Characters / Hamlet


Alternative Character Interpretation is applicable to pretty much everyone here.

Hamlet

  • Ambiguous Disorder: Whole plays and college courses have been written based on Hamlet's bipolar disorder. Hair-Trigger Temper and over-talkativeness during his manic episodes, and anguished soliloquies during his depressed ones.
  • Anti-Hero. One to think rather than act, makes some morally questionable choices.
  • Berserk Button: Referring to Claudius as his father.
  • Birds of a Feather: With young Fortinbras. Hamlet respects his Hot-Blooded, passionate, emotion-fueled nature, and this, coupled with their similarities in situation and circumstance, is a large part of the reason Hamlet gives the Danish crown to him after the entire royal line is extinguished. Hamlet sees Fortinbras as the man and ruler he wishes he himself could be.
  • Byronic Hero: Angsty, thoughtful, cynical, lonely, weary of the world, arrogant, loved by many yet an outcast in his own family, overly dramatic and emotional in some interpretations, filled with self-hatred - Hamlet fits all the criteria to a T.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Immensely so. Hamlet rather enjoys running circles round Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are too dense to realize that he's mocking them.
  • The Ditherer: His Fatal Flaw, according to many critics.
  • Double Entendre: Fond of making these, especially around Ophelia.
  • Emo Teen: In the productions where he really is a teenager, at least.
  • Famous Last Words: "The rest is silence."
  • Fatal Flaw: It's widely agreed that Hamlet has onenote . There's rather less agreement on what, specifically, it is.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper. While his uncertainty is often cited as his key flaw, Hamlet can sometimes surprisingly lash out at people and commit violent acts with little provocation. Most notoriously, he kills Polonius when he mistakes him for the king, hiding behind the arras.
  • Hidden Depths: Still hidden to this day, in fact.
  • Honor Before Reason: One of his many inner conflicts. For example, when he has a chance to kill Claudius, he does not do so because he fears sending him to heaven. Some critics have identified the additional conflict of pagan values (e.g. family honour, avenging ones father's death) vs. Christian ones (not committing murder, the Divine Right of Kings, etc.).
  • Hypocrite: He advises the players to resist theatrics and appears to revere passionate people like Fortinbras, but he seems to like grand gestures like the play within a play and is unable to act on his passionate impulses.
    • He despises Claudius for murdering his father, but whereas Claudius only commits one murder for personal advancement (his planned murder of Hamlet once he becomes too problematic aside) and spends the remainder of the play feeling guilty about it, Hamlet kills or ensures the death of several people who are only tangentially involved in what's going on, and doesn't feel the least bit sorry about it.
  • Jerkass: At his worst, he can be quite terrible towards the people he interacts with, and his words are cutting. Case in point - his mocking of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as well as his tirades towards Ophelia and Gertrude.
  • Karma Houdini: Sort of. He kills Polonius, and although Claudius tries to have him killed on the quiet Hamlet evades punishment. He also seems to receive no punishment for the deaths of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern OR Ophelia, until the very end, and it's implied that Laertes's forgiveness absolves him completely.
  • Kick the Dog: Hamlet's kind of a dick to just about everyone save for Horatio, although he also seems to admire young Fortinbras a great deal. But even more than that, he feels absolutely no remorse whatsoever for killing Polonius, (even if it was an accident) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who are really implied to just be unwitting pawns of Claudius, although to be fair, Hamlet thought they were trying to get him killed), and being utterly cruel to Ophelia to point he drives her suicidally insane. In the end, Hamlet racks up a higher kill count than Claudius ever aspired to, and pretty much none of them deserved it, either.
  • Kill Him Already: The driving conflict of the plot is Hamlet's uncertainty and hesitance in avenging his father's death. This may be seen as a more general metaphor for man's uncertainty of his moral duty and place in the universe.
  • Large Ham: His bragging contest with Laertes over their love for Ophelia - Hamlet's surpasses the love of "five thousand brothers" in its intensity.
  • Lost in Character: One possible interpretation of the character.
  • Man Child: If he is indeed 30 (see below), Hamlet very much qualifies.
  • The Masochism Tango: His terrible treatment of Ophelia.
  • Mommy Issues. Some interpretations read Hamlet's obsession as an Oedipus complex - he seems much more fixated on his mother's incestuous marriage, more so than Claudius's murder of his father.
  • Mood-Swinger: He swings back and forth from melancholy to manic as the play goes on. This may be a part of his feigned madness, or may simply be one of his many genuine oddities.
  • Not So Different: With Fortinbras. Hamlet realizes this, as well. The four sons Fortinbras, Pyrrhus, Hamlet and Laertes are bound by the same task, yet how differently they approach it is rather interesting to see. (And Hamlet wasn't too bad; Fortinbras delayed for sixteen years.)
  • Obfuscating Insanity. Many in the court (particularly Polonius) perceive Hamlet's eccentric speech and behaviour as signs of madness. It is up to the director's and audience's interpretation as to how much is feigned (to put Claudius in a false sense of security) and how much is real.
  • Odd Friendship: With Horatio. The Prince of Denmark, best friends with a commoner he'd met in college? Not to mention their contrasting personalities.
  • Pungeon Master: An uncommonly melancholy master, but every other word out of his mouth is a Double Entendre or Stealth Insult.
  • Royal Brat: At his worst. He's rather petulant even before the revelation of his father's murder, which annoys Claudius and Gertrude.
  • Sociopathic Hero: His commitment to correcting Claudius' injustice, a noble and moral goal on its own, is marred by the fact that he ruins his loved ones' lives without much concern in the process.
  • Straw Nihilist: His "To be, or not to be" soliloquy gives this impression. He considers suicide as a better alternative to the situation he finds himself in, and questions whether his actions have any meaning to begin with since he's just going to die anyway.
  • Sword over Head: Ironically, things would have worked out much better if he had taken the opportunity.
  • Talkative Loon: Feigned (possibly).
  • Tragic Hero: Hamlet's story is, superficially, a classic revenge tragedy, a very popular genre at the time. In more general terms, Hamlet may be seen as the tragic representation of man as an individual, torn between a search for truth and an immediate duty, between fate and free will, between one moral code and another, whose uncertainty and hesitation leads to his downfall.
  • Tragic Mistake: Hamlet's downfall can be traced back to the moment where he sees Claudius at prayer and decides to wait until later to avenge his father.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Leading to problems with calculating his age. While he is a student (which at the time wouldn't have put him past his late teens or early twenties), he remembers Yorick, who died twenty-three years prior, and the gravedigger indirectly mentions that he is about thirty. Real-life casting issues may have played a role here.
  • You Killed My Father: Hamlet's main motivation is to avenge his dead father. His desire to establish absolute certainty and to kill the usurper under exactly the right circumstances leads to much delaying, and ultimately the death of most of the Danish court.

