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Headscratchers: Hamlet
  • Judging from her description of Ophelia's demise, we could safely assume that Queen Gertrude was there to witness it. So why didn't she do anything to help Ophelia instead of just watching her drown? (Besides the fact that the Plot Demands It)
    • My guess: she didn't see it. Ophelia's body was found after the fact, and Gertrude made up that story to cover up her (likely) suicide.
    • Very likely Gertrude discovered Ophelia after a MUCH more gruesome suicide and is just prettying up the story for the benefit of the victim's Brother.
    • On the other hand, Gertrude was probably in on her husband's murder, so we're not exactly talking about someone who's a paragon of morality. Maybe she didn't think Ophelia's life was worth her (Gertrude) getting dirty. Or maybe she just killed her outright, considering it an embarrassment to have someone so crazy running around the court.
    • Noblewomen of the era wore a gazillion pounds of clothes, not all of which were removable without help, and weren't likely to know how to swim. There may not have been much Gertrude could have done.
    • Grab a really long stick, reach out and yell for Ophelia to grab hold of it so she could pull her out? Of course, that's assuming she could get to Ophelia in time before the latter threw herself into the water.
    • Or she could have seen and heard her fall in from a high story window or something, and only gotten there after Ophelia was drowned.
    • She could have also heard the story of her death second hand.
    • Here's something for you: Gertrude didn't WANT Ophelia marrying Hamlet (Paging Oedipus Rex...) and let her die.
      • Except that Gertrude actually tells Ophelia that she hopes that Hamlet's weird behavior is because he's in love with her (Ophelia) and says at Ophelia's funeral "I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife". It's possible she was lying in both cases, but there's really no evidence for or against it and Gertrude never shows any dislike towards Ophelia any other times.
    • Perhaps Gertrude knows about Ophelia's (hinted) pregnancy, and believes suicide IS the poor girl's only option - her father's dead, she's crazy, the father of her baby won't have anything to do with her (and is acting pretty crazy himself), and she'll never be able to find someone who will marry such a dishonored woman.
    • I think it's supposed to be implied that she didn't see it occur, but was likely reported this by the guards when the body was discovered by someone else. As much as she likes Ophelia, I doubt she's the type to go out of her way to provide for Ophelia's well-being, including going out there herself to find the girl.

  • I never quite understood this: Hamlet is the King's son, so presumably, when the old king died, Hamlet should have inherited the throne, become the next king instead of his uncle, and short-circuited the entire plot right there. I know now that some societies, Scandinavia included, have had different succession policies (one being that the brother, not the son, inherits) but this is never made clear in the play itself. Given that the audience was British (where they followed primogeniture) and mostly uneducated, I wonder why this wasn't mentioned or explained away in the dialogue.
    • I can think of three possibilities: Like you said, the brother came first in succession if the son was too young, unmarried, with no heirs. After illegally but secretly killing the king, his brother could legally take the throne.
    • A villain not above killing his brother is also not above cheating his nephew out of the throne, either by marrying his mother the queen (thereby outranking the prince) or by pulling the old act-as-temporary-regent-for-the-younger-inexperienced-heir-with-no-plans-to-turn-over-power strategy (that's how Miraz did it, anyway).
    • He planned to secure that loophole by killing the prince, but Gertrude (as has been suspected) was an accomplice and was okay with her husband's murder but not her son's.
    • Above troper answered it - By marrying Hamlet's mother the queen, Claudius becomes Hamlet's father (uncle-daddy, ew) and therefore becomes the reigning king. The fact that he was the dead king's brother instead of Gertrude's brother makes this possible, because Gertrude herself isn't in the line of succession. Plus, at the time of the old king's death, Hamlet was not in Denmark, and Claudius was able to take the throne with little to no argument.
      • That would fit Hamlet's irritation at the speed of the marriage, almost as much as with the marriage itself — by the time he got back to Denmark, the fix was in.
    • In Claudius's first speech (Act I Scene 2) as he addresses the courtiers, he says, "Nor have we herein barred your better wisdoms, which have freely gone with this affair along. For all, our thanks." This suggests that the most important nobles either backed his claim to the throne or didn't protest when he leaped onto the throne. Since he has the top dogs on his side, Hamlet didn't stand a chance.
