Hamlet

Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Hamlet. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Change
Main Character Resolve

Hamlet stops contemplating Claudius’ lies and treacheries and accepts the knowledge that Claudius is responsible for his father and mother’s (and his own) deaths.

Stop
Main Character Growth

Hamlet must stop mulling over the information given to him by his father’s ghost.  Only then may he begin to accept the knowledge as truth and act accordingly.

Be-er
Main Character Approach

Hamlet is a gifted thinker that is incapable of positive action—“the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” (3.1.92-93).

Male
Main Character Mental Sex

Hamlet tends to use male mental sex problem solving techniques as illustrated in his attempts to gather evidence that “there is something more deeply amiss than his mother’s overhasty marriage to her deceased husband’s brother. . .” (Bevington xx).

Action
Story Driver

Claudius’ murder of the king drives Hamlet to despair; The Ghost’s appearance drives Hamlet to seek revenge; Hamlet’s killing of Polonius drives Claudius to plot Hamlet’s death; Ophelia’s accidental drowning (and Polonius’ murder) drives Laertes to seek Hamlet’s death; and so forth.

Optionlock
Story Limit

Though the Ghost is impatient for revenge, there is plenty of time to murder Claudius.  There are, however, only so many ways to bring about the downfall of Claudius without bringing down the rest of the royal family and friends.

Failure
Story Outcome

In the effort to bring down Claudius and restore balance in the kingdom, many lives are lost—including all those of the royal family.

Bad
Story Judgment

Hamlet finally perceives that “if it be not now, yet it will come,” and that “The readiness is all” (5.2.219-220).  This discovery, this revelation of necessity and meaning in Hamlet’s great reversal of fortune, enables him to confront the tragic circumstance of his life with understanding and heroism, and to demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit even in the moment of his catastrophe.  Such an assertion of the individual will does not lessen the tragic waste with which “Hamlet” ends.  Hamlet is dead, the great promise of his life forever lost. (Bevington xxxi)

Overall Story Throughline

""The King is Dead - Long Live the King!""

Mind
Overall Story Throughline

Hamlet’s bad attitude threatens the stability of the royal family and court.  His sustained grief for his father’s death is seen to be unmanly and evidence of “impious stubbornness.” (1.2.98)  This is contrasted by King Claudius’ explanation that “discretion” prohibits excessive grief.  Claudius has married his brother’s widow and has done so with the concurrence of the members of the council.

Memory
Overall Story Concern

Everyone wants to be comfortable with the memory of King Hamlet.  Most wish to accomplish this by erasing the memory entirely, but Hamlet wants to keep it alive and painful; Hamlet is truly appalled at how easily his mother seems to forget her first husband, King Hamlet; Ophelia promises to remember her brother’s advice “Tis in my memory locked” (1.3.92).

Truth
Overall Story Issue

Truth is given very little value in “Hamlet.”

Falsehood
Overall Story Counterpoint

Bevington explicates how “falsehood’ is explored in the objective story:
Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark.  The monarch on whom the health and safety of the kingdom depend is a murderer.  Yet few persons know his secret: Hamlet, Horatio only belatedly, Claudius himself, and ourselves as audience.  Many ironies and misunderstandings of the play cannot be understood without a proper awareness of this gap between Hamlet’s knowledge and most other’s ignorance of the murder.  For, according to their own lights, Polonius and the rest behave as courtiers normally behave, obeying and flattering a king whom they acknowledge as their legitimate ruler.  Hamlet, for his part, is so obsessed with the secret murder that he overreacts to those around him, rejecting overtures of friendship and becoming embittered, callous, brutal, and even violent.  His antisocial behavior gives the others good reason to fear him as a menace to the state.  Nevertheless, we share with Hamlet a knowledge of the truth and know that he is right, whereas the others are at best unhappily deceived by their own blind complicity in evil. (xx-xxi)

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Truth vs.Falsehood

The thematic conflict of truth and falsehood is scattered throughout “Hamlet.”  For example, King Claudius’ duplicity regarding his brother’s murder; Hamlet’s duplicity in his “crazy” behavior; The play-within-a-play itself is designed to present truth to contrast the falsehood of the real life players; The true purpose of Hamlet’s trip to England (to have him killed) contrasted with the purported purpose (Hamlet’s education); The purpose of the duel between Hamlet and Laertes; and so forth.

