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Fortinbras is the Prince of Norway, whose father was slain in battle by King Hamlet. His campaign to reclaim the lands that his father lost to Denmark after his death becomes one of the subplots of Hamlet. Fortinbras’s story reflects the idea of revenge as cyclical. Hamlet is inspired by Fortinbras’s tenacity and ambition as he watches Fortinbras’s army wage war over a relatively useless piece of land. This inspiration gives Hamlet the resolve to go through with killing Claudius. Fortinbras does not appear in-person until his army arrives in Denmark at the end of the play. Prior to dying, Hamlet remarks that Fortinbras will likely become the new monarch of Denmark and offers his blessing. Fortinbras successfully achieves his revenge by reclaiming the lands his father lost, but it is unclear whether his actions end the cycle of violence and revenge in Denmark. 


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Reynaldo is the servant that Polonius sends to France to spy on Laertes. Reynaldo questions Polonius’ intentions, but he ultimately goes along with his master’s bidding. Fundamentally, Reynaldo serves to highlight Polonius’s underhanded methods and Laertes’s unsavory behavior. 

First Clown and Second Clown

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The clowns are gravediggers whom Hamlet encounters after returning from England. Hamlet asks the first clown whose grave he is digging, but he proceeds to talk circles around Hamlet. The first clown also offers an external perspective on the events of the play, as he relays the common opinion that Hamlet is mad and that he has gone to England to recover. However, he also exemplifies how little the problems of the monarchy matter to the common people by dismissing the situation as unimportant. His wit rivals Hamlet’s, leading Hamlet to exclaim that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is shrinking. 


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Osric is a member of the Danish court. He is sent to fetch Hamlet and Horatio for the duel, at which time Hamlet mocks him. Osric represents the superficiality of the Danish nobility, a group who, Hamlet claims, buy their way into Claudius’s good graces because they crave power and influence. He speaks in flowery, elevated language and flatters those more powerful than he is.

Marcellus, Bernardo, and Francisco

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Marcellus, Bernardo, and Francisco are guards at Elsinore. They report their sightings of the ghost to Horatio, who is initially skeptical. However, once the ghost is verified, they agree to bring Prince Hamlet in to try to communicate with it. Marcellus and Bernardo are sworn to secrecy by Hamlet after he speaks with the ghost, while Francisco is not present during the encounter. 

Voltimand and Cornelius

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Voltimand and Cornelius are Danish ambassadors sent to Norway by Claudius in act I, scene II. They return in act II, scene II, when Voltimand reports on their assignment. He does so directly and without pomp. 

The Players

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The players are an acting troupe that comes to Elsinore after being driven out of town by the rising popularity of child-actors. This is often interpreted as commentary by Shakespeare on the increasing demand for younger actors in Elizabethan England. Within Hamlet, the players help Hamlet put on the play with which he hopes to prove Claudius’s guilt. The first player’s emotional reaction to a scene about Hecuba leads Hamlet to reflect bitterly on his own apparent lack of passion and resolve.

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern


Character Summaries