Hamlet characters and themes

Hamlet characters, plus quotes and their relationships

  • Created by: Alice
  • Created on: 12-05-14 18:58

Hamlet- overview and character

Hamlet is a scholar, therefore an intuitive, thoughtful, rounded and level-headed young man.
Grieving his dead father and angry at him mother and uncle's 'o'er hasty marriage.

'Once he finds out from the ghost that Claudius killed his father ('the serpent that did poison your father now wears his crown') Hamlet considers the life of man, and contemplates suicide next to life.
Hamlet wants evidence that Claudius is the murderer, he is not your typical, war-like revenger, he prefers to think- 'the play is the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.'
Once Hamlet has his evidence he goes from 'I am pigeon liveried and lack gall' to 'O from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.'

Hamlet does not feel remorse when he accidentally kills Polonius, this suggests he is waving away all emotion so that he has the courage to kill Claudius. He even puts off killing Claudius while he prays, so that Clauidus will go to hell and not heaven.
Hamlet tells Ophelia 'get thee to a nunnery' and 'I loved you not'. However, when she dies, he admits his love for her, jumping in her grave.

Laertes and Hamlet have a fencing match and both are killed, as well as Claudius and Gertrude.
Pretty much the only one remaining is Horatio, who swears to tell Hamlet's tragic story.

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Hamlet and Revenge quotes

Ghost to Hamlet - 'If thou did'st ever thy dear father love... Revenge his most foul and unnatural murder.'

Hamlet- 'Prompted to my revenge from heaven and hell.'

Laertes- 'Let come what comes, only I'll be revenged most thoroughly for my father.'

Consider that Hamlet, Laertes and Young Fortinbras are the revengers of the play, and yet Hamlet takes up three acts to make up his mind that he will take revenge. Laertes is your much more typical revenge hero. He, like Hamlet, has lost a father, but contrastingly, he wants to take revenge immediately. Fortinbras is described as being the kind that would go to war over an 'eggshell'. Like the other two, he has lost a father, king Hamlet killed him in war, and Fortinbras wants to take his revenge by invading Denmark, which he does.

Is it selfish of the Ghost to ask Hamlet to take revenge. If the Ghost truly is Hamlet's father, wouldn't he have known his son well enough to know that this request would have put him in a moral dilemma?

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Quotes about Women

Hamlet about Gertrude- 'Frailty thy name is woman!'

Hamlet to Ophelia- 'Wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.'

Polonius- 'I will loose my daughter to him.'

Is it fair of Hamlet to compare the morality of all women to what his mother has done? Bearing in mind that Hamlet will only have ever met properly a few women!

Is Hamlet accusing Ophelia/ all women of turning men into monsters? What does he mean by this? Could it be that love/ lust destroys strong men? Or is it because a man would do anything for a woman, even kill?

Contextually, it was normal for a father to command his daughter. All women had to obey men, and Ophelia is no different. Is it still ok, then, for Polonius to exploit his daughter just so that he will look good in front of the King?

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Claudius and Gertrude Quotes

Hamlet- 'My father's brother, but no-more like my father, than I to Hercules.'

Hamlet- 'O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!'

Hamlet to Horatio- 'The funerals meats did coldly furnish the marriage table'

Why is Hamlet so angry about his mother marrying Claudius? Is it because it was so quick after the King's death? Maybe it was because Hamlet worshipped his father, and had believed his mother did too, so how could she betray her late husband? Some critics believe Hamlet has incestuous feelings towards his mother, and is jealous.

Was there anything going on between Claudius and Gertrude when King Hamlet was still alive? Was Gertrude in on Claudius' plan to kill his brother?

Consider what Gertrude gains from marrying Claudius and visa versa.

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Madness Quotes

Claudius about Ophelia- 'It springs from her father's death'

Ophelia about Hamlet- 'O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!'

Hamlet- 'To put an antic disposition on'

Polonius about Hamlet- 'It may be madness but there is method in it.'

Consider why Hamlet feels he must pretend to be mad. Does he want to upset his mother? Does he think this will help him discover the truth?

Does Claudius suspect the madness? Is this why he sends him to England, he knows Hamlet is only pretending and actually knows the truth.

Why does Ophelia go mad? Is it the oppression? Hamlet being cruel? Her father's death?

Remember that Madness was the fashion in Elizabethan times, either for love or grief.

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Who is loyal?

Hamlet is loyal to his father, he does finally avenge his death. 'Like Hyerion to a satyr'

Horatio is loyal to Hamlet, a true friend, he never gives up the act and always listens. He even promises to put Hamlet's story on a stage once he is dead.

Ophelia is loyal to her father, she takes his advice and ignores Hamlet, though this does not help the situation. 'I will obey, my lord.'

Polonius is loyal to Claudius, he will do anything to discover the root of the cause for Hamlet's madness, even if he is wrong. 'I will loose my daughter to him.'

Consider whether characters are loyal for the right of wrong reasons?
What different kinds of loyalty are there?
What are the consequences for not being loyal?

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Who is disloyal?

Claudius is disloyal to the State of Denmark, the killing of a king (Regicide) was considered the worst ever crime that could be committed, both against the country and God, who was said to have appointed royalty.

Gertrude is disloyal to her husband by marrying his brother. 'With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!'

Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are disloyal towards Hamlet, they are supposed to be his friends and yet they are bought by Claudius to spy on him. 'Call me what instrument you will, though fret me not, you cannot play upon me.'

Is disloyalty always evil and corrupt?
Can there ever be an excuse for disloyalty?
What is the worst case for disloyalty displayed in the play?

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In Elizabethan times, everyone was Christian and the country itself was Protestant.

Everyone believed in God, and everyone believed in Heaven and Hell.

It was believed that God appointed royalty, which is why an Elizabethan audience would have been so shocked by the story-line of this play.

People all also believed in Ghosts and so would have been scared and suspicious of the Ghost's true origins. They would not have trusted that he was truly King Hamlet.

Hamlet does not kill Claudius while he is praying because praying eradicates a man of sin and Hamlet wants Claudius to die sinful, so that he will go to hell.

Consider how Hamlet will have changed for a modern audience because of the change in religious beliefs?

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Actions speak louder than words

One of the most important scenes in this play is the player's scene. Hamlet writes a play based around the murder of the King by Claudius. He writes it to shock Claudius into confession. When Claudius jumps up in horror, Hamlet has his proof.
'The play is the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.'

Hamlet jumps into Ophelia's grave, this would suggest he truly did love her, but did he? Does this show love or madness?
'I loved Ophelia!'

While Claudius is praying he says 'My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.'
Clauidus is not truly remorseful. He plans to cheat God into believing he is.
Doesn't this show that Claudius is truly evil and corrupt?


When the player acts out 'Hecuba' and cries on que, Hamlet asks himself how the player can invent emotion for a character, and he himself is not allowed to grieve for his own father.

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