Thought
Overall Story Problem

When people in Hamlet act on what they “think” (versus what they know), it creates problems.  King Claudius thinks he can get away with murder; Queen Gertrude thinks her new husband is noble and honest and that her son is a basket case;  Polonius thinks he can fool Hamlet; Ophelia thinks that Hamlet is being honest with her; Laertes thinks he knows what is going on in the castle; and so forth.

Knowledge
Overall Story Solution

The knowledge of King Claudius’ duplicitous nature gets him his just rewards (albeit too late); The knowledge of the contents of the letter saves Hamlet from death; and so forth.

Perception
Overall Story Symptom

The royal family (including Polonius’ family) are constantly trying to find out how Hamlet “seems” to be by getting second hand information from people who have interacted with him.

Actuality
Overall Story Response

Hamlet is constantly trying to expose the true nature of people and events, for example, are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern really his friends or agents of the King?

Evidence
Overall Story Catalyst

Each time Hamlet discovers more evidence of his Uncle Claudius’ wrongdoing he takes a step closer to killing him; King Claudius uses evidence of Hamlet’s “insanity” as reason to dispose of him—permanently; and so forth.

Interdiction
Overall Story Inhibitor

Polonius’ attempt to intercede on King Claudius’ behalf gets him killed and postpones Hamlet’s direct confrontation with King Claudius; Another example of how “interdiction” impedes the objective story’s progress is the pirates’ capture of Hamlet’s ship and his subsequent time spent with them; and so forth.

Subconscious
Overall Story Benchmark

The means by which progress is measured in the objective story are basic human drives and desires: Claudius’ growing anger and exasperation; Gertrude’s growing desperation; Ophelia’s loss of touch with reality; Laertes’ blood lust; and so forth.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, returns from his studies abroad to attend the funeral of his father, King Hamlet, and the subsequent wedding of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to his uncle, King Claudius.  Hamlet is quite perturbed by his mother’s second marriage, in view of its haste and incestuous implications.  He soon meets with a specter claiming to be the ghost of his father.  The Ghost tells him he was murdered by his brother, King Claudius, and commands Hamlet to seek revenge.  Hamlet agrees to do so, but conflicted by his own nature, he does not act immediately.  King Claudius and his councillor, Polonius, have their suspicions about the young man and keep close watch.  Falsehood and playacting occur on all sides creating mayhem and madness.  Revenge is eventually exacted, but at a cost far too dear; all the primary objective characters, with the exception of Horatio, suffer a tragic death.

Overall Story Backstory

. . . According to canonical law which informs Shakespeare’s play, such a marriage (between a man and his dead brother’s wife) is strictly forbidden.  That law is based upon the sacramental view of a mystical bond formed in marriage which creates a relationship between man and wife as close as that which exists between blood relations.  From a religious point of view, which cannot be ignored if one is to do justice to Shakespeare’s intentions, the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude is, to use official language of the period, “incestuous and unlawful and altogether null and void.”  To be sure, one wonders why the subjects of the King and Queen voiced no protest or expressed no feeling of shock.  But for the poet-dramatist’s purpose, it is enough that the young, idealistic Christian Prince should believe that the honor of the Danish royal family has been stained. . . .Traditionally, incest was considered to be an offense against the whole of society.  If that view is applicable in Shakespeare’s play, then Hamlet has a public duty to oppose Claudius, and that the issue is not merely a personal or domestic, one. (Lowers 21)

Main Character Throughline

Hamlet — Prince of Denmark

Psychology
Main Character Throughline

Hamlet is a seriously introspective man, tending to bouts of melancholy and mind games.  Certain critics [notably A.C. Bradley] subscribe to the theory that Hamlet was a victim of the “Elizabethan malady” know as melancholy.  “It was recognized as a disease and was the subject of treatises published in England and on the Continent. . . . In an age when the proper study of mankind was man, it seems improbable that a writer like Shakespeare, with his manifest intellectual curiosity and acquisitive mind, was unfamiliar with contemporary ideas regarding the causes, symptoms, and results of melancholy. . . . When Hamlet speaks of “my weakness and my melancholy” (2.2.630) for example; when he speaks “wild and whirling words” (1.5.133); when his mood shifts from deep depression to elation, he is following the pattern of behavior peculiar to the melancholic . . .” (Lowers 11).

