Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Summary of Act V, Scene 2

The next day, Hamlet explains to Horatio how he escaped Claudius’s plan to have him executed in England. The king had given Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a sealed letter containing his request to the English king to have Hamlet killed on his arrival. Hamlet replaced this letter with one ordering the English king to execute Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. Hamlet says he has no sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom he blames for having been in league with Claudius. However, he does repent of having been so hostile toward Laertes and promises to mend things if he can, admiring Laertes’ desire to avenge his own father’s death.

Enter Osric, a foolish courtier who tries to flatter prince Hamlet by agreeing with everything Hamlet says, even when he directly contradicts himself. He then delivers his message: the king has bet Laertes that Hamlet will win in duel. Osric then begins to praise Laertes, though Hamlet and Horatio can’t figure out why. Finally, a lord enters and asks Hamlet to come and duel, as everyone is ready for him.

Hamlet agrees to the duel. He feels uneasy about it, but he reasons that death comes no matter what one does. He enters the hall and asks Laertes for forgiveness, claiming that his madness caused him to kill Polonius. Laertes says that he will not accept Hamlet’s forgiveness until he can consult an expert in the matter.

Hamlet and Laertes select their swords. The king announces that if Hamlet wins the first or second hit, he will drink to Hamlet’s health, then put a pearl in the cup and give it to Hamlet. In fact, the pearl in question is coated with poison.

The duel begins, and Hamlet scores the first hit. When offered the poisoned cup, however, he waves it away, saying he will play another round first. Hamlet wins the second hit as well, and Gertrude takes the cup and drinks from it, even though the king tells her not to do so.

Meanwhile, Laertes notes that to strike Hamlet with a poisoned sword is against his conscience, but he enters the duel again. This time, Laertes wins the hit, striking Hamlet with his sword and drawing blood. During the next round, Hamlet loses his sword but manages to grab Laertes’ poisoned sword instead and wounds Laertes with it.

The queen collapses, cries out that the cup was poisoned, and dies. Laertes falls, cursing himself for having been poisoned with his own sword: “I am justly kill’d with my own treachery.” He explains to Hamlet that Hamlet has also been poisoned, by the same sword, and that both the poisoned sword and the poisoned cup were the king’s idea. Hamlet, enraged, stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink the rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies. After giving Hamlet his forgiveness, Laertes also dies.

Offstage, the sound of marching and gunshots are heard. Osric announces that Fortinbras has returned from Poland. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is dying. He warns his friend not to take his own life, but to live and tell Hamlet’s story. He asks that Fortinbras be crowned king of Denmark, then dies.

Fortinbras enters the hall along with the English ambassadors, who report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Horatio promises to tell the story of what happened in the Danish court. Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be given a soldier’s funeral.