List of Characters
Barnardo, Francisco, Mercellus—sentinels; officers in King of Denmark’s army
Horatio—Prince Hamlet’s friend and confidante; fellow student at Wittenberg
Ghost—of dead King of Denmark, Prince Hamlet’s father; brother of new King, husband of Gertrude
Claudius—brother of dead King of Denmark; now King, and new husband of Queen Gertrude, Prince Hamlet’s mother
Gertrude—Prince Hamlet’s mother, widow of former King, now wife to Claudius, new King
Polonius—King Claudius’s advisor; father to Laertes and Ophelia
Reynaldo—Polonius’s servant, sent to Paris to spy on Laertes
Laertes—son to Polonius, brother to Ophelia; friend to Hamlet
Prince Hamlet—son of the late King, and of Queen Gertrude; nephew-stepson to King Claudius
Voltemand and Cornelius—messengers to King of Norway from Claudius
Ophelia—daughter to Polonius, sister to Laertes, beloved of Hamlet
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—fellow students of Hamlet at Wittenberg; sent with Hamlet to England by Claudius to murder Hamlet
Osric—messenger who summons Hamlet to duel with Laertes
The Players—actors (adults) who formerly performed in the city, and who are now traveling because of the rising popularity of companies of child actors
Grave diggers—two clowns (rustics) who are disinterring an old grave in order to make way for a new burial, Ophelia
Priest—Doctor of Divinity (church official) presiding at Ophelia’s funeral
Fortinbras—Prince of Norway whose father was killed by Hamlet’s father; assumes throne of Denmark at play’s end
Ambassador—from England, reporting to Claudius
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, generally agreed to be William Shakespeare’s most fascinating hero. No brief sketch can satisfy his host of admirers or take into account more than a minute fraction of the commentary now in print. The character is a mysterious combination of a series of literary sources and the phenomenal genius of the playwright. Orestes in Greek tragedy is probably his ultimate progenitor, not Oedipus, as some critics have suggested. The Greek original has been altered and augmented by medieval saga and Renaissance romance. Perhaps an earlier Hamlet, written by Thomas Kyd, furnished important material; however, the existence of such a play has been disputed. Hamlet is a mixture of tenderness and violence, a scholar, lover, friend, athlete, philosopher, satirist, and deadly enemy; he is larger than life. Torn by grief for his dead father and disappointment in the conduct of his beloved mother, Hamlet desires a revenge so complete that it will reach the soul as well as the body of his villainous uncle. His attempt to usurp God’s prerogative of judgment leads to all the deaths in the play. Before his death, he reaches a state of resignation and acceptance of God’s will. He gains his revenge but loses his life.
Claudius (KLOH-dee-uhs), the king of Denmark and husband of his brother’s widow; he is Hamlet’s uncle. A shrewd and capable politician and administrator, he is courageous and self-confident, but he is tainted by mortal sin: He murdered his brother and married his queen very soon there-after. Although his conscience torments him with remorse, he is unable to repent or to give up the throne or the woman that his murderous act brought him. He has unusual self-knowledge and recognizes his unrepentant state. He is a worthy and mighty antagonist for Hamlet, and they destroy each other.
Gertrude, the queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother. Warmhearted but weak, she shows deep affection for Hamlet and tenderness for Ophelia. There are strong indications that she and Claudius were engaged in an adulterous affair before the death of the older Hamlet. She loves Claudius, but she respects Hamlet’s confidence and does not betray him to his uncle when he tells her of the murder, of which she has been obviously innocent and ignorant. Her death occurs after she drinks the poison prepared by Claudius for Hamlet.
Polonius (peh-LOH-nee-uhs), the lord chamberlain under Claudius, whom he has apparently helped to the throne. An affectionate but meddlesome father to Laertes and Ophelia, he tries to control their lives. He is garrulous and self-important, always seeking the devious rather than the direct method in politics or family relationships. Hamlet jestingly baits him but apparently has some affection for the officious old man and shows real regret at killing him. Polonius’ deviousness and eavesdropping bring on his death; Hamlet stabs him through the tapestry in the mistaken belief that Claudius is concealed there.
(The entire section is 1312 words.)
Hamlet (Character Analysis)
Claudius (Character Analysis)
Gertrude (Character Analysis)
Ghost (Character Analysis)
Horatio (Character Analysis)
Laertes (Character Analysis)
Ophelia (Character Analysis)
Other Characters (Descriptions)
Attendants: The king appears in state accompanied by attendants, and attendants wait on various members of Danish court and visitors to the court. Attendants follow the king when he enters or exits a scene. They are sent by the king to look for the body of Polonius. Attendants separate Hamlet and Laertes when they fight at Ophelia's funeral.
Barnardo: Barnardo, with Francisco and Marcellus, is one of the guards of the Danish ruler's castle, Elsinore. He and Marcellus have seen the ghost twice before the opening of the play, and have chosen to tell Prince Hamlet's scholarly friend Horatio about the occurrence. Barnardo speaks the play's first, ominous words: "Who's there?" (I.i.1).
(The entire section is 1754 words.)