Conceptualizing
Main Character Concern

Hamlet’s immediate concern is to imagine a plan for tricking or coercing his uncle/stepfather Claudius into revealing his involvement in the king’s murder.  Lowers remarks on Hamlet’s larger concern: “Hamlet’s concept of honor, implicit from the beginning, is something far above that held by Laertes and Polonius.  He wishes to be remembered as the worthy son of the superior King Hamlet, as minister called upon to execute public justice, not as scourge.” (Lowers 104)

State of Being
Main Character Issue

Hamlet’s essential nature is revealed in his first soliloquy: “It has been argued that here Shakespeare develops the theme of appearance versus reality and that he intends to stress Hamlet’s dedication to truth in contrast to appearances which serve others, notably Claudius.  Certainly he is presented as a discordant figure in this assembly, and his “inky cloak” and “suit of “solemn black” provide a telling criticism of Claudius and Gertrude.  Others may act a part, making use of “Windy suspiration of forc’d breath” (sighing) and “fruitful river in the eye” (weeping); Hamlet is incapable of such posturing” (Lowers 21)

Sense of Self
Main Character Counterpoint

Throughout a good deal of the play, Hamlet’s negative perception of himself is directly linked to his failure to immediately seek revenge for his father’s Ghost.  In his mother’s chamber, he addresses the Ghost: “Do you not come your tardy son to chide,/That, laps’d in time and passion, lets go by/Th’ important acting of your dread command?” (3.4.122-24)

Main Character Thematic Conflict
State of Being vs.Sense of Self

“To be, or not to be—that is the question.”  Hamlet is constantly exploring the difference between who he truly is compared to his sense of self.  Is he sane, or does he just think he is?

Thought
Main Character Problem

Coleridge’s [a leading English Romantic scholar] well-known remarks on the character of Hamlet have been most influential.  For him, the Prince of Denmark suffers from an “Overbalance of contemplative faculty” and, like any man, “thereby becomes the creature of mere meditation and loses power to action (Notes and Lectures on Shakespeare, 1808).  And William Hazlitt continues: At other times, when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and skeptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and finds out some pretense to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again” (Characters in Shakespeare’s Plays, 1818). . . . A.C. Bradley refers to Hamlet’s “otiose thinking which hardly deserves the name of thought, an unconscious weaving of pretexts for inaction” (Lowers 10-11).  Or as Hamlet say of himself, “the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” (3.1.84-85).

Knowledge
Main Character Solution

Once he can accept as true the knowledge of Claudius’ “evil” nature, he will be able to act.

Change
Main Character Symptom

Hamlet focuses on the changes that have occurred around him and sees them as the source of his troubles: his father has died (been murdered), his uncle (the murderer) has been crowned king; his mother (Gertrude, the queen) has married his uncle—all within two months.

Inertia
Main Character Response

Hamlet would like things to go back to the way they were before his father died—sans Claudius, of course.

Situation
Main Character Unique Ability

Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, second only in power to the king.  He has complete access to the castle, to finances, to his mother the queen, and most importantly to the king and his private chambers.

Interpretation
Main Character Critical Flaw

Combined with his penchant for thought, Hamlet is constantly finding multitudes of meaning in things—many of which are completely misconstrued and undermine his efforts.  The most notable instances are his mistaking the person behind the tapestry (Polonius) for Claudius and stabbing through it—“Is it the King?” (3.4.32)—and mistaking the purpose of the duel with Laertes as an attempt by Claudius to reconcile their differences, whereas the real reason is for Hamlet to be killed.

Becoming
Main Character Benchmark

First of all, there is there the issue of, “To be, or not to be . . . ”  But as an even more important standard to measure the degree of Hamlet’s concern, there is the issue of his sanity.  Publicly, he appears to grow crazier and crazier.  Privately, however, he appears to become more and more heartsick and accepting of the death he feared so much in the beginning.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

“Leading Romantic critics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw Hamlet as a young man, attractive and gifted in many ways, but incapable of positive action” (Lowers 9).

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

“Hamlet’s role as hero at once sets him apart from this prison-house world and yet leads him to become increasingly entangled in its web of surveillance” (Neill 313).

Main Character Backstory

“His (Hamlet’s) tragedy is already in progress when he first appears. . . .Hamlet does not move from a state of well-being or happiness to adversity and suffering.  Nor is his state of unhappiness attributed to the death of a beloved and honored father; rather, it is the marriage of his mother to his uncle, who now is King of Denmark” (Lowers 20).

