In the play Hamlet, please list characters who die, explaining the circumstances of their deaths.Shakespeare's Hamlet

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With the nature of tragedy being human suffering, the main character, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, suffers initially from the death of his father, his terrible melancholy, and, finally from his own death.  In the five acts of Shakespeare's most famous play, there are several other deaths:

  • The death of Polonius- The chief counselor of the Danish court, whose duplicitous nature involves him in spying on Hamlet when his mother and he talk in her chambers.  After the queen cries out believing Hamlet may murder her, Polonius cries for help and Hamlet kills him, thinking he is Claudius.
  • Guildenstern and Rosencrantz - Friends of Hamlet's, they are asked by the king Claudius to spy on Hamlet.  Opportunists, they come to speak with Hamlet in Act II, scene 2.  But, in Act III, as Hamlet is escorted to England by his former friends, Hamlet becomes aware of Claudius's letter for the King of England to have him killed; Hamlet rewrites the letter for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed instead.  Along the way, a pirate ship attacks them, and Hamlet returns to Denmark, leaving his former friends to go to their deaths. In Act V, scene 2, Hamlet comments on them: "...their defeat/Does by their own insinuation grow" (5.2)
  • Ophelia - After being subjected to many of Hamlet's verbal abuses in Act III, Ophelia appears in Act IV, Hamlet has killed Polonius and been sent to England.  Because this news is too much for her, poor Ophelia goes mad and kills herself.
  • Gertrude - When Claudius pours wine for Hamlet, Gertrude takes the cup and drinks from the poisoned vessel, despite the protests of her husband, saying, "I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me" (5.2.268). 
  • Claudius - After Gertrude dies from the poisoned wine, Hamlet kills Claudius by forcing him to drink from the poisoned cup after wounding him. 
  • Laertes - Vowing revenge on Hamlet for the deaths of his father and sister, Laertes enters into a conspiracy with Claudius.  In Act V, scene 2, Laertes stabs Hamlet with his poisoned rapier, telling him, "...thou art slain" and he is,too, because their swords were switched in the fight and he has also been touched by the poison.  As he dies, he confesses to Hamlet that "the king's to blame."
  • Hamlet - Having been stabbed by Laertes's poisoned sword, Hamlet dies after Horatio gives him what is left of the poison to keep him from suffering. Bequeathing his kingdom to the noble Fortinbras, who returns from "conquest from Poland," Hamlet tells Horatio,

He has my dying voice.

So tell, with th'occurrents, more and less,

Which have solicited--the rest is silence. (5.2.2).



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