Theatre / Hamlet

"To be, or not to be..."

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's best known plays and certainly his most over-analyzed. It is one of the most influential works of literature ever written.

Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, whose uncle Claudius has succeeded the throne after Hamlet's own father mysteriously passed away. Hamlet receives evidence that Claudius murdered the late king to seize power, and decides to exact Revenge, covering his behavior by Obfuscating Insanity. As the play progresses, though, it becomes ambiguous as to whether Hamlet's really faking his madness. Complicating matters are the presence of a number of other characters: Ophelia, the object of Hamlet's affections; Polonius, her father and royal chancellor; Gertrude, Hamlet's mother who has now married her brother-in-law; and Claudius himself, who is well aware that Hamlet is Denmark's rightful heir note  and is scheming to remove him from the picture.

Shakespeare did not invent the story of Hamlet's quest to bring the murderer of his father to justice. The earliest surviving "record" is in the twelfth-century Gesta Danorum ("Deeds of the Danes"), by Saxo Grammaticus, wherein Hamlet — or Amleth (Amlóði) as he's called in that version — is shown as a legendary character who succeeds in destroying his uncle and becoming king, only to die in a later battle. The story was abbreviated and amended numerous times and had been presented as a play in English more than once when Shakespeare decided to tackle the story. By that time it had been changed almost beyond recognition — Hamlet's mother, who had originally been forced to marry her brother-in-law, was now an accessory to his usurpation of the throne, while Hamlet had been turned into a Christian and aged a number of years.

Even more than is usual for Shakespeare, Hamlet is filled with expressions that have become clichés; examples include "Hoist by His Own Petard," "The lady doth protest too much," "Frailty, thy name is woman," and "The play's the thing". Oh, and something about whether or not to be that was really difficult to translate into Klingon. And that's not to mention many subtler neologisms that have wormed their way into everyday English.

Notable productions include

  • c.1605 — the premiere at the Globe Theatre, London, with Richard Burbage playing the lead.
  • A two-minute 1900 film, Le Duel de Hamlet, showed the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, and may be the first filmed adaptation of the play. As this production starred Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, this means the first movie Hamlet was a Gender Flipped version.
  • The 1911-12 Moscow Art Theatre production, seeing the play as a symbolist melodrama with a very plain set.
  • Asta Nielsen made her own version in the 20s, based off of a book called "The Secret of Hamlet", where Hamlet was a Sweet Polly Oliver raised to secure her mother's position on the throne.
  • A 1948 film starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, which remains the only filmed Shakespeare to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. This is a heavily cut version (excluding such characters as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern entirely), with a murky Gothic aesthetic, and a prominent Freudian leaning (it carries Playing Gertrude to extremes—the actress playing Gertrude was eleven years younger than Olivier!)
  • A 1961 German made-for-TV production starring Maximillian Schell as Hamlet (with Ricardo Montalban dubbing Claudius into English). Schell had played the role on stage to considerable acclaim; something was obviously lost in translation. This version was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and information on that episode can be found here.
  • A 1964 Russian film directed by Grigori Kozintsev, starring Innokenty Smoktunovsky and scored by Dmitri Shostakovich. It uses Scenery Porn to "oust period stylization and express the essentials"; it's also more political than Olivier's version, probably reflecting its post-Joseph Stalin production. Despite lacking original text and being heavily truncated it was critically very well-received, but it's never been televised in the United States.
  • A 1964 BBC production filmed on-location in Elsinore, and featuring Christopher Plummer as Hamlet, Michael Caine as Horatio, Robert Shaw as Claudius, and Donald Sutherland as Fortinbras.
  • A 1980 BBC production starring Derek Jacobi and directed by Rodney Bennett. This is an almost full-text production, made as part of the BBC's complete Shakespeare series. Also notable for featuring Patrick Stewart as Claudius and Lalla Ward (Romana #2 in Doctor Who) as Ophelia.
  • A 1990 film starring Mel Gibson and directed by Franco Zefirelli. This is heavily cut and rearranged and probably even more Freudian than the Olivier version. However, Gibson was praised for playing a youthful, energetic Hamlet.
  • Another 1990 version is a filmed version of the play starring Kevin Kline, mostly notable for featuring minimal sets and modern costuming.
  • A 1996 film starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh. This is a highly lavish, cinematic full-textnote  version set in the 1800s, which includes BRIAN BLESSED (as the Ghost) and a Falling Chandelier of Doom. With Kate Winslet as Ophelia. Oh, and Robin Williams as Osric, and Billy Crystal as the gravedigger.note  It's essentially Hamlet as an Epic Movie. Not financially successful, but critically acclaimed with some even calling it the greatest onscreen adaptation of Shakespeare. Was nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (which led to a lot of jokes in theatrical circles on who technically wrote the script). This adaptation is significant among film buffs for being the last visual narrative production shot entirely on 70 millimeter film for 16 years, before the the 2012 film The Master.
  • A 2000 film directed by Michael Almereyda and starring Ethan Hawke. Claudius is the CEO of Denmark Corp., and Hamlet is a disaffected film student. The characters still use the Shakespearean text despite the Setting Update.
  • Director Gregory Doran's 2008 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company had David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius. A film version was released in 2010, and can be seen here legally for free in the United States.
  • A 2015 production at the Barbican Theatre, directed by Lyndsey Turner and starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Since Hamlet is almost always performed with cuts (Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play, and performing the whole thing usually takes almost four hours), arguably every production is an adaptation, some even switching out scenes for pacing purposes (like the 2010 version did as explained here and here. Sometimes the basic idea is what's adapted, more or less faithfully, and little or none of the original language is used.

