Introduction to the Characters in Hamlet
Although Hamlet himself desires to see Claudius pay for his crime, he realizes the evil in the deed of killing the king, prompted by both "heaven and hell" (II.ii.586). The ghost has placed Hamlet in a most unnatural position by asking him to commit murder. Hamlet hates the king for his treachery, but he would not act on that hate if he were not prompted to do so by the ghost. Read Hamlet's full character analysis.
As with all the supporting characters in Hamlet, Claudius is not developed to his full potential. His primary role in the play is to spawn Hamlet's confusion and anger, and his subsequent search for truth and life's meaning. But Claudius is not a static character. While his qualities are not as thoroughly explored as Hamlet's, Shakespeare crafts a whole human being out of the treacherous, usurping King of Denmark. Read Claudius's full character analysis.
Gertrude is, more so than any other character in the play, the antithesis of her son, Hamlet. Hamlet is a scholar and a philosopher, searching for life's most elusive answers. He cares nothing for this "mortal coil" and the vices to which man has become slave. Gertrude is shallow, and thinks only about her body and external pleasures. Like a child she longs to be delighted. We do not see much of her in daily activity, but if we could we would see a woman enraptured by trinkets and fine clothes, soft pillows and warm baths. Gertrude is also a very sexual being, and it is her sexuality that turns Hamlet so violently against her. Read Gertrude's full character analysis.
Horatio's role in the play is minor and most critics agree that he is not developed beyond a character foil for the great Prince. However, Horatio serves two purposes central to the drama, and it is through these purposes that we can best discuss those qualities that make Horatio memorable. Read Horatio's full character analysis.
Of all the pivotal characters in Hamlet, Ophelia is the most static and one-dimensional. She has the potential to become a tragic heroine -- to overcome the adversities inflicted upon her -- but she instead crumbles into insanity, becoming merely tragic. It appears that Ophelia herself is not as important as her representation of the dual nature of women in the play. The extent to which Hamlet feels betrayed by Gertrude is far more apparent because of Ophelia's presence. Read Ophelia's full character analysis.
More Characters to Discover...
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
The Ghost of Hamlet's Father
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Introduction to the Characters in Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 15 Aug. 2008. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/hamletchars.html > .
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