Characters are people used by authors to present their stories, ideas, beliefs or doctrines. Characters make up the whole world of a literary piece. Hamlet’s famous characters have given births to various other characters, beliefs, and ideas in the world of literature. They are still impressive and impact the audience more than before. Some of the famous characters in Hamlet are discussed below.
Characters in Hamlet
Young Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark and heir. However, it changes when King Claudius marries his mother after killing his father, Old Hamlet. He meets the ghost of his father in the castle and is informed about his father’s murder. The spirit of his father accuses Claudius, his uncle and now step-father, of pouring poison in his ears. The ghost also asks Hamlet to avenge his death. This leads to Hamlet’s temper and constant misery along with contemplation, dilly-dallying in exacting revenge and withdrawal from his love.
He even leaves Ophelia and chides her for spying on her at the behest of her father, Polonius. He once finds Claudius praying, but ruminates that he may go to heaven when killed during prayers. Hamlet is a man of words as well as actions, and his final duel with Laertes proves this. During the play, he also shows his prowess in acting when instructing the players how to stage a play. He can also use language skillfully when he talks to gravediggers but his “to be or not to be” is considered the greatest soliloquies in plays.
King Claudius is Hamlet’s uncle but becomes his father in the play when he marries Queen Gertrude. His hasty marriage leads Hamlet to doubt his father’s assassination. Therefore, Claudius is, in a sense, the villain of the play. He is very clever, astute and shrewd, and also weaves plans to hide his true nature from Hamlet but faces failure. He even employs his best servant, Polonius, and his daughter Ophelia, the beloved of Hamlet, to spy on him, but they also fail. He even tries to get Hamlet killed by inciting Laertes that Hamlet has killed his father. Once again his planning doesn’t come to pass, and he is exposed by the end of the play.
Queen Gertrude is the mother of Hamlet and wife of Old Hamlet. However, she marries Claudius, brother of Old Hamlet, after her first husband’s death. Her hasty marriage leads Hamlet to feel disgusted at her choice. However, it becomes clear that Gertrude loves her son very much. Hamlet accuses her of being lustful and adulteress for marrying so hurriedly to his uncle. She knows Hamlet’s love for Ophelia as well and feels that the woman actor in the play within the play overacts. She seems to be a simple and innocent character but becomes a victim of circumstances and political intrigues.
Although it seems that Polonius is just a servant, his role in Hamlet seems to be the deputy of King Claudius. He invites Hamlet’s wrath when he tries to spy on him during his meeting with his mother. However, he is killed while hiding behind the curtain. He is very talkative. It is worth mentioning here that he is also the father of Ophelia, Hamlet’s love. However, his obsession to be loyal to the king more than the king himself takes his life. Which leads Laertes, his son to seek revenge.
Ophelia is the most innocent and loveable character in Hamlet. She becomes the victim of political intrigues and loses her sanity. She is the daughter of Polonius and love of Hamlet. Hamlet loves her so much that he almost loses his senses when he confronts her knowing that she is also involved in spying on him. Hamlet rebukes her strongly for this and advises her to “go to a nunnery,” for he considers her a very clever lady being used by her patrons for spying on him. She becomes insane after Hamlet refuses to acknowledge their relationship and drowns herself in the end.
Laertes is the son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia. He is sent to France on a state visit. His father advises him to live a frugal and moderate life in France. He is a young and as old as Hamlet. He is short tempered and could easily be manipulated if there is a cause. He becomes furious and wants to kill Hamlet when he comes to know about the murder of his father. That is why he faces Hamlet in the last duel and dies of cut with the poisonous sword.
Although not much has been stated about Old Hamlet in the play, he seems to be a very kind, just and generous ruler. The way Hamlet defends his father and vows to exact revenge shows that he is quite different from Claudius. His ghost shows that he has been deceived by Claudius in a way that he wants him killed and removed from the throne.
Horatio is Hamlet’s philosophical friend and very skeptic person. However, when he sees the ghost of the old king, he becomes suspicious as well. He agrees with Hamlet that “There are many things in heaven and earth” that his philosophy cannot understand. Whenever Hamlet faces any problem, he consults Horatio and wants his company. Before Hamlet dies, he asks his Horatio to make his cause known to the world as justified. Horatio’s final words “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” shows his genuine friendship and love for Hamlet.
The character of the gravedigger appears for a very brief time almost at the end of the play. However, he seems to be very talkative and yet sane despite his play upon words. He even puts Hamlet in a difficult position about his philosophical quibbles. There are two gravediggers. However, only one of them displays the quality of a great philosopher.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
These two characters appear very briefly in the play but become victims of their duty as well as an obligation. They are assigned with the task by the King to know the cause of Hamlet’s madness and depression. However, in their shrewdness, they are sent to England with a letter that Hamlet changes with his own and are possibly murdered during the journey.