In a nutshell, what was Hamlet really about?

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What's Hamlet really about? Life. That's why people are so enamoured with the play. Hamlet may be a prince and his situation unusual, but the questions he wrestles with and the pain he feels are not.

He is forced to see evil in the world (Uncle Claudius) and that there is no one (not even his mother) who can protect him from it. Not only that, his friends and his mother seem to be seduced into embracing that evil. They have their own reasons, their material concerns, but this does not help Hamlet; he learns not to expect people to be trustworthy or loyal.

Hamlet is concerned with doing the right thing, but what is "right action" when everything is wrong? He is in crisis, and (as we all must ultimately do) is forced to work out how to respond on his own. He is also devastated--not only by the death of his father but also by the many layers of betrayal from people who should be closest to him. And, perhaps for the first time, Hamlet recognizes how truly alone he is.

He doesn't know what to do. His grief is so overwhelming he wants to die. And he might help death along were it not for the fact that he doesn't know for sure what will happen when he dies. It would be fine if death meant the end of his torment, but what if his body dies and his mind lives on ("to sleep--perchance to dream")?

He imagines an eternity of mental anguish and decides that to confront his problems head-on is the only answer. And that's life. We can't avoid problems, or we will never be at rest. And that is what Hamlet is really about.

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Hamlet begins with the murder of King Hamlet by his brother Claudius, who inherits the throne and marries the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, is informed by his father’s ghost that he was murdered by none other than Claudius; the king, his father, then orders Hamlet to seek revenge on the man who seized his throne and married his wife.  So begins one of the most famous plays in history. Hamlet has been called "Shakespeare's greatest play; one of the most popular of Shakespeare's plays, a tragedy filled revenge and madness.  From this point on the Danish Prince Hamlet plots revenge on his uncle, the current king, for killing his father. The tragic drama unfolds as Hamlet feigns madness, his mother marries her husband’s murderer, Hamlet’s madness is tested with a young woman, the prince talks to his mother and kills a hidden spy, Hamlet is sent to England with two retainers, and he substitutes a letter requesting his execution with one requesting theirs.

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The play is about a Danish prince whose father has died and whose mother Gertrude remarries a new king, Claudius, in two weeks time.  The ghost of King Hamlet appears and tells Hamlet that Claudius is the murderer, to seek revenge on him while keeping their conversation a secret. Thus begins Hamlet's complicated journey. While considering his options, Hamlet talks about "acting" mad as a cover for his actions - and he does this most notable in his vulgar insults hurled at Ophelia (his "girlfriend") and Gertrude. Hamlet is not convinced of the ghost's claim - and Claudius' guilt - until he puts on a tragic play (very similar to King Hamlet's death) which Claudius protests.

By the time Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius,whom he thought was Claudius, it can be argued he truly falls into madness. This causes Ophelia to go mad and drown. Laertes, who has returned to Denmark from France for his father's funeral and now his sister's, seeks revenge on Hamlet. He then becomes a natural ally for Claudius, who sees Hamlet as a threat and would like to do away with him.

Claudius and Laertes plan to kill Hamlet during a fencing match at court. However, their plan goes horribly wrong and by the end of the duel five people are dead: Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, Hamlet, and Osric who is killed by Fortinbras' inavding army from Norway.   

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Hamlet's father, the King of Denmark, is killed by his brother, Claudius, and Claudius becomes King and marries Hamlet's mother, Gertrude. The Ghost of Hamlet's father visits Hamlet, telling him to avenge his murder. Hamlet pretends to be insane to his family and friends, and even to Ophelia, the woman he loves, in order to investigate more openly (like a Shakespearean Fool, no one will pay him any notice).

For the rest of the play, Hamlet agonizes over whether, when and how to get revenge for his father. He is torn because to avenge his father, he must kill the present King, his uncle, and his mother's husband.

He stabs Polonius not knowing who he has stabbed but being alarmed because of Polonius's cries for help from where he is hiding behind the tapestry.

Claudius then sends Hamlet away in an attempt to have Hamlet killed in England, but Hamlet learns of the plot, escapes and returns to Denmark.

Ophelia goes mad after Hamlet kills her father (Polonius), and her brother Laertes wants revenge against Hamlet for both tragedies, death and madness. They then learn that Ophelia has killed herself. Claudius helps Laertes by setting up a sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes and by poisoning the sword tip and a glass of wine in case Laertes' sword doesn't kill him.

At the sword fighting match held before the assembled court, Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, accidentally drinks the poison wine and dies. Laertes wounds Hamlet with the poisoned sword. They scuffle and get each other's swords. Hamlet wounds Laertes with the poisoned sword. Laertes begs forgiveness and points the guilt to Claudius. Laertes dies.

Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink what's left of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies. Hamlet speaks to Horatio and names Fortinbras, the man who asks no questions but acts decisively, as his successor.

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