    • Simple Answer: Denmark was an elected Monarchy during the period the play is set in. Claudius marrying Gertrude may have been as much a power play as a love affair (Gertrude probably wielded a lot of influence in the court). Hamlet probably expected to become king, but he was out of the country when his father died, so that didn't happen. Another reason for him to be incredibly pissed at his mom!
      • Supporting evidence for above answer is Act five, scene two, line sixty-five. "...Popped in between th' election and my hopes," The Signet Classics edition even has a footnote about Denmark's elective monarchy.
      • Dover Wilson, in his introduction to his edition of the play, points out that if Shakespeare intended his Denmark to be elective in the modern sense of the word, he would have said so before the last scene. He clearly intended Claudius to be interpreted as a usurper — as indeed the early critics, such as Samuel Johnson, universally did.
    • In Gertrude and Claudius, John Updike explains this away by having Gertrude be the Princess of Denmark and Hamlet I gain the throne by marrying her. Much like, say, Elizabeth II will be Queen and not Queen Mother for as long as she lives, the King is whoever is married to Gertrude until Gertrude dies.
    • The title is "Royal Consort". Prince Phillip/Claudius is technically the King, yet Eliazabeth/Gertrude is the one with all the (symbolic) power.
      • I don't think that term was in use yet - had Elizabeth I married, her husband would have been the King of England, and she would have lost all power.
      • Specifically in this case it would be 'Prince Consort', and it wasn't well-established yet exactly what his position was- it varied from country to country, and from queen to queen, whether a woman could inherit the crown at all, whether the kingdom came under the same rules as any other marital property at the time (surmised as 'husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband'), and whether a ruling queen still deferred to her husband. England had had a married ruling queen by now (Elizabeth's sister, Mary I), but it was a rocky time politically and anxiety about this was probably the reason Elizabeth I never married. (About 100 years later, their distant cousin Mary II was still little more than the means by which her husband William III drew authority.)
    • Also remember that Hamlet was out of the country when his father died, meaning that in the time it took him to get the news and return there would have been no head of state, and that kind of power vacuum invited all sorts of trouble in a medieval state. It may have been that installing Claudius as king, even on shaky terms, was less dangerous than leaving the throne empty for an indeterminate period of time and inviting power plays that could lead to war.

  • Is Hamlet really thirty years old?
    • Hamlet is as old as the actor portraying him. I've heard it suggested that the Gravedigger's "thirty years" line was a later addition. If you take that line out, the scene still makes sense: Hamlet was born the day Elder Hamlet defeated Elder Fortinbras on the ice, thus kicking off the rivalry that ends the story. Hamlet actually works better played in his late teens to early twenties, and the earlier dialogue makes more sense that way.
    • Just look at the way the character is written! He's the most angsty, hormonal, impulsive teenager in literature! Plus, he's still in school, and the Elizabethan 30 was probably the modern 60.
      • Not exactly. In 1600 life expectancy was average of 47 years, with only 10% of the population living past 60. Keep in mind the high infant and child mortality rate and pervasive illness that would skew the data. It was rare to life to old age. The aging scale wasn't shifted to cover a smaller space, the end was just lopped off. Age of majority was twenty-one, average age of marriage was around twenty-seven, Shakespeare himself didn't start publishing until near thirty, and Kit Marlowe's murder at the age of twenty-nine was a sadly premature death. As a very upper class citizen, Hamlet could be expected to live well past 48, even making into that 10% who live past sixty. Just look at Her Majesty, reigning for fifty-five years and dying at the age of sixty-nine.
      • And Hamlet is royalty, with access to the best medical care of the time and no need to do perilous or health damaging work. He would live far longer than the average chump.
      • I take offense to that jaunt against teenagers.
      • All our delineation of maturity vs. adolescence comes from modern experience. Remember that a prince is typically pampered and yessed perpetually, his whims indulged; the grounding disappointments that tend to mature normal youths lacking, he could easily behave as described at 30, 40, or even 50.
      • Then how do you explain Marianne Dashwood's classic egocentric adolescent drama queen behavior in Sense and Sensibility (published in 1811)?
      • By his short monologue on Yorrick (with his death being however long ago) he is either in his late teens or early twenties. Also consider that going to a University would still be considered "going to school," so he could have been in college. That seems more likely as a prince would more likely have a personal tutor than go to a public school.
      • Hamlet definitely isn't a young teen. A young teen wouldn't have a great chance in a swordfight. (And while we're at it, the fact that he isn't too bad in the fight doesn't sound very Emo Teen-like.) Maybe he's a late bloomer.