Some notable adaptations include:

Many of the aforementioned film versions of the play, plus several others (nine total), are compared and contrasted in this neat little article.
NOTE: All spoilers will be unmarked. This play is over 400 years old at this point and is available for free just about everywhere.

Tropes include (spoilers abound!):

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief."
  • Alas, Poor Yorick: Trope Namer. Hamlet finds the skull of Yorick, the court jester, in the graveyard, prompting him to reflect on his mortality.
  • All There in the Script: Claudius is only named in the stage directions; the other characters all refer to him via sobriquets such as "the King" or "my uncle".
  • Anachronism Stew: Hamlet attends a university that was not founded until 300 years after the play was set and is a member of a religion that hadn't yet reached Denmark.
  • Anti-Hero: Hamlet. He acts rudely to many who (may) mean him no harm, kills Polonius for spying on him (though he seemed to think it was Claudius hiding and watching) and has Guildenstern and Rosencrantz - his college buddies! - sent to death (they were spying for Claudius, so this has some justification, to varying degrees).
  • Author Filibuster: Hamlet's famous lecture on properly acting a scene he'd written.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Few if any of the primary characters are indisputably virtuous.
  • Black Comedy: Can be played this way, and it's hilarious:
    • "He will stay till ye come." (Hamlet about Polonius' body)
    • Also when Hamlet quips that Polonius is at a feast, "not where he eats, but where he is eaten" (by worms). Really, Hamlet has a lot of darkly humorous lines, especially when he's faking insanity.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Hamlet's reason for staging The Murder of Gonzago.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: The earliest example:
    Polonius: The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral...
    • From Act II, Scene 2:
    Gertrude: More matter, with less art.
    Polonius: Madam, I swear I use no art at all. That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity, And pity 'tis 'tis true. A foolish figure! But farewell it, for I will use no art. Mad let us grant him then. And now remains that we find out the cause of this effect, or rather say the cause of this defect, for this effect defective comes by cause. Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.
  • Break the Cutie: Hamlet was cute (according to his friends) before he was broken by the murder of his father, which has already happened by the time we meet him.
  • Broken Bird: We don't meet Hamlet until after he has been broken, but according to his friends he used to be a generous, loving, and level-headed man. Due to his father's death and his uncle's betrayal, he is consumed by his own sadness and therefore unable to trust or show compassion to anyone. He cruelly mocks Ophelia, but he would not be this way if it hadn't been for the tragedy of his father's murder.
    • The audience gets a front row seat to Ophelia's breakdown over the course of the play, as her father uses her as a political tool, her brother jaunts off to foreign lands, her boyfriend abuses her and then murders her father, and finally Ophelia cracks.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Hamlet and Ophelia could be seen as a deconstruction. Ophelia's gentleness makes her unwilling to defy her father's orders to stop seeing Hamlet. Hamlet is so intent on his own problems that he casts Ophelia aside without a thought for how his actions will hurt her. Their respective traits mean that each one disappoints the other, right in their hour of need.
  • But Not Too Evil: Lots of people seem to ignore who says "brevity is the soul of wit" and treat it as Shakespeare's own views.
  • Cain and Abel: Claudius murders his brother prior to the beginning of the story.
  • Captain Obvious:
    • Polonius is the master of this trope. Appropriately enough, his last words are, "O! I am slain!" It has been assumed he says that due to the difficulty the audience would have had confirming the death of a character behind a curtain, but still....
