Okay, so you read Hamlet in your high school English class, or you've heard the words "to be or not to be" so many times that it's lost all meaning, or you know every single song from Disney's adaptation The Lion King. You know Hamlet vaguely, or you know that you're supposed to know it, but it's hard to keep track of everything that happens in Shakespeare's longest play. Don't worry! This guide is for you. And as Polonius says in Act 2, "brevity is the soul of wit": in other words, we'll try to keep it short. 

Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, and his father, the King, is dead. Just a week after the death of his father, his mother Queen Gertrude marries his father's brother Claudius, and Hamlet is not happy about their marriage. The ghost of Hamlet's father presents himself to Horatio, Hamlet's closest friend; Horatio tells Hamlet what he saw, and Hamlet goes to seek the ghost of his father. The ghost reveals to his son the truth of his death: Claudius, the new King of Denmark and Hamlet's uncle-turned-step-father, murdered him. The ghost instructs his son to avenge his death; Hamlet vows to kill Claudius. 

Hamlet becomes fixated on his father's quest and is determined to investigate his death.  The King and Queen attempt to uplift and spy on him by dispatching his old friends to find the root of his misery, but they cannot find the answer. Polonius believes the melancholy and mania is attributed to his daughter, the beautiful Ophelia; though Hamlet had previously pursued her, he rejects her outright. His inner mind is increasingly turbulent—this is where we get the monologue "to be or not to be," where he contemplates his own death—but he remains fixed on the objective set for him by his father. A troupe of performers arrives as part of Claudius's effort to cheer his step-son, and Hamlet cleverly twists the performance to serve his own purpose.  He commissions the troupe to reenact the alleged murder, and when Claudius appears guilty, Hamlet knows that he was in fact the murderer. 

Hamlet is now determined to enact vengeance, but Claudius is wary of Hamlet and decides to send him away to England. Before he leaves, he confronts his mother in her bedchamber. He notices a sudden movement behind a curtain and stabs at it, and Polonius, who was snooping, dies. As a consequence, Claudius sends Hamlet to England immediately with concealed orders for Hamlet to be put to death upon reaching his destination. 

The death count continues to rise. Ophelia is driven mad after her father's death, and she dies by suicide. Hamlet returns to Denmark after his ship is attacked by pirates. Meanwhile, Laertes, Ophelia's brother and Polonius's son who had been away, returns to find his family dead. Both Laertes and Hamlet are grieving, and they agree to a fencing match. Claudius poisons Laertes's blade and a goblet of wine so that Hamlet will be killed either by the first blow or by the celebratory drink. But at the match, it is Gertrude who drinks from the goblet and dies, and Laertes who is first poisoned by a cut from his own blade. Hamlet understands the plot to murder him, but it is too late; he too has been wounded by the poisoned blade, and will die. As his final act of vengeance, Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned blade and makes him drink from the poisoned cup. Claudius dies, and Hamlet dies too. Almost everyone in the play dies, except, notably, Horatio, who grieves the loss of his friend.  

The story may sound familiar, because so many narratives have tread its well-worn path: a betrayal, a quest, a battle, and as every tragedy promises, a death. We may not remember the intricacies of Hamlet's plot, but its legacy looms large, and we've come to expect the same important beats from every story in its lineage. In Fat Ham, a "kind of Hamlet" but not necessarily a direct adaptation, the characters echo the journey of the original play. But will they make the same choices as their predecessors? 

Malaika Fernandes