Hamlet – Pre-Intermediate Level
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Prince Hamlet was the only son of Hamlet, King of Denmark. He loved his father and mother dearly. He was also happily in love with a sweet girl named Ophelia. Her father, Polonius, was one of the most important people in the King’s Court.
Young Hamlet’s father died while he is away studying at college. He came home as quickly as he could, and was told that the King died from a snake bite. He was both surprised and hurt when he was also told that the Queen was to marry again. And this before the King had laid in the ground a month!
Even worse, the man that the Queen had decided to marry was the dead King’s brother, Claudius. All the people at the time thought that this was strange. It did not seem right for a woman to marry her dead husband’s brother. Also, Claudius was not a good and wise man like King Hamlet. If the Queen had not married Claudius, Prince Hamlet would have been made king. The people loved Hamlet. Some could not help wondering whether Claudius had played some part in the King’s death so that he could become king.
But a strong king was needed. The Court accepted Claudius as King because there was a possibility of war. On the day Hamlet was born, his father was fighting a war over some land that was part of Norway. During this war, King Hamlet fought with and killed the King of Norway. The son of the dead king, Prince Fortinbras, was building an army. People believed that he had plans to attack Denmark and take back this land.
When Prince Hamlet got back home, a great sadness came over him like a dark cloud. He was sad because of the death of the King, and he was sad because his mother seemed to have forgotten his father. He was no longer bright and happy. He was tired of the world and wore black all the time. He lost his handsome looks and his enjoyment of books, sports and the other things he liked to do.
The Queen and Claudius asked Hamlet to change the way he dressed for the day of their wedding. “No!” he said. “It is not only the black I wear on my body that shows how I feel. I carry great sadness in my heart for my dead father. His son at least remembers him, and hurts still.”
Claudius answered, “This show of sadness is too much. Of course it must still hurt to think about your poor father, but…”
“No!” said Hamlet angrily, “I cannot in one little month forget those I love.”
With that the Queen and Claudius left him to go and enjoy their wedding party.
Hamlet, left alone, began to think about what he should do. What mostly troubled him was an uncertainty over what caused his father’s death. For he could not believe the story about the snake bite. The answer seemed all too clear to Hamlet. Claudius was the snake who killed the King. He did it so that he could take his brother’s place by marrying the Queen and becoming king.
Yet Hamlet could not say anything to anyone. He had no way of showing that this was true. He was also worried about two other questions. How much, if anything, did his mother know? And was she also was part of the murder?
While he was thinking about these things Horatio, a friend who went to the same college, came to see him.
“What brought you back home?” Hamlet asked.
“I came for your father’s funeral,” answered Horatio.
Hamlet laughed in an ugly way. “Today’s wedding follows so quickly that they must be eating the food left over from the funeral dinner,” he said. “My father! I can see him in my mind’s eye. We shall not look upon his like again.”
“My friend,” said Horatio, “that is why I came to see you. I think I saw him last night.”
Hamlet listened in surprise as Horatio told him what had happened. “Yesterday I heard that a ghostly form which looks like the dead King had been seen by soldiers on watch on the castle wall. They told me they had seen it for the last three nights. Last night, I went myself to see if the story was true. I saw the ghost just as the guards had said. It appeared on the pathway on top of the wall just as the clock sounded midnight. I tried to talk to it but it would not answer.”
“The appearance of the ghost must be for a reason,” said Hamlet. “Perhaps it has something to say to me. I will go to see it tonight.”
At midnight, Hamlet was standing on the castle wall with Horatio and another friend. Sure enough, the ghost of the dead King, in the clothes he used to wear, appeared.
At first Hamlet was frightened. But the ghost looked at him so sadly, and looked so much like his father, that he spoke to it. “Hamlet, King, Father!” he called. “Why have you come and what can I do to give peace to your spirit.”
The ghost made a sign for Hamlet to follow it. Horatio and his other friend tried to stop him. They were frightened that the ghost might hurt Hamlet or cause him to go mad and jump from the castle wall. But Hamlet went anyway.
