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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
 The Grave-Diggers

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Introduction to the Characters in Hamlet. Shakespeare Online. 15 Aug. 2008. < > .


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Thoughts on Yorick

"Yorick! the lines are few, and the description brief that Shakespeare has given us of the man, but they are so pregnant with suggestion, so sweet in thought, and so tender in memory that he lives in our minds as completely as though he gamboled on the earth again, and laughingly jingled his cap and bells in our very ears. How happy must have been those early days at Elsinore, when Hamlet was a child and Yorick his play-fellow. How they must have romped together in the gardens. What fun it was for the little prince to climb upon the jester's shoulders and race pick-back along the terraces, the boy's long fair curls blowing in the wind, and his merry laughter filling the air with music."
Frederick Warde. Read on...

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Essential Resources ... Our comprehensive list of every Shakespearean character and the play in which he or she appears. Included is our exclusive spelled pronunciation guide, essential for actors and teachers, and an in-depth biography of many of Shakespeare's most popular and fascinating creations. How do you pronounce Fortinbras, anyway? Read on...


 Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
 The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
 Does Hamlet Love Ophelia?

 The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
 Sewing in my closet: Ophelia's Meeting with Hamlet
 Ophelia and Laertes
 Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius

 In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
 O Jephthah! Toying with Polonius
 The Death of Polonius and its Impact on Hamlet's Character
 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Hamlet's Silence
 An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
 Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
 Defending Claudius: The Charges Against the King
 Claudius and the Condition of Denmark

 Hamlet's Humor
 Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
 Divine Providence in Hamlet
 Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?

 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost
 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 Why is the Ghost in the Cellar?
 Hamlet as National Hero

 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet