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

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

Indecision: Agonizing between what he knows and what he thinks he knows based on the Ghost's story.  Since the supernatural can't always be trusted, he refuses to act until he was one hundred percent certain.

Sensitivity, 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 by the fact that she didn't 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 successor to the throne once all have died.  He also honors Laertes while they battle, honor that prompts Laertes to confess all and beg Hamlet's forgiveness before death claims him.

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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/betraying except for Horatio, and he 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.

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 a complex character. 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 ....

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

When we first meet Hamlet, he has returned from the Protestant University of Wittenburg.  It might be 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 despises 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 without reason.

Once the ghost informs him of his murder and charges him with avenging his death, Hamlet's life changes and his dilemma begins.  If he were a man of action and not a Protestant, believing revenge lays in God's hands, he would have taken his sword and run Claudius through at the first opportunity.  But Hamlet is not a man of action until he is positive of 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 but is a Protestant, so he cannot just kill Claudius without losing his soul, though cultural tradition makes his father and slain King hold to revenge as justice.  He must first test the information given to him by the Ghost that looked and sounded like his father but may have been something else.  Was it the devil tempting him into committing a mortal sin?

If the Ghost's information proved to be true, then he needed to know just how to accomplish his task without imperiling his own soul.  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 deceitful world, and Hamlet must constantly watch his step.  Perhaps the strain of all this leads him to real madness.

Polonius dies when Hamlet, in a fit of blind fury, stabs him while Polonius is hiding behind the arras.  Was this the action of a sane man?  He later changes the King's letter to England and orders the execution of Rosecrantz and Guildenstern who have been duped by Claudius into betraying Hamlet.  Ask again 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's actions.

He is a man of intelligence, humor, and education.  He is also a man with a strong sense of duty.  As a result of a number of things happening, he seems to become more and more paranoid; whether it is real or feigned madness is an open question.  The answer to who Hamlet is, is a complicated answer.

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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.... 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), Fortinbras, 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 and revenge, 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 father.  A most complex personality, Hamlet becomes all the more interesting as he undergoes such a dramatic changes.

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Let's discuss a few of the main characteristics of this very complex character.

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 conflicted relationship with the two women of the play and feels they have betrayed him.  He is close to his mother but at times berates her, and he 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 ironically reclining in Ophelia's lap.

d) He has strong Protestant views that stand in opposition to the Catholic views of his father's Ghost: revenge is for God to exact, not humans.

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