all time.

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:
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). 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: 1.2.133-134
Explanation and Analysis:
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Frailty, thy name is woman!

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.150
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Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio
Page Number: 1.2.187-188
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Related Characters: Marcellus (speaker), Hamlet, The Ghost, Horatio
Page Number: 1.4.100
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

O, villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 1.5.113
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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), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Page Number: 2.2.268-270
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O God, 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), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
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 faculties, 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), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
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
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The play’s the thing,
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 2.2.633-634
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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
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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
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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), Polonius
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 is 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), Horatio
Page Number: 5.2.233-237
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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
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...chance to communicate with the ghost. Horatio urges Marcellus and Barnardo to accompany him to Hamlet’s quarters to tell the prince of what they’ve seen. Though the ghost of King Hamlet... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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...Elsinore, Claudius—the new king of Denmark—is holding court. With him are his new wife Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and the queen; Hamlet himself; Claudius’s councilor Polonius; Polonius’s children Laertes and Ophelia; and... (full context)
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Claudius then turns his attention to his “cousin” and “son” Hamlet, asking why “the clouds [of grief] still hang” on him. Hamlet cheekily retorts that he... (full context)
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Claudius speaks up and accuses Hamlet of mourning out of “impious stubbornness.” Such outward displays of grief, Claudius says, are “unmanly”... (full context)
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In a lengthy monologue, Hamlet laments how “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” life has become for him since his father’s... (full context)
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Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo enter and greet Hamlet. Hamlet clearly hasn’t seen Horatio, his friend from Wittenberg, in a while, and is surprised... (full context)
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Horatio begins telling Hamlet about how a ghost which bears a striking resemblance to Hamlet’s father has appeared to... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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...sister, Ophelia, and warns her not to gamble her “honor” by falling in love with Hamlet—a broody man bound to the will of his country. Laertes condescendingly advises Ophelia to mind... (full context)
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...what her brother told her. Ophelia tells him that Laertes gave her some advice about Hamlet. Polonius says he’s noticed that Hamlet and Ophelia have been spending a lot of time... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
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That night, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus stand on the ramparts of Elsinore in the bitter cold, waiting for... (full context)
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The ghost suddenly appears, and Horatio urges Hamlet to address it. Hamlet begins speaking to the apparition, begging to know if it truly... (full context)
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Horatio begs Hamlet at length not to follow the ghost, as it may have devious designs on Hamlet’s... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
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Hamlet follows the ghost as it leads him along, but soon grows tired. He orders the... (full context)
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The ghost tells Hamlet that it is indeed the spirit of his father. He begins speaking of the horrors... (full context)
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The ghost tells Hamlet that though everyone at court has been told that the king died after being bitten... (full context)
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Horatio and Marcellus at last catch up with Hamlet and breathlessly ask him what the ghost had to say. Hamlet is reluctant to tell... (full context)
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Hamlet invites Horatio and Marcellus to touch his sword and swear that no matter how strangely... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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...and she tells him that just now, as she was sewing alone in her room, Hamlet entered unannounced and uninvited with his shirt unbuttoned and his stockings hanging around his ankles.... (full context)
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Ophelia goes on to state that Hamlet grabbed her by the wrist and stared at her for a long while before gently... (full context)
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Polonius asks if Ophelia has done anything to upset or offend Hamlet, and she replies that she took Polonius’s earlier advice to heart—for the last several days,... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude warmly welcome Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of Hamlet’s childhood friends, to Elsinore. Claudius explains that in light of Hamlet’s recent “transformation” in the... (full context)
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...good spirit—and then goes on to tell them he has “found the very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.” Claudius asks for Polonius to tell them both what’s wrong with Hamlet, but Polonius... (full context)
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With Voltemand and Cornelius gone, Polonius moves onto the next topic at hand: Hamlet’s madness. Polonius produces a letter given to him by his daughter. In the letter written... (full context)
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...asks if there’s a way they can test Polonius’s theory. Polonius suggests “loos[ing]” Ophelia onto Hamlet during one of the prince’s long, pensive walks through the main hall of the castle—while... (full context)
