HAMLET CHARACTER PROFILES

HAMLET

Prince of Denmark and a student at the University of Wittenberg. He has returned to Elsinore to mourn his father’s death and is both depressed and moody. His grief is intensified by what he construes as a lack of grieving in those around him. Though passionate and contemplative, he is often self-absorbed and indecisive.

HAMLET
O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! O fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead!—nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king…
(Act I, Scene ii, lines 129-139)


CLAUDIUS

King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, and newly married to Hamlet’s mother. He is calculating, politically astute, secretly unscrupulous, and seemingly willing to do anything to get what he wants. There are multiple levels of tension at play in his and his nephew-now-stepson’s relationship—including his annoyance at Hamlet’s bereavement—and he is not beyond airing them publically.

CLAUDIUS
'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
To give these mourning duties to your father;
But, you must know, your father lost a father;
That father lost, lost his; and the survivor bound,
In filial obligation, for some term
To do obsequious sorrow: but to persevere
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness; 'tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven;
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient;
An understanding simple and unschool'd;
For what we know must be, and is as common
As any the most vulgar thing to sense,
Why should we, in our peevish opposition,
Take it to heart? Fie! 'tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd; whose common theme
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried,
From the first corse till he that died to-day,
'This must be so.' We pray you, throw to earth
This unprevailing woe; and think of us
As of a father….
(Act I, Scene ii, lines 87-106)

 

 

GERTRUDE

Queen of Denmark and Hamlet’s mother. She recently was widowed and in short order married Claudius, her husband’s brother and the new King of Denmark. It is unclear if she is aware of the actual nature of her new husband or a willing participant in the recent court intrigues. She is concerned about the wellbeing of her son.

GERTRUDE
Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
(Act I, Scene ii, lines 68-73)

 

 

HORATIO

A courtier and Hamlet’s friend. Also a student at the University of Wittenberg, he has come to Elsinore for King Hamlet’s funeral. He is a loyal and supportive confidant and of sound judgement even in the midst of eerie occurrences at Elsinore and in relation to Hamlet’s personal turmoil.

HAMLET
Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life in a pin’s fee;
And for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?
It waves me forth again: I’ll follow.
 
HORATIO
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o’er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness? Think of it.
(Act I, Scene iv, lines 64-74)

 

POLONIUS

Lord Chamberlain, or chief counselor to the King of Denmark and father of Ophelia and Laertes. He is both an overbearing parent and a courtly busybody. Additionally, he is concerned with appearances, presumptuous, and prone to verbosity, as well as scheming.

POLONIUS
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice:
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy:
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be:
For loan oft loses both itself and friend;
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all,—to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!
(Act I, Scene iii, lines 58-81)

 

OPHELIA

Daughter of Polonius, sister to Laertes, and love interest of Hamlet. She is innocent, warm, imbued with the traits of a young romantic, and obedient.

OPHELIA
He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.
 
POLONIUS
Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
 
OPHELIA
I do not know, my lord, what I should think.
 
POLONIUS
Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly;
Or,—not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Wronging it thus,—you'll tender me a fool.
 
OPHELIA
My lord, he hath importun'd me with love
In honourable fashion.
 
POLONIUS
Ay, fashion you may call it; go to, go to.
 
OPHELIA
And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord,
With almost all the holy vows of heaven.
(Act I, Scene III, lines 99-114)

 

LAERTES

Dutiful son of Polonius and caring older brother to Ophelia. Much of his time is spent away from court in France. He is attentive, forthright, bold when provoked, and levelheaded.

LAERTES
Think it no more.
For nature, crescent, does not grow alone
In thews and bulk, but, as this temple waxes,
The inward service of the mind and soul
Grows wide withal. Perhaps he loves you now,
And now no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will, but you must fear.
His greatness weighed, his will is not his own,
For he himself is subject to his birth.
He may not, as unvalued persons do,
Carve for himself, for on his choice depends
The safety and health of this whole state.
And therefore must his choice be circumscribed
Unto the voice and yielding of that body
Whereof he is the head. Then if he says he loves you,
It fits your wisdom so far to believe it
As he in his particular act and place
May give his saying deed, which is no further
Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal.
(Act I, Scene iii, lines 10-28)

 

THE GHOST

An apparition of King Hamlet, Hamlet’s late father.

GHOST
I am thy father's spirit;
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to wastein fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul…
(Act I, Scene V, lines 9-16)

 

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN

Schoolmates of Hamlet also returned to court, having been summoned by Claudius. Ostensibly joined at the hip, they are two-faced yes-men.

ROSENCRANTZ
Both your majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.
 
GUILDENSTERN
But we both obey,
And here give up ourselves, in the full bent
To lay our service freely at your feet,
To be commanded.
(Act II, Scene II, lines 27-34)

 

FORTINBRAS

Prince of Norway whose father was previously slain by King Hamlet. He is a bold, honorable, and inspiring young leader seeking to avenge his father’s death on Denmark by reclaiming land lost in war. He is even admired by his Danish counterpart, Hamlet.

HAMLET
…I do not know
Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do,”
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do ’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me.
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor’s at the stake.
(Act IV, Scene II, lines 43-56)

Other Characters

MARCELLUS, BARNARDO, and FRANCISCO, soldiers
VOLTIMAND, CORNELIUS, and OSRIC, courtiers
REYNALDO, servant to Polonius
(NORWEGIAN) CAPTAIN
PRIEST
PLAYERS, a roving band of actors
CLOWNS, two gravediggers
ENGLISH AMBASSADOR

Opening Night of
Hamlet/Saint Joan
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