    • This troper heard the theory that Shakespeare originally wrote Hamlet to be a teenager/young adult, but aged him up so that a certain actor could play the part.
      • Richard Burbage, probably.
      • To elaborate, the play was written sometimes between 1599 and 1602, Burbage was born in 1568, so he would be in his thirties when he played Hamlet.

  • Why does everyone say/assume that Gertrude was in on King Hamlet's death? I've read the play, and I didn't see any convincing evidence that incriminated her in the crime. In fact, the ghost of the king specifically tells Prince Hamlet not to bug his mom and leave her in peace. As the person who got murdered, I'd think he know who was responsible for his own death. I mean, he was asleep at the time, so he shouldn't even know who was his killer. The fact that he does know who his murderer is might imply that he found out as a ghost, and thus knows as a fact who his killer is.
    • It's Hamlet's suspicions that Gertrude married a bit too early that makes people suspect she was in on it. Arguably, Hamlet's confrontation with her in the bedroom is his attempt to figure out how much she knows about the murder.
    • I think the queen in Hamlet's "mouse trap" was in on the plan.
    • No, in The Mouse Trap, the queen was shown to be affectionate to the king, but then immediately runs to the killer's arms when she finds him dead. The main issue with Gertrude was that she remarried far too quickly, and thus Hamlet's play reflected that.
    • Also, everyone doesn't assume that Gertrude was in on King Hamlet's death. At least, if you're talking about common opinions of Shakespearian scholars, directors, etc. It always seems to be quite contested.
    • It's possible that Gertrude was merely being an opportunist. If she did not marry Claudius, she would lose her seat as queen. Marriage in those days, especially among royalty, was oftentimes for political reasons rather than romantic ones.
    • To the OP: I believe that idea was quite common, at least, among Victorian scholars — because Queen Gertrude did marry quickly, and she apparently did enjoy a good time. And obviously a woman who enjoys sex and remarries quickly is a fallen, depraved whore who would have no qualms about being an accomplice in her husband's murder.
    • If Gertrude had something to do with the death of her husband, then why does Hamlet Sr. tell his son to essentially let God deal with her? He certainly had no qualms about his son killing his uncle.

  • Hamlet refers to death as "That undiscovered country from whose bourne / No traveler returns", after speaking to the ghost of his dead father.
    • Actually, the Ghost comes from Purgatory (Denmark being Catholic makes no sense, I know), whereas Hamlet is talking about heaven and hell. He presumes he won't go to purgatory (despite his revenging ways being against God's will, revenge being his prerogative in Catholicism.)
    • Actually, Denmark being Catholic would have made sense at one point. The problem is that in other scenes Hamlet shows that he's Protestant, which makes no sense at all. If there was a real Hamlet he would have lived in the late 11th century, and would have been either a pagan or a Catholic.
    • Or both. In the middle ages, many people outside of clergy had different kinds of "mixed believes", including both Catholic and pagan elements.
    • Give it a rest. The play had Denmark bordering Poland, for Christ sake! It's not supposed to be accurate! Besides, England had a lot of anti-Catholic sentiments until the 19th century. This is a case of Artistic License to make a fucking point.
      • That excuse would work a lot better if the play weren't full of errors like this.
      • To be fair, this is an era when actual details of Geography, history, culture, internal politics etc. from other countries are usually very garbled. That can account for a lot.
      • To be even fairer, there was a point when Denmark bordered Poland:
    • At this point in the play, Hamlet knows it's possible the Ghost could be a) an evil spirit impersonating his father, which would indicate a supernatural world but not necessarily life after death, b) some kind of crazy hallucination (though Horatio and the watchmen could also see him, but of course maybe Hamlet imagined that as well), or c) like the most elaborate prank ever. He doesn't fully believe the ghost's story until after he puts on the play, thus independently corroborating the Ghost's story. After that he talks about Purgatory like a sure thing, and is completely sure the Ghost is real, even when he (the Ghost) is visible only to Hamlet and not to Gertrude. Or, you know, it's a plot hole.
      • I was taught that one of the major themes of the play was the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism... Something very relevant to Elizabethan society, who had just survived Henry VIII's creating a new church, Edward's hounding of Catholics, Mary's hounding of Protestants, and Elizabeths desperate attempts to get the fighting to stop. If Catholicism is true, it's possible his father IS stuck in Purgatory, and might return to give a message to his son. If Protestantism is true, there's no such thing as Purgatory, his father is already in Heaven or Hell, and this is either a hallucination or a devil taking his father's form to get Hamlet to commit a mortal sin.
