Hamlet Character Analysis
- When we first meet Hamlet he is in a melancholic mood due to the death of his father and the hasty marriage of his mother, Gertrude, to his Uncle, Claudius.
- Hamlet clearly shows his dislike for Claudius (1.2.65) and shows his hostility to their apparent festive mood (1.2.67).
- Hamlet again clearly shows hostility towards his mother and father/uncle as they question his continued grieving for his father, Old Hamlet (1.2.76-86).
- In Hamlets first soliloquy we learn many things about him, his love for his father, his total disregard and hatred towards his uncle, his new found distrust of his mother and by extension all women and dismay at the world at large (1.2.129-159).
- While talking to Horatio, Hamlet again makes reference to his mother’s hasty marriage (1.2.180-181). Hamlet even suggests death would have been better than witnessing such an event as his mother’s marriage to Claudius (1.2.183-184).
- While still conversing with Horatio, Hamlet tells us that Old Hamlet was a great man but also suggests that he was not without faults (1.2.187-188).
- Hamlets both excited and troubled at the appearance of his father’s ghost as described by Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo. The appearance of the ghost at arms suggests to Hamlet that something is wrong in the state of Denmark (1.2.254-257).
- Through a conversation between Ophelia, Laertes and Polonius we learn of Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship and her families desire to see it finished. This interference by her family will later affect Hamlet and Ophelia.
- Hamlet again shows disgust towards Claudius but now also the Danish court by their actions. Hamlet feels their drinking brings shame on the nation (1.4.18-19).
- On first glimpse of the Ghost, Hamlet himself questions the apparition. He is unsure if it is a vision from heaven or hell (1.4.40-41).
- When Hamlet is told that his father was murdered he begs the Ghost to tell him how the murder was committed quickly so that he may be quick in his revenge, contradictory to later events (1.5.29-31).
- In another soliloquy Hamlet swears his revenge (1.5.110-112).
- Hamlet tells his trusted friends that he will feign madness in order to hide his true intentions (1.5.171-172).
Points to note:
- Here we learn that Ophelia has spurned Hamlet’s advances (2.1.106-108).
- Believing that it is Ophelia’s rejection of Hamlet that is causing his madness, Polonius goes to speak with Hamlet. It is through this conversation we see Hamlets total disregard for Polonius (2.2.176).
- Hamlet makes reference to Polonius’ daughter throughout the conversation and this leads Polonius to believe he is right about the cause of Hamlet’s state of mind.
- Although Hamlet is feigning madness to hide his through intentions, Polonius can see that there is some reasoning behind it (2.2.206-208).
- Understanding the true nature of his meeting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet again feigns madness but while doing so he again shows his true feelings towards the state (2.2.242).
- Hamlet pushes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to reveal that they were sent for.
- Hamlet again reveals that he is weary with the world (2.2.303-305).
- Rosencrantz tells Hamlet of the arrival of the players. The excitement of Hamlet shows that he has great interest in the arts.
- Hamlets astute reasoning over the current state of the theatrical arts shows common sense and a keen intellect (2.2.337-340).
- Hamlet suggests that his Uncle’s succession to the throne has not been welcomed by all (2.2.349-353).
- Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is not always mad (2.2.363-364).
- Polonius arrives to tell Hamlet that the actors arrive and Hamlet turns to madness again and again makes comments regarding a daughter to fuel Polonius’ theory (2.2.390-392).
- Hamlet’s recital of the play shows him to be an educated character.
- Hamlet asks the players to act out the ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ with some additions of his own. Hamlet intends to use the play to act out his father’s murder and gage Claudius’ reaction. This shows that Hamlet is still not sure of his guilt.
- During his next soliloquy Hamlet questions his ability to act (2.2.543-548). Seeing that he is procrastinating Hamlet is disgusted with himself (2.2.554-557). Hamlet shows he believes the play will show Claudius’ guilt (2.2.566-576). Yet Hamlet then shows that he understands that the ghost may be a false entity doing the devils bidding (2.2.577-581).
- Hamlet believes that the play will put him on the right path (2.2.583-584).
Points to note:
- Claudius and Polonius have arranged for Hamlet and Ophelia to meet.
- In Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech he questions his suffering and the necessity of it, if it would be better to live or die. (3.1.56-89).
- While conversing with Ophelia, Hamlet continues to act mad. Hamlet denies giving Ophelia gifts as she tries to return them (3.1.95-96). While this conversation continues Hamlet does admit to loving her once (3.1.114-115).
- As Hamlet continues to insult Ophelia he tells her to get herself to a nunnery (3.1.121) and this continues as he begins his tirade towards all women (3.1.137-140).
- Hamlets disgust at the actions of women continues as he questions their honesty and their intentions (3.1.142-149).
- Claudius watching events unfold makes positive reference to Hamlets character (3.1.188-189).