Claudius

  • Affably Evil: A fairly common treatment in productions more sympathetic to him.
  • Big Bad: It's thanks to him that the whole mess happened.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Sometimes played this way.
  • Cain and Abel: The Cain to King Hamlet's Abel.
  • Comforting the Widow: Claudius "comforts" Gertrude. It helps win him the throne. On the other hand, he does seem to genuinely love her. It is not an unpopular Alternative Character Interpretation that the throne was an afterthought and Claudius killed the king solely for Gertrude.
  • Dirty Coward: From Hamlet's point of view, for killing Old Hamlet with poison. It shows in his repeated schemes to kill Hamlet in the most roundabout ways he can.
  • Dirty Old Man: How Hamlet sees him.
  • The Evil Prince: He murdered his brother to take the Danish throne.
  • Evil Uncle: He tries to have Hamlet killed twice.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Actually comes close to repenting at one point, but he can't make himself give up the kingdom. Instead he gives up any thoughts of atoning and just concentrates on being King.
  • It's All About Me: He has absolutely no qualms about murdering his brother and nephew, and ruthlessly manipulating his wife and chief courtier, all in the name of protecting his crown.
  • Manipulative Bastard: He's extremely adept at playing all of the characters against one another. The only one who is wise to him is Hamlet, and he can never bring himself to do anything about it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: He's based off of the Roman Emperor Claudius I, who was considered the archetypal Evil Emperor in Elizabethan England, and who was poisoned by his niece (with whom he had an incestuous marriage.)
  • No Name Given: In the play itself he is never named, everyone calling him "The King", "Your Uncle" or "My Husband".
  • Rasputinian Death: Hamlet finally kills him by stabbing him through the heart with a poisoned sword, and then forcing him to drink poisoned liquor. In that order.
  • Sibling Triangle: Claudius murders his brother and marries his brother's wife. Interpretations vary as to how complicit Gertrude is in the plot.
  • Sleazy Politician: Murder seems to be the one political tool he has in his repertoire.
  • Succession Crisis: With King Hamlet dead and Prince Hamlet too young to take the throne, Claudius graciously accepts the crown of Denmark.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Claudius is generally beloved by his court and the populous, all of whom are unaware that he usurped the crown by killing his brother.