  • It just bugs me that almost every analysis of Hamlet points it out as a major blunder of Hamlet that he did not kill his uncle when he had the chance to do so (that is, when Claudius is praying alone in the church).
    I always thought the explanation for Hamlet's decision not to kill Claudius at that point is that Hamlet is concerned about what the public will think about such a deed. It is an important plot point that Hamlet has no proof for Claudius murdering his father, not even a good argument for this accusation. That a ghost told it to him would probably not suffice to convince anybody, rather be taken as further evidence of Hamlet's insanity. If he really had killed Claudius at that point, he would have technically fulfilled his revenge, but also likely ended up either as a lunatic in an asylum, for killing his own uncle – attacked him from behind, defiled sacred ground with a sacrilegious murder, while the unsuspecting, defenceless victim was piously praying! How horrible! – or as a power-hungry back-stabbing prince that murdered his royal uncle out of base desire to be king himself (what Claudius basically did, but nobody knows). The problem that Hamlet faces is that it is not enough that he himself knows killing Claudius is justified (Claudius’ reaction at the play has only eliminated Hamlet's own doubts, not proven him guilty to the public), he also must convince the courtiers and the people that he is right. And besides, that he in fact is fit to be king after Claudius (Claudius has convinced the nobles Hamlet isn't, and besides, meanwhile everyone thinks him crazy).
    I think it is one of the themes explored in Hamlet that in a certain way, we are what people think we are. Killing Claudius essentially would profit Hamlet nothing, as long as people still think that Claudius is innocent, and that Hamlet is a madman, and too immature and wimpy ("melancholic") to be king to begin with. What Hamlet really wants is to reveal Claudius (or for Claudius to reveal himself) as a murderer and as a lying, dishonest bastard that never was a worthy king above that. Which he does achieve in the end, but ironically only after he is already lethally poisoned.
    • A main reason Hamlet doesn't kill him while he's praying is because he believes it will send him (Claudius) to heaven.
    • Well, the idea is that Hamlet is just making excuses for himself. The thought that he would send Claudius to heaven is laughable; the man is guilty of fratricide and has made no reparation for it. If Hamlet is concerned about perception, he's doing it wrong: the point is revenge, not usurpation. In othe words, he either chickened out for faulty reasons or stayed his hand for self-serving ones. Neither reflects well on him.
      • I wouldn't go that far. Hamlet DID catch Claudius while he was in confession, and he couldn't hear what Claudius was saying. The play also mentions the fact that his father is either in Purgatory or Hell, but most certainly not in Heaven. If Hamlet had struck and Claudius HAD been confessing to his sins (Claudius wasn't, but Hamlet didn't know that), Hamlet would've sent Claudius to Heaven, and his father would still be in Hell or Purgatory. So Hamlet decided instead to wait until Claudius had done some sin or moral error and then kill him, to make sure that didn't happen.
  • Shortly after finding his father's ghost, Hamlet apparently decided to pretend to be insane so that no one would suspect what he was up to, which could account for the strange behavior Ophelia reported as well as the "To Be or Not To Be" speech. It's possible that he actually goes insane somewhere in there, perhaps after learning that his uncle did commit the murder, but it's uncertain. Really, it just seemed to this troper more like Hamlet was an idiot (there was no need for him to pretend to be crazy and it just started all of the trouble anyway).
    • From what I understand, Denmark in those days had a superstitious dread of killing the insane. Hamlet going about trying to establish his father's killer would buy him more time, especially if Claudius caught wind of what Hamlet was up to. That's why Claudius sent him to England, where there was no such superstition.
    • In the early 1540s, about a generation before Shakespeare was born, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, was arrested along with Katherine Howard for the queen's infidelities. She had a nervous breakdown and was declared insane, and that meant they legally could not put her on trial with Katherine. The king had to pass a new law to allow insane people to be executed for high treason. Shakespeare likely knew about this and may have even had it in the back of his mind.
  • What exactly was the point of the antic disposition? What did it accomplish other than raise Claudius' suspicions? What was Hamlet's plan for acting crazy?
    • See above. Also, acting crazy meant he could do whatever he wanted and people would just say, "oh, he's crazy" instead of "what is he up to?"