Influence Character Throughline

The Ghost — The spirit of King Hamlet

Physics
Influence Character Throughline

The Ghost is the spirit of King Hamlet who is doomed to walk the earth during the nights and endure purgatorial fires during the daytime in expiation of sins committed during life.

Understanding
Influence Character Concern

The Ghost wants everybody, particularly Hamlet, to understand what happened to him—the manner of his death, and so forth.

Instinct
Influence Character Issue

The Ghost’s involuntary drive to disappear when “The glowworm shows the matin [morning] to be near” (1.5.96) creates suspicion as to the true nature of the apparition:
What of the Ghost, “this thing . . . this dreaded sight,” as Marcellus calls it, which fills Horatio with “fear and wonder”? . . .The prevailing theories were that a ghost may be (1) a hallucination, (2) a spirit returned to perform some deed left undone in life, (3) a specter seen as a portent, (4) a spirit returned from the grave from purgatory by divine permission, or (5) a devil disguised as a dead person. (Lowers 16)

Conditioning
Influence Character Counterpoint

The prevailing theories were that a ghost may be (1) a hallucination, (2) a spirit returned to perform some deed left undone in life, (3) a specter seen as a portent, (4) a spirit returned from the grave from purgatory by divine permission, or (5) a devil disguised as a dead person.  In the course of the play each of these theories is put to the test.  Immediately the first is rejected, but much later in the play it will arise again.  The educated, skeptical Horatio proves to his own satisfaction that this particular ghost is a real one, not an illusion.  Appearing in “warlike form” and as the image of the late King Hamlet, the second may be applicable or, more probably the third, since Denmark expects an attack led by the young Norwegian Prince, Fortinbras. . . .Horatio properly is called upon to question it [the Ghost] because he is a scholar, trained in Latin and knowledgeable in arcane things. (Lowers 16)

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Instinct vs.Conditioning

Because of conditioning in life, the Ghost of the late King appears in the same armor he was known to wear and on familiar territory, the royal castle at Elsinore.  However, his instincts to flee the coming of the morning—even when he desires to stick around—illustrates the conflict of instinct vs. conditioning.

Ability
Influence Character Problem

The Ghost’s knowledge of who he was and what happened to him is the source of his drive to seek revenge.

Aware
Influence Character Solution

As he becomes less focused on himself and more aware of what is transpiring in the castle, the Ghost begins to lose its vehemence, particularly when it comes to his antagonism toward the queen.  For example, the Ghost asks Hamlet to speak with Gertrude: “But look, amazement on thy mother sits. / O, step between her and her fighting soul!” (3.4.128-29)

Perception
Influence Character Symptom

Other than the swiftness of the coronation and marriage, the Ghost’s claims are not apparent from Claudius or Gertrude’s behavior.  This throws doubt into Hamlet’s mind as to the “reality” of the Ghost and its accusations.

Actuality
Influence Character Response

Claudius truly murdered King Hamlet, and the impact of its revelation on Hamlet is tremendous.

Senses
Influence Character Unique Ability

Sometimes other people cannot see the Ghost which makes it difficult for Hamlet to deal with the seeming reality of the Ghost and the demands it has made upon him.

Circumstances
Influence Character Critical Flaw

All but the Ghost (and Hamlet) seem to be comfortable with the new arrangements at Elsinore which undermines the Ghost’s ability to impact Hamlet.

Obtaining
Influence Character Benchmark

King Claudius has everything King Hamlet had in life.  The loss of the hold that Claudius has on these things indicate the degree to which the Ghost’s concerns are being satisfied.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

Deceased; former King of Denmark, husband of Gertrude, brother of Claudius, and father of young Hamlet.

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

It is from this pressure [“forbidden utterance”] that the first three acts of the play derive most of their extraordinary energy; and the energy is given a concrete dramatic presence in the form of the Ghost. . . . The strikingly unconventional thing about Shakespeare’s Ghost is its melancholy preoccupation with the silenced past and its plangent cry of “Remember me” . . . which makes remembrance seem more important than revenge.  “The struggle of humanity against power,” the Czech novelist Milan Kundera has written, ” . . . is the struggle of memory against forgetfulness”; and this Ghost, which stands for all that has been erased by the bland narratives of King Claudius, is consumed by the longing to speak that which power has rendered unspeakable. (Neill 318-319)

