Why did Shakespeare make Hamlet so old?

Summary / Summary: Hamlet (Summary Acts and Scenes) - William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) is one of the most important English writers in world literature to this day. According to research, "Hamlet" was completed by Shakespeare in 1601 and has enjoyed great popularity since its first performance.
Hamlet is shaped by the influences of the Renaissance and humanism, and references are made again and again to events in Greek and Roman antiquity. The work is also characterized by individualism, the focus is always on the feelings and actions of Hamlet.
It is unusual for a drama that it extends over several weeks and that there is not just one main plot but several subplots. Hardly any drama is scientifically treated in such detail. The focus is on questions about the date of publication, different versions and the autobiographical references in Hamlet.
Numerous well-known quotes such as “The rest is silence” or “To be or not to be, that is the question here” come from “Hamlet”.

Nude and scene overview

Act 1

The drama "Hamlet" was not adapted to the structure of a classical drama by Shakespeare himself, but only later by his publisher. Even if Shakespeare's drama was not laid out in this style, the result is a classic drama structure.
In the first act, the reader is introduced in the classic style of an exposition. The main characters are introduced and the coming conflicts are slowly indicated. The reader gets revealed through the ghost of Hamlet's father that there are inconsistencies in the past events regarding the death of the father or that it is even supposed to be a murder and that it is Hamlet's job to check these allegations for their truthfulness. At this point, at the latest, it becomes clear that should the statement of the spirit turn out to be true, a major conflict at the Danish royal court threatens.
In addition, the main plot in the first act results in two other subplots: on the one hand, the threatening conflict with the Kingdom of Norway is present, on the other hand, the love affair between Ophelia and Hamlet, which Claudius does not approve of Ophelia's father and brother.

Act 1 scene 1

There is excitement in the Kingdom of Denmark: shortly before his death, King Hamlet won a war against the Norwegian King Fortinbras and obtained his lands. His son, the young Fortinbras, now wants to recapture this and is preparing for another fight. For fear of war, Denmark is also arming itself and has the king's castle, Elsinore, guarded around the clock.
One night, the ghost of the late King Hamlet appears to the guards at Elsinore Castle. Horatio, a friend of the king's son, who bears the same name as his father, is also present one night. However, the mind cannot be addressed. Horatio then decides to inform Hamlet, since he believes that the ghost will speak to him.

Act 1 scene 2

At the Danish royal court, Claudius, the brother of the late King Hamlets, and Gertrude, the widow of the recently deceased king, announce their marriage. Claudius gives a festive speech and at the same time sends Voltemand and Cornelius to Norway, hoping diplomatically to avert the impending war.
Then he first speaks to Laertes, the son of the royal advisor Polonius, and sends him back to France. Then he turns to Hamlet and tells him not to mourn his father any longer and not to return to his place of study in Wittenberg. Hamlet agrees, but reports after the party in a monologue how desperate he is and that he despises his mother. Shortly afterwards Horatio comes to him and reports about the ghost. Hamlet wants to see this with his own eyes.

Act 1 scene 3

Laertes sets out to return to France. Before that, he speaks to his sister Ophelia, who is Hamlet's lover. He warns her urgently not to get involved with this, as he has great doubts that Hamlet is serious about her. On the one hand, he is afraid for Ophelia's honor and virginity, on the other hand, he tells her that Hamlet, due to his status as prince, has to bow to Denmark's approval when choosing a partner.
When Polonius, the father of the two, arrives, he first says goodbye to his son. Then he turns to Ophelia and warns her again urgently against Hamlet. He asks her to distance herself from Hamlet in the future and to reject him more decisively.

Act 1 scene 4

While the castle is still celebrating, Marcellus, Horatio and Hamlet retreat to the castle terrace. They want to wait for the ghost together. This actually appears again and asks Hamlet to follow him. Horatio and Marcellus warn Hamlet not to just follow the ghost. But Hamlet is so depressed by the previous events that he thinks he has nothing more to lose and follows the spirit. Horatio and Marcellus may find the hustle and bustle scary, but they follow Hamlet and the ghost.

Act 1 scene 5

The ghost reveals itself to Hamlet as his late father. He tells him that he did not die from a snake bite, but that his brother Claudius dripped a poisonous mixture into his ear while he was sleeping and he was dead immediately. His father tells Hamlet to take revenge on Claudius. However, he asks him to spare his mother, who may have made a mistake with the marriage, but it is still his mother.
When the ghost is gone, Hamlet vows to take revenge on his uncle. With Marcellus and Horatio, he decides to keep quiet about the nocturnal events. From now on he decides to pretend to hide the fact that he wants to avenge his father.

Act 2

In the second act, which consists of only two scenes, there is an increase in the plot. The situation is slowly worsening as the entire royal court is unsettled by Hamlet's strange behavior. The climax in this act is only hinted at or rather delayed because Hamlet and Claudius are still avoiding each other. Both of them just prefer to spy on each other in order to find out the real motives for their behavior or their confession.

