Hamlet

by: William Shakespeare

Protagonist

Main ideas Protagonist

The protagonist of Hamlet is Hamlet. When we meet him, Hamlet in a state of internal crisis. He feels depressed, disgusted by his mother’s remarriage, and angry that his uncle has usurped Denmark’s throne. Under these conditions, the Ghost seems to offer Hamlet exactly what he needs: an excuse to punish his mother and assassinate his uncle, thereby avenging his father. However, Hamlet cannot bring himself to act. He struggles internally with whether or not to kill Claudius. He wonders whether he has enough motivation to commit murder, and whether he can justify murder in the first place. He also questions the authenticity of the Ghost’s story. Hamlet’s internal struggle deepens as the play goes on, leading Elsinore into increasing turmoil. For instance, his disgust with his mother grows into full-blown misogyny, which contributes to Ophelia’s psychological torment and eventually to her death. By the end of the play, Hamlet poses a threat to the Danish crown, which forces the king to plot Hamlet’s assassination. The plot goes awry, resulting not only in Hamlet’s death, but also in the deaths of nearly every major character in the play and the end of the royal family’s rule over Denmark.

Throughout the play Hamlet largely remains mysterious to the play’s other characters. Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Horatio, and others continuously try and fail to understand Hamlet’s state of mind. One reason Hamlet’s so mysterious is that he spends so much time alone, talking to himself. This means that few other characters have direct access to his thoughts. But another reason Hamlet remains so mysterious relates to the way he deliberately obscures his thoughts when conversing with others. Hamlet frequently talks circles around other characters, intentionally making himself difficult to understand. In Act Two, scene ii, for instance, Hamlet feigns madness and convinces Polonius that he’s lost his mind. But the joke’s on Polonius, since Hamlet’s seemingly senseless speech actually does make sense—it’s just designed to go over Polonius’s head, allowing Hamlet to make fun of the old man without him knowing. Here and elsewhere in the play, Hamlet feigns madness in order to manipulate others. In the process he succeeds in keeping his real thoughts to himself. And the more Hamlet keeps to himself, the more anxiety he causes in Elsinore. Hence, Hamlet’s deliberate obscurity makes a significant contribution to the play’s downward spiral into chaos.