Hamlet Titular character. Moody and broody, contemplates why people are the way they are. Questions human nature. Waited as long as he did for revenge because of…1) He didn’t believe the ghost/thought it was demon2) Hamlet is a Christian hero with a pagan duty. It’s not man’s place to take vengeance on anyone, period. That’s God’s job. Plus, everyone knows that murder is a sin. The notion of the old, pagan revenge code that says when someone kills your father, you have to get your revenge on.3) Hamlet is only “mysterious” to us because he’s a poorly drawn dramatic figure. Shakespeare didn’t give him enough of a motive to make any sense of his behavior. But remember from your lesson in Historical Context that there’s a Renaissance crisis going on at the time: nothing is supposed to make sense. 4) Hamlet wants to be with his mom. Real bad. He has an Oedipus Complex. If this is true, then Claudius has done what Hamlet wants to do: kill King Hamlet (senior), and sleep with Gertrude. Hamlet can’t kill Claudius, because secretly, he wants to be Claudius.
Ophelia As long as she’s unmarried, she lives by her father’s rules. (Of course, if she were to marry, she’d then have to live by her husband’s rules.) Essentially, Ophelia has no control over her body, her relationships, or her choices. And eventually, Ophelia snaps. Hamlet seems to know that Ophelia is helping her dad spy on him, and he accuses her (and all women) of being a “breeder of sinners” and orders Ophelia to a “nunnery” (3.1.131; 132), i.e. a brothel. But she can’t call him out on his language, because, as a good girl, she can’t admit that she knows what it means. Her reputation depends on pretending that she never cared about his at all. LAERTES: This graphic allusion to the anatomy of female genitalia turns his sister into an erotic object while still insisting on Ophelia’s chastity. Laertes takes a typically Elizabethan stance toward female sexuality —a “deflowered” woman was damaged goods that no man would want to marry. What’s so tragic about Ophelia (in our humble opinion) is that she hasn’t done anything wrong, and she gets destroyed by the patriarchal court culture anyway. Rather than straight-up committing suicide, as Gertrude tells us, she accidentally falls in the water and then simply neglects to save herself from sinking. Ophelia’s “garments” “pull” her down, as if they had a mind of their own. This seems to be a metaphor for the way Ophelia lives her life: doing what her father and brother—and boyfriend—tell her to do, rather than making decisions for herself.
Fortinbras Like every other young man in this play, Fortinbras has a serious case of daddy issues. His dad Old Fortinbras, former King of Norway, made a bet with Old Hamlet and wound up losing his life and some important Norwegian territory in the process. Naturally, young Fortinbras now has to reclaim the land his father lost. But while Hamlet sits around contemplating life and death, Fortinbras takes immediate action by raising an army to reclaim Norway’s lost territories. Though his uncle (the current king of Norway) at first convinces Fortinbras not to attack Denmark, in the end, prince Fortinbras helps himself to the Danish throne.Behind the stories of both Fortinbras and Hamlet is the question of why their uncles are wearing the crowns that should, in the normal pattern of who-gets-to-be-king, go to them (the sons).Hamlet realizes that Fortinbras doesn’t have very good reasons for leading an army against Poland —but reasons don’t really matter. Great men don’t need a reason to preserve their family’s honor. Fortinbras, like Laertes, is an example of action with little thought —precisely the opposite of Hamlet. So why is Fortinbras successful?
Bernardo guard
Marcellus guard who called Horatio to see if the ghost was real.
