'Do not as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads.'

Hamlet is a tale of blood and killing. The play opens with a murder, and at the end there are hardly any survivors. The story begins in Denmark with the murder of Hamlet's father. The old king was killed by his brother, Claudius. As soon as the latter has been crowned king, he starts carrying on with Queen Gertrude. Young Hamlet, who returns from university at Wittenberg, learns from the ghost of his father that Claudius murdered him by pouring poison into his ear, and is commanded to revenge the murder without injuring Gertrude. This reinforces Hamlet's negative feelings for his stepfather. He feels cheated by his 'parents', and in an effort to put Claudius to the test he feigns madness. In this way he tries to make Claudius confess his crime. Immediately after his famous speech of deliberation beginning 'To be or not to be' he repudiates his girlfriend Ophelia, who does not know that he is merely putting on an act, and is utterly distressed at her boyfriend's madness.

Hamlet welcomes a group of visiting players, and arranges a performance of a play at court. He has them act a theme that will appeal to Claudius's feelings; the murder of the old king is put on stage. In this way he tries to have his father's murderer confess. Claudius is shocked, and hurries out of the room. Hamlet finds him while he is praying. He wants to kill him, but cannot bring himself to do so. Hamlet looks for his mother in her room. He accuses her of complicity. Suddenly he hears a sound behind the curtains on the wall, and in his anger he plunges his dagger into them. Ophelia's father, the queen's minister, appears to have made the sound and he dies instantly, killed by Hamlet. Of course Claudius discovers the murder, and Hamlet is banned to England, accompanied by so-called 'friends', who have evil plans. In England Hamlet finds out their true colours and they die in a mysterious way. Hamlet returns to Denmark, where he finds out that Ophelia has gone mad because Hamlet has killed her father. She ultimately commits suicide. Laertes, Ophelia's brother, returns from Paris to bury his father and sister. Of course he is infuriated with Hamlet, who is responsible for their deaths. They fight a duel. Claudius poisons the wine that Hamlet is supposed to drink if he wins. He also poisons Laertes's sword, to enhance his chances of winning. By an unhappy coincidence Hamlet gets the poisoned sword. Before the start of the duel, Gertrude drinks from the poisoned wine. Laertes and Hamlet both get injured, and Laertes dies. Before Hamlet dies, he wounds Claudius with his sword, and makes him drink the wine. After this, Hamlet dies in the arms of his friend Horatio, the only one to survive the tragedy.