What is known about the kind of person Hamlet was before his father's death?

The evidence from Hamlet's family and friends, particularly from Ophelia, suggests that Hamlet was a well-adjusted, courteous, accomplished Renaissance man before his father's death. However, that fact that he professed to love Ophelia, to whom he is now indifferent, and to feel close friendship for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suggests that he was also shallower than he is at the time of the play.

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Hamlet, like anyone else, behaved and continues to behave differently with different people. However, there is clear evidence of a drastic change since his father's death. This is most dramatically attested by Ophelia when she laments,

O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh.

Making allowances for Ophelia's partiality, this speech depicts a Hamlet who seems to have been an ardent and thoughtful lover, as well as a true Renaissance man. As Hamlet appears in the play, there is little sign that he cares for Ophelia at all, and Ophelia does not delude herself about this, so it seems reasonable to suppose that she was not entirely mistaken about his previous character and intentions.

Hamlet's "transformation" (as Claudius describes it to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) is much discussed by other characters, and the evidence all points the same way as Ophelia's speech. Hamlet used to be well-adjusted, courteous, and highly accomplished. However, the very fact that he selected Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as close friends whereas he now sees straight through them suggests that his character may have acquired depth along with melancholy.

The same may also be true of his treatment of Ophelia. Since he treats her harshly now, it seems that his feelings for her were never very deep, certainly in comparison with his love for his father. However, before his father's death, he was capable of making glib speeches of love without deep feeling.

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We know that Hamlet was a student in Wittenburg, home of the university where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses. At the beginning of the play, he has been called home by his father's sudden death.

Hamlet before his father's death appears to have been a cheerful person with a capacity to forge strong relationships: He is good friends with Horatio and in love with Ophelia. He is seemingly a healthy and well-adjusted person. His mother says to him early in the play that he should stop mourning and go back to being what he was before:

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not forever with thy vailèd lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.

The concern, including conferences with Polonius, over his recent, unhappy behavior indicates that Hamlet is not the person he used to be.

We know he was capable of affection: for example, later in the play, he will mourn the death of Yorick and remember riding around on his back as a child, a happy recollection. It is his capacity for strong affection that leads to his deep grief at his father's demise.

His mode of extreme gloom and depression suggests his father's death is the first real tragedy he has been faced with. Likewise, his extreme reaction to the corruption in the Danish court suggests that he might have been naive before his father's death, happy to be unaware of court politics and subterfuges.

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Since the events of the play occur after Hamlet's father has died, we do not have direct evidence about what sort of person he was at that time. There is, however, some indirect evidence.

First, we know that Hamlet was a student at university. Thus we have a sense that he was intelligent and educated. He apparently had several friends and thus we can imagine that he was sociable and pleasant. We know from Act 2, Scene 2 that Hamlet's personality has been changed by his father's death and mother's marriage. Claudius states:

Something have you heard
Of Hamlet’s “transformation”—so call it
Since nor th' exterior nor the inward man
Resembles that it was....
This suggests that the tortured, melancholy, moody Hamlet we encounter is quite different than the younger Hamlet, who seems to have been more cheerful and more likely to enjoy himself in ordinary activities and social events. He appears to have been popular and capable of inspiring affection and loyalty. 
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In the William Shakespeare play, Hamlet, the reader learns much about Hamlet’s character. Hamlet did not become king when his father died. The regency in most countries passes the crown down to the oldest son. This was not done in Hamlet’s case. Clearly, he had been away studying, but as a young man we must wonder why he was not heir to the throne. He was easily persuaded to abandon his studies at the request of Claudius. He was quick to judge Gertrude for remarrying so quickly, when he would have known in that day and age, women had few rights. He was hesitant to avenge his father’s death, and every time he came to a decision about this, he second guessed himself.  He seemed weak and ineffectual, and much of the tragedy in this play stemmed from his poor decision making. Oedipus seemed, at times, to be unwillingly and unknowingly caught up in the actions of others. Therefore, Hamlet is not as heroic as Oedipus.

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