Ophelia

  • Barefoot Loon: In many adaptations theatrical productions, films, paintings, etc. Ophelia is barefoot during the mad scene.
  • Break the Cutie: Her Trauma Conga Line of her brother leaving, her lover rejecting her, her father dying, and her lover leaving hits her hard.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Hamlet and Ophelia could be seen as a deconstruction. Ophelia is gentle, sweet, and fragile, whereas Hamlet is brooding and angst-ridden, yet both of them are given much more complexity than the simplicity of this trope entails. They are alike in many ways; they both have a fragile mental state, and yet act out in different ways.
  • Butt Monkey: She ends up getting the worst of the scheming of Hamlet, Polonius, and Claudius.
  • Disposable Love Interest: She's completely passive and entirely defined by her relationships with the male characters. When they all disappear (Hamlet rejects her, her father dies and Laertes is abroad) she goes completely to pieces and commits suicide.
  • Driven to Suicide: Probably, unless she was just so insane she didn't take heed to her clothes soaking up water while lying in a river. This is all, of course, open for debate.
  • Flower Motifs: As part of her trope-naming Ophelia-sequence, she scatters flowers and hands different ones to different characters. The meaning behind each of the flowers remains open to interpretation.
  • Kill the Cutie: She's so sweet and lovely that she had absolutely no chance of surviving a play like this one.
  • Love Hurts: Her love of Hamlet is the cause of a great deal of grief. A combination of her father's meddling and Hamlet's ill-conceived rejection drives her insane.
  • Love Martyr: Ophelia is utterly devoted to Hamlet, despite his cold rejection and abusive treatment of her. This, among several other tragic circumstances eventually leads her to make the ultimate sacrifice: her life.
  • Mad Oracle: Possibly in her mad scene (Act 4 Scene 5).
  • Neutral Female: She shows very little independence and simply acts as a pawn to her father, and then as then motivator for Laertes' revenge after her death.
  • The Ophelia: As a beautiful young girl devolving into madness, she is the Trope Namer.
  • Speech Impediment: In certain interpretations, Ophelia does have a lisp, and some of her lines actually reflect this (for example, "twice two months" is understood as "two-es...two months). This gives Hamlet's line ("...you lisp, you nickname God's creatures...") a second, literal meaning.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: At least as far as her father is concerned.
  • Talkative Loon: In her final scenes, she is reduced to rambling vaguely prophetic-sounding nonsense.
  • Temporary Love Interest: Likely a case of an Unbuilt Trope. Her relationship with Hamlet fits the requirements, but her departure from the story is very significant.

Laertes

  • Anti-Villain: While he sides with Claudius in conspiring to poison Hamlet, his motivations in doing so are thoroughly understandable. His desire to avenge his father and sister is no different from Hamlet's goal of avenging the dead king.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Before leaving for France, Laertes warns his sister Ophelia from getting involved with Hamlet.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Implied in some productions.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: He is introduced in the first act and appears briefly in two scenes before departing for most of the play. He returns to play a major role in the final act.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Only when he knows he is dying does Laertes reconcile with Hamlet, absolving him of his father and sister's deaths and urging him to kill Claudius,
  • Defeat Means Friendshipnote : When it is clear that they are both dying, he and Hamlet reconcile and he reveals all of Claudius' plot. This knowledge of his impending death is the final impetus that Hamlet needs to carry out his revenge.
  • Foil: For Hamlet, who Lampshades it in the final scene. Both seek to avenge their fathers' deaths, but while Hamlet is extremely cautious to establish his uncle's guilt, Laertes almost commits regicide based on nothing but a hunch.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Killed by the same poisoned blade he uses to kill Hamlet.
  • Hot-Blooded: He re-enters the play in Act IV in a rage over the death of his father, and comes very close to killing Claudius. He later brawls with Hamlet in his sister's grave, despite having already agreed to a more formalised duel.
  • You Killed My Father: His reaction to his father's death stands in stark contrast to Hamlet's behaviour. While Hamlet's hesitation to seek revenge proves to be his undoing, Laertes is quite the opposite. After hearing that Polonius has been killed, he immediately jumps to the conclusion that Claudius is responsible. He returns to Denmark with an army of supporters, bent on committing regicide.

