About the Scenes

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The page for each Scene includes the following features.

  • A brief Synopsis of the Scene.
  • A list of the Characters who appear in the Scene.
  • For all except the shortest Scenes, some Passage Links for jumping quickly to notable passages or speeches within the Scene.
  • The playscript for the Scene Dialogue.
  • An interlined Paraphrase for each line of the Scene.
  • Notes for that Scene, including comment about acting the play.
  • Scene Links, for convenience in moving quickly to one of the other Scenes.


The synopsis provided on the Scene page is merely a quick statement of events. For details, the synopsis section ends with a link to the appropriate section of the Explixation page, which provides a more in-depth description.


On the Scene page, the characters are only listed. Each character name is a link to the page for that character. The character page goes into detail about that character's role in the play, and other points.

Passage Links

The passage links provide a quick jump to the relevant section of the play dialogue. For example, in Scene 8 the passage link "To be or not to be" will take you directly to the line in the dialogue where that speech by Hamlet begins.


This term "dialogue" means the playscript, including stage directions, as originally written by Shakespeare. The spelling is modernized, except in a few cases where it appears Shakespeare used a special spelling to convey a certain meaning or connotation.

The playscript is conflated. That is, it includes material from both the Second Quarto and the First Folio. Although the versions of Hamlet that were published in the Second Quarto of 1604-1605, and the First Folio of 1623, are essentially the same, they differ in details. In order to be sure of including everything Shakespeare wrote for the play, as best that can be determined, it's necessary to combine the material found in the two original publications.

Each line of the play is numbered, starting with 1 (actually 001) for the first line of dialogue. The line number is preceded by the Scene number; for example 01-001 is Scene 1 line 1, the first line of dialogue in the play.

A stage direction is numbered according to the dialogue line number it follows, for example, 01-045-SD. That's the number for the stage direction which follows line 45 in Scene 1. The initial stage direction of each Scene is numbered xx-000-SD, since no lines of dialogue have been spoken yet.

The line numbers begin with the symbol #. The pound sign is not part of the line number, it's used to provide a link. Each line number is a link to the Note for that line. In other words, to see the Note for a line, click on the line number.


I provide an interlined paraphrase for each line of the play. The paraphrase for a line is displayed below the line, in gray.

The paraphrase gives the plain reading for the line, that is, the basic meaning. Shakespeare's writing is often difficult to read, since he wrote in such a poetic style, and also the English language, itself, was somewhat different at that time. Further, Hamlet is written in a way that incorporates much intentional ambiguity, which gives great depth to the writing. Some of the lines are written so that they mean more than one thing, at the same time.

The paraphrase is designed to help a reader cope with all that. Having seen the basic meaning of the line in the paraphrase, the reader can then approach Shakespeare's original with greater confidence.

Another advantage of the paraphrase is that it eliminates the need for a gloss. The play is easier to read when the reader doesn't have to jump back and forth between the script and a word list.


On each Scene page, the dialogue is followed by the regular Notes for each line of that Scene. As already mentioned, clicking a line number will take the reader to the Note for that line.

Each Note includes a Return link, to take the reader back to the Note's dialogue line. A Note may also include other links, as follows.

  • Extended Note. A link for an extended note will take the reader to a different page, the page of extended notes for the Scene. The page will have a name such as "Scene 4 Extended Notes." The extended notes go into greater depth on something related to the dialogue line. The main reason for the extended notes, on a different page, is to keep the Notes reasonably short, since they appear on the same page as the dialogue.
  • Folio Difference. Some Notes include a "Folio Difference" link. As mentioned above, the Second Quarto and First Folio versions of Hamlet have some differences. A "Folio Difference" link means for the line of the dialogue, such a difference exists. The link takes the reader to a different page, with a name such as "Scene 7 Folio Differences," where I explore the difference in detail, and state why I decided to use the Second Quarto wording instead of the First Folio wording for that particular line, or vice versa.

A few notes may contain other links, for other reasons, which should be self explanatory, or explained in the Note.

About Acting the Play

The regular Notes usually include some comment about acting the play. These comments are based directly on what Shakespeare wrote. Shakespeare used the dialogue in Hamlet both to provide meaningful speech for the play, and to dictate, in great detail, the actions he wanted.

In the course of the play dialogue, Hamlet says to the Players, as he's coaching them on how he wants the 'Mousetrap' play performed, "suit the action to the word." (Scene 9 line 015) However, that is not just Hamlet coaching the Players, it is Shakespeare telling us how to do his Hamlet.

It has long been recognized that Hamlet contains what have been called "embedded stage directions." What has not been recognized is the extent of the direction. One reason the Hamlet dialogue is occasionally so obscure is that it was written especially to prescribe certain actions, and not written just to provide speech. Hamlet is a play, with action of course, and not merely something to recite. When the actions are done right, much of the obscurity of the language dissipates.

Most of those who have studied Hamlet over the years have had a background in literature. A literature background is not adequate to prepare a person for dealing with Hamlet. The literary approach to the play is only to sit there and read it. In approaching the play like that, the literature community has missed, well, "the play" even though it is there, in action, when the lines are performed as written. One will never notice what is happening if he only sits at a desk and reads the text, without doing anything else. If one really wants to understand Hamlet, the first instruction to obey is: stand up.

To do Hamlet correctly, one must be a good puppet for Shakespeare, and let him pull the strings, by doing exactly what he wrote, as best we can figure it out. Only then will we be doing "Shakespeare's Hamlet." It boils down to: do what the man wrote.

The comments I include about acting the play are based directly on exactly what Shakespeare wrote, plus whatever common sense and knowledge of human behavior I can muster, to tell you what the play says to do, line by line.

Scene Links

Each Scene page concludes with scene links, to jump to any other Scene of the play. The same scene links appear between the end of the Dialogue and the start of the Notes on each Scene page.

© 2014 Jeffrey Paul Jordan

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