Structure of Hamlet

As we begin our study of Hamlet, it's helpful to have an understanding of how the play -- and other tragedies like it -- is structured. It can help you anticipate what to expect in each act.

HAMLET is structured like the traditional plays of the Elizabethan Age with five acts. This structure is:

Act I


Presents the setting and main characters.
Presents the inciting incident (the event) that sets in motion the play's central conflict, or struggle.

Act II

Rising Action or Complication

Develops the central conflict.


Crisis or Turning Point

Presents a decisive occurrence that determines the future course of events in the play.

Act IV

Falling Action

Presents events that happen as a result of the crisis.

Act V

Resolution or Catastrophe

Presents the event that resolves, or ends the central conflict. (In a tragedy, this event is called the catastrophe because it marks the ultimate fall of the central character.