A Guide to All of the Scenes in 'Hamlet'

A 'Hamlet' Scene-by-Scene Breakdown

This Hamlet Scene-by-Scene Breakdown guides you through Shakespeare’s longest play.

Hamlet is considered by many to be Shakespeare's greatest play because of the emotional depth contained within it. Hamlet, the brooding Prince of Denmark, is grief stuck and attempting to revenge his father's murder, but thanks to his tragic character flaw, he continually puts off the deed until the play reaches its tragic and bloody climax.

The plot is long and complex, but never fear! This Hamlet scene-by-scene breakdown is designed to walk you through. Just click for more detail on each act and scenes.

The sighting of the ghost is reported to Hamlet
The sighting of the ghost is reported to Hamlet. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

The play begins on the foggy battlements of Elsinore castle, where a ghost appears to Hamlet's friends. Later in Act One, Hamlet goes out to wait for the ghost whilst a celebration continues in the castle. The ghost explains to Hamlet that he is the spirit of Hamlet's father and cannot rest until revenge is taken upon his murderer, Claudius.

We soon meet Claudius and Hamlet's disapproval of the new King of Denmark is clear. Hamlet blames the Queen, his Mother, for jumping into a relationship with Claudius too quickly after the death of his father.

We are also introduced to Polonius, a busy-body official of Claudius' court. More »

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Polonius wrongfully believes that Hamlet is head-over-heals in love with Ophelia and insists that she no longer sees Hamlet.

But Polonius is wrong: he thinks that Hamlet's madness is the product of his rejection by Ophelia. Hamlet's good friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are instructed by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to draw Hamlet out of his melancholy. More »

The Curtain Scene from 'Hamlet'
The Curtain Scene from 'Hamlet'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unable to help Hamlet and report this back to the King. They explain that Hamlet is preparing a play, and in a last-ditch attempt to indulge Hamlet, Claudius allows the play to take place. 

But Hamlet is planning to direct the actors in a play that depicts his father’s murder – he hopes to study Claudius’ reaction to this to ascertain his guilt. He also decides to send Hamlet to England for a change of scenery.

Later, Hamlet has about revealed Claudius’ villainy to Gertrude when he hears someone behind the curtain. Hamlet thinks it is Claudius and thrusts his sword through the arras – he has killed Polonius. More »

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‘Hamlet’ Act 4 Scene Guide

Claudius and Gertrude
Claudius and Gertrude. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

The Queen now believes that Hamlet is mad, and Claudius informs her that he will soon be sent away.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are tasked with taking Polonius' body to the chapel, but Hamlet has hidden it and refuses to tell them.

Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England when he hears of Polonius’ death. Laertes wants to avenge the death of his father and strikes a deal with Claudius.

The fight scene from 'Hamlet'
The fight scene from 'Hamlet'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Hamlet contemplates the lives belonging to the graveyard’s skulls and a duel between Laertes and Hamlet is fought. A fatally wounded Hamlet kills Claudius before drinking the poison to take the agony out of his death. More »