Prince of Denmark, the title character, and the protagonist. About
thirty years old at the start of the play, Hamlet is the son of
Queen Gertrude and the late King Hamlet, and the nephew of the present
king, Claudius. Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of
hatred for his uncle’s scheming and disgust for his mother’s sexuality.
A reflective and thoughtful young man who has studied at the University
of Wittenberg, Hamlet is often indecisive and hesitant, but at other times
prone to rash and impulsive acts.
in-depth analysis of Hamlet.
King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, and the play’s antagonist. The
villain of the play, Claudius is a calculating, ambitious politician,
driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power, but he occasionally shows
signs of guilt and human feeling—his love for Gertrude, for instance,
in-depth analysis of Claudius.
Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius.
Gertrude loves Hamlet deeply, but she is a shallow, weak woman who
seeks affection and status more urgently than moral rectitude or
in-depth analysis of Gertrude.
Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a pompous, conniving old man.
Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia.
in-depth analysis of Polonius.
close friend, who studied with the prince at the university in Wittenberg.
Horatio is loyal and helpful to Hamlet throughout the play. After
Hamlet’s death, Horatio remains alive to tell Hamlet’s story.
daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love.
Ophelia is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father
and her brother, Laertes. Dependent on men to tell her how to behave,
she gives in to Polonius’s schemes to spy on Hamlet. Even in her
lapse into madness and death, she remains maidenly, singing songs
about flowers and finally drowning in the river amid the flower
garlands she had gathered.
in-depth analysis of Ophelia.
son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play
in France. Passionate and quick to action, Laertes is clearly a
foil for the reflective Hamlet.
young Prince of Norway, whose father the king (also named Fortinbras)
was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). Now Fortinbras
wishes to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor, making him another
foil for Prince Hamlet.
specter of Hamlet’s recently deceased father. The ghost, who claims
to have been murdered by Claudius, calls upon Hamlet to avenge him.
However, it is not entirely certain whether the ghost is what it
appears to be, or whether it is something else. Hamlet speculates that
the ghost might be a devil sent to deceive him and tempt him into
murder, and the question of what the ghost is or where it comes
from is never definitively resolved.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
- Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends
of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude
to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
foolish courtier who summons Hamlet to his duel with Laertes.
Voltimand and Cornelius
- Courtiers whom Claudius sends to Norway to persuade
the king to prevent Fortinbras from attacking.
Marcellus and Bernardo
- The officers who first see the ghost walking the
ramparts of Elsinore and who summon Horatio to witness it. Marcellus
is present when Hamlet first encounters the ghost.
soldier and guardsman at Elsinore.
servant, who is sent to France by Polonius to check up on and spy