Timeline

Act 1

A ghost appears

Greg Hicks as the ghost of Old Hamlet.

Greg Hicks as the ghost of Old Hamlet.

Photo by Keith Pattison Browse and license our images
Old Hamlet, the previous King of Denmark, has died and his ghost has been seen on the battlements of the castle. An old friend of Hamlet's, Horatio, sees the ghost.

Gertrude’s remarriage

Gertrude and Claudius, both dressed in gold, lean in to kiss.

Gertrude and Claudius kiss.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Hamlet has come home and is struggling to cope with the fact that his mother, Gertrude, has married his uncle, Claudius, so quickly after his father's death. Claudius is now king and asks Hamlet to treat him like a father but Hamlet reacts badly to this, saying that he is 'A little more than kin and less than kind.'

News of the ghost

Horatio looks anxious.

Peter de Jersey as Horatio.

Photo by Ellie Kurttz Browse and license our images
Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost saying ‘I knew your father: / These hands are not more like’. Hamlet goes to investigate and see if it could really be his father's ghost.

Ophelia is warned

Ophelia and Laertes embrace.

Laertes speaks with his sister Ophelia.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Laertes leaves Elsinore and warns his sister Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet before he goes. Ophelia then tells her father that Hamlet has expressed his love for her. Her father, Polonius, forbids her to see him.

Hamlet sees the ghost

Hamlet encounters his father's ghost on the battlements.

Hamlet with his father's ghost behind him.

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The ghost of Old Hamlet appears to Hamlet and he questions it. The ghost tells him that 'The serpent that did sting thy father's life / Now wears his crown' and asks Hamlet to avenge his murder.

Act 2

Hamlet behaves strangely

Hamlet dressed all in black

Hamlet.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Ophelia tells her father that Hamlet has been behaving strangely and that he visited her in her room ‘As if he had been loosèd out of hell’. Polonius is worried and thinks that Ophelia ‘hath made him mad’ by refusing to see him.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive

Two men in striped jackets with umbrellas and straw hats

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning Browse and license our images
King Claudius employs two of Hamlet’s old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to find out what is wrong with Hamlet.

Is Hamlet mad?

Hamlet shouts at Ophelia, who is on her knees.

Hamlet and Ophelia.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Polonius goes to Claudius and Gertrude to tell them Hamlet has gone ‘mad’ with love for Ophelia. The king and queen want evidence so Polonius suggests they listen in on a conversation between his daughter and Hamlet and ‘Markthe encounter’ to see how he behaves.

The players arrive

The Player King and Queen in vibrant multicoloured costumes.

The Player King and Queen.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images

A group of travelling actors, or players, arrive at the castle to perform and Hamlet arranges for them to perform a play called ‘The Murder of Gonzago' in which a king is murdered in a similar way to the way the old king was murdered by Claudius.

Act 3

Key Scene

Hamlet reflects on life and death

Hamlet in a brightly coloured jacket and with paint on his face

Hamlet.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Claudius and Polonius spy on Hamlet and wait for him to meet Ophelia so they can see if his love for Ophelia is causing his strange behaviour. Before talking to Ophelia, Hamlet reflects on life and existence delivering his famous speech that starts ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’.

Key Scene

Hamlet and Ophelia argue

Hamlet assaults Ophelia, grabbing her head from behind and smearing paint on her face.

Hamlet fights with Ophelia.

Photo by Keith Pattison Browse and license our images
Ophelia returns some of her ‘remembrances’ to Hamlet while Claudius and Polonius watch in secret. Hamlet confuses her by saying ‘I did love you once’ and ‘I loved you not’, before telling her to go to a nunnery and never have any children. This upsets Ophelia.

Key Scene

The Players' play

The player King acts in front of Claudius and Gertrude.

The player King performs in front of Gertrude and Claudius.

Photo by Ellie Kurttz Browse and license our images
Hamlet asks Horatio to watch Claudius carefully during the players’ performance to see how he reacts and if he is guilty. Before the players begin Hamlet speaks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and suggests he knows that they have been spying on him. When the king is poisoned in the play, Claudius storms out and Hamlet and Horatio’s suspicions are confirmed.

Key Scene

Claudius' confession

Hamlet poised to strike Claudius as the murderer is at prayer.

Hamlet thinks about killing Claudius but decides not to.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
While Claudius is praying alone he confesses that he murdered his brother for ‘My crown, mine own ambition and my queen’. Hamlet finds Claudius but convinces himself not to kill him while he is praying because his soul would go to heaven, saying ‘And now I’ll do it. And so he goes to heaven’.

Hamlet murders Polonius

Hamlet kills Polonius by mistake as Gertrude looks on.

Hamlet kills Polonius by mistake as Gertrude looks on.

