The King of Denmark has died and his wife, Gertrude, has married his brother, Claudius. The king's son Hamlet has come home to Elsinore for his father's funeral.
Elsinore is a real place between Denmark and Sweden and the whole play is set in the castle there. In the play it is referred to as Elsinore Castle but the only castle that actually existed in that town was called Kronborg Castle and it still stands today.
Hamlet sees the ghost of his father. The ghost tells him that it was his brother Claudius, the new king, who killed him and commands Hamlet to get revenge.
Hamlet has been behaving strangely and Claudius asks Hamlet’s childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to find out why.
A group of travelling actors visit the castle and Hamlet asks them to perform a play about a man who murders a sleeping king, to see how Claudius reacts.
Hamlet tells his girlfriend Ophelia that he never loved her and then asks Gertrude how she can be happy when her husband has only just died.
The actors perform the story of the murder of a sleeping king and Claudius storms out. This confirms Hamlet's belief that Claudius killed his father.
Hamlet and his mother Gertrude argue about his behaviour. During their argument Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, Ophelia's father.
Hamlet will not tell anyone where Polonius’ body is. Claudius sends him to England but he doesn’t arrive.
Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, comes home and finds Ophelia has gone mad with grief. She kills herself and Claudius and Laertes plot to murder Hamlet.
Hamlet agrees to fight Laertes. During the duel, Gertrude drinks poison and both Hamlet and Laertes are fatally wounded. Hamlet kills Claudius before he dies.
The following print out provides a more detailed synopsis of the play that can be shared with students.
You can also print the ten lines on this page and ask students to work in pairs to arrange them in the order they take place in the play.
We’d love to know what you think about the Shakespeare Learning Zone. Help us by taking a short survey – it will only take a few minutes and will help us make the Shakespeare Learning Zone even better for everyone.