Hamlet Characters guide studies each character's role and motivation in this play.
Hamlet: Son of the late King
Distrustful of King Claudius, Hamlet is equally weary of the King's spies, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz who attempt to know his true intentions. When Hamlet meets King Hamlet's Ghost and learns that King Claudius murdered his father, Hamlet changes from a distrustful, disillusioned young man to one driven to avenge his father's death. To this end, Hamlet distrusts and rejects all those around him whom he believes are spying on him for King Claudius.
Fearing that his intentions could be revealed, Hamlet invents a madness to distract and hide his true intentions from King Claudius' many spies. This includes Ophelia, the women he loves whom he bitterly rejects when he learns she has betrayed him.
Cunning and inventive, Hamlet changes the lines of a play performed before King Claudius to divine whether King Hamlet's Ghost told him the truth about his father's death. At the end of the play, Hamlet kills both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (indirectly), Laertes and finally King Claudius before dying himself from a wound inflicted by Laertes.
Horatio: Friend to Hamlet and the one person Hamlet truly trusts. Witnesses King Hamlet's Ghost in Act I. At the end of the play, Horatio wishes to commit suicide to join Hamlet in death but Hamlet convinces him to live so he can tell his story, restoring Hamlet's name.
Claudius: The present King of
Denmark, King Claudius took Queen Gertrude whom he loves as his queen and wife,
much to the consternation of Hamlet who believes his mother has betrayed him
and his father's memory by doing so. Cautious and suspicious, Claudius has
courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet's love interest Ophelia
spying on Hamlet for him since as he says, the great ones must be watched.
Distrustful of Hamlet and his "madness", King Claudius has Hamlet
Gertrude: Queen of
Polonius: Lord Chamberlain. The
father of Laertes and Ophelia, Lord Chamberlain
Polonius dutifully serves King Claudius. When news of Hamlet's madness
circulate, Polonius is certain that his daughter Ophelia is responsible, having
made Hamlet lovesick. Worried that Hamlet's intentions for his daughter are
dishonorable, Polonius orders Ophelia to keep her distance. Later when King
Claudius needs information, Polonius uses his daughter to spy on Hamlet. He
even has Reynaldo, a servant spy on his own son Laertes
Reynaldo: Servant to Polonius,
Reynaldo is instructed to spy on his Laertes in
Laertes: Polonius' son, Laertes is held in high esteem for his fencing skills. Famous for the advise, "to thine own self be true," (be true to yourself) and the advise to "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;" in Act I, Scene III. Laertes' role in this play is minor until the death of his father Polonius. From this point on, Laertes emerges as rather more assertive, confronting King Claudius personally to know his father's whereabouts, arguing with a Priest for being disrespectful to his sister, fighting Hamlet above his sister's grave and ultimately conspiring to and killing Hamlet with the help of King Claudius. We see little of Laertes' inner character however since he responds to events continuously. Loving of his sister Ophelia, he must watch his sister's cruel decay into madness helplessly following his father's death. Dies in Act V, Scene II, the victim of a wound inflicted upon him by Hamlet with his own poison tipped sword.
Ophelia: The daughter to Polonius, Ophelia is loved by Hamlet. Unfortunately as Queen Gertrude laments at Ophelia's funeral, Ophelia never marries Hamlet. Dutiful to her father, she ignores Hamlet's romantic overtures when instructed to ignore them by her father Polonius. Receives advice on how to live from brother Laertes in Act I, Scene III. Though loved by Hamlet, Ophelia ultimately betrays him by spying on him for King Claudius. As a result Hamlet mercilessly insults her virtue during the play "The Murder of Gonzago" in Act III, Scene II. A dutiful daughter, Ophelia descends into madness from the grief of losing her father Polonius and later drowns in circumstances that suggest a possible suicide. Her funeral is the location of a fight between Hamlet and Laertes that centers on which loved her more; Hamlet believes he did, resenting Laertes exaggerated emphasis of his sorrow...
Fortinbras: Prince of
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern: Courtiers to King Claudius, both these men grew up with Hamlet. As a result King Claudius recruits them to spy on Hamlet for him. Neither man has a problem trading in their friendship to betray Hamlet; they serve the King. Both die when the instructions they bear from King Claudius are altered by Hamlet to instruct King Claudius' English associates to kill those bearing his commission immediately (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).
Voltimand, Cornelius, Osric and a Gentleman: Courtiers.
A Priest: Introduces at Ophelia's funeral, the Priest insults Laertes by expressing his personal opinion that Ophelia does not deserve a proper Christian burial for ending her life by suicide, which was considered a sin unworthy of proper burial.
Marcellus and Bernardo: Officers who initially spot King Hamlet's Ghost in Act I, Scene I.
Francisco: A soldier. Famous for the lines "'tis [it is] bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart" which sets the tone of this tragedy.
A Captain, English Ambassadors, Players, Two Clowns (Gravediggers), Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Messengers, and Attendants.