Prince Hamlet of Denmark returns to his torn nation and finds his anguish deepened by the remarriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude. His uncle, Claudius, now sits upon the throne, presiding over a country in fear of invasion.
Hamlet's love, Ophelia, awaits the return of her Prince, despite the strong doubts of her father and brother, Polonius and Laertes.
Hamlet's comrade, Horatio exposes the young Prince to a world of uncertainty when the ghost of his father appears to reveal his murderer. Hamlet now faces his biggest ever challenge – to avenge the murder of his father by killing his uncle, the King.
The Palace is trembling with assumptions of insanity, when Hamlet's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. In a bid to find the cause of this, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude send friends of Hamlet to spy on him and discover the truth.
Hamlet is tortured by the visitation of his father's ghost, but does not reveal this to his friends as he discovers the purpose of their visit. Queen Gertrude comes to understand that it was her premature remarriage that has caused his behaviour, unaware of the deadly truth.
As Hamlet continues his search for the truth, his love for Ophelia is shattered. He has developed disillusionment with women as a result of his mother's actions and refuses to overcome it.
Tormented and torn apart, Hamlet and Ophelia's love lies victim to the consequences of the political struggle at hand.
Hamlet, consumed by his promise for vengeance, devises a plan to "catch the conscience of the King" (II.ii.606-607). He employs a travelling theatre troupe to re-enact the former King's murder, a task that would see Claudius incriminated.
In this time of great upheaval Polonius, advisor to the King, is mistakenly slayed. Hamlet's fate is now sealed, this recent killing appearing as evidence of his madness.
Now exiled by Claudius for Polonius' murder, Hamlet is sent to England to deliver his own letter of execution. True to his promise, however, he escapes and returns to his homeland. His bitter struggle of honour and truth continues as he returns to carry out his mortal task.
All is not right with the Kingdom when he returns, as Hamlet discovers that much has changed. Ophelia, driven to madness by the death of her father and Hamlet's absence, drowns herself in a nearby river. Laertes, seeking to avenge Polonius' death has also sided with the murderous King in an attempt to destroy Hamlet.
Learning of Ophelia's death Hamlet is overcome with grief, now feeling that he holds nothing to lose. The Prince's mission has seen him become preoccupied with death. This current state is fuelled further by the discovery of Yorick, his former Jester's, skull. Reinforcing the inevitability of death, Hamlet draws upon this notion for reassurance.
Hamlet is now certain of what he must do, the Prince striving to reveal the truth and ultimately to do what is right. Fury breaks loose when his return is discovered. Hamlet and Laertes find themselves in a swordfight with poison laced blades, the Queen mistakenly drinks a toast of poison to her son, and the King is exposed for the murderer that he is. In this time Hamlet sees his haunting debate between life and death put to the ultimate test, as the leaders of the Kingdom all find themselves slain.
Link to play script in entirety:
In groups have students choose a scene to work with. Ask the students to create a one-minute 'dumb show' for presentation to the class. See if the audience can identify what is happening, and what characters are being portrayed. (A 'dumb show' is a mimed preview of what is to come in the feature play. These were often seen before a traditional Shakespeare play.)
In groups create a series of four to six freeze frames that represent any major events in the play. This will help to assess students' comprehension of what they have learnt.