When they were alone the ghost spoke. It told Hamlet that it was the spirit of his dead father, and that what he had thought was true. The Queen and Claudius had fallen in love, so Claudius killed the King to take his place. The ghost then told Hamlet how he was killed. He said that Claudius put some drops of poison into his ear one afternoon as he slept in his garden. He told of how he died quickly but in a terrible way.
“For my spirit to have peace,” said the ghost, “you must take action over this wicked murder by killing my brother. But do nothing against the Queen, for I have loved her and she is your mother.” Then, seeing the morning coming, the ghost disappeared. As it left, it cried out “Please remember me!”
“Remember you!” cried Hamlet. “I will remember nothing else. Your wish alone lives in my brain. Now, there is nothing left but to do as you ask.”
As the sun was coming up Hamlet went back to where Horatio and his other friend were waiting on the castle wall. He made them promise not to tell anyone else about the ghost. He then went inside to think how he might best kill Claudius.
The shock of seeing and hearing his father’s ghost had a strange effect on Hamlet’s mind. It almost made him go mad, which gave him an idea. He was worried that people may be watching him closely for signs that he was planning to kill his uncle. So he decided to act as if he really was mad.
From this time Hamlet dressed and spoke in funny ways. He acted not only strangely but sometimes wildly. And he did this so well that Claudius and the Queen both believed him to be truly mad. But they did not know of the appearance of the ghost. So they did not think that sadness for his father’s death was the reason for his madness. They decided that it must be because of his love for Ophelia.
Ophelia’s father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, had both told her that she should not have anything more to do with Hamlet. Polonius had taken all of Hamlet’s love letters from her, and told her not to accept any more. He also made her tell Hamlet that he must not to come to see her again.
Hamlet loved Ophelia and could not stay away. But he had to be rude and mean to her in acting out his madness. At one point he felt so sad for the way he had treated Ophelia that he sent her a letter. Among many words of foolishness were some lines saying how much he loved her. Ophelia showed this letter to her father who in turn showed it to Claudius and the Queen. From that time on everyone was sure that the cause of Hamlet’s strange actions was love.
Together, Claudius and Polonius asked Ophelia to speak with Hamlet while they hid and listened. Hamlet entered the room, but did not see Ophelia. He was talking to himself. “To be, or not to be, that is the question!” he said loudly, and continued talking. Here he was asking himself whether it was better “to be” (to continue living) or “not to be” (to kill himself because his life was so sad). In the end he decided that living was better. He thought that, for people who kill themselves, something after death might be as bad or worse than their problems in life.
Hamlet stopped speaking when he saw Ophelia. She told him that she wanted to return all the things he had given her because of the unkind way he had treated her. They argued and Hamlet told her to go away and spend the rest of her life living and working in a Church.
Hamlet became more and more unhappy. He could not rest and dearly wanted to do as his father’s ghost had asked. However, not only was Claudius always closely guarded, but Hamlet was also of a peaceful nature. He could not easily kill another man, even his father’s murderer. And sometimes he wondered whether the ghost was truly his father’s spirit. He worried that it may be the devil trying to trick him into a terrible wrong.
At this time some traveling actors who were old friends of Hamlet came to the castle. They were very good actors and he decided to use them to test if the ghost’s story was true. He asked them to act out a new play before Claudius and the Queen. This play was the story of a man who murders a close family member in his garden and afterwards marries the dead man’s wife.
Claudius, the Queen and the whole Court sat and watched the play. They all saw, acted out in front of them, the things that Claudius had done. When, in the play, the family member dropped poison into the ear of the sleeping man, Claudius could take no more. He suddenly stood up and shouted, “Give me some light! Away!”. He then ran out of the room, with the Queen and others following.
“Now I am sure the ghost spoke true,” Hamlet said to his friend Horatio. “For if Claudius had not done this murder, he would not have been so upset to see it in a play.”
Claudius asked the Queen to send for Hamlet. He wanted her to talk about how unhappy they were about the play and his other recent actions. He worried that the Queen may try to help Hamlet by not telling him all that was said. Wishing to know everything, he got Polonius to listen by hiding himself behind the curtains in the Queen’s room.