Influence Character Backstory

One of the prime concerns of the Ghost is that, as a mortal, it was denied the opportunity to be shriven (receive absolution for sins prior to death) and thus must endure spiritual purgation before it can be admitted to heaven.  But what of the “foul crimes” admitted to have been committed by King Hamlet, the man whom his son so much reveres?  Obviously he was not perfect; no mortal is, according to church doctrine because mankind remains tainted as the result of original sin.  The Ghost is only too aware of mortal imperfections; it has a conscience practically Calvinistic in its strictness. (Lowers 29)

Relationship Story Throughline

""Son Carrying on for a Father""

Universe
Relationship Story Throughline

King Hamlet has been murdered by his brother Claudius.  King Hamlet’s Ghost has charged his son, also named Hamlet, to “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”

Past
Relationship Story Concern

The Ghost wants his murder avenged and charges Hamlet to take care of it, but Hamlet has doubts about the nature of the Ghost which draws into question his familial duty to avenge him.

Fate
Relationship Story Issue

Despite his friends attempts to prevent Hamlet from going off with the Ghost, he believes he must, as it is his fate:
Hamlet: My fate cries out / And make each petty arture in this body / As hard as the Nemean lion’s nerve.  Still am I called.  Unhand me, gentlemen.  By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me! / I say, away—Go on.  I’ll follow thee.  (Ghost and Hamlet exit.) (1.5.91-96)

Destiny
Relationship Story Counterpoint

Despite the Ghost’s command for immediate vengeance, Hamlet hesitates to effect immediate action.  He eventually allows destiny to take its course, believing: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will [no matter how roughly we ourselves shape them] (5.2.11-12).

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Fate vs.Destiny

In his charge on Hamlet to avenge the murder, the Ghost warns him not to contaminate himself by seeking to punish Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.  The story then illustrates the tug of war between Hamlet’s handling of his own destiny and its impact on his mother, and how fate warps his efforts to destroy Claudius.

Thought
Relationship Story Problem

The Ghost wants revenge, but Hamlet obsessively mulls over the type, meaning, and need for revenge without just killing Claudius.

Knowledge
Relationship Story Solution

Once Hamlet accepts the story told to him by the Ghost as “knowledge” will he be able to act decisively and kill Claudius.

Chaos
Relationship Story Symptom

The Ghost and Hamlet see Claudius’ usurpation of the throne and marriage to Gertrude as a direct effect of the chaos that is created by King Hamlet’s unavenged death.  More (and worse) chaos will be introduced into the kingdom until Claudius is undone.  This chaos is also evidenced by the rumblings of Fortinbras and his interests in regaining lands lost to Denmark under his father’s reign.

Order
Relationship Story Response

By setting the royal family (and court) back in order—without Claudius—Hamlet hopes (and the Ghost expects) all to be well again.

Prediction
Relationship Story Catalyst

As an example of how “prediction” accelerates the subjective story, after closely questioning Horatio, Hamlet anticipates he will be meeting the ghost of his father in the dead of the night.

Suspicion
Relationship Story Inhibitor

Hamlet’s suspicions that the Ghost is more (or less) than it seems impedes their relationship.  Is the Ghost truly his late father?  It is an evil specter from hell?  Is it Hamlet’s own imagination?

Future
Relationship Story Benchmark

The Ghost wants to re-establish his line (via Hamlet) on the throne of Denmark.  The shakier that future seems, the greater the strain is between Hamlet and the Ghost of his father.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

The Ghost tells Hamlet that it is the spirit of his father, doomed for a time to walk on earth during the nights and to endure purgatorial fires during daytime in expiation for sins committed during life.  The Ghost calls upon him to prove his love for his father: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”  Hamlet is told that although King Hamlet’s death was attributed to the sting of a serpent, it was Claudius . . . who murdered his brother.  The Prince receives this startling news as if it were confirmation of his suspicions. . . . Hamlet is called upon to kill his uncle.  But the Ghost adds a word of caution: the son is not to contaminate himself by seeking to punish his mother; he is to leave her punishment to heaven and to her own conscience.  “Hamlet, remember me,” the Ghost intones as it departs.  The Prince solemnly vows to wipe all else from his memory except that which the Ghost has told him.  (Lowers 28-29)

