Climax Of Hamlet

Where is the climax in Shakespeare's Hamlet?

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It is understandable that identifying the climax (or "crisis") of the Shakespeare's Hamlet might cause some uncertainty. Sometimes one person may see the climax of the story in a different location compared to others. 

The eNotes Guide to Literary Terms defines the climax as...

...the moment in a play, novel, short story, or narrative poem at which the crisis comes to its point of greatest intensity and is resolved. 

The climax can also be referred to as the turning point. Based on Freytag's definition of dramatic structure, the climax (as you note) is a time of intensity with regard to the plot development and the "tension" or "uncertainty" that may be experienced by the reader. After the climax (or "crisis"), the falling action takes place: the intensity in the plot development subsides, and the story is concluded with the resolution.

Also called the "crisis," the climax is also defined as...

A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end.

With these definitions in mind, I would look to the parts of the play that are most intense. For the sake of argument (and because Shakespeare was such a masterful storyteller), there are several places where the action is particularly "charged." In Act One, scene five, here is a breathless moment when the unsuspecting Hamlet discovers from the Ghost that his father, Old Hamlet, has been murdered:


Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. (29)

Murder most foul, as in the best it is;

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural. (31-32)

But know, thou noble youth,

The serpent that did sting thy father's life

Now wears his crown. (43-45)

In Act Three, scene two, there is a particularly exciting moment when Hamlet sees Claudius' reaction to the reenactment of Old Hamlet's death (in the play, Mousetrap) when Hamlet realizes that he has finally found proof of his father's murder at this uncle's hands:


O good Horatio, I'll take the ghost's word for a 

thousand pound!

Didst perceive? (III.ii.275-276)

Hamlet is thrilled at Claudius' response. He tells Horatio that he had enough proof to believe that the Ghost spoke the truth about Old Hamlet's murder. Hamlet has been vindicated.

Ophelia's insanity and ensuing death are powerful moments, certainly. However, the part of the play that I perceive as that of the greatest intensity is when the remaining members of the royal family all die within moments of each other: when Claudius' treachery is apparent—but too late to save any lives.

In Act Two, scene five, Gertrude is aware that she has been poisoned:


No, no! the drink, the drink!—O my dear Hamlet!—

The drink, the drink! I am poison'd. (317-318)

Laertes admits to what he has done...

…Hamlet, thou art slain;

No medicine in the world can do thee good... (321-322)

The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,

Unbated and envenom'd. The foul practice 

Hath turn'd itself on me...Thy mother's poison'd.

I can no more. (324-328)

...and who is to blame:

The King, the King's to blame. (328)

Hamlet, incensed, attacks Claudius:


Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane,

Drink off this potion! Is thy union here?

Follow my mother. (332-334)

To my mind, the climax is found in this scene of the play. Sometimes the climax can occur very close to the play's end. In this case, all are dead but Horatio, who lives to tells the tale. Fortinbras inherits the Danish throne, and Hamlet, his mother, the King, and Laertes are all dead.

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