Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the British Council's online course, Exploring English: Shakespeare. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 seconds Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, has come back from university to find that his father, the old king is dead. His mother has married his father’s brother, Claudius, who is now King of Denmark. Hamlet is shocked that his mother has married so soon after his father’s death, and angry that she has married Claudius. Soon, a ghost is seen walking the castle walls. The ghost looks like Hamlet’s father, the dead king. When Hamlet sees the ghost, he is told that it is the ghost of his father. “I am your father’s spirit,” the ghost tells Hamlet. It tells him that Hamlet’s father did not die naturally but was murdered by his brother, Claudius.

Skip to 1 minute and 15 seconds As the king slept, Claudius put poison in his ear, causing the king a painful death. The ghost tells Hamlet to take revenge on Claudius for murdering his father. Hamlet can’t believe that his mother would marry the man who murdered her husband. He becomes depressed, and he thinks of killing himself. To be, or not to be. That is the question. Hamlet decides to pretend to be mad while he tries to find out if King Claudius really did kill his father. Claudius soon notices that Hamlet is behaving strangely, so he asked Polonius, his advisor, to spy on him. Polonius thinks that the best person to find out what is causing Hamlet’s strange moods is Polonius’s own daughter, Ophelia.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 seconds This is because Ophelia is Hamlet’s girlfriend, and so she’s close to him. But when Ophelia tries talking to him, Hamlet gets very angry, tells her that he never loved her, and breaks up with her. Ophelia is very upset by this. A group of travelling actors arrives in town. Hamlet gets them to perform a play at the castle. Hamlet’s play contains a scene in which someone murders a king by putting poison in his ear, exactly what the ghost said had happened to Hamlet’s father. Hamlet’s plan is to watch King Claudius during the play and see how he reacts when he sees his own crime performed on stage. Then Hamlet will know if Claudius is guilty or not. Hamlet’s plan works.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds King Claudius becomes so angry that he interrupts the play and goes off in a rage. Claudius starts thinking of ways to get rid of Hamlet. Soon afterwards, Hamlet sees Claudius praying and wants to kill him. But worries that if he does, Claudius will go to heaven instead of going to hell, which as a murderer, he deserves. So Hamlet does nothing, and goes to speak to his mother. While they are talking in his mother’s room, he sees someone moving behind the curtain. Hamlet thinks that it is Claudius, so he takes his sword and stabs through the curtain. But he is shocked to find he has, in fact, killed Polonius, the adviser. Not Claudius.

Skip to 4 minutes and 10 seconds This, of course, means that Hamlet has killed the father of his girlfriend, Ophelia. Ophelia goes mad and drowns herself in a river. Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, comes to her funeral and is furious about what has happened. He and Hamlet argue about who loved Ophelia most, and King Claudius now sees an opportunity to finally get rid of Hamlet. He organises a sword fight between Hamlet and Leartes. To make sure that Hamlet is killed, Claudius gives Laertes as a sword covered in poison. He also prepares a cup of poisoned wine. But Claudius’s plans go horribly wrong when the poisoned sword wounds both Hamlet and Laertes. And Hamlet’s mother drinks from the poisoned cup.

Skip to 5 minutes and 6 seconds Knowing that he is about to die himself, Hamlet kills Claudius, finally getting revenge for the murder of his father.

Skip to 5 minutes and 18 seconds At the end of the play, all of the royal household of Denmark are dead.

The story of Hamlet

Watch and find out what happens to the different characters in the play:

  • Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark
  • Hamlet’s father
  • Hamlet’s mother
  • Claudius, Hamlet’s father’s brother
  • Ophelia, Hamlet’s girlfriend
  • Polonius, Ophelia’s father
  • Laertes, Orphelia’s brother

Make notes as you watch.

Tell us more

  • Do you sympathise with Hamlet? Why? / Why not?
  • Which other character(s) do you sympathise with?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Exploring English: Shakespeare

British Council