Hamlet Characters

The main characters in Hamlet are Prince Hamlet, the deceased King Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes, and Horatio.

  • Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. His father's ghost tasks him with avenging his murder.
  • King Hamlet is Hamlet's father, who was poisoned by Claudius.
  • Claudius is Hamlet's uncle, who kills Hamlet's father and marries the widowed Queen Gertrude.
  • Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Claudius's wife.
  • Ophelia is Polonius's daughter and Hamlet's former love interest.
  • Polonius is Laertes and Ophelia's father. He is accidentally killed by Hamlet.
  • Laertes is Polonius's son and Ophelia's brother. He joins Claudius's plot after his father's death.
  • Horatio is Hamlet's friend and confidante.

List of Characters

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Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, the son of the recently deceased King Hamlet, and the protagonist of the play. He returns to Denmark from the University of Wittenberg in the wake of his father’s death. He is disgusted by his mother Gertrude’s marriage to his uncle Claudius, which happened very soon after his father’s death. Hamlet idolizes his father and, even before learning of his murder, mourns him in what others view as excessive. (Read extended character analysis for Hamlet.)


Claudius is the newly crowned King of Denmark whose ascent to the throne follows the death of his brother, King Hamlet. He enters into an “o’erhasty” marriage with his former sister-in-law, Queen Gertrude, making him Hamlet’s stepfather. Claudius is the antagonist of the play, guilty of murdering King Hamlet. Prince Hamlet characterizes Claudius as a drunken, lecherous, and villainous man, calling him the “bloat king” and emphasizing his inferiority to King Hamlet. (Read extended character analysis for Claudius.)


Gertrude is the Queen of Denmark and Hamlet’s mother. Two months after the death of her first husband, King Hamlet, she marries his brother, Claudius. Her marriage is a source of bitterness for Prince Hamlet, who views her actions as morally corrupt and sinful since by Elizabethan standards, marrying one’s brother-in-law was considered incest. Gertrude seems to want what is best for her son, encouraging him to cheer up after his father’s death and trying to understand his apparent madness. (Read extended character analysis for Gertrude.)


Polonius is King Claudius’s advisor and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. He is concerned with appearances, especially the reputations of his children. His fatherly advice is well-intentioned but also generic and hypocritical, filled with clichéd aphorisms and self-serving recommendations. He does not shy away from meddling directly in his children’s lives, commanding Ophelia to avoid Hamlet and sending Reynaldo to keep tabs on Laertes in France. (Read extended character analysis for Polonius.


Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, Laertes’s sister, and Hamlet’s former love-interest. Throughout the play, Ophelia is described as sweet and chaste, the ideal daughter who obeys her father’s wishes and follows orders. However, after her rejection by Hamlet and the death of her father, Ophelia goes mad, ultimately drowning in what many suspect to be a suicide. (Read extended character analysis for Ophelia.


Laertes is Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother. He returns briefly to Elsinore for Claudius’s coronation before returning to France, where he allegedly indulges in unsavory behaviors. In contrast to Hamlet, who spends much of the play attempting to rationalize his revenge, Laertes establishes himself as a man who prefers brash action over careful planning. He is also shown to be corruptible, going along with Claudius’s underhanded plot to kill Hamlet. (Read extended character analysis for Laertes.)

The Ghost of King Hamlet

The Ghost of King Hamlet provides the inciting incident for the play by charging his son with the task of taking revenge on Claudius. The ghost tells Hamlet that he cannot move on to heaven until his “foul and most unnatural murder” is avenged. Hamlet is skeptical of the ghost at first, wondering whether it is truly the ghost of his father or an instrument of evil that has come to tempt him to commit sin. (Read extended character analysis for the Ghost of King Hamlet.


Horatio is Hamlet’s friend and serves as Hamlet’s confidante throughout the play. Unlike Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and even Ophelia, Horatio is the one person who never betrays Hamlet. His loyalty is so strong that he even intends to take his own life so that he does not have to live without Hamlet. However, Hamlet prevents him from doing so, instead asking Horatio to remain alive so that he can tell the story of what happened and clear Hamlet’s “wounded name.” (Read extended character analysis for Horatio.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Danish courtiers whom Claudius tasks with spying on Hamlet. They reluctantly agree to do so, with the promised reward for their efforts being a “king’s favor.” Prior to the events of the play, they were good friends with Hamlet, of a similar age and disposition. However, Hamlet quickly discerns their involvement with Claudius and treats them both coldly. (Read extended character analysis for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.)

Minor Characters

In addition to the characters above, Shakespeare’s Hamlet includes a supporting cast of minor roles. For more information about these characters, read more about them on their own page.

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