On his way to his mother’s room, Hamlet passed Claudius who was alone and unguarded. The story in the play had greatly upset the King, and he was on his knees trying to pray. Hamlet thought about killing him as he was doing this but decided not to. He was worried that, if Claudius died while praying, he may escape being punished by God for killing his father.
When Hamlet met with his mother, she began to talk to him about his actions. She told him how he had greatly insulted his father. By this, she meant Claudius. Because she had married him, she called Claudius Hamlet’s father.
Hamlet became very angry that she used the word father to talk about the murderer of his true father. “Mother, YOU have much insulted MY FATHER,” he answered sharply.
The Queen asked him if he had forgotten that it was his mother and queen that he was speaking to.
“I wish I could forget,” answered Hamlet. “You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife; and you are my mother. I wish you were not what you are.”
“Well then,” said the Queen, “if you show me so little respect, I must send others to speak to you.”
She was going to send Claudius or Polonius to talk to him. But Hamlet would not let her go now that he had her alone. He wanted to see if his words could make her understand that she had done wrong. Taking her by the hands, he held her in place and made her sit down.
The Queen was frightened at Hamlet’s actions and strange words. She cried for help and Polonius, behind the curtain, cried out also. “Help, help, the queen!” he called.
Hamlet, hearing this, thought it was Claudius who was hidden there. He pulled out his sword and pushed it into the curtain where the voice came from. When he looked at the body, he saw that it was not the King but poor Polonius. So now Hamlet had upset both his uncle the King and his mother, and by bad luck had killed his true love’s father.
“Oh, me!” cried the Queen, “What a careless and bloody thing have you done!”
“A bloody thing, mother,” answered Hamlet, “but not so bad as yours, who killed a king and married his brother.”
Hamlet told the Queen all his thoughts and how he knew that Claudius had killed his father. He asked her, at least, to show no more love for Claudius. As they spoke the dead king’s ghost appeared before Hamlet. He asked him to be kinder to the Queen, and not to forget that he has promised to kill Claudius. The Queen could not see the ghost and, when it has gone, they parted.
The Queen told Claudius some of what happened. She told how Polonius was dead, and how Hamlet in his madness thought that he was talking to the ghost of the dead King. But she did not tell Claudius the things Hamlet had told her about the death of his father.
The killing of Polonius gave Claudius a reason to send Hamlet away. He would have liked to have put him to death. But he was frightened of the Queen, who still loved the Prince, and of the common people who also loved him.
“This shows that Hamlet is surely mad,” said Claudius. “And since he has killed Polonius, we must send him away to England for his safety.”
So Hamlet was sent, along with two men who were carrying a letter from Claudius to the English king. The letter asked that Hamlet be killed as soon as he arrives. But Hamlet read it when Claudius’s men were not looking. He changed the letter, putting their names as those who should be killed.
On the way to their ship, the three men met a Norwegian army officer. He was carrying a message to Claudius from Prince Fortinbras. He said that his army was on its way across part of Denmark to fight a war with Poland. The officer told them how he thought that it is a stupid war. He said that two thousand men were going to get killed over a small piece of land that had no value.
Later, when he was alone, Hamlet thought about how he and Fortinbras were different. Hamlet had something important to do for the honor of his father that he hadn’t yet done. Fortinbras and his men were bravely doing something that wasn’t important for the honor of their country. “From this time on,” Hamlet said to himself, “my thoughts must be bloody, or my life is nothing!”
Hamlet’s ship was attacked by pirates as it crossed the sea to England. During the fighting the ships come close together and Hamlet, with sword in hand, jumped onto the enemy boat. While he was on the pirate boat, his own ship sailed away leaving him to face them alone. Claudius’s men made their way to England with the ship. They still carried the letter which, having been changed by Hamlet, would lead to their deaths.
The pirates had the prince in their power but showed themselves to be kind enemies. The knew that their prisoner was an important man who one day might do them a good turn at the Danish Court. So they agreed to take Hamlet back to Denmark and set him free. Hamlet wrote to Horatio, telling him what had happened and that he was on his way home.