    • Several minor characters in the play find themselves playing this trope as Hamlet verbally spars with them; they revert to saying inanities because they're so vastly outmatched in wit — witty though they might be compared with almost anyone in almost any other play.
  • Catch the Conscience: Trope Namer. Hamlet hires an acting troupe to perform a play about a king being murdered, with a few additions to make it more like Claudius's murder of King Hamlet, to get a reaction out of Claudius.
  • Character Filibuster: Through the character of Hamlet talking to a performer, Shakespeare tells people about his pet peeves in acting.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Although much less gory than Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the play also ends with a pile of corpses on stage.
  • Comforting the Widow: Claudius "comforts" Gertrude. It helps win him the throne. On the other hand, he does seem to genuinely love her; in the prayer scene he lists her as well as the crown as his motive for the murder.
  • Country Matters: Trope Namer.
  • Creator Cameo: It is said that Shakespeare himself provided for the role of Hamlet's father in the 1600s.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Poor Polonius should have picked a better place to hide.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Hamlet tries to talk himself into it; "To Be Or Not To Be" is an attempt that fails. It takes him maybe three acts, but he finally gets the point with "My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"
  • Darker and Edgier: Considered one of Shakespeare's darkest plays.
  • Dead Person Conversation: With the ghost of King Hamlet.
  • Deconstruction: Of the "revenge drama" in vogue at the time.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: At least between Laertes and Hamlet. Unusual in that neither has really defeated the other, as the fight results in both their deaths.
  • Democracy Is Flawed:
    Hamlet: For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
    The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
    The insolence of office...
  • Deus ex Machina: In Act IV, Hamlet is conveniently kidnapped by pirates on his way to England, who kindly return him to Denmark just in time for the play's climax.
    • However, there's several subtle points of the play that imply he may have arranged the "pirate attack" himself.
  • Dishonored Dead: As her death was likely a suicide, Ophelia's burial is rather low-key. When Laertes complains about this, the priest replies that she's only getting a cemetery plot at all on the orders of the king.
  • Double Entendre: Ubiquitous throughout the entire play. Let these guys do it instead. Scroll down to #2 .
    Hamlet: Do you think I mean country matters?
    • The 2008 RSC production made this into a Single Entendre by leaving a pause between the first and second syllables of 'country'.
    • A version, sometimes played at the Globe, is performed with the actors using the "Original Pronunciation" that would have been standard at the time of Shakespeare as well as among his audience. The newly resulting homophonies (e.g. "from hour to hour we ripe and ripe" thus sounds close to "from whore to whore we rape and rape") uncover "new" entendres that are lost in the modern idiom.
    • Thanks to the change in pronunciation and the archaic language in the play, many double entendres and sex jokes that would have caused the early 17th century playgoers to bust a gut laughing sail right over the heads of most modern viewers.
  • Double Standard: Polonius forbids his daughter to so much as spend time with Hamlet, but doesn't see much harm in spreading rumors that his son visits brothels. Ophelia doesn't buy into this, and tells her brother he'd be a hypocrite if he admonished her to be chaste and then went off and had sex himself.
  • Downer Ending: Almost every single important character in the play is dead at the end, from Hamlet to Ophelia to Hamlet's mother, in a mass suicide/manslaughter/murder spree. It's not entirely dark, though: Hamlet achieved his goal of avenging his father and getting Claudius off the throne, and while he didn't live to take the throne himself, it's going to someone he approves of (at least in productions where Fortinbras isn't left out).