Relationship Story Backstory

The two major issues basic to Hamlet’s tragedy are . . . the murder of a king and father, and the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude. . . .The Ghost denounces Claudius as “that incestuous, that adulterate beast” (1.5.41) and speaks of Gertrude as that “seeming-virtuous queen” (1.5.46).  Hamlet is implored not to let “the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury [sensuality] and damned incest” (1.5.82-83).  The adultery and incest, which concern the Ghost quite as much as does the murder by means of “leperous distilment,’ may simply refer to the marriage.  Whether or not Gertrude was unfaithful prior to the death of King Hamlet remains a disputed point.  But one thing is clear: Prince Hamlet is not alone in his revulsion, unless this Ghost is indeed a ‘goblin damn’d,” intent upon leading the young Prince to destruction . . . (Lowers 30)

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Memory
Overall Story Goal

Hamlet’s dwelling on the memory of his father—who seems to have been a significantly superior king than Claudius—comes into conflict with everybody else’s concerted effort to forget King Hamlet: “Claudius’ call for celebration with festive drink is, in effect, an order that Hamlet especially, and all others, forget the past and accept the new order” (Lowers 19.

Past
Overall Story Consequence

If the memory of King Hamlet is not allowed to rest, a repetition of the past murder will (and does) occur.

Understanding
Overall Story Cost

In “Hamlet,” understanding is seen as a high price to pay—sometimes too high.  King Claudius comes to the understanding that Hamlet is on to him and won’t stop until his father’s death is avenged; Ophelia comes to the understanding that Hamlet does not love her and is responsible for her father’s death, and so she loses her mind; Queen Gertrude comes to the understanding her son he is probably insane and her new husband is a murderer; and so forth.

Conceptualizing
Overall Story Dividend

“Conceptualizing” as a dividend is illustrated in the satisfaction Polonius finds in visualizing a way to implement a plan to send Reynaldo to spy on his son’s activities in Paris:
. . . Lord Chamberlain . . . [is] concerned that Laertes’ conduct in Paris does not make him look bad.  In his worldliness and cynicism, he is absolutely sure that he knows how young men behave when away from parental control—drinking, fencing, quarreling, and wenching.  Reynaldo, Polonius says, is to let Laertes “ply his music” (2.1.73); that is, keep a close eye on him and let him reveal his secrets.  Not only is Polonius ready to believe the worst about his son, but also he seems to be incapable of honesty in his methods.  His outlook and conduct suggest the kind of world in which Hamlet is now living.  Indirection—espionage—becomes an elaborate game very soon in the play; this episode prepares the way for it. (Lowers 33); Hamlet is satisfied that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deserve what they get for betraying his friendship when he formulates a plan to send them, instead of himself, to their deaths.

Subconscious
Overall Story Requirements

Hamlet must get Claudius to expose his true nature, his lust for power and lust for Gertrude, before anyone will believe his accusations.

Future
Overall Story Prerequisites

Barnardo’s response to Francisco’s command to “Stand and unfold yourself” (1.1.2) is to declare his allegiance to the king: “Long live the King [Claudius]!” (1.1.3).  In order for Hamlet to make a powerful impact in exposing Claudius as a murderer, Claudius must still enjoy a future as ruler of Denmark.

Obtaining
Overall Story Preconditions

Hamlet needs hard evidence of his uncle’s murderous actions—he cannot allow himself to go on the word of the Ghost alone.

Becoming
Overall Story Forewarnings

Hamlet starts becoming the crazy person he is pretending to be.  This alerts everyone, including King Claudius, who plots against Hamlet.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Preconscious
Overall Story Signpost 1

The Ghost “. . . was about to speak when the cock crew, And then it started like a guilty thing” (1.1.162-163); Horatio is startled when Hamlet remarks he thinks he has seen his father “In my mind’s eye, Horatio” (1.2.193) thus “the transition to Horatio’s report of what he and the guard have seen is thus skillfully achieved” (Lowers 23).

Overall Story Journey 1 from Preconscious to Subconscious

The objective story progresses from the characters’ instinctive responses to the atmosphere that suffocates Elsinore, to an exploration of the basic drives and desires of its occupants.

Subconscious
Overall Story Signpost 2

Frightened, Ophelia runs to her father to tell him of Hamlet’s strange behaviour.  Polonius is certain Hamlet is driven mad by his love for his daughter:

Polonius: This is the very ecstasy of love / Whose violent property fordoes [destroys] itself / And leads the will to desperate undertakings / As oft as any passions under heaven / That does afflict our natures. 
I am sorry. What, have you given him any hard words of late?

Ophelia: No, my good lord, but as you did command / I did repel his letters and denied / His access to me.

