Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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sboeman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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shaketeach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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jmj616 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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jps5087 | Student

In Hamlet, the main characteristics of Prince Hamlet are (1) his indecisiveness and (2) his feelings of melancholy. However, the play also makes it clear that he is brave, intelligent, a noble gentleman, handsome, and potentially an outstanding leader.

Hamlet's indecisiveness is at the core of the play. Although Hamlet believes he should avenge his father's murder by killing his Uncle Claudius, he seems incapable of taking this drastic action. In act four, Hamlet says, "I do not know why yet I live to say 'This thing’s to do,' sith I have cause and will and strength and means to do ’t." In other words, Hamlet is perfectly aware of his indecisiveness--although he doesn't fully understand the reasons for it.

Throughout the play Hamlet procrastinates taking action against Claudius. In particular, he passes up an excellent opportunity for killing Claudius when he is at prayer. Hamlet is, in fact, only capable of killing his uncle "in the heat of action" during the final scene of the play, when he learns that his uncle has tried to kill him by means of poison.

From the beginning of the play, it's apparent that Hamlet feels extremely melancholy over the death of his father and over the marriage of his mother, Gertrude, with his uncle. This is the subject of Hamlet's first soliloquy, which is in act one. He says, "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!" In this soliloquy he is already talking about committing suicide--which he also speaks of, even more famously, in his "to be or not to be" soliloquy in act three.

Nevertheless, Hamlet is a very complex character, and there's much more to him than merely indecisiveness and melancholy. We know that he's brave from the way he goes charging after his father's ghost, even though his friends try to restrain him. We know that Hamlet is intelligent from the many brilliant, insightful comments that he makes--such as about the theater in act three.

Ophelia explains that Hamlet is (or, rather, was, before his father's death) a very noble gentleman: she calls him a "noble mind" and "the glass of fashion and the mould of form" (in other words, a much-admired person). It's also obvious that Ophelia thinks that Hamlet was quite handsome when she refers to his "unmatched form and feature."

Moreover, we surely feel that, but for the extraordinary circumstances Hamlet found himself in due to his father's murder, he otherwise would have had the potential to become an outstanding leader. Fortinbras, the dynamic, young Prince of Norway, explains at the very end of the play that Hamlet would probably "have proved most royally" if he had lived to become King of Denmark.

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zumba96 | Student

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. 

wenridake | Student

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.