- As the players get ready to take the stage Hamlet gives one of them pointers on how the additions he has made to the play should be portrayed. Hamlet clearly shows how he wishes the lines to be delivered so that they take full affect (3.2.1-32).
- On meeting Horatio, Hamlet shows him respect by suggesting they are equal in some way. Hamlet also asks Horatio to observe Claudius during the play to gage his reaction to the murder scene (3.2.78-79).
- As Hamlet joins the audience he continues to play to his own audience. Hamlet continues to insult Polonius, complements Ophelia in front of the crowd and throws an insult at his mother and Claudius (3.2.114-116).
- Hamlet does seem to have let some time pass since his meeting with the ghost and is surprised when Ophelia tells him it has been two months (3.2.118-120).
- As Hamlet watches the play he begins to question his mother on her view of what she has witnessed. Hamlet watches as Claudius gets up to leave. To Hamlet this is proof of Claudius’s guilt (3.2.269).
- Hamlet is happy to hear from Guildenstern that the King is unhappy and angry (3.2.281).
- Hamlet is summoned to his mother’s room through a message by Rosencrantz. Hamlet uses a flute as a metaphor for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s treatment of him (3.2.340-348).
- In another soliloquy Hamlet tells us that he will confront his mother but he will not hurt her (3.2.369).
- Hamlet passes Claudius as he is trying to pray. While Hamlet knows he could act he refuses to do so for fear Claudius’ soul will go to heaven (3.3.79-86). The irony of it is Claudius feels he cannot pray.
- As Hamlet berates his mother Polonius becomes worried and in speaking reveals his presence behind the curtain. Hamlet thinking it is Claudius stabs Polonius fatally (3.4.24). This is Hamlet’s first action on impulse.
- Hamlet reveals to Gertrude that he knows Claudius killed Old King Hamlet (3.4.28-29).
- Hamlet continues to tell Gertrude she has sinned against the world (3.4.48-51).
- Gertrude seeks Hamlets advice and Hamlet tells her to keep away from Claudius (3.4.181-184).
- Hamlet also lets Gertrude know that there are letters to contain information about him with his two friends and that he will not trust them but watch how things plan out (3.4.203-220).
Points to note:
- As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to get Hamlet to disclose where he has hidden the body of Polonius, Hamlet shows that it is the pair’s behaviour towards the Claudius that is insulting him (4.2.15-18).
- Hamlet also shows that while Claudius holds the title of King it does not rightfully belong to him (4.2.25-26).
- Hamlet refuses to tell Claudius where he has hidden Polonius and Claudius informs Hamlet that he is being sent back to England. During this Hamlet also tells Claudius that he means nothing to Hamlet (4.3.48-49).
- In another of Hamlets soliloquies he stresses the fact that faith seems to be against him as he tries to move for revenge (4.4.32-33).
- Seeing that Fortinbras is will to fight over a small piece of land, Hamlet is disgusted at his inability to act. Hamlet decides that he must become move determined (4.4.65-66).
- Horatio receives a letter from Hamlet explaining that his ship was attacked and he is returning to Denmark.
Points to note:
- In the graveyard scene Hamlet is disgusted that the gravedigger can sing while preparing graves.
- Hamlet is confronted with the skull of an old court jester and friend and is struck by the fragility of life (5.1.172-173).
- Ophelia will not receive the full rights of burial as they feel her death was suspicious (5.1.209-212).
- Hamlet reveals to Horatio that the letters carried by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern called for Hamlets death in England (5.2.12-24).
- Hamlet also reveals that he acted and changed the letters sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their death instead (5.2.38-47).
- Hamlet reveals that he believes Claudius killed his father, defiled his mother and took his rightful throne (5.2.62-70). Hamlet is showing here that he did have some desire for the throne.
- The introduction of Osric further enhances Hamlets idea of falsehood in the court of Denmark. As Hamlet contradicts himself Osric agrees with everything that Hamlet says (5.2.81-100).
- Osric tells Hamlet through flattery that the King has placed a wager on Hamlet to defeat Laertes in a friendly joust (5.2.137-142).
- Hamlet and Laertes fight. Laertes rapier has a poisoned tip and Claudius has also put aside a poisoned drink for Hamlet. Gertrude takes the drink and during the fight both Hamlet and Laertes gets stabbed with the poisoned rapier. Laertes confesses all as the Queen falls. Hamlet stabs Claudius and makes him drink the poisoned wine.
- As Hamlet is dying he asks Horatio to tell his story (5.2.331-336).
- Hamlets dying wish is for Fortinbras to become the new King (5.2.339-345).
Points to note:
“The appeal of Shakespeare’s Hamlet lies primarily in the complex nature of the plays central character, Hamlet.”
To what extent do you agree with the above statement? Support your view with reference to the text.
In your opinion, what is the appeal of the play, Hamlet, for a twenty-first century audience?