Hamlet Summarized: Background information when reading The Dead Fathers Club

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The Dead Fathers Club

by Matt Haig

The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig X
The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2007, 336 pages
    Dec 2007, 336 pages


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Hamlet Summarized

This article relates to The Dead Fathers Club

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It's not at all necessary to be familiar with Hamlet to appreciate The Dead Fathers Club, but for those who would like to freshen their memories, here is a quick outline:

Hamlet's father, King Hamlet of Denmark, is recently dead. Claudius, the dead king's brother, becomes King and quickly marries King Hamlet's widow, Gertrude. Young Hamlet fears that Claudius killed his father, a fear that is confirmed when he meets his father's ghost who tells him that Claudius did indeed murder him by pouring poison in his ear. Intent on avenging his father, Hamlet becomes increasingly melancholic and gives the impression of having gone mad. Claudius and his wife employ two of Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on him; and the pompous Lord Chamberlain, Polonius, suggests that Hamlet is in love with his daughter, Orphelia. Claudius spies on Hamlet and Orphelia in conversation and while it certainly seems that Hamlet is mad, he doesn't appear to be in love.

Hamlet persuades an acting company to reenact the death of his father, as he believes it happened, in front of Claudius in the hope that the latter will break down and confess. Claudius is furious but admits nothing, but Hamlet and his friend Horatio agree that his behavior indicates that he is guilty. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him praying. Believing that to kill his uncle while he prays would send the latter's soul to heaven Hamlet leaves him be. Claudius, fearing that Hamlet will hurt him, orders him to leave Denmark for England.

Hamlet confronts his mother who tries to reason with him but Hamlet is not to be convinced and, hearing Polonius spying on the conversation from behind the curtain and believing he is Claudius, stabs him through the curtain. Hamlet is immediately sent away to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Polonius's son, Laertes, arrives from France furious over the death of Polonius which Claudius persuades him are both Hamlet's fault. Soon after, Ophelia, distraught at the death of her father and the loss of Hamlet, throws herself into a stream and drowns. Meanwhile, en route to England, Hamlet finds that his uncle has sent sealed instructions with his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern addressed to the King of England ordering that Hamlet should be put to death.

Pirates attack his ship and Hamlet returns to Denmark just as Orphelia's funeral is taking place and, stricken with grief, admits that he did love her. In a last ditch attempt to kill his nephew, Claudius arranges a "friendly" duel between Laertes and Hamlet, but Laertes' sword has a poisoned blade, and to be on the safe side Claudius poisons the victor's cup. Hamlet scores the first hit in the fight but declines the cup; Gertrude drinks from it instead. Laertes, in an illegal move, scratches Hamlet with the sword tip. Hamlet, unaware that the sword is poisoned, switches swords with Laertes and cuts him with the poisoned blade. As the Queen and Laertes lie dying the Queen admits Claudius's treachery, and Laertes reveals to Hamlet that it is Claudius who poisoned the blade and is thus responsible for the Queen's death. Hamlet, weakening fast (but still with enough breath for his final speech) stabs Claudius.

With the entire royal family spread out dying, a Norwegian prince named Fortinbras enters with ambassadors from England who report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead (the fate intended for Hamlet having been meted out on them). Fortinbras moves to take over the kingdom, and Horatio, the last to remain standing, tells him Hamlet's tragic story.

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This "beyond the book article" relates to The Dead Fathers Club. It originally ran in March 2007 and has been updated for the December 2007 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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