In Hamlet, what two or three words or phrases best describe Hamlet (the person)?

9 Answers

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

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This is going to be a very difficult question to answer, because Hamlet as a character has managed to provoke much discussion and debate amongst critics in the last few centuries, so trying to condense his character into two or three phrases is a very challenging task to accomplish. In addition, people will answer this question based on their own reading and understanding of Hamlet, so in a sense, it is important that you try to answer this question yourself in addition to using the ideas of others.

For me, when I think of Hamlet, I would have to associate the following characteristics with him. Firstly, he is indecisive and procrastinates. He spends so much time wandering whether or not to act and what to do in response to the Ghost's words. This of course leads him to judge himself harshly against other examples of action such as Fortinbrass.

Secondly, he is spied upon and betrayed. It is hard not to feel sympathy for Hamlet in this regard. Everyone whom he had trusted and loved seem to turn against him and are used by Claudius in a plot to work out what is wrong with Hamlet. The only person who remains true to him is Horatio.

Lastly, he is seriously depressed and questioning his existence. Hamlet is famous for his big existential dilemmas as he debates his purpose in life and contemplates suicide.

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

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In an odd way, Hamlet is very much a man of action. As soon as he meets with the Ghost, he initiates a plan to act kind of crazy and immediately makes his friends swear not to tell. He prompts Gertrude to concern and then action, first by his odd appearance in her sewing room and then when he tells her to go to a nunnery. (Of course, these actions also prompt her to commit suicide, but he doesn't know that yet.) He is bold in confronting Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and he is certainly willing to get in Claudius's face, so to speak, after he kills Polonius--another rather impetuous move, but it certainly qualifies as action. He writes lines for a play, catches the king looking guilty, and confronts his mother, Gertrude, in no uncertain terms with condemnation for marrying Claudius and for doing it so quickly. While he may be indecisive, he is not inactive. Hamlet is tortured and melancholy and indecisive; he is also hasty and impetuous.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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All of the previous posts go to prove how very complex this character is.  There are literally dozens of equally valid opinions of him.  My first thoughts of Hamlet are that he is intelligent/philosophical and emotional.  The beginning of the play is dominated by his emotional response to his father's death, his mother's quick remarriage, and Claudius.  Once he learns the truth from the ghost he goes into an even more tragic emotional place.  But it is also this that brings out his intellectual side.  He plans to find out the truth; he recites a play from memory; he instructs the actors; the foils his friends; he acts crazy on purpose; he tricks Claudius; he manages the pirates; he asks questions about his deepest concerns about life and death; and in the end, he does what he needs to do -- avenge his father's death.

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teachersyl | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Hamlet is a "man of thought," one who is caught up in the multitude of ideas swirling in his mind and unable to act with clarity. He is faced with the scary reality that his own uncle killed his father in order to marry Gertrude and have the throne. Instead of making good on his promise of revenge, he plots and plans to make his reason for killing claudius clear.

His foil is Laertes, who leaps into action immediately upon Polonius' death to avenge his father. This is why they fight in Act V: Man of Thought vs. Man of Action. Neither survives, because a balance is necessary.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hamlet is troubled. He has a problem he doesn't think he can handle, and he doesn't feel like he has anyone to go to for guidance. With his father dead, he's not sure if he is thinking straight. Is he seeing things that aren't there? Is he imaging his uncle and mother? He worries about his responsibility in the kingdom, and the stress is too much.
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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I would say procrastination would be a word associated with Hamlet as his contemplations of how to, or whether to avenge his father's death are the cause of much of his torment. Unbalanced would be another word, as I do not see him as mad, but certainly grief stricken.

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lsumner | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Hamlet is a man of careful evaluation. He is honorable in not making a quick, false accusation about his Uncle Claudius' guilt. I think that is admirable.

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