Hamlet Key Plot Points
by William Shakespeare

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Key Plot Points

While we recommend reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its entirety, we understand that your classroom may have time constraints. The following Key Plot Points are meant to guide you and your students to the most relevant parts of the text so you can plan your lessons most efficiently. 

Hamlet Converses With the Ghost (Act 1, Scene 5): Hamlet agrees to hear what the ghost has to say, and it declares itself the ghost of Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet. It goes on to say that King Hamlet’s death was not an accident, but a murder perpetrated by Claudius. Hamlet, already disgusted by Claudius’s hasty marriage to Gertrude, is quick to condemn both his mother and his uncle. However, the ghost advises Hamlet to leave Gertrude’s judgment to heaven and to only pursue revenge against Claudius. This scene provides the inciting action for the play, furnishing Hamlet with the necessary motivation to pursue his revenge plot. However, doubts over the ghost’s identity and trustworthiness hinder him. 

Hamlet Sets a Trap for Claudius (Act 2, Scene 2 and Act 3, Scene 2): Hamlet’s former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are now spying for Claudius, arrive in Elsinore alongside a traveling theater group. In order to verify Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet decides to stage a play containing a scene modeled after the ghost’s description of its murder. Hamlet hopes that Claudius will be affected by the scene, thereby confirming his involvement in King Hamlet’s death. In order to deter suspicion, Hamlet also begins acting mad. The only person with whom he discusses his plot is Horatio, cementing Hamlet’s isolation within Elsinore. 

Hamlet Confronts Gertrude and Kill Polonius (Act 3, Scene 4): After the play-within-the-play, Gertrude calls Hamlet to her closet and confronts him about his mistreatment of Claudius. Hamlet responds by rebuking her for her hasty and incestuous remarriage. Hamlet’s intensity frightens Gertrude and as she calls out for help, Polonius, who had been spying on the conversation, reveals himself. Hamlet assumes the concealed figure is Claudius and stabs Polonius, killing him. In the aftermath, Hamlet continues to shame his mother for her remarriage to Claudius until the ghost reappears to remind him of his purpose. However, Gertrude cannot see the ghost and takes Hamlet’s actions as a confirmation of his madness. Polonius’s death sets into motion the events of the rest of the play, as Hamlet leaves for England and Laertes returns to Denmark. 

Hamlet Gains Resolve and Laertes Seeks Revenge (Act 4, Scenes 4, 5, and 7): As Hamlet departs for England, he witnesses Fortinbras ’s army passing...

(The entire section is 644 words.)