Summaries

Shakespeares works are nortoursluy hard to understand, especially for the first time one reads one of his plays. That is why we collected these summaries to help confused readers. These summaries provide a quick review of each play's plot including every important action in each play, and are best used while reading the play itself.

Hamlet

The play begins in Denmark with the news that King Hamlet of Denmark has recently died. Denmark is now in a state of high alert and preparing for possible war with Young Fortinbras of Norway. A ghost resembling the late King Hamlet is spotted on a platform before Elsinore Castle in Denmark. King Claudius, who now rules Denmark, has taken King Hamlet's wife, Queen Gertrude as his new wife and Queen of Denmark. King Claudius fearing Young Fortinbras of Norway may invade, has sent ambassadors to Norway to urge the King of Norway to restrain Young Fortinbras. Young Hamlet distrusts King Claudius. The King and Queen do not understand why Hamlet still mourns his father's death over two months ago. In his first soliloquy, Hamlet explains that he does not like his mother marrying the next King of Denmark so quickly within a month of his father's death... MORE

Julius Caesar

ceaser

Shakespeare's famous Roman play opens to the scene of two Tribunes, Marullus and Flavius scolding Roman citizens for blindly worshipping Caesar. Their conversation reveals deep-seated fears that Caesar is growing too powerful, too arrogant and must be stopped. Hoping to reduce the blind hero worship of Caesar, the two men remove ceremonial decorations off Caesar's "images" (statues) despite the obvious dangers of doing so... A little later, we see Caesar leading a procession through the streets of Rome. A Soothsayer or fortune teller tells Caesar to beware the "ides of March [the 15th of March]" a warning that Caesar will die on this day. It is ignored. Cassius, who fears Caesar's ever growing power, begins to recruit Brutus, a close friend of Caesar's, towards his conspiracy by implying that Caesar is becoming too powerful... We also learn that Marullus and Flavius, the two tribunes pulling decorations off Caesar's statues have been put to silence for "pulling scarfs off Caesar's images [statues]." Brutus is suspicious of Cassius' motives but tells Cassius that he will think it over... Casca, another conspirator, reveals information to Brutus that suggests Caesar may be getting more ambitious... Cassius' conspiracy gains momentum when he recruits a suspicious Casca to their cause against Caesar by pointing out that several recent strange occurrences are omens warning them against Caesar... To ensure Brutus joins his conspiracy, Cassius has Cinna place some forged letters where Brutus will find them convincing Brutus to join their cause. Cinna reveals that Brutus' good name will be an asset to their conspiracy...MORE

King Lear

Shakespeare's dark tragedy, King Lear begins with the fictional King of England, King Lear, handing over his kingdom to daughters Regan and Goneril whom he believes truly love him. King Lear intends to stay with each daughter consecutively, accompanied by one hundred loyal knights. Angry that Cordelia his youngest daughter does not appear to love him as do Goneril and Regan, Lear banishes his youngest daughter Cordelia, and Kent, the servant who attempts to defend her. Cordelia leaves and is taken by the King of France as his Queen... Edmund, the loved but illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester plots to have his elder brother Edgar's reputation ruined. Edmund tricks his father Gloucester into believing that Edgar wanted to kill him... The disrespectful Goneril conspires to have her guest and father, King Lear, driven out of her house. Kent, who has now disguised his identity to serve King Lear, earns King Lear's respect by defending his name. Goneril offends King Lear and dismisses fifty of his knights. Lear starts to realize Cordelia was not so disrespecting. Lear decides to leave for Regan where he is sure to be treated properly... MORE

MacBeth

Shakespeare's dark, grim tragedy begins with Three Witches in Scotland deciding to meet again after a battle being fought nearby. Thunder, storms and the desolate heath paint a gloomy picture, setting the tone of this play and defining an imagery of nature at war with itself, a recurring theme in this play... Macbeth is introduced as the brave man who led King Duncan's forces to victory against the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, Macdonwald and The King of Norway, in a battle that could have gone either way were it not for Macbeth's leadership. We learn that Macbeth killed Macdonwald himself in battle. King Duncan, overjoyed, decides to make Macbeth his new Thane of Cawdor. The previous Thane of Cawdor will be executed. The Three Witches establish their malicious nature before meeting Macbeth and Banquo. The Three Witches tell Macbeth that he will be "Thane of Glamis!", "Thane of Cawdor!" and "king hereafter" or become the King of Scotland. Banquo learns that his descendants shall be kings. Banquo is suspicious of the Three Witches, remembering that they often trick men. Macbeth initially agrees but when Ross and Angus tell him he has been made the new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth in a very important aside (soliloquy), remarks, "Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: / The greatest is behind." Macbeth now first questions Banquo's on his feelings about his descendants becoming kings and then starts thinking of killing King Duncan to make prophecy fact but later hopes fate alone will spare him the need to kill... MORE

Othello the Moore of Venice

Shakespeare's famous play of love turned bad by unfounded jealousy, begins in Venice with Iago, a soldier under Othello's command arguing with Roderigo, a wealthy Venetian. Roderigo has paid Iago a considerable sum of money to spy on Othello for him, since he wishes to take Othello's girlfriend, Desdemona as his own. Roderigo fears that Iago has not been telling him enough about Desdemona and that this proves Iago's real loyalty is to Othello not him. Iago explains his hatred of Othello for choosing Cassio as his officer or lieutenant and not him as he expected. To regain Roderigo's trust, Iago and Roderigo inform Brabantio, Desdemona's father of her relationship with Othello, the "Moor" which enrages Brabantio into sending parties out at night to apprehend Othello for what must obviously be in Brabantio's eyes, an abuse of his daughter by Othello... MORE

Romeo and Juliet

romeo and juliet

Arguably Shakespeare's most famous play begins with a Prologue which establishes that this play will be a tragedy and that the children of two feuding families, Romeo of the Montague family and Juliet of the Capulet family, will both love and die in the course of this play...
Sampson and Gregory, servants to the Capulets and Abraham and Balthasar, servants to the Montague family start a street fight, which is joined by Benvolio (Montague) and Tybalt (Capulet). Escalus, the Prince of Verona who angrily learns of this fight, declares a death penalty for further feuding between the two families. Romeo we learn is lovesick; Rosaline, the object of his affections will not requite (return) his love. His friend Benvolio tells Romeo to look at other girls... Meanwhile Capulet is keen for Paris to marry his daughter Juliet and plans a party to be held later that night. Romeo and friends decide to turn up uninvited, Romeo hoping to see Rosaline, whom he still pines for... Lady Capulet discusses the idea of marriage to Paris with Juliet. Juliet keeps her options open. The Nurse wishes Juliet every possible happiness... Meanwhile Mercutio attempts to cheer a lovesick Romeo up, telling him to be rough with love if need be... MORE