Polonius

  • Abusive Parents: Certain interpretations of Polonius show him as this towards Ophelia, manipulating her and keeping her emotionally stunted.
  • The Consigliere: Certain interpretations, like the Royal National Theatre's 2001 production, see him even as The Man Behind the Man regarding Claudius.
  • Famous Last Words: O, I am slain!
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: He delivers one to Laertes as his final advice before he sends him off to study. It sounds like good advice on its face, until you remember that Polonius is the source.
  • Hypocritical Humor: He claims that brevity is the soul of wit... while being one of the most talkative and least witty characters in the play.
  • Idiot Ball: For a man who claims to be so wise, every single one of his decisions ends badly for him. Driving a wedge between Ophelia and Hamlet drives the former insane and the latter off the deep end, the advice he gives to Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet's madness goes completely awry, and his final attempt to spy on Hamlet gets him killed.
  • Lack of Empathy: He may try to look like he has empathy, but would anyone who has empathy try and test if a relationship is real by making his daughter pretend to dump the guy?
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Abides by this philosophy regarding Hamlet and Ophelia.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: One interpretation of his character is that he's much smarter than he appears, but plays the part of the fool in order to stay in the good graces of the king and hide his devious social climbing.
  • Old Windbag: He'll go on and on with sententious displays of his "wisdom" to anyone who will listen. Hamlet calls him a "Tedious old fool."
  • Overprotective Dad: To both of his children. He sends a spy to monitor Laertes while he studies in Paris, and drives himself between Ophelia and her love Hamlet.
  • Purple Prose: His standard manner of speaking, played for laughs with the advice given to his son, as well as the trope naming line for Brevity Is Wit.
  • Sleazy Politician: Ostensibly, he's the King's chief counselor, but he's really just a sycophant willing to scheme and connive to maintain his status.
  • Upper-Class Twit: One interpretation is that he's a parody of the Renaissance novus homus: an over-educated commoner living the good life because he's impressed enough nobles.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Seems to think he's in a Star-Crossed Lovers play rather than a revenge tragedy.

Gertrude

  • Berserk Button: Fairly meek and submissive for most of the play but insulting or threatening Claudius will make her go Incredible Hulk on your ass. "Oh this is counter you false, Danish dogs!"
  • Christmas Cake: When an actress is past her prime, she is said to be "playing Gertrude" (ie: rather than Ophelia).
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Hamlet is deeply shocked that she marries her former brother-in-law so soon after her husband's death.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Some interpretations hold that she knowingly drinks the poisoned drink intended to kill her son.
  • Parent with New Paramour: She marries Claudius after the elder Hamlet's death. Whether or not she was complicit in the murder varies depending on interpretation.

Fortinbras

Horatio

  • Good Night, Sweet Prince: Says these words upon Hamlet's death, thereby serving as the Trope Namer.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: He and Hamlet seem quite close, to the point of Horatio being willing to commit suicide upon Hamlet's death (effectively forsaking his own salvation). Horatio is the only person Hamlet truly trusts enough to impart his plans to him, the only one who doesn't betray him in some fashion. Some productions do add a homoerotic element to their relationship (or, in one case, they cast Horatio as a woman in love with Hamlet).
  • Informed Ability: Horatio is called in to confirm or deny the apparition of King Hamlet supposedly because he is a scholar. However, he never demonstrates that he's any smarter or more educated than Hamlet or Laertes.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Hamlet commands him to keep his memory alive after he is dead, and it is implied that Horatio becomes the narrator of the story.
  • Morality Pet: Probably the only person Hamlet is consistently nice to.
  • Odd Friendship: Him and Hamlet.
  • Only Sane Man: That's probably why he's the only main character alive at the end.
  • Secret Keeper: Swore an oath with Hamlet concerning the Ghost of Old Hamlet.
  • Together in Death: Attempted at the end, but a dying Hamlet stops him.
  • Undying Loyalty: To Hamlet.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Characters/Hamlet