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Claudius and Gertrude leave, and Polonius greets Hamlet. Hamlet’s demeanor towards Polonius is cool and removed, and in response, Polonius asks Hamlet if... (full context)
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Polonius is puzzled by Hamlet’s strange demeanor and aggressive conversational style, and decides to try asking him what he’s been... (full context)
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Polonius continues trying to talk with Hamlet, asking if he plans to walk through the gardens or inside “out of the air.”... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and greet Hamlet. He receives them happily, seemingly excited by their presence, and the old friends catch up... (full context)
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Hamlet asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to answer him plainly, as friends, and tell him why they... (full context)
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Hamlet cheekily offers to tell the men the reason for which they’ve been sent. Dramatically and... (full context)
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Rosencrantz suggests that if Hamlet has lost the ability to enjoy the company of real people, he might be charmed... (full context)
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Hamlet wonders aloud why they’re traveling when the pay is better in the city, but Rosencrantz... (full context)
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A trumpet sounds—the players are arriving. Hamlet exuberantly shakes the hands of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, insisting on giving them as warm a... (full context)
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Polonius enters and greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet introduces Polonius to his friends as a “great baby” still in “swaddling-clouts.” Polonius tells Hamlet... (full context)
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Hamlet graciously welcomes the players, and as he greets them it becomes clear that he knows... (full context)
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The First Player commends Hamlet on his good memory and then starts reciting the rest of the speech. The monologue... (full context)
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Hamlet tells the First Player he can stop, then charges Polonius with finding comfortable rooms for... (full context)
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Alone, Hamlet begins a lengthy monologue in which he laments that while even an actor reciting a... (full context)
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As Hamlet calms down a bit, he is struck with an idea. He decides that perhaps, if... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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...hall of Elsinore. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell Claudius that though they’ve tried to talk to Hamlet about the root of his madness, he’s unwilling to answer them and remains “aloof.” Gertrude... (full context)
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Hamlet enters, pontificating to himself. “To be, or not to be,” he asks—he is pondering suicide... (full context)
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Ophelia greets Hamlet and asks how he’s been doing. He tells her he’s been well. Ophelia tells Hamlet... (full context)
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Ophelia retorts that beauty and purity are, in fact, intimately connected. Hamlet suggests that beauty can transform honesty into a “bawd,” but honesty cannot make a sinful... (full context)
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Hamlet tells Ophelia she should get to a nunnery, or convent, quickly—she shouldn’t bring any more... (full context)
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Ophelia cries out for God and the “sweet heavens” to help Hamlet. Hamlet, in return, puts a “plague” on Ophelia, predicting that even if she remains “pure... (full context)
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Alone, Ophelia laments that Hamlet’s “noble mind is here o’erthrown.” All of Hamlet’s potential as a scholar, a soldier, and... (full context)
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Polonius obsequiously agrees with Claudius’s plan, but suggests that before sending Hamlet to England, Claudius should make one final attempt to get to the root of Hamlet’s... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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Hamlet enters with the troupe of actors, instructing the First Player on how to deliver the... (full context)
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Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet asks if the king and queen are going to attend the performance, and Polonius says... (full context)
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Horatio enters, and Hamlet expresses how glad he is to see his true friend. Horatio is overwhelmed by Hamlet’s... (full context)
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...enters with Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and some other members of court. Claudius greets Hamlet and asks the prince how he’s doing. Hamlet gives a roundabout, confusing answer, then asks... (full context)
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Rosencrantz informs Hamlet that the actors are ready. Gertrude asks Hamlet to sit by her during the performance,... (full context)
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...until she falls in love with him. Ophelia is put off by the pantomime, but Hamlet assures her he’s just making some “mischief.” As the First Player enters and begins the... (full context)
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As the player queen leaves the player king alone to his nap, Hamlet turns to Gertrude and asks how she’s liking the play. Gertrude responds that the queen... (full context)
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A player enters the stage, portraying a character called Lucianus. Hamlet tells Ophelia that Lucianus is nephew to the king. She remarks how much Hamlet seems... (full context)
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Hamlet is merry and mischievous as he asks Horatio if he saw how Claudius fled at... (full context)
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Hamlet asks Guildenstern to take the flute from his hands and play a tune. Guildenstern insists... (full context)
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Polonius enters and tells Hamlet that his mother wants to see him right away. Hamlet tells Polonius to go tell... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
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After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave, Polonius enters and tells Claudius that Hamlet is on his way to Gertrude’s room. Polonius plans to hide himself behind a tapestry—again—and... (full context)
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Hamlet enters and sees Claudius praying. He is grateful to at last be alone with the... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
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...chambers, Polonius lays out his plan for the queen, and she agrees to it. As Hamlet approaches, Polonius hides himself behind a tapestry. Hamlet enters and asks his mother what the... (full context)
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Gertrude tries to leave, but Hamlet begs her to stay. Gertrude asks Hamlet if he plans to murder her, and calls... (full context)