Back in Denmark, Polonius’s son Laertes and a group of men broke down the castle door and went to see Claudius. Laertes was angry that no one had been punished for killing his father. The men with him wanted to make Laertes king. Claudius told him that it was Hamlet who killed Polonius. He explained how he couldn’t take action because he was greatly loved by the Queen and the her people.
He then told how Hamlet was returning home and that he had a plan that would allow Laertes to kill him. He said that he would set up a sword fight between them for sport. The swords used in these fights were long thin ones, but with no sharp point so that no one could get badly hurt. The King said that Hamlet would be given a normal sport sword with no point. Laertes, on the other hand, would be given a sharp and deadly one.
Laertes told Claudius that he had a special poison that he would put on the end of the sword. “Even a scratch of it,” he said “will kill”. Claudius wanted to make sure of Hamlet’s death. He knew that Hamlet would get thirsty during the fight, and decided to have some poisoned wine ready as well.
Just then the Queen came in, crying. Poor pretty Ophelia, having lost her father and her lover, had also lost her mind. She had walked in sad madness about the Court for weeks with flowers and other plants in her hair. She sang strange songs and talked foolish words. That day she had been hanging chains of flowers on trees. She climbed out on a tree that hung over a river and fell into the water. She did not try to swim out of the river. She simply continued singing this until until her clothes became so heavy with water that she drowned.
Some people said that Ophelia must have planned to die because she did not try to save herself. The law of the time was that people who kill themselves could not have a Christian funeral. Also, they had to be buried among the graves of common people outside the castle.
Hamlet and Horatio, with their faces hidden, walked up as two men were digging Ophelia’s grave. The four of them talked about death and dying. As the two men were digging, they threw bones out of the hole that came from people who had died many years before. Hamlet was shown the skull of a dead Court entertainer. He held it in his hands. “Poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio,” he said. He then told how he had known the man for many years and played with him as a child. He went on to talk about the terrible effects of death and how it comes to us all in the end.
Hamlet and Horatio then saw the funeral group coming and hid. They still did not know that it was Ophelia who had died.
They watched the Queen throw flowers into the grave. “Sweets to the sweet!” she cried. “I thought to have thrown flowers on your wedding day, sweet girl, not to have thrown them on your grave. You should have been my Hamlet’s wife.”
Laertes was wild with sadness and angry that Ophelia was not being given a Christian funeral. He jumped into his sister’s grave and held her body in his arms.
Hamlet jumped in after him crying out, “I loved her more than forty thousand brothers.” Laertes dropped the body and he and Hamlet fought until they are parted.
As Horatio led Hamlet away, the King said to Laertes, “Good! Now we have an excuse for the sword fight right away.”
The fight took place the next day. Before they started, Hamlet told Laertes that he was sorry for fighting with him. “I could not bear,” he said, “that any, even a brother, should seem to love her more than I.”
Hamlet and Laertes were both known to be very good at sword play. All the Court came to watch. At the end of the the third round, Hamlet was winning. He had touched Laertes twice on the body with the point of his sword, while Laertes had not touched him once. During the break after the third round, Laertes reached out and scratched Hamlet with the sharp point of his poisoned sword. Hamlet was angry. He dropped his sword and he and Laertes began to scuffle. When they picked their swords up again, Hamlet had the sharp one. He knew that it was sharp but did not know that it was poisoned. He quickly scratched Laertes in the same way that Laertes had scratched him.
At this moment the Queen cried out, “The drink, the drink! Oh, my dear Hamlet! I am poisoned!” She had drunk from the cup of poisoned wine the King prepared for Hamlet.
Laertes, knowing that he was dying, shouted “The King did it all!” and told everything.
For the first time, Hamlet knew that he could kill the king and have the people understand that he was right. He pushed the point of the poisoned sword into Claudius’s body, then forced him to drink the poisoned wine.
“Then, poison, do your work!” he cried, and the King died.
So Hamlet in the end kept the promise he had made his father. And having done this, he himself died. Those who stood by cried as he died, for his friends and his people loved him with their whole hearts. And so ended the tragic story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.