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
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
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
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
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
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
Voltimand, Cornelius, Osric and a Gentleman:
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.