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Penguin Readers Factsheets
Level 3 – Pre-Intermediate Hamlet

Teacher’s Notes

Hamlet
By William Shakespeare

Summary
The King of Denmark, is dead and has been succeeded not by his son, Hamlet, but by his brother, Claudius. Soon after the funeral, Claudius marries his brother’s widow, Gertrude. Hamlet, still upset by his father’s death, sees the ghost ofhis father, who tells him that he was murdered by Claudius. The Ghost asks his son to avenge his death. Hamlet pretends to go mad. Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain, forbids his daughter, Ophelia, to see Hamlet. Spied on by Polonius and Claudius, Ophelia returns Hamlet’s love letters and is violently rejected by him. A group of travelling actors arrive at the court. Hamlet asks them to perform aplay in which a king is murdered by his nephew. He hopes that the story, which is similar to the murder of his father by Claudius, will force Claudius to betray his guilt. Hamlet is right: Claudius is upset by the play. Hamlet is summoned to his mother’s room, where he angrily criticises her for her hasty marriage. He accidentally kills Polonius, who is hiding behind a curtain, believing him to beClaudius. Claudius sends Hamlet to England, planning to have him murdered. Laertes, Polonius’s son, returns to Denmark from France, demanding revenge for his father’s death. Ophelia, mad with grief, drowns herself. Hamlet returns from England, having discovered Claudius’s plot to have him killed. He confronts Laertes and Claudius at Ophelia’s funeral. Claudius plots with Laertes to kill Hamlet witha poisoned sword in a swordfight. The plot goes wrong and Laertes dies. Gertrude drinks from a poisoned cup intended for Hamlet and dies. Hamlet, wounded by the poisoned sword, kills Claudius before he, too, dies. Young Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, enters and claims the throne of Denmark for himself.

wrote 37 plays, sometimes writing three plays a year! He also wrote poetry, including a numberof beautiful sonnets. Some of his plays: The Taming of the Shrew (1591), Richard III (1592), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594), Romeo and Juliet (1595), The Merchant of Venice (1596), Henry V (1599), Much Ado About Nothing (1599), Julius Caesar (1599), Twelfth Night (1600), Hamlet (1601), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), Antony and Cleopatra (1606), Macbeth (1605), The Tempest (1611).Background and themes
Shakespeare’s plays are famous throughout the world for their poetry and their insights into the nature of life and the human condition. A large number of them are set in the south of Europe, particularly Italy. However, he chose gloomy northern European landscapes for three of his darkest tragedies: Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet. The story of Hamlet is found in the folk literatureof Iceland, Ireland and Denmark. The earliest reference we have to Hamlet is in an eleventh-century Icelandic poem. Shakespeare’s play is as widely read, seen and performed today as it was four hundred years ago. One of the main reasons is that Hamlet himself is a character that people will always identify with. He is a complex character – his sense of honour and duty is in constant conflict withhis inner doubts and uncertainties. This confusion leads to delay and indecision and, ultimately, to final tragedy. Apart from the complex nature of Hamlet himself, there are other themes: • One of the main themes is madness. Hamlet pretends to be mad to conceal his indecision. But this ploy backfires, leading to, among other things, Ophelia’s genuine descent into madness over Hamlet’sunintentional murder of her father. • Another theme of the play is disease and poison – ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’. Poison is the main instrument of death in the story. • A further theme is revenge. In a traditional revenge tragedy, the hero plans his revenge. In Hamlet, the tragedy stems from the hero’s doubt and uncertainty. Many lives would have been saved if Hamlet had just killed...
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