      • The original story Hamlet was based on had Prince "Amleth" pretending to be insane in order to escape the attention of his uncle, who had murdered his (Amleth's) father and brothers in order to seize the crown.
    • Hamlet might have figured that Claudius was going to be suspicious of him no matter what, and that pretending to be mad would at least make it harder for Claudius to figure out exactly what he was up to.
    • An explanation I've seen is that he's concerned that he won't be able to hide his emotional turmoil over finding out that Claudius murdered his father, and adopts the pretense at insanity as a cover.
  • So . . . why exactly do people think of Hamlet as being flighty and indecisive? For fuck's sake, he's trying to decide whether or not to kill his own family based on what may or may not be a hallucination! Would you be able to do better in his place? This isn't an action movie, people, a bit of thinking about things is required in a situation like that?
    • That and he's trying to figure out how he'd cover himself should people ask him.
    Everyone else: Why did you murder the king?! Why did you barge into your mother's room and thrash her all over her bed?! Why did you murder the advisor in that same bedroom?!

    Hamlet: Because a ghost told me to!

    Everyone Else: He is either insane and should be locked up, or a criminal and should be jailed/executed!!
  • What the hell is up with the names? I'm from Denmark, and while Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be perfectly plausible names for Danish people in the Middle Ages, Claudius, Polonius and Ophelia are clearly Latin. Hamlet is plausible as well, but it wouldn't have been spelled that way. Yes, I do realize Shakespeare was from England, but couldn't he at least have done some research? I'm fairly sure he attended university.
    • Shakespeare never attended university. The most he could have got in education was from the grammar school, where standards were high. It wasn't common for middle-class men to attend university in his time.
    • It's not really down to a lack of research, just the general style of the time. People weren't really into historical or geographical accuracy in their plays, hence the clocks in Julius Caesar or the cannon in Macbeth. Plays were performed in contemporary Tudor/Stuart costume, rather than period dress. Many also held classical antiquity in high regard, which might explain the use of Greek and Roman names. Polonius in particular can potentially be Fan Wanked as a nickname based on his ancestry (it literally means "the Pole"), rather than his actual name (which might be Polish and therefore hard to pronounce for the average Dane or Englishman).
  • I realize it's been a while since I read the play, but why exactly did Hamlet kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? They were his friends and had little to nothing to do with his revenge scheme.
    • As far as Hamlet was concerned they were Claudius spies, nothing more. It can depend on the production wheter they was happy co-conspirators to Claudius or clueless well-meaners who genuinly tries to figure out why their friend has gone mad. Definetly an Kick the Dog Moment.
    • This is a left over from the Amlet myth. In that story the child Amlet is sent to England escorted by two unnamed members of the court with orders to have Amlet killed once in England. Amlet manages to use his guile to turn the tables on the two and impresses the english king enough to be married to his daughter. He then grows up to manhod in England before returning do Denmark for the final climax. Shakespeare condenced the plot by having Hamlet be an adult from the beginning and expanded the court members into Hamlets friends in order to give Hamlet someone other than Polonius to run loops around, but keeps the whole "Traveling to England, kills the dudes that is trying to kill him"-bit whitout realizing how his changes to the story screwed up those moments.
  • Is it ever explained why Fortinbras was at war with Denmark?
    • Hamlets father defeated Fortinbras father at the field of battle the same day that Hamlet was born. [Gravedigger scene] Fortinbras used Hamlet Sr's deaths as an chance to reclaim his land and to awenge his fathers death. He and Laertes are used as a foil to Hamlet, them being sons that try to awenge their fathers death.
  • Why is it Common Knowledge that Hamlet was super-sarcastic during his "What a piece of work is Man"-speech? Granted I have only watched the Branagh and Tennant versions of the play, but both times it seemed perfectly clear that Hamlet is being genuine: "Look, I recognize how awesome we people are, and yet I can't take any joy out of it since I am super depressed over my dad's death."
    • The short answer to this and a lot of the other questions on this page is that there's a lot of ambiguity and nuance in the original text of Hamlet, which is one of the things that makes it (and Shakespeare in general) so interesting to stage and watch. A ridiculous number of valid Alternate Character Interpretations exist, and different directors, actors, and commentators approach the text different ways.
    • I blame Captain Picard
"Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he might say with irony, I say with conviction: 'What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!'"


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