Horatio Horatio is Hamlet’s closest friend, and he’s the only one who really seems to deserve the title. Unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (also Hamlet’s old chums), Horatio’s loyalty and common sense are rock-steady throughout the play.1) In fact, one of the first things we learn about Horatio is his good sense. When we first see Horatio, he’s been called to the castle by the guards because he’s a “scholar” (he goes to school in Wittenberg with Hamlet). He’s convinced of the spirit’s legitimacy soon enough, but his initial skepticism introduces the first note of doubt in the play, one that will haunt his friend Hamlet for several acts.2)Horatio digs Hamlet so much that he offers to commit suicide when his beloved Hamlet is dying (5.2.373-375). But Hamlet won’t have it. He insists that Horatio live to tell the tragic story—which fits, since critics often note that Horatio’s name recalls the Latin term “orator,” or “speaker.” And that’s just what Horatio does. He promises to put the dead bodies up on a “stage” while he tells Prince Fortinbras and the rest of the world what went down in Elsinore
King Hamlet/Ghost But here’s what the spirit claims: (1) The ghost says he’s Hamlet’s father (it sure looks like the guy); (2) The ghost also says that he was murdered by his brother, who happens to be Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, the guy who’s now married to Gertrude and sitting on the throne of Denmark; (3) The ghost also claims he’s “doomed” to suffer in PurgatoryPurgatorial spirits weren’t supposed to ask people to commit murder since that basically defeats the point of being purged of your sins. Denmark is Protestant and Protestants don’t really believe in Purgatory so yeah… is it Hamlet Sr.? Some think it is Hamlet’s imagination. Ophelia comments on how Hamlet appeared “pale” “as if he had been loosed out of hell”. They talk the same. Hamlet is the only character who talks to the Ghost (when Hamlet kills Polonius). The spirit represents the way young Hamlet is haunted by his dad’s memory.
Francisco A guard who gives up his watch Bernardo in Act I. Marcellus and Bernardo then get Horatio to see the ghost.
King Claudius He’s married to his dead brother’s wife Gertrude, which makes him Hamlet’s uncle and stepfather. Make that evil stepfather: Claudius murdered the previous king, Hamlet’s father. Claudius is definitely aligned with Cain, the Biblical figure whose claim to fame is committing the first murder ever, when he offed his brother, Abel. Claudius’s murderous deed in the garden also recalls the Biblical story of the Fall (comparison of Claudius to a serpent, ~cough cough~ the devil). He’s an okay ruler though, he had to convince the nobles of the court to accept his bizarrely timed and probably sinful marriage to Gertrude, he diplomatically avoid war with Norway. Claudius manages to talk his way out of Laertes’s rebellion, too
Gertrude A central figure in the play —Hamlet spends a whole lot of time dwelling on her incestuous marriage to Claudius —but we know practically nothing about her motivations or feelings.1)Was Gertrude stepping out with Claudius while Old Hamlet was still alive? The Ghost all but accuses her of adultery and incest when he calls her new husband, Claudius.2) Does Gertrude know she’s chugging poisoned wine in the play’s final act? In Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of Hamlet, Gertrude drinks knowingly, presumably to save her son from certain death. If she drinks on purpose, then she’s the self-sacrificing mother Hamlet has always wanted her to be. But we’re not convinced that the rest of the play has shown her to be self-sacrificing at all. If nothing else, this moment reminds us that Gertrude is much more complex than Hamlet understands; she’s more than just morally “frail”3) Does Gertrude’s character show anything about herself, or only add more insight into how screwed up Hamlet is?
Laertes Laertes, a young Danish lord, is the son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia. He spends most of his time off at college, but, like a lot of college students, he manages to pack a lot of action into the few times he’s home.As a FOIL: After Hamlet kills Polonius, Laertes faces the same problem that Hamlet does —a murdered father. And that’s where the similarities end. While Hamlet lollygags and broods over the murder for much of the play, Laertes takes immediate action. He storms home from France as soon as he hears the news, raises a crowd of followers, and invades the palace, saying “That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard.” in other words, not being upset by his father’s death would prove that his mother was stepping out on his dad. both of them end up dead, in exactly the same way, and at each other’s hands. Maybe he loves Ophelia a little too much, just Hamlet and Gertrude. Laertes’s obsession with his family ends up killing him—just as it kills Hamlet.
Polonius A Danish lord, Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia; he’s self-absorbed, long-winded, and dull.Purpose of his character:1) Comic relief for the less educated members of Shakespeare’s audience2) It’s weird, then, that Polonius gets some of the play’s most famous lines. Quoted out of context, they even sound like good advice. given that Polonius is the one telling us/ Laertes these little tidbits of wisdom, are we supposed to take it seriously? Is Shakespeare actually making fun of this cheery, cliché, How to Win Friends and Influence People type of early self-help?3) As comical and ridiculous as Polonius is, his elaborate attempts to keep tabs on Laertes and Ophelia remind us that fathers can’t always be trusted to care for their children. This is especially true when Polonius pays Reynaldo to spread rumors about Laertes so that Laertes will confide in Reynaldo, who can then report back to Polonius
Cornelius/Voltimand Courtiers sent by Claudius to try and negotiate peace with the King of Norway and to stop Fortinbras from attacking.