Photo by Angus McBean Browse and license our images
Hamlet goes to see his mother and threatens her, accusing her of being immoral. Polonius watches from behind an arrasin Gertrude’s closet while all this happens. When he hears Polonius behind the arras, Hamlet stabs the screen and kills Polonius. He carries on accusing his mother of bad behaviour and then the ghost appears again. When he talks to the ghost, Gertrude believes he is hallucinating and declares ‘Alas, he's mad!’

Hamlet takes the body

Hamlet drags away Polonius' body.

Hamlet drags away Polonius' body.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning Browse and license our images
Hamlet tells his mother he is going to England to study with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as Claudius planned. Gertrude agrees to keep secret what has happened and Hamlet exits, taking Polonius' dead body with him.

Act 4

Hamlet leaves for England

Hamlet will not tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where Polonius’ body is but eventually tells Claudius, in a riddle, where the body can be found. Claudius plots to have Hamlet killed in England.

Ophelia goes mad

The mad Ophelia comes singing to Gertrude and Claudius.

The mad Ophelia comes singing to Gertrude and Claudius.

Photo by Reg Wilson Browse and license our images
Queen Gertrude meets Ophelia, who is singing sad songs and speaking strangely. When Claudius joins them he tells Horatio to watch her and declares 'this is the poison of deep grief: it springs / All from her father's death.'

Laertes returns

Laertes with blood on his face, talking to Claudius.

Laertes and Claudius.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Laertes comes home because of his father’s death and he is angry to learn that Hamlet wasn’t punished for killing his father. When he sees Ophelia behaving strangely his anger grows, saying ‘And so have I a noble father lost, / A sister driven into desperate terms’. Claudius and Laertes plot to kill Hamlet when he returns.

Hamlet returns

Hamlet and the pirates.

Hamlet and the pirates.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning Browse and license our images
As the king and Laertes plot, they receive news that the ship Hamlet was travelling on was attacked by pirates. Hamlet was captured but treated well by the pirates and has returned to Denmark. They plan to invite him to a duel and dip Laertes’ sword in deadly poison.

Ophelia is dead

The mad Ophelia with arms full of weeds.

Ophelia in her madness, shortly before her death.

Photo by Ellie Kurttz Browse and license our images
Gertrude announces that Ophelia has killed herself , saying ‘your sister’s drowned, Laertes’.

Act 5

The gravediggers

The Gravedigger sings into a bone like it is a microphone.

The Gravedigger.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Two gravediggers debate whether Ophelia should be buried on church grounds because she killed herself. Hamlet appears and sees the gravediggers taking bones out of the ground as they dig out a new grave. Hamlet inspects a skull and realises it was the head of a jester that he once knew, called Yorick.

Ophelia’s Funeral

 Gertrude at Ophelia's grave.

 Gertrude at Ophelia's grave.

Photo by Angus McBean Browse and license our images
Coffin bearers bring out the body of Ophelia and Laertes jumps into her grave in an attempt to embrace his sister one last time. Hamlet appears and the two men fight over who loved her more, with Hamlet saying ‘I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers / Could not - with all their quantity of love - / Make up my sum’. Horatio intervenes and leads Hamlet away.

Laertes challenges Hamlet

Laertes holding a sword

Laertes. 

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Hamlet tells Horatio that Claudius tried to have him killed in England but he changed the order so Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be killed. A servant brings Hamlet an invitation, to fight Laertes. Hamlet accepts.

Hamlet and Laertes fight

Hamlet kills Claudius with the poisoned chalice.

Hamlet kills Claudius.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Before the duel, Hamlet says sorry to Laertes saying ‘Give me your pardon, sir: I’ve done you wrong’ but the fight goes ahead. They both choose their swords and Laertes picks the one he has poisoned. During the duel, Gertrude drinks poisoned wine meant for Hamlet and she begins to die slowly. The swords get mixed up during the fight and both men are wounded with the poisoned sword. Laertes reveals Claudius’ plan and Hamlet then kills his uncle, Claudius.

Hamlet’s death

Hamlet dies, with the masked ghosts of his father and Ophelia behind him.

Hamlet's death.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning Browse and license our images
Hamlet tells Horatio that Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, should become the new king of Denmark. He asks Horatio to tell Fortinbras and the rest of the world what happened before he says his last words, ‘The rest is silence. O, o, o, o’, and dies. Moments later, Fortinbras arrives.

Teacher Notes

The following activity is a great way to introduce the story of Hamlet to a group of students who are getting to know the play.

The story in five acts (2016)

The activity can be found on page 3 and takes approximately 40 minutes.

You can also ask students to create their own timelines of the play, physically arranging themselves in a line down the middle of the room or by creating their own versions as they work through the play.

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