Hamlet List of Characters
by William Shakespeare

Hamlet book cover
Start Your Free Trial

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: 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.

Download Hamlet Study Guide

Subscribe Now

List of Characters


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...

(The entire section is 765 words.)