Hamlet characters guide studies each  player's role and motivation in this  famous play
William Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and poems at AbsoluteShakespeare.com
Home Plays Sonnets Poems Quotes Summaries Essays Glossary Links Help

HOME > Hamlet Study Guide > Hamlet Characters

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Characters

Study Guides
Hamlet
Julius Caesar
King Henry IV
King Lear
Macbeth
Merchant of Venice
Othello
Romeo and Juliet
The Tempest
Twelfth Night

Trivia
Authorship
Bard Facts
Bibliography
Biography
FAQ
Films
Globe Theatre
Pictures
Quiz
Timeline

Hamlet Characters guide studies each character's role and motivation in this play.

Hamlet: Son of the late King Hamlet of Denmark and nephew to the present King. Famous for the graveyard scene where holding the skull of deceased jester Yorick, Hamlet realizes man has little lasting control over his fate and also for describing man as the "paragon of animals!" Educated in Wittenburg and introduced to us in Act I, Scene II, Hamlet resents his mother Queen Gertrude marrying King Claudius within two months of his father King Hamlet's death to which she was previously married.

Distrustful of King Claudius, Hamlet is equally weary of the King's spies, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz who attempt to know his true intentions. When Hamlet meets King Hamlet's Ghost and learns that King Claudius murdered his father, Hamlet changes from a distrustful, disillusioned young man to one driven to avenge his father's death. To this end, Hamlet distrusts and rejects all those around him whom he believes are spying on him for King Claudius.

Fearing that his intentions could be revealed, Hamlet invents a madness to distract and hide his true intentions from King Claudius' many spies. This includes Ophelia, the women he loves whom he bitterly rejects when he learns she has betrayed him.

Cunning and inventive, Hamlet changes the lines of a play performed before King Claudius to divine whether King Hamlet's Ghost told him the truth about his father's death. At the end of the play, Hamlet kills both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (indirectly), Laertes and finally King Claudius before dying himself from a wound inflicted by Laertes.

Horatio: Friend to Hamlet and the one person Hamlet truly trusts. Witnesses King Hamlet's Ghost in Act I. At the end of the play, Horatio wishes to commit suicide to join Hamlet in death but Hamlet convinces him to live so he can tell his story, restoring Hamlet's name.

Claudius: The present King of Denmark, King Claudius took Queen Gertrude whom he loves as his queen and wife, much to the consternation of Hamlet who believes his mother has betrayed him and his father's memory by doing so. Cautious and suspicious, Claudius has courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet's love interest Ophelia spying on Hamlet for him since as he says, the great ones must be watched. Distrustful of Hamlet and his "madness", King Claudius has Hamlet deported to England to be killed when he fears he has become a threat.

Instead, Hamlet returns to Denmark, and King Claudius manipulates Laertes into killing Hamlet for him. Unfortunately, King Claudius' plan to poison Hamlet backfires, killing his beloved Queen Gertrude instead. In Act III, Scene III, King Claudius reveals his inner guilt and the knowledge that he cannot avoid God's judgment of him... Dies at the end of the play to the poison tipped sword of Hamlet.

Gertrude: Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet, Queen Gertrude is resented deeply by Hamlet for marrying King Claudius within two months of his father, King Hamlet's death. Hamlet makes this bitterly clear throughout the play especially in his first soliloquy in Act I, Scene II. Queen Gertrude loves her son but when she sees a play mocking her actions, she famously says of the female character who vows never to forget her husband, "The lady doth [does] protest too much, methinks [I think]", (Act III, Scene II, Line 242) in an attempt to justify her own actions in remarrying so quickly. Clearly loving of Hamlet, she realizes her wrong when Hamlet scolds her mercilessly in Act III, Scene V. She agrees to no longer share King Claudius' bed, and aids her son by hiding Hamlet's true mental state from King Claudius. Dies in Act V, Scene II, to a poisoned cup of wine meant for Hamlet.