Polonius: That hath made him mad. (2.2.114-123)

Overall Story Journey 2 from Subconscious to Memory

Sickened by what he perceives as Gertrude’s base nature, Hamlet rudely confronts his mother, prompting her to ask: “Have you forgot me?” (3.4.18)

Memory
Overall Story Signpost 3

Ophelia tells Hamlet she has “. . . remembrances of yours / That I have long longed to deliver” (3.1.102).  Hamlet denies he had ever bestowed gifts upon her, despite her recalling that he had with “words so sweet” (3.1.107).

Overall Story Journey 3 from Memory to Conscious

The memory of King Hamlet can no longer be quashed by Claudius, as all consider his evil deeds.

Conscious
Overall Story Signpost 4

In the midst of Hamlet and Laertes’ duel, Claudius, sensible of the fact that if the Queen drinks Hamlet’s poisoned wine she will die, only makes a half-hearted effort to stop her:
King: Gertrude, do not drink.
Queen: I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me.
King: (aside) It is the poisoned cup.  It is too late. (5.2.317-319)
Later, all become conscious of Claudius’ evil deeds:
Laertes: It is here, Hamlet.  (Hamlet), thou art slain. / No med’cine in the world can do thee good. / In thee there is not half an hour’s life. / The treacherous instrument is in (thy) hand, / Unbated and envenomed.  The foul practice / Hath turned itself on me.  Lo here I lie, / Never to rise again.  Thy mother’s poisoned. / I can no more.  The King, the King’s to blame. (5.2.344-351)

Main Character

Conceptualizing
Main Character Signpost 1

Hamlet envisions how to put into effect his plan to determine the identity of the Ghost:
Hamlet: I will watch tonight.
Perchance ‘twill walk again?
Horatio:  I warrant it will.
Hamlet: If it assume my noble father’s person,
I’ll speak to it, though hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace. (1.2.262-267)

Main Character Journey 1 from Conceptualizing to Being

Hamlet visualizes how to begin implementing his plan to avenge his father’s death.  One way is to act foolish and deranged: “To put an antic disposition on” (1.5.192).

Being
Main Character Signpost 2

Hamlet begins play acting the role of a madman for Polonius’ benefit:
Polonius: Do you know me, my lord?
Hamlet: Excellent well.  You are a fishmonger.
Polonius: (Aside) . . . He is far gone. (2.2.189-190, 206)

Main Character Journey 2 from Being to Becoming

Hamlet journeys from playacting the madman to becoming a murderer when he slays Polonius: “Even if Polonius deserved what he got, Hamlet has made himself into a cruel “scourge of providence who must himself suffer retribution as well as deal it out” (Bevington xxviii).

Becoming
Main Character Signpost 3

Ophelia believes Hamlet has become quite mad “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (3.1.163)

Main Character Journey 3 from Becoming to Conceiving

As Hamlet becomes more melancholic with his inability to revenge his father, he is uncertain as to his own sanity.  It is not until he devises a way to calm his troubled mind, that he has a small measure of peace.

Conceiving
Main Character Signpost 4

Hamlet comes up with the idea that providence determines everyone’s fate.

Influence Character

Doing
Influence Character Signpost 1

The Ghost appears before the sentinels with no apparent purpose: “Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour / With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch” (1.1.76-77).

influence Character Journey 1 from Doing to Obtaining

The Ghost stalks Elsinore castle for reasons unknown, refusing to speak.  Once Hamlet stands watch, the Ghost beckons him on alone, and recounts the story of the murder of King Hamlet.  Until revenge is exacted, King Hamlet’s ghost is “Doomed for a certain term to walk the night / and for the day confined to fast in fires / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purged away. (1.5.15-18)

Obtaining
Influence Character Signpost 2

The question of the Ghost possessing evil powers comes in to play:
Hamlet: The spirit I have seen / May be a (devil,) and the (devil) hath power / To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps, Out of my weakness and my melancholy, / As he is very potent with such spirits, / Abuses me to damn me. (2.2.627-632)

Influence Character Journey 2 from Obtaining to Learning

The Ghost desires vengeance against Claudius, and has compelled Hamlet to carry out the deed.  Hamlet instructs a band of traveling players to act out the murder scene, in hopes of catching Claudius’ guilty conscience.  “The “Mousetrap” play is at once a fulfillment and an escape from that compulsion [revenge].  It gives, in a sense, a public voice to the Ghost’s silenced story” (Neill 320).  That Claudius does react in a guilty manner, resolves Hamlet’s doubts about the Ghost.  The Ghost’s influence on Hamlet begins to have an impact on Claudius as he learns he is suspected of the murder of King Hamlet.