Act 2 scene 1

Polonius instructs Reinhold, his servant, to find out what Laertes is doing in Paris because he doesn't trust him. Ophelia comes into the room soon afterwards and tells her father that Hamlet had behaved strangely. He stormed into her room, carried strange clothes and never spoke a word to her. Polonius believes that Hamlet went mad because Ophelia turned him down. He feels guilty and wonders if it was right to doubt Hamlet's sincerity. He decides to inform the king that Hamlet has changed.

Act 2 scene 2

Claudius commissioned Hamlet's childhood friends Rosenkranz and Güldenstern to find out why Hamlet suddenly behaved strangely. The two ambassadors from Norway also return and report that they have been successful: the King of Norway has agreed never to go to war against Denmark again. After the ambassadors leave, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius look for a reason for Hamlet's behavior.
Meanwhile, Rosenkranz and Güldenstern are talking to Hamlet. He notices that the two want to spy on him and continues to pretend to be moronic, but admits to being sad. When he learns that an acting group is coming to the castle, he is delighted. He has the plan to rewrite the play in such a way that the murder of his father is exactly reproduced and thus to make his uncle confess.

Act 3

In the third act there is a climax or peripetia1. Both Claudius and Hamlet realize that it is inevitable to go against one another. Claudius realizes that Hamlet seems to be behaving so strangely not only because of Ophelia's detachment. Hamlet, in turn, seems to have uncovered through Claudius' behavior during the play that he was guilty of fratricide. In the third scene the tension builds up because Hamlet gets the opportunity to kill Claudius, but does not want to take advantage of it yet. The plot only escalates in the last scene of the act, when Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, believing that Polonius is Claudius.

Act 3 scene 1

Rosenkranz and Güldenstern report to the king that they have not yet been able to find out the reasons for Hamlet's behavior. When Claudius found out about the acting company, he asked the two of them to continue to encourage Hamlet to do so.
He sends the two away and hides with Polonius to eavesdrop on Hamlet and Ophelia. Hamlet first ponders the meaning of life in a monologue. He disapproves of Ophelia and sends her away, saying she should go to a monastery, he doesn't seem to remember their past together.
Claudius is troubled by Hamlet's behavior and pretends to send him to England to collect tribute. Polonius suggests that he first overhear Hamlet and his mother, who should ask him what is bothering him.

Act 3 scene 2

Hamlet is busy organizing the performance of the drama troupe. Together with his friend Horatio, he agreed to watch Claudius during the play. They hope that his behavior will betray himself.
Indeed, Claudius leaves the performance, disturbed, when the passage is performed in which the king is killed by dripping a poisonous mixture into his ear. The festivity is subsequently canceled.
Shortly afterwards, Rosenkranz and Güldenstern convey the news to Hamlet that his mother would like to see him. Hamlet feels betrayed by the two of them, only when Polonius arrives and Hamlet asks again to go to his mother does he comply.

Act 3 scene 3

Claudius fears that, despite his madness, Hamlet will know that he killed his brother. He orders Rosenkranz and Güldenstern to organize the departure for England immediately. Since both Claudius ‘share the opinion that Hamlet's behavior poses a threat to the Kingdom of Denmark, they agree. Meanwhile, Polonius hides in Gertrude's room so that he can overhear her and Hamlet. On the way to his mother, Hamlet meets Claudius. He prays to God and asks him to forgive him for the worst of all sins - fratricide. Hamlet sees the opportunity, but decides against killing Claudius immediately. He hopes that there will be an even better opportunity for revenge.

Act 3 scene 4

The conversation between Hamlet and Gertrude escalates quickly and Gertrude, who fears for her life, calls for help. Polonius, hidden behind a carpet, joins her cry for help. Hamlet takes him for Claudius and stabs him through the carpet. Hamlet does not let his mistake unsettle him. He accuses his mother of breaking her wedding vows and exchanging his father. Gertrude is struck by her son's words and asks him not to speak any further. Suddenly the ghost of his father appears to Hamlet, who asks him to be more friendly with his mother and finally to avenge him. Gertrude, who cannot see the ghost, believes that Hamlet has gone mad. Nevertheless, the two reconcile and Gertrude promises that what has been said will remain her secret.

Act 4

In the fourth act it becomes clear that the impending catastrophe can no longer be averted. Through the death of Polonius, Claudius realizes that Hamlet knows that he killed King Hamlet and that he swears revenge. In the course of the fourth act there are several possibilities for the drama to develop further. Claudius and Hamlet both plan to kill the other. The only question seems to be which plan will be the first to succeed. The death of Ophelia further contributes to the escalation, because due to Hamlet's emotional ties with her, it can be assumed that he will not leave the death of his beloved untouched.
In the last scene the catastrophe is hinted at: Claudius and Laertes are planning an assassination attempt on Hamlet. It now seems inevitable that there will be at least one death.

Act 4 scene 1

Gertrude tells Claudius about her conversation with Hamlet and that Hamlet stabbed Polonius. Claudius is certain that he should have been the one who was murdered. He sends Rosenkranz and Güldenstern to talk to Hamlet. They are also supposed to look for the body of Polonius, which Hamlet previously hid somewhere in the castle.
He himself wants to see to it that he and his wife Gertrude cannot be linked to the death of Polonius, as he fears that he will be held accountable for the murder.

