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In Hamlet, what are the main characteristics of Prince Hamlet?Hamlet by William...

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kissmanyi | (Level 1) Honors

Posted September 19, 2010 at 4:15 PM via web

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In Hamlet, what are the main characteristics of Prince Hamlet?

Hamlet by William Shakespeare



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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted September 19, 2010 at 4:42 PM (Answer #2)

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Wow!  What a question: What are the main characteristics of this very complex character?!

Let's discuss a few of Hamlet's characteristics.

a) He is indecisive.  He cannot bring himself to kill Claudius, even though he has discovered that Claudius killed his father.

b) He is in awe of his father, the recently deceased king.

c) He has a troubled relationship with women.  He is close to his mother, but at times he berates her and considers her marriage to Claudius to be little better than prostitution.  He writes flowery love letters to Ophelia, but then yells at her, "Get thee to a nunnery."  And yet later, during the play within a play, he chooses to view the action while reclining in Ophelia's lap.



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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 19, 2010 at 9:13 PM (Answer #3)

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While volumes have been written about Hamlet, one of the most intriguing characters of all literature, he possesses some very salient characteristics. Critic William Richardson writes of him,

The death of his father was a natural evil, and as such he endures it.  That he is excluded from succeeding immediately to the royalty that belongs to him, seems to affect him slightly; for to vehement and vain ambition he appears superior.  He is moved by finer principles, by an exquisite sense of virtue, of moral beauty and turpitude....The man whose sense of moral excellence is uncommonly exquisite will find it a source of pleasure and of pain in his commerce with mankind.

Thus, toward his mother, too quick to wed his uncle, Hamlet feels an affliction of his soul at her depravity, as well as disgust and agony.  Hamlet is the classic melancholic.  While the display of virtuous actions, such as those of Fortinbras at the end of the play, excite in him a pleasure and admiration, the contrary brings about his uneasiness and depression.  About Claudius he is ill at ease; if he kills the new king at his prayers, Claudius will be absolved of sin.  If Hamlet slays him and Claudius is proven not to be the murderer of his father, Hamlet will be guilty of regicide.

About the corruption of the court of Denmark Hamlet experiences a sorrow no less overwhelming than his doubt.  Greatly disturbed by the hypocrisy of Polonius, Hamlet lashes out at his daughter Ophelia for the moral turpitude of her father. Agitated and overwhelmed by so many emotions, Hamlet becomes depressed to the point that no soothing affection can be found for his heart.  Thus, he debates the point of existence in a most melancholic state, with "a kind of fighting/That would not let [him] sleep" (5.2.4), contemplating the very meaning of existence and of death, until he witnesses the "delicate and tender prince" (5.4.48) who exposes himself

To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,

Even for an eggshell. (5.4.51-53)

Finally when he witnesses the young Fortinbras who would die for honor, Hamlet is inspired to declare "I am Hamlet the Dane" and, rather than be the man of thought, become a man of action, fighting for the honor of his country.  A most complex personality, Hamlet becomes all the more interesting as he undergoes such a dramatic change.

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shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted September 20, 2010 at 3:44 AM (Answer #4)

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There are over 1,000 entries in the Q&A section of the Hamlet Group that reference "Hamlet" and "character analysis."  Certainly, there are many, many insightful descriptions of Hamlet's character listed there by numerous editors.

You should also look in the Hamlet Study Guide for the character analysis offered there, plus the entries under "Essays" and "Criticism."  Hamlet is one of the most discussed and analyzed characters in Literature, so you will have no lack of information.

The important thing will be for you to have your own opinion of the character as you read the play.  Why do you think he hesitates in revenging his father's death?  What is the reason that he spurns Ophelia (in your opinion)?  Is he "changed" in some way at the play's end?  If so, how do you know?

It is very easy to offer opinions about a character as compelling as Hamlet, but opinions are simply that, and you must be able to develop your own.

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shaketeach | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted September 20, 2010 at 5:24 AM (Answer #5)

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To say the least, Hamlet is a complicated young man.

When we first meet Hamlet, he has returned from Wittenburg.  Since we know that he is in his early 30s, it would seem that the young prince prefers the academic world to the world of the court.  He is a man of thought rather than action.

It would appear that he loved his father deeply and is thus deeply affected by his death .  In Act I, scene 2, he says "So excellent a king, that was to this/Hyperion to a satyr,..."  He doesn't think much of his uncle.  He can't understand why his mother married him and so quickly after old Hamlet's death.  He is not called the melancholy Dane for nothing.

Once the ghost informs him and charges him with revenging his death, Hamlet's life changes and his dilemma really begins.  If he were a man of action, he would have taken his sword and run Claudius through at the first opportunity.  But Hamlet is not a man of action, at least not until he is positive of the the correctness of that action in his mind.  He thinks before he speaks and he thinks before he acts.

Hamlet lives in a Catholic world so he cannot just kill Claudius without losing his soul..  He must first test the information given to him by the ghost that looked and sounded like his father, but was it really his father?  Or was it the devil tempting him into committing a mortal sin?

If the information proved to be true, then just how to accomplish this without imperiling his own soul becomes his goal.  He decides to feign madness in order to gain information.  It is a good plan, or is it?  Does he actually become mad in reality?

One of the major problems he has is that he doesn't know whom to trust.  His only confidant is Horatio.  The world of the court is a very different world and Hamlet must constantly watch his back.  Perhaps the strain of all this leads him to a breakdown.

