The order of events in Shakespeare's plays is very carefully structured. The plot sequence is crucial to building up the story and the action, before the eventual resolution.
Drag and drop the play's events to put them in order (or disrupt them!).
Use the activities on the right to further explore the intricacies of the plot.
Hamlet – the plot
When Claudius finds out from Gertrude that Hamlet has killed Polonius and taken the body away, he asks Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to find out where the body is.
Hamlet is travelling through Denmark on his way to England. The sight of Fortinbras' army encourages him to avenge his own father's murder.
Polonius sends a spy to find out what Laertes is doing in Paris. When Ophelia tells him that Hamlet has been acting strangely, Polonius begins to fear that the prince is 'mad' with love for Ophelia.
Claudius has married his dead brother's wife, Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude: they both counsel the prince that life is short and he should not allow himself to be continue being sad that his father is dead.
King Claudius and Queen Gertrude ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out the reasons for Hamlet's unusual behaviour. Hamlet welcomes some travelling actors to the castle – he intends to put on a performance that will reveal whether or not Claudius is guilty.
Hamlet has agreed to meet the soldiers on the battlements to watch out for the ghost. When it appears it motions for Hamlet to follow him, which he does, alone.
Hamlet arranges a stage performance about the murder of a king by poisoning, and watches Claudius closely to see how he responds. When Claudius stops the performance and leaves abruptly, Hamlet knows he is guilty.
Claudius and Polonius spy on Hamlet as he is talking to Ophelia. They have different ideas about what might be the matter with him: Polonius still thinks Hamlet is in love with Ophelia, but Claudius thinks there is more to his strange behaviour.
During the fencing match, Hamlet and Laertes are both wounded with the poisoned sword. The Queen drinks poisoned wine intended for Hamlet and dies. Laertes reveals Claudius's plot to Hamlet, then dies. Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and makes him drink the rest of the poisoned wine before dying himself.
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to Hamlet to ask him where he has hidden the body of Polonius. He refuses to tell them and accuses them of being spies for Claudius.
Laertes is going to Paris and says goodbye to his father Polonius, who gives him fatherly advice, and to his sister Ophelia: both men advise Ophelia to disregard Hamlet's vows of affection.
Hamlet is summoned by his mother and on his way he sees Claudius praying – the perfect opportunity to kill him. However, Hamlet decides that he will only kill Claudius when he is doing something bad, so that his uncle's soul will go straight to hell.
The Ghost of Hamlet's dead father tells Hamlet that Claudius poisoned him and seduced Hamlet's mother: it asks him to avenge the murder.
A letter arrives for Horatio from Hamlet telling him that he was captured by pirates, but that he has now escaped and is back in Denmark.
Hamlet and Horatio hide in a graveyard and watch gravediggers prepare the ground for a coffin. When Hamlet realises it is for Ophelia, he comes out of hiding. Seeing Hamlet, Laertes attacks him: they are separated and Hamlet leaves.
A ghost appears to soldiers in the dead of night on the battlements of the King's castle in Elsinore.
During an angry conversation with his mother, Hamlet discovers that someone is hiding behind a tapestry in her room. Thinking it is Claudius, Hamlet stabs the figure, only to discover that he has accidentally killed Polonius instead.
Laertes wants revenge on Hamlet for his father's death and his sister's grief. Claudius and Laertes plan to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword in a fencing match. News arrives that Ophelia has been found drowned.
Ophelia has gone mad with grief at her father's death and Hamlet's treatment of her. When Laertes returns, he is horrified to see his sister suffering.
Hamlet finally tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where he has put the body. Claudius tells Hamlet that he is being sent to England for his own safety, however he has secretly arranged for Hamlet to be killed in England.