Characters in Hamlet:
Hamlet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. It is one of his most popular and well-known works. The play tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who is grieving the death of his father, King Hamlet. When Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, becomes king, Hamlet is suspicious of him. This leads to a series of events that eventually lead to tragedy. The play is full of complex characters, each with their own motivations and agendas. Here is a closer look at some of the key Characters in Hamlet.
Hamlet: The titular character and protagonist of the play, Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. He is grieving the death of his father and is suspicious of his uncle, who has married his mother and taken the throne. Hamlet is a complex character full of contradictions. He is capable of great intelligence and wit, but he is also prone to fits of madness. He is torn between his duty to revenge his father’s murder and his love for Ophelia. In the end, Hamlet’s indecision leads to tragedy.
Horatio: Hamlet’s best friend and confidante. Horatio is a level-headed and loyal friend who helps Hamlet in his quest to uncover the truth about his father’s death. He is a voice of reason for Hamlet, and he often tries to restrain him from acting rashly.
Polonius: The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court. Polonius is a manipulative politician who is more concerned with advancing his own career than with doing what is right. He is a disloyal friend to Hamlet and is eventually killed by him.
Ophelia: Polonius’s daughter and Hamlet’s love interest. Ophelia is a kind and gentle young woman who is caught in the middle of the conflict between Hamlet and her father. She eventually goes mad and drowns herself.
Laertes: Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother. Laertes is a hot-headed young man who is easily manipulated by those in power. He is initially allied with Hamlet, but he later turns against him and fights him in a duel to the death.
Gertrude: Hamlet’s mother and the Queen of Denmark. Gertrude is a beautiful and vain woman who married Claudius soon after the death of her first husband, King Hamlet. She is unaware of Claudius’s role in her first husband’s murder, but she eventually realizes that he is responsible for it.
Claudius: The new King of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle. Claudius is a ambitious politician who murdered his brother, King Hamlet, in order to take the throne. He later marries Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, which further fuels Hamlet’s suspicion of him. Claudius is a manipulative and devious character who will stop at nothing to maintain his power.
Hamlet’s inner struggle is illuminated by his doubt of the ghost’s instructions, his refusal to kill the king while praying (or attempted prayer), and his inability to kill Claudius a second time, all of which are symptoms of his emotional upheaval. Hamlet’s effort to get revenge is first apparent when he examines the words of the ghost. When Hamlet talks with the ghost, he begins to doubt its goals.
The ghost claims to be Hamlet’s father, who was murdered by Claudius. The ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death, but Hamlet is hesitant. Hamlet does not want to kill Claudius while he is praying because he believes that would send him to heaven.
Hamlet also does not want to kill Claudius while he is sinning because he believes that would send him to hell. Hamlet’s inner struggle is evident when he says, “The spirit that I have seen/ May be the devil…And yet, within a month— / Let me not think on’t—Frailty, thy name is woman!— / A little month, or ere those shoes were old/ With which she followed my poor father’s body, / Like niobium to methought they glitter’d on her feet,” (Shakespeare 3.2.88-93). Hamlet is unsure of the ghost’s intentions and whether or not it is really his father.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ask Hamlet, “What made you do it?” His response redirects to his own motives. “Nothing good or bad,” he says, “but thinking makes it so.” He reveals to his fellow man that he is grappling with issues of thought and whether the task the ghost has unexpectedly bestowed upon him is moral and true or deceptive.
This is noted by Bloom in Hamlet’s perception that “The essential question about a dramatic mirror was like the one Hamlet found himself asking about the ghost: Is this ‘thing’ strange because its revealing a hidden truth—or because some power is trying to deceive me?” (Bloom 56).
The choices that Hamlet makes are a direct result of his contemplation and the actions that stem from these thoughts. Characters in Hamlet such as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius are used by Shakespeare to further enhance this idea of contemplation.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two Characters in Hamlet that seem content with never questioning why or how, they simply do as they are told. From the moment they enter Elsinore their purpose is to figure out Hamlet’s madness, yet they never stop to think about why he may be mad. As noted by T.S. Eliot in his essay “Hamlet”, “With Rosencrantz and Guildenstern we are presented with two Characters in Hamlet who represent the thoughtless acceptance of things as they are.” (Eliot). Their lack of questioning allows them to be used as pawns in other Characters in Hamlet plans, such as Polonius’s scheme to find out the truth about Hamlet’s madness.
Polonius is another Characters in Hamlet who never questions his actions or words, he is content with being a yes-man and following orders. This is most evident when he agrees to help Claudius spy on Hamlet under the guise of motherly concern. He does not question whether or not it is morally wrong to eavesdrop on a grieving son, he simply does as he is told. This ultimately leads to his death, as Hamlet stabs him through the arras without knowing who it is. If Polonius had stopped to think about his actions, he may have realized that what he was doing was wrong and avoided his untimely death.
In conclusion, Characters in Hamlet such as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius represent the thoughtless acceptance of things as they are. Their lack of questioning allows them to be used as pawns in other Characters in Hamlet plans. This ultimately leads to their downfall, as they are unable to see the larger picture and make informed decisions. Hamlet on the other hand, represents the power of contemplation and thought. He is able to see the larger picture and make informed decisions based on his moral compass. Characters in Hamlet such as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius could learn a lot from Hamlet, and maybe then they would be able to avoid their untimely demise.