The play is set in Denmark and follows the prince Hamlet, who seeks revenge upon his uncle Claudius. Claudius murdered his brother, Hamlet's father, in order to seize the throne and also married his wife and Hamlet's mother Gertrude. After Hamlet's sentries and his friend Horatio encounter the ghost of King Hamlet, they vow to tell his son what they have witnessed.
Hamlet is fraught with grief and anxiety. Making matters more complicated is the young Ophelia who seeks Hamlet's attention. Hamlet is determined to see his father's ghost for himself and seeks him out only to get the confirmation that he has been called upon to avenge King Hamlet's death. Though still uncertain about the validity of his father's ghostly apparition, Hamlet vows to avenge his father's death.
Sensing Hamlet's unease and hearing complaints of Hamlet's erratic behavior towards Ophelia, King Claudius and his new wife Gertrude solicit help from two of his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to get to the bottom of his strange behavior. Hamlet senses his friends have been sent as spies and is resentful. He accuses Ophelia of immodesty and assembles the court to watch a play that he has commissioned. It tells the story of Claudius poisoning King Hamlet. Claudius arises during the scene of the poisoning which to Hamlet proves his guilt.
Following the play, Hamlet's mother Gertrude demands an explanation. Claudius meanwhile, debates repenting his guilt whilst praying. During his prayer Hamlet has the opportunity to kill him but cannot, believing the killing Claudius during his prayer would send him to heaven instead of hell. Gertrude and Hamlet have a bitter altercation, during which Polonius is hiding in the corner and startled to hear Hamlet's accusations. When he makes a noise, Hamlet thinks it is Claudius and stabs Polonius to death.
Following his error, Hamlet berates his mother for believing Claudius, only to be reprimanded by the ghost of his father for his cruelty. Gertrude cannot see her departed husband's ghost and believes her son to be insane. Claudius demands that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern accompany his nephew to England for his immediate execution. A grief stricken Ophelia descends into madness as her brother Laertes arrives back in Denmark enraged at his sister's condition and his father's death.
Hearing that Hamlet has arrived back in Denmark against his wishes, Claudius attempts to use Laertes as a means to his demise by arranging a fencing match where Laertes will use a poison tipped foil. Should Hamlet win, Claudius is prepared with celebratory poisoned wine. This match occurs prematurely and without the poison though, at Ophelia's funeral when Hamlet proclaims his love and fights Laertes by her graveside. The duel is broken up for sake of the later battle.
During their next match Hamlet is winning, causing his mother to toast him and accidentally drink from the poisoned wine glass. As she collapses and dies, Laertes reveals Claudius' plan to Hamlet, and Hamlet rushes to Claudius and kills him. Hamlet has been slashed by Laertes poisoned sword and is slowly dying. Hamlet pleads with his friend Horatio to "tell his story," and dies, just after proclaiming "the rest is silence."