Learning
Influence Character Signpost 3

The Ghost’s impact as it relates to “learning” is illustrated when Claudius, watching the player’s performance, learns Hamlet suspects him of murdering King Hamlet.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Learning to Understanding

The Ghost’s tale of treachery makes further impact as Horatio learns the extent Claudius will go to in order to keep the late dead King Hamlet’s throne—and that would be ordering to have Hamlet beheaded.

Understanding
Influence Character Signpost 4

How “understanding” describes The Ghost’s impact is illustrated in the final scene as Horatio begins to explain to the horrified Fortinbras of: “How these things came about.  So shall you hear / Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, / Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, / Of deaths put on by cunning and (forced) cause, / And, in this upshot, purposes mistook / Fall’n on th’ inventors’ heads. (5.2.422-427)

Relationship Story

Progress
Relationship Story Signpost 1

Hamlet and the Ghost’s relationship moves forward as Hamlet promises to carry out the Ghost’s command to avenge his father’s murder.

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Progress to PastDetermined to revenge his father's murder, Hamlet nevertheless moves forward slowly. After berating himself for his procrastination, he decides to ask the actors to perform what the Ghost had told him had happened for an audience that will include his uncle. By doing so, Hamlet hopes his uncle will be startled into revealing his guilt--then he will proceed to take revenge for the life of King Hamlet.
Past
Relationship Story Signpost 2

To carry out the Ghost’s orders, Hamlet decides to direct the performers to act out what had really happened to his father: “. . . I’ll have these players / Play something like the murder of my father / Before mine uncle.  I’ll observe his looks; / I’ll tent him to the quick.  If he do blench, / I know my course. (2.2.623-627)

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Past to Future

Lowers comments on “three memorable lines” (50) in Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (3.1.56-89):
But that the dread of something after death/The undiscover’d country from whose bourn / No traveller returns, puzzles the will. . . . (3.1.78-80) poses the question “Does Hamlet not reject the possibility that the Ghost was the spirit of his father?  Earlier in the play he spoke of his soul as immortal (1.5.66-67).  Why now should it be that the thought of death “puzzles the will”?  The Ghost described its condition of afterlife, not as an “undiscover’d country” but as the Catholic purgatory necessary for the soul’s purification before translation to heaven. (50)  Northrop Frye argues: “The Ghost insists that Hamlet mustn’t die before he’s killed Claudius, and the one thing that prevents Hamlet from voluntary death is the fear that he might become just another such ghost. (99)

Future
Relationship Story Signpost 3

The Ghost “urges [Hamlet] to ‘step between [Gertrude] and her fighting soul” (3.4.113).

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Future to Present

The Ghost in fact does not appear to speak for providence.  His message is of revenge, a pagan concept basic to all primitive societies but at odds with Christian teaching.  His wish that Claudius be sent to hell and that Gertrude be more gently treated is not the judgment of an impartial deity but the emotional reaction of a murdered man’s restless spirit.  That is not to say that Hamlet is being tempted to perform a damnable act, as he fears is possible, but that the Ghost’s command cannot readily be reconciled with a complex and balanced view of justice.  If Hamlet were to spring on Claudius in the fullness of his vice and cut his throat, we would pronounce Hamlet a murderer.  What Hamlet believes he has learned instead is that he must become the instrument of providence according to its plans, not his own. (Bevington xxviii-xxix)

Present
Relationship Story Signpost 4

Bevington interprets the current situation and circumstances as Hamlet has reconciled the Ghost’s command to kill Claudius, with his own Christian beliefs:
After his return from England, he senses triumphantly that all will be for the best if he allows an unseen power to decide the time and place for his final act.  Under these conditions, rash action will be right.  “Rashly, / And praises be rashness for it—let us know / Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well / When our deep plots do pall, and that should learn us / there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” (5.2.6-11).  Passivity, too, is now a proper course, for Hamlet puts himself wholly at the disposal of providence.  What had seemed so impossible when Hamlet tried to formulate his own design now proves elementary once he trusts to heaven’s justice.  Rashness and passivity are perfectly fused.  Hamlet is revenged without having to commit premeditated murder and is relieved of his painful existence without having to commit suicide. (xxix)

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics

OS: MC: IC: RS:

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