How can I describe the plot of Hamlet very briefly (in under thirty words or so)?

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katwood001 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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William Shakespeare's Hamlet is one of the more complex tragedies, therefore it seems difficult to summarize it in 25 words.  One of the methods you can use in creating your 25 word summary is to write what is called a "One-Sentence Summary" or a logline.  This method is used by authors to pitch their story to a publisher.  Approach writing your 25-word summary as if you were Shakespeare pitching your story to a modern day publisher.  

  It should include:

  • The major characters: In this case, Hamlet and Claudius are essential.  Probably a mention of Gertrude and the Ghost of Hamlet's Father, would be needed to provide the proper background.
  • The major conflict: Claudius has poisoned Hamlet's father and married the Queen.  Hamlet has been charged by his father to find the killer.
  • What is at stake for the protagonist: Hamlet has sworn he will avenge his father.  If he doesn't he would be facing eternal damnation for forfeiting his oath.
  • Hamlet also risks losing his mother, his girlfriend, his freedom, and his life.
  • The action in the story: Hamlet pretends to be insane in order to root out the truth about his father's death.

Tips on writing a one sentence summary: 

  • Stick to the major plot line: Hamlet has been tasked by his father's ghost to find his murderer and Hamlet pretends to be insane in order to discover what happened.  
  • Make the conflict clear.  Hamlet must discover what happened to his father while living beside Claudius, the murderer.  Claudius will do anything to hide what he has done, including trying to murder Hamlet during a duel.

Think of using the following formula: When (opening conflict) happens, the (protagonist) must (what they must do to overcome the conflict) to (character's stake in the story.)  

Example: Hunger Games

Main Character: Katniss Everdeen

Opening Conflict: Must volunteer for the Hunger Games in order to save her sister.

Stake: Her life

Action: She must battle nature and her fellow competitors in order to be the last tribute standing.

One Sentence Summary: In order to save her sister, Katniss Everdeen must volunteer for the Hunger Games, and there she finds herself fighting for her life against nature and her fellow competitors in order to be the last tribute standing and return home.   

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