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Gertrude asks what she has done to Hamlet to make him talk to her so rudely. Hamlet retorts that she has “pluck[ed] the... (full context)
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The ghost appears, and Hamlet asks the “heavenly guard” what he should do. Gertrude, who apparently cannot see the ghost,... (full context)
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Gertrude tells Hamlet he’s suffering hallucinations, but Hamlet insists he’s perfectly sane and accuses Gertrude of trying to... (full context)
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Hamlet tells Gertrude that he is bound for England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—but predicts that the... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
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Claudius calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern back in, and orders them to go find Hamlet and bring Polonius’s body to the chapel. They hurry off. Claudius tells Gertrude it’s time... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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After hiding Polonius’s body, Hamlet returns to the castle and runs into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They ask him what he’s... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
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Claudius tells some of his advisers that while Hamlet is a dangerous presence in Elsinore, he is beloved by the people—Claudius can’t do anything... (full context)
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Rosencrantz enters and tells Claudius that while Hamlet refuses to divulge where he has buried Polonius, he is outside under guard. Claudius orders... (full context)
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Claudius says that he is concerned for Hamlet’s “safety,” and so has decided to send him away to England. Hamlet bids Claudius farewell,... (full context)
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...speaks aloud, hoping that the King of England will follow the instructions in the letter Hamlet is carrying—and kill Hamlet on sight. Claudius states that he will never be joyful again... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern enter. Seeing the Norwegian army, Hamlet asks the captain what they’re doing... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern walk ahead, but Hamlet lags behind. Alone, he states that his encounter with the army is spurring him to... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 6
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...Elsinore, Horatio receives two sailors who come with a letter from abroad—the missive is from Hamlet, and Horatio reads it out loud. The letter states that after only two days at... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 7
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...however, wants to know why Claudius didn’t pursue vengeance or justice against Polonius’s true murderer, Hamlet. Claudius says there are two reasons he hasn’t killed Hamlet: one being that Gertrude loves... (full context)
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A messenger enters the hall carrying letters from Hamlet—one for Claudius, and one for the queen. Claudius offers to read them aloud for Laertes.... (full context)
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...Laertes to help him in coming up with a new way to get rid of Hamlet that doesn’t look too suspicious. Laertes says he’ll do whatever Claudius asks, and will even... (full context)
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Claudius tells Laertes that when Hamlet arrives home, Laertes should keep a distance from him rather than jumping straight at him.... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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...he go inside and fetch them both some liquor to drink while they work. Soon, Hamlet and Horatio approach the graveyard to find the first gravedigger singing as he digs. Hamlet... (full context)
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When the gravedigger throws a skull out of the ground, Hamlet is further offended by the man’s casual handling of human remains. Hamlet approaches the skull... (full context)
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Hamlet decides to ask the gravedigger whose grave he’s digging. The gravedigger cheekily replies that the... (full context)
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Hamlet asks the man how long he’s been a gravedigger, and the gravedigger answers that he... (full context)
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Hamlet asks how long it takes for a body to begin rotting in the ground, and... (full context)
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Hamlet asks Horatio if he thinks even Alexander the Great came to look—and smell—like the poor... (full context)
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...of courtiers, and a priest approach bearing a coffin. Noticing the plainness of the procession, Hamlet tells Horatio that whomever the group is burying must have committed suicide, but was still... (full context)
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Hamlet, realizing that Ophelia is the one who has died, cries out in pain. He watches... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
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Inside Elsinore, Hamlet tells Horatio the story of his escape from the ship bound for England. Even though... (full context)
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Horatio is stunned by Claudius’s cunning and cruelty. Hamlet says he is more determined than ever to kill the man who killed his father,... (full context)
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A young courtier named Osric enters and greets Hamlet. Hamlet quietly tells Horatio that Osric is a “water-fly” and a fool in spite of... (full context)
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As Osric runs off, Horatio and Hamlet mock him—but then Horatio tells Hamlet he has a bad feeling about the outcome of... (full context)
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...many lords and courtiers bearing trumpets, fencing rapiers, and wine enter the hall. Claudius urges Hamlet and Laertes to come together and shake hands. As Hamlet approaches Laertes, he apologizes for... (full context)
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Osric hands Hamlet and Laertes their swords, and they prepare to duel. Claudius says that he will blast... (full context)
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As the third round begins, Hamlet challenges Laertes to give it his all. The men are evenly matched—but Laertes at last... (full context)
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...sight of such action, Gertrude insists the poisoned wine is what has felled her—she warns Hamlet not to drink it. Hamlet calls out for Osric to lock the doors—there has been... (full context)
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As Hamlet himself collapses and dies, he bids goodbye to the “wretched queen,” and laments that “Death... (full context)
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Before Hamlet dies, the sounds of war trumpets come through the door. Hamlet asks what’s happening. Osric... (full context)
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Fortinbras orders four of his captains to carry Hamlet’s body to a viewing platform. He laments that the prince would have made a great... (full context)