The Tragedy of Hamlet

Character Analysis

Prince Hamlet: The protagonist of the story, Hamlet is the thirty year old prince of Denmark, a student at Wittenberg at the beginning of the play. Hamlet is a dark and moody character, suffering from a depression caused by the untimely death of his father, a death later to be revealed as murder. Hamlet is prone to erratic behavior, particularly after the revelation of his father’s murder. He loves the innocent Ophelia, yet scorns Queen Gertrude for lowering herself to the level of King Claudius. He constantly thinks upon his purpose, unwilling to act without long deliberations. He even contemplates suicide in the famous "To be or not to be" speech. Hamlet dies after being wounded by Laertes.

Queen Gertrude: She is the mother of Hamlet. She is the pawn of actions of others, yet suffers from their consequences. Once married to King Hamlet of Denmark, Gertrude began an affair with his brother, Claudius. Later, after Hamlet’s murder, Gertrude remarried Claudius, enraging her son. Gertrude, however, pays thoroughly for her sins. She is genuinely concerned for Hamlet in his depression and shows compassion for the other tragic figures in the play. She dies when she drinks poisoned wine meant for Hamlet.

King Claudius: He is Hamlet’s former uncle and now step-father, an ambitious power seeker who seduced Queen Gertrude then murdered her husband by pouring hebona into his ear while he slept. Claudius ascended to the throne and married Gertrude soon after. He recognizes his guilt for such sinful actions, yet cannot bring himself to absolve his sins, for he does not want to give up the kingdom. Claudius shows concern for Hamlet only because he is concerned about his own well-being. He is a conniving character who finally receives his punishment when Hamlet murders him at the play’s end by stabbing him, then forcing him to drink poison.

Polonius: He is one of King Claudius’ advisors, a manipulative and comic character with two grown children, Ophelia and Laertes. He is meddlesome, devious, and hypocritical. He admonishes Laertes to be true to himself, yet also advises him to keep up certain appearances. He enjoys being the center of attention, such as when he feels that he has discovered the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Polonius is murdered by Hamlet when he is mistaken for King Claudius, hiding in the Queen’s bedchamber.

Ophelia: She is the most tragic figure in the play. She loves Hamlet and is loved by him, yet is prevented from a relationship by Polonius and Laertes, who feel that Hamlet is merely using her. She, like Gertrude, is essentially a puppet in the tragedy, used by her father and Claudius to elicit information from Hamlet. Ophelia becomes mad after Polonius is murdered. Later, stricken with grief, she commits suicide by drowning herself. Because of the Christian edict against self-slaughter, she is denied full burial rites.

Laertes: He is the impassioned son of Polonius, a student in France who is adept at swordplay with rapier and daggers. Laertes cares for Ophelia, admonishing her to be careful with Hamlet. After his father’s murder, Laertes becomes crazed for revenge; he falls into the King’s plot to rid himself of Hamlet. However, the trickery backfires. Laertes is struck by his own foil, which was anointed with an unction bought of a mountebank. He dies shortly after realizing that Claudius is the true enemy.

Horatio: He is Hamlet’s confidant, a student at Wittenberg and the only person whom Hamlet can fully trust. He reported to Hamlet the news about his father’s ghost, and is the only person who knows of Hamlet’s plots, including The Mousetrap and the riddance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Horatio is the only major character who remains alive at the play’s end, although he contemplates suicide. Horatio lives in order to tell the story of Hamlet to the living.

The Ghost of King Hamlet: Dressed in military garb, the ghost of King Hamlet appears several times thoughout the play. It first appears to the soldiers on night watch with a grave, silent face. It then appears to Hamlet and tells him of the foul murder while it suffers through purgatory. It appears for a final time in Gertrude’s chamber in order to warn Hamlet to leave God to punish her. As King, Hamlet was a just leader who fought back a military conquest by Fortinbras of Norway.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: These are two childhood friends of Hamlet who are commanded by King Claudius to discover the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Although initially reluctant to assume such a duty, this meddlesome pair eventually take up the secret task- although Hamlet soon catches on to their designs. After the murder of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern accompany Hamlet on the journey for England with a secret intent of mandating his murder. However, the conniving pair are discovered, and unwittingly led to their own deaths in England.

Fortinbras the Younger: He is the nephew of the King of Norway, a brash young soldier who begins an attack on Denmark in order to avenge his father’s loss but eventually turns his military conquests against Poland. Upon returning from the Polish conquest, Fortinbras witnesses the deaths of Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, and Laertes. Hamlet predicts upon his death that Fortinbras will be the next king. Fortinbras honors Hamlet in his death.

Osric: He is a courtier at Elsinore, a comic figure who is a constant kiss-up that bestows lavish praise upon all.

Marcellus: He is a guard that witnesses the appearance of the Ghost of King Hamlet.

Clown: An elderly gravedigger, this comic figure comments upon the hypocritical treatment of Ophelia and the madness of King Hamlet while making puns and riddles.

Reynaldo: Polonius sends him to inquire upon Laertes’ behavior in France.

Barnardo: He is a sentinel on guard duty at night.

Francisco: He is a sentinel on guard duty at night.

Cornelius: Envoy sent to Norway in order to implore the king to stop Fortinbras.

Voltemand: Envoy sent to Norway in order to implore the king to stop Fortinbras.

Players: An acting troupe who perform The Murder of Gonzago for Claudius and Gertrude.

Priest: He refuses to give full burial rites to Ophelia because she committed suicide, thus incurring Laertes’ anger.

Yorick: He was the court jester, long dead, whose skull Hamlet finds at the graveyard.

Lamord: Horseman whose skills greatly impressed Hamlet.

Important Places

Denmark: Country in which Hamlet is the crown prince.

Norway: Country which Fortinbras is from.

England: Country which Hamlet is ordered to be sent because of his madness.

France: Country in which Laertes spends most of his time.

Poland: Country which Fortinbras attempted a military conquest.

Elsinore: The setting of the play.

Wittenberg: City in which Hamlet attended college.

Yaughan’s: Inn which the Clown sends his assistant to fetch beer.


Stockings: Hamlet came upon Ophelia with his stockings down around his ankles, resembling shackles.

Sixty Thousand Crowns: The King of Norway offers Fortinbras this sum to attack Poland.

Jeptha: King of Israel who had a daughter whom he sacrificed. Hamlet calls Polonius "Jeptha."

The Murder of Gonzago: Play which Hamlet orders the actors to perform.

Hebona: King Hamlet was murdered when Claudius poured this poison in his ear.

The Mousetrap: This is the name which Hamlet gives to the supplement to the play.

Flowers: In her madness, Ophelia gives out flowers; at her funeral, Gertrude spreads flowers on her grave.

Unction: Poison which Laertes bought from a mountebank.

Skull: Hamlet finds the skull of Yorick, the former court jester, in the graveyard.

Six Barbary Horses: Wager which Claudius makes in his bet with Laertes.

Six French Rapiers and Poniards: Wager which Laertes makes in his bet with Claudius.