  • Driven to Suicide: Hamlet himself discusses the trope: his "To be or not to be" is a long meditation the fear of death versus a life of struggling (whether it was sincere, or a ploy for the benefit of the spying King and Polonius, is up to the production). Queen Gertrude reports Ophelia's death to have been an accident, but the man who digs her grave says she shouldn't be buried in holy ground, because she drowned herself.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: "My lord, I think I saw him yesternight."
  • Due to the Dead: In the final scene of Hamlet, Fortinbras orders Hamlet be given a soldier's burial as a mark of honor.
  • Emo Teen: Hamlet, the original emo kid, is a brooding pessimist who dresses all in black and pontificates about suicide. He's also spoilt, and resents his mother for remarrying. The slight hitch occurs in the Gravedigger scene, where it's stated that Hamlet is actually 30. This means either (A) Hamlet is too old to be acting like this, adding to the theory that he is 'actually' mentally unbalanced (though that still doesn't explain how he's a University student at his age), or (B) Hamlet isn't 30 and Shakespeare made another mathematical error. Shakespeare scholars have suggested that the Gravedigger's line was thrown in at the insistence of Richard Burbage, the actor who originally played the lead role and was probably unwilling to play a teenager. Or, alternatively, Shakespeare could do maths just fine, but the gravedigger can't.
    • Alternatively, the gravedigger had it right, but later translations got it wrong. In the original spelling of the Folio text, one of the two authoritative texts for the play, the Gravedigger's answer to how long he has "been a grave-maker" reads "Why heere in Denmarke: I haue bin sixeteene heere, man and Boy thirty yeares.." "Sixteene" is usually rendered as "sexton" (a modernization of the second quarto's "sexten"), even in modern texts that take F1 as their "copy text." But modernizing the punctuation — a normal practice in modernized texts — renders "Why heere in Denmarke: I haue bin sixeteene heere—man and Boy thirty yeares." In other words, this reading suggests that he has been a grave-digger for sixteen years, but that he has lived in Denmark for thirty. According to this logic, then, it is the Grave-digger who is thirty, whereas Hamlet is only sixteen.
      • However, the teenage-Hamlet theory still doesn't explain how Hamlet can remember Yorick, who he says died twenty-three years ago.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The only major named characters who survive are Horatio and Fortinbras (who is often left out). A messenger even arrives at the very end to assure you that, yes, even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
  • Evil Uncle: Claudius.
  • Excessive Mourning: Claudius accuses Hamlet of this.
  • Famous Last Words:
    Hamlet: The rest is silence.
  • Fatal Flaw: It's widely agreed that Hamlet has onenote . There's rather less agreement on what, specifically, it is.
  • Fleeting Demographic: Determining, of all things, the setting: Shakespeare probably chose the Hamlet story as an appeal to James I's theater-loving queen — Anne of Denmark.
  • Flower Motifs: Ophelia's mad scene is one of the most famous in the Western canon.
    Ophelia: There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that's for thoughts. [...] There's fennel for you, and columbines; there's rue for you, and here's some for me; we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died.
    • Rosemary = memory
    • Pansy = thought
    • Fennel = flattery
    • Columbine = determination
    • Rue = regret
      • Notably, rue is also a powerful poison and abortifacient, which might be the way Ophelia "wears it differently."
    • Daisy = innocence
    • Violet = faithfulness
  • Foil: Hamlet has several. Most notable are Fortinbras, Horatio and Laertes. Before they fight, Hamlet (mockingly and very ironically) refers to himself as a foil to Laertes. Also a Pun, as the swords they are using are called foils.
    • Also, the player who weeps Tender Tears over Hecuba overtly inspires Hamlet to reflect on the contrast between them.
  • Forged Letter: Hamlet, escorted to England accompanied (i.e. guarded) by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, replaces the letter from Claudius instructing Hamlet's execution with one condemning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead.
