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A Synopsis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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Shakespeare's Hamlet
Picture from the play Hamlet
Picture from the play Shakespeare's Hamlet
Picture from the play Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet was written about 1601 and first printed in 1603, is perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous play. It exceeds by far most other tragedies of revenge in the power of its ethical and psychological imagining. The play is based on the story of Amleth, a 9th-century Danish prince, which Shakespeare encountered in a 16th-century French account by François Belleforest. Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells the story of the prince’s effort to revenge the murder of his father, who has been poisoned by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, the man who then becomes Hamlet’s stepfather and the king. The prince alternates between rash action and delay that disgusts him, as he tries to enact the revenge his father’s ghost has asked from him. The play ends in a spectacular scene of death: As Hamlet, his mother, his uncle, and Laertes (the lord chamberlain’s son) all lie dead, the Norwegian prince Fortinbras marches in to claim the Danish throne. Hamlet is certainly Shakespeare’s most intellectually engaging and elusive play. Literary critics and actors turn to it again and again, possibly succeeding only in confirming the play’s inexhaustible richness and the inadequacy of any single attempt finally or fully to capture it.


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