They tell him that fathers die all the time, but he does not appear comforted by this. When they leave, he soliloquizes that his mother jumped into a new marriage too quickly after the death of Hamlet's father.
Marcellus, Horatio and the sentry come in and tell Hamlet about the castle Ghost. Hearing the news, Hamlet resolves to see the Ghost himself. Claudius and Gertrude send two student friends of his—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—to discover the cause of Hamlet's mood and behavior.
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Hamlet greets his friends warmly, but quickly discerns that they are spies. That night, the Ghost appears to Hamlet and tells him that Claudius murdered him by pouring poison in his ear. The Ghost demands that Hamlet avenge him; Hamlet agrees and decides to feign madness to avert suspicion. He is, however, uncertain of the Ghost's reliability. Polonius is Claudius's trusted chief counsellor; his son, Laertes, is about to resume studies in France, and his daughter, Ophelia, is courting Hamlet.
Neither Polonius nor Laertes approves of the match, and both warn her off. Shortly afterwards, Ophelia meets Hamlet secretly but is so alarmed by his strange antics that she tells her father of Hamlet's state.
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Polonius blames an "ecstasy of love" for Hamlet's madness and informs Claudius and Gertrude. At their next tryst, Hamlet rants at Ophelia, accusing her of immodesty and dismissing her to a nunnery. He will stage a play, re-enacting his father's murder, and determine Claudius's guilt or innocence by studying his reaction. The court assembles to watch the play; Hamlet provides a running commentary throughout.
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After seeing the Player King murdered with poison in the ears, Claudius abruptly rises and leaves the room: proof positive for Hamlet of his uncle's guilt. Gertrude summons Hamlet to her bedchamber to demand an explanation. On his way, Hamlet passes Claudius in prayer but hesitates to kill him, reasoning that death in prayer would send him to heaven rather than hell. In the bedchamber, a furious row erupts between Hamlet and Gertrude. Polonius, spying hidden behind a tapestry, makes a noise; and Hamlet, believing it is Claudius, stabs wildly, killing Polonius.
The Ghost appears, urging Hamlet to treat Gertrude gently but reminding him to kill Claudius. Hamlet hides Polonius's corpse; and Claudius, fearing for his life, banishes Hamlet to England on a pretext, closely watched by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Demented by grief at Polonius's death, Ophelia wanders Elsinore singing bawdy songs. Her brother, Laertes, arrives back from France, enraged by his father's death and his sister's madness.
Claudius convinces Laertes that Hamlet is solely responsible; then news arrives that Hamlet is still at large. Claudius swiftly concocts a plot. He proposes a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet with poison-tipped rapiers, but tacitly plans to offer Hamlet poisoned wine if that fails.
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Gertrude interrupts to report that Ophelia has drowned. Two gravediggers discuss Ophelia's apparent suicide, while digging her grave. Hamlet arrives with Horatio and banters with a gravedigger, who unearths the skull of a jester from Hamlet's childhood, Yorick, causing Hamlet to contemplate the universal nature of mortality. Ophelia's funeral procession approaches, led by Laertes.
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