Reynaldo Sent by Polonius to spy on Laertes in France and essentially ruin his reputation while he checks up on Laertes. Used to show how much Polonius sucks and how his ideas usually backfire on him.
Rosencrantz/Guildenstern Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem incapable of functioning independently, so they’re basically one character, no matter what they might say. They show up in Denmark to serve as paid informants on their friend from college, and they practically fall all over each other in their attempt to suck up to King Claudiusthey’re as incompetent as they are dishonest; Hamlet sees right through them, and they make good targets for his mockery. It does seem a little harsh for Hamlet to send them off to die, though (as Horatio points out), so they point out Hamlet’s weird decision-making process. He hesitates (understatement) to kill Claudius, who arguably deserves it, but doesn’t flinch over exterminating his own two friends, who, let’s face it, were probably just college students hard up for cash.Even though Rosencrantz and Guildenstern die before the mass death scene in Act V, Shakespeare works it so that we find out they’ve been killed at the same time everyone else is dying.
Osric A young noble who Hamlet doesn’t like at all but he has to tolerate because he has power. He is used to show how some people learned fancy things to seem fancy but they are actually fake. Represents the hypocrisy of the hierarchy. He summons Hamlet to fight Laertes.
Redundancy means superfluity or using words unnecessarily or using words for a second time.
Affect To have an influence on or effect a change in
Litotes ironical understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (e.g., you won’t be sorry, meaning you’ll be glad ).
Asyndeton the omission or absence of a conjunction between parts of a sentence.
Anaphora the deliberate repetition of the first part of the sentence in order to achieve an artistic effect
Monotonous uttered or sounded in one unvarying tone. marked by a sameness of pitch and intensity. tediously uniform or unvarying
Sanctimonious making a show of being morally superior to other people.
Double entendre a word or phrase open to two interpretations, one of which is usually risqué or indecent.
Fortitude courage in pain or adversity.
Syntax determines how the chosen words are used to form a sentence
Comic relief A soliloquy is a popular literary device often used in drama to reveal the innermost thoughts of a character. It is a great technique used to convey the progress of action of the play by means of expressing a character’s thoughts about a certain character or past, present or upcoming event while talking to himself without acknowledging the presence of any other person.
Epitaph which is a brief writing or saying. Epitaph is an inscription written on a grave. Generally, it is a brief composition, having figurative sense in a verse or in prose form, written to pay tribute to a deceased person, or to remember a past event.
Monologue the speech or verbal presentation that a single character presents in order to express his/her collection of thoughts and ideas aloud. Often this character addresses directly to audience or another character. Monologues are found in the dramatic medium like films, plays and also in non-dramatic medium such poetry.
Epiphany that moment in the story where a character achieves realization, awareness or a feeling of knowledge after which events are seen through the prism of this new light in the story.
Soliloquy A soliloquy is a popular literary device often used in drama to reveal the innermost thoughts of a character. It is a great technique used to convey the progress of action of the play by means of expressing a character’s thoughts about a certain character or past, present or upcoming event while talking to himself without acknowledging the presence of any other person.
Foil In literature, a foil is a character that shows qualities that are in contrast with the qualities of another character with the objective to highlight the traits of the other character. What we observe in literature very often is that a foil is a secondary character who contrasts with the major character to enhance the importance of the major character.
Yorick’s Skull as a Major Symbol Throughout the play, Hamlet muses on and toys with the idea of death. His famous fourth soliloquy’s opening lines, “To be, or not to be” shows Hamlet thinking about suicide. His turning point of realization comes in the graveyard scene. Hamlet looks at the skull and remembers the man he was fond of, the court jester Yorick. In his musings, Hamlet realizes that death eliminates the differences between people. The hierarchical structure of society is illusory and ultimately crumbles into dust, just like the bones of those long gone.

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