Polonius: Lord Chamberlain. The father of Laertes and Ophelia, Lord Chamberlain Polonius dutifully serves King Claudius. When news of Hamlet's madness circulate, Polonius is certain that his daughter Ophelia is responsible, having made Hamlet lovesick. Worried that Hamlet's intentions for his daughter are dishonorable, Polonius orders Ophelia to keep her distance. Later when King Claudius needs information, Polonius uses his daughter to spy on Hamlet. He even has Reynaldo, a servant spy on his own son Laertes in Paris. An enthusiastic spy for King Claudius, Polonius is killed by Hamlet when he attempts to listen in on a conversation between Hamlet and Queen Gertrude in Act III, Scene IV. His death leads to Ophelia's madness and later drowning brought on by grief and also to Laertes' alliance with King Claudius to kill Hamlet, to avenge Polonius, his father's death.

Reynaldo: Servant to Polonius, Reynaldo is instructed to spy on his Laertes in Paris in Act II, Scene I.

Laertes: Polonius' son, Laertes is held in high esteem for his fencing skills. Famous for the advise, "to thine own self be true," (be true to yourself) and the advise to "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;" in Act I, Scene III. Laertes' role in this play is minor until the death of his father Polonius. From this point on, Laertes emerges as rather more assertive, confronting King Claudius personally to know his father's whereabouts, arguing with a Priest for being disrespectful to his sister, fighting Hamlet above his sister's grave and ultimately conspiring to and killing Hamlet with the help of King Claudius. We see little of Laertes' inner character however since he responds to events continuously. Loving of his sister Ophelia, he must watch his sister's cruel decay into madness helplessly following his father's death. Dies in Act V, Scene II, the victim of a wound inflicted upon him by Hamlet with his own poison tipped sword.

Ophelia: The daughter to Polonius, Ophelia is loved by Hamlet. Unfortunately as Queen Gertrude laments at Ophelia's funeral, Ophelia never marries Hamlet. Dutiful to her father, she ignores Hamlet's romantic overtures when instructed to ignore them by her father Polonius. Receives advice on how to live from brother Laertes in Act I, Scene III. Though loved by Hamlet, Ophelia ultimately betrays him by spying on him for King Claudius. As a result Hamlet mercilessly insults her virtue during the play "The Murder of Gonzago" in Act III, Scene II. A dutiful daughter, Ophelia descends into madness from the grief of losing her father Polonius and later drowns in circumstances that suggest a possible suicide. Her funeral is the location of a fight between Hamlet and Laertes that centers on which loved her more; Hamlet believes he did, resenting Laertes exaggerated emphasis of his sorrow...

Fortinbras: Prince of Norway. The son of King Fortinbras, who was defeated by King Hamlet, Young Fortinbras has raised an army to reclaim the lands lost by his father to King Hamlet and Denmark. Convinced into attacking the Polish instead, Young Fortinbras displays all the noble, honor driven qualities, Hamlet wishes he had. At the end of the play, Young Fortinbras is recommended by Hamlet to be the next King of Denmark. Parallels Hamlet's character in that like Hamlet his father was a ruler (King of Norway) and that both are now nephews to the current rulers of their lands..

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern: Courtiers to King Claudius, both these men grew up with Hamlet. As a result King Claudius recruits them to spy on Hamlet for him. Neither man has a problem trading in their friendship to betray Hamlet; they serve the King. Both die when the instructions they bear from King Claudius are altered by Hamlet to instruct King Claudius' English associates to kill those bearing his commission immediately (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).

Voltimand, Cornelius, Osric and a Gentleman: Courtiers.

A Priest: Introduces at Ophelia's funeral, the Priest insults Laertes by expressing his personal opinion that Ophelia does not deserve a proper Christian burial for ending her life by suicide, which was considered a sin unworthy of proper burial.

Marcellus and Bernardo: Officers who initially spot King Hamlet's Ghost in Act I, Scene I.

Francisco: A soldier. Famous for the lines "'tis [it is] bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart" which sets the tone of this tragedy.

A Captain, English Ambassadors, Players, Two Clowns (Gravediggers), Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Messengers, and Attendants.

< PREVIOUS
{Next}
Copyright 2000-2005 AbsoluteShakespeare.com. All rights reserved.  Contact Us  Privacy  Awards