A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events
Setting the Timeline – considerations
Claudius – planning my foul murder
King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?
Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?
Horatio – Hamlet's friend?
Horatio – is he passion's slave?
Polonius – the evil that men do
Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?
Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love
O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version
Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?
Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"
Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion
Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"
Laertes on Ophelia – madness & death
Ophelia's death – a recipe
Hamlet's age – digging up the past
Yorick – something rotting in Denmark
Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match
Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes
Considerations in setting the TimelineIt is likely King Hamlet was killed in the spring (~15 March).
Ghost: 'Tis given out, that, sleeping in my orchard,Because this is his regular daily habit, then it is unlikely to be winter but far more likely to be spring. The king would hardly choose to sleep in a leafless orchard but rather in spring when orchard trees come into leaf.
Claudius wants to murder the king, but needs a plan. He sees the King having his daily afternoon nap in the orchard. Within a day or two, he dreams up his murderous plan of pouring poison into the King's ear. He says it was a serpent that killed the King. Serpents (adders) hibernate during the winter and only become active in spring. So, even if he wanted to commit the murder as soon as possible, he had to wait a few days into the spring otherwise the serpent-bite story would not be believed.
Laertes was recalled from France for Claudius's coronation. The recall message would be sent by ship and he would have returned to Denmark by ship. Presumably, it would have been post winter, for in winter there is bad weather, storms and frozen seas around Denmark and only a few hours of daylight and thus difficult, or impossible, for ships to get through.
Fortinbras had been training his army which he could hardly have done in the middle of winter in Norway. It is likely he trained them in the spring in preparation for an invasion of Poland in the summer.
The star Bernardo mentions is not given a name but it seems unlikely Shakespeare would set his play in a real place, Elsinore, and then put a fictitious star in the sky. A star that fits the action of the play is Capella, the 6th brightest star in the total sky and the brightest star when looking north from Elsinore. Bernardo's star was seen west of the pole at 1 am. This fits in with Capella on any date from 27 February until 27 May. Between those dates it is visible west of the pole from the moment if gets dark and is still west of the pole at 1 am.
"The Mousetrap" was performed four months after the King's death. This would place it about 15 July (midsummer).
Hamlet:... My father died within these two hours.That night Hamlet kills Polonius. Hamlet is immediately sent to England by ship. Just prior to sailing he meets Fortinbras's Norwegian army heading across Denmark to attack Poland – this is likely to be a summer campaign – following on from the training Fortinbras had given his troops two months earlier.
Hamlet's ship is attacked by pirates – for pirates to be in the Baltic sounds as though it would be summer-time – pirates would not be active in winter-time in the Baltic. In winter, bad weather, ice floes, very few hours of daylight, extremely dangerous sailing conditions and few potential prizes would divert the pirates to warmer waters and better prospects, for example, the Mediterranean.
Polonius was buried the morning following his death. Ophelia wrote a letter to Laertes telling him of the disgraceful way their father had been buried; without ceremony or monuments befitting his important status. It would have taken about a month for the letter to reach Laertes. He returned in secret, raised a small army with the object of deposing Claudius – all this would have taken about another month.
During these two months, Ophelia repeatedly visited her father's grave and suffered the anguish of nothing being done to it, such as a monument, hatchment and a mausoleum being built to honour her father. The torment of this neglect upset her mind and drove her mad.
In her madness Ophelia hands out a variety of flowers. These flowers bloom in summer. She may also have retained some of the flowers from her father's burial. Shortly after handing out the flowers Ophelia drowns. When she is buried the next day Gertrude puts flowers on her grave – they are summer flowers.
Hamlet's age gives further reasoning for the dating of the Timeline.