Polonius dies when Hamlet in a fit of fury, stabs him while he is hiding behind the arras.  Was this the action of a sane man?  Since he can't even trust Ophelia, she does go mad and dies as a result.  He changes the letter and orders the execution of Rosecrantz and Guildenstern whose only crime is in being duped by Claudius.  He didn't have to have them executed.  One must again ask if these are the actions of a sane man.  Then, in the final scene we have Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and of course the prince himself, all dead directly or indirectly as a result of Hamlet.

He is a man of intelligence, humor, and education.  He is also a man with a strong sense of duty.  As a result of as number of things happening, he seems to become more and more paranoid whether it is real or feigned is a matter of interpretation.

The answer as to who is Hamlet, is a complicated question and there is no one right answer.  Perhaps that is the beauty of the Shakespeare and the play.





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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 20, 2010 at 2:44 PM (Answer #6)

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Oh my goodness! I share my other editors' feelings of being overawed by such a question! There have, literally, been written reams of theses and dissertations trying to answer this question, and I guess this is one of the aspects of the genius of Shakespeare in creating such an ambiguous character. So many people have argued that Hamlet was gay, that he had an Oedipus complex going on with his mother, that he is misunderstood, that he is evil himself, that he is manipulated by others... and so the list goes on...

I like to think myself that he is a very sensitive young man who is just overwhelmed with what is going on around him. He is forced to pursue revenge even though he has his doubts about whether he should. He "tests out" his friends and companions and finds all of them wanting except for Horatio and is in an impossible situation. I do think his dispatching of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was a little harsh, but then so was what Claudius tried to do to him. I think the happiest moment for Hamlet is just before he dies, because he knows he is going to peace.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 20, 2010 at 3:27 PM (Answer #7)

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Extreme intellect...otherwise he wouldn't have been able to "act" crazy and get by with it among people who knew him best.  In addition, he is able to quickly assess a situation and cleverly figure a way out of it...hence the predicament he finds himself in with R. and G. on their way to England and the pirate ship which brings him back into the fray at home.

Indecision...waffling between what he knows and what he thinks he knows based on the ghost's story.  Since the paranormal can't always be trusted, he refused to act until he was 100% certain.

Sensitivity and a great sense of justice.  He is acutely aware of his emotions and the emotions of others.  He is wounded beyond belief by his mother's too-quick marriage to his uncle and that she didn't seem to see anything at all wrong with it.

Loyalty and Honor.  He was loyal to his father, his friend Horatio, and to Fortinbras, whom he names as his heir to the throne once all have died.  He also honors Laertes while they battle, prompting Laertes to confess all and beg Hamlet's forgiveness before death claimed him.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 20, 2010 at 3:32 PM (Answer #8)

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Hamlet is complex in the broadest, deepest sense of the word.  If I had to describe him in one word, it would be intense.  He grieves intensely. He loves Ophelia intensely, which is why he must push her away.  He loved his father intensely, which is why he must shame his mother into recognizing her failure in marrying the inferior Claudius. He seeks revenge intensely, at times.  He is intense about acting and friends who have turned traitor.  Hamlet is an intense character in every way, which makes this role, I think, the most demanding for any actor to play.

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sboeman | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted September 21, 2010 at 5:16 PM (Answer #9)

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I view Hamlet as rather indecisive and bipolar.  His mood swings are very extreme, contemplating man's pointless existence at one moment but then flying off in fits of rage in the next, killing old friends, Polonius, etc.

I've seen the play many times and also a few movie versions, and each actor chooses subtle differences in how he presents Hamlet: is he really a victim in this?  How much internal struggle is he really facing?  How deep is his love for Ophelia and how does it affect him?  How could he be so cold to his own mother?

Hamlet is also truly a man of the moment, easily influenced by his surroundings.  I mean, he's traveling along, then learns about the fate of his old court jester Yorick.  He is witty, flippant, and rude also.

Good question.


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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 29, 2010 at 12:48 AM (Answer #10)

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Hamlet is, above all, psychologically introspective. He thinks. He analyzes. He examines his own personality, his actions, his motives, and his failures. I believe he is, in fact, the first introspective character in English literature. He is by nature gentle, sensitive, idealistic, and conscientious. He embraces morality and rejects sinful behavior, in himself and others.

Because of his own nature, he is destroyed when he is thrust into the corruption of the court at Elsinore. Hamlet is trapped between his own identity and the cultural demands placed upon him as prince and son to avenge his father's murder. He strives to do the right thing, but there is no right thing for Hamlet in his situation.

Hamlet is a dynamic character, as well. The idealist becomes the cynic. The gentle philosopher who once agonizes over  mortal sins becomes murderous. When he accidentally kills Polonius, he expresses no regret: the old man should not have been such a meddler. When he sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in England, it is no accident; he has plotted carefully to do them in. Hamlet, because of his circumstances, becomes as secretive and deceitful as those around him.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Hamlet's life is not that he died but that at the time of his death, he bore little resemblance to the young prince he had once been.



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wenridake | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 30, 2010 at 12:23 PM (Answer #11)

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i think it is quite complex. he in some way is a crowd but mostly, he conquer himself, he is a contradict and herriated person, but always, he is a honest person.

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zumba96 | TA , Grade 11 | (Level 2) Valedictorian

Posted November 27, 2014 at 12:36 AM (Answer #14)

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Hamlet is very indecisive and rash at the same time. He cannot make decisions and waits the whole play to finally get revenge. I'm also pretty sure he did not make it clear why he murdered Claudius which is why he told Horatio to live so he can tell them what is actually the truth. He can never make up his mind because one second he wants to kill Claudius and the next second it is himself. Then he thinks death could be a scary thing, to death is an honorable thing, to being indifferent. 

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