Act 4 scene 2

Hamlet has meanwhile hid Polonius's body. When Rosenkranz and Güldenstern found him, he was again just talking confused things and told his old friends that they were only interested in obeying the king's orders. He even refers to them as sponges in the course of this claim. They claim to know where Polonius's body is in order to bring it to the chapel. However, Hamlet does not provide any information about where he took the body. Despite his dislike of the two men, he lets them lead him to his uncle Claudius without resistance.

Act 4 scene 3

Claudius is in conflict. He is concerned that Hamlet is still a free man. At the same time, he knows that his hands are tied because of Hamlet's popularity with the Danish people. He cannot just publicly condemn him. Rosary arrives and Claudius orders Hamlet to be brought to him. Hamlet gives this information about where the corpse is. Claudius now reveals to Hamlet that he will send him to England for his own safety. Rosenkranz and Güldenstern are to accompany him. You should also take a letter with you for the king.
When the three men are gone, Claudius reveals in a monologue that in the letter he asks the English king to execute Hamlet as soon as he arrives in England.

Act 4 scene 4

On the trip to England, Hamlet and his two companions meet the troops of the Norwegian King Fortinbras. These are on their way to Poland and, according to the agreement with Claudius, are allowed to march through Denmark. In Poland they want to fight a war, but only with the aim of gaining honor through conquest, not economic goods or land. Hamlet feels guilty when he realizes that the soldiers are ready to give their lives for this purpose. In a monologue, he reveals that from now on his actions are aimed at finally exercising bloody vengeance on Claudius for the murder of his father.

Act 4 scene 5

Horatio tells Gertrude that Ophelia has apparently gone mad after the death of her father and the departure of Hamlet. Gertrude goes to her, but cannot talk to her because she is just saying weird stuff. Claudius does not miss the fact that Ophelia apparently no longer seems to be thinking clearly. He assigns Horatio to watch over them.
In the meantime, Laertes has returned from France. He storms Claudius' castle with troops, as he and most of the Danish people are convinced that Claudius is his father's murderer. Laertes threatens Claudius until suddenly his sister Ophelia walks in. He is shocked with her condition. Claudius takes the opportunity and convinces Laertes to track down the real murderer of Polonius.

Act 4 scene 6

Sailors bring Horatio a letter from Hamlet in which Hamlet tells him that he is on his way back to Denmark. The ship was attacked by pirates en route, and he himself turned back after the pirates captured him. Rosenkranz and Güldenstern, on the other hand, are on their way to England. Hamlet also asks Horatio to deliver some letters to King Claudius. When he has done this, he should go to meet him immediately, he has a few things to tell him. The sailors who brought Horatio the letter will lead him to him.

Act 4 scene 7

Laertes is now convinced of Claudius ‘innocence. When Claudius receives a letter from Hamlet and learns that Hamlet will be back at the castle the next day, he and Laertes come up with a plan to kill Hamlet. A public execution still does not seem possible to Claudius. They therefore plan to involve Hamlet in a fencing duel and secretly use a sharp and poisoned weapon. If this plan fails, Claudius then wants to kill Hamlet with a poisoned glass of wine.
Gertrude suddenly comes to the two men and reports that Ophelia drowned in a river. However, it remains unclear whether it is an accident or suicide.Laertes now feels strengthened in his decision to kill Hamlet.

Act 5

The catastrophe has become inevitable in the fifth act. As has already been indicated, Hamlet is angry at the death of Ophelia and gets involved in a fight with Laertes. In the fencing duel, the situation ultimately escalates, Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes and even Gertrude die.

Act 5 scene 1

Two gravedigger dig the grave for Ophelia. They discuss whether she is even allowed to have a Christian burial when she may have committed suicide. A little later, Hamlet and Horatio join in, who want to know who the grave is for. The grave diggers do not give them any information. When the funeral procession arrives, Horatio and Hamlet go into hiding. Only now does Hamlet notice that the dead woman is his lover Ophelia. He reveals himself and wrestles with Laertes in the grave, because as a lover he believes he has a greater right to mourning. The two fighters are ultimately separated. Hamlet hurries away, Horatio after Claudius ‘'s request. Claudius asks Laertes to be patient and reminds him of the plan.

Act 5 scene 2

Hamlet tells Horatio that on the trip to England he read Claudius' letter and prepared it in such a way that Rosenkranz and Güldenstern would be executed instead. Soon afterwards there is a fencing duel between Laertes and Hamlet. Meanwhile, Gertrude accidentally drinks the poisoned wine. In the duel, Laertes wounds Hamlet with the prepared sword, after which a scuffle ensues in which Laertes is also hit. Laertes now reveals his uncle's plan to Hamlet. Hamlet then forces Claudius to drink the wine as well and injures him with the blade. Before they both die, Laertes and Hamlet make up. Suddenly Fortinbras and his troops join the action. As he dies, Hamlet determines that Fortinbras should now take over the throne. Fortinbras immediately orders an honorary military funeral for Hamlet.