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't: Hamlet is a thoughtful, academic fellow who has friends both close and distant, and a developing romance with a girl who has even stronger feelings for him. Unfortunately, his uncle turns out to have murdered his father and married his mother. Everything goes downhill from there, as Hamlet turns into a ruthless avenger despite himself.
  • Gender Scoff: "Frailty, thy name is woman!"
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Trope Namer. The play contains several double entendres that go over the heads of modern audiences; among the best known are the "nunnery" and the "fishmonger" (slang for a brothel and a pimp, respectively), from the scene where Polonius tries to manipulate Hamlet through Ophelia.
  • Give My Regards in the Next World: In Act IV, Scene 3 when King Claudius is looking for Polonius' body:
    Claudius: Where is Polonius?
    Hamlet: In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him in the other place yourself.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: Fortinbras's entrance is somewhere between this and Deus ex Machina.
  • Good Night, Sweet Prince: Trope Namer. The phrase originates in Horatio's farewell to the dying Hamlet in the final act.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: The actual reveal happens before the play starts, so the story is about the fallout from this trope.
  • Hero of Another Story: Fortinbras, who has his own revenge plot (directed against Hamlet's father/the Danes), and whose movements are referenced throughout the play, although he only appears in person at the end, wherein his revenge completely succeeds and he conquers Denmark (aided by almost everyone else being dead).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Trope Namer.
    • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern deliver their own death warrant, not realising that Hamlet altered the document before his escape by replacing his name with theirs. Hamlet remarks:
      'tis the sport to have the engineer
      Hoist with his own petard
    • Claudius and Laertes are killed by their own poison.
      Laertes: Why, as a woodcock to mine own springe, Osric,
      I am justly killed with mine own treachery.
  • Hot-Blooded: Played straight with Laertes on Ophelia's death, and with Fortinbras who goes to war over a valueless piece of land. Hamlet himself subverts this, claiming to admire these characters but never taking the initiative himself and passing up chances to kill his target. In something of a contradiction he castigates himself for own his lack of passion ("I am pidgeon livered and lack gall") while praising Horatio for it ("Give me the man who is not passion's slave and I will wear him in my heart's core").
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: Polonius.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The whole play.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Polonius. For example, he gives the well-known line "brevity is the soul of wit" — at the end of a very long-winded speech — but he is one of the least brief and least witty talkers around. He proceeds to give plenty of other advice that he also doesn't follow. Later, he complains that the Player King's speech is too long.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Claudius comes to realize what evil he's done, but keeps right on being evil.
    Claudius: My words fly up: my thoughts remain below.
    Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
  • Incest Is Relative: Hamlet is very squicked at the idea of his mother and his uncle doing the nasty.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Ophelia and Laertes, brother and sister, admonish each other to remain chaste. They probably don't mean to get as graphic as they do. Ophelia's going to keep her lock to herself, not open up her chaste treasure to Hamlet's unmastered importunity, while Laertes will keep his key to himself.
  • Irony: In a Long List to Ophelia about all the things he hates about women, Hamlet says he dislikes women pretending not to know things in front of men. Ophelia often has to resort to pretending to know nothing to try and pacify Hamlet or in an attempt to avoid further humiliation such as in Act 3, Scene 2 where he makes crude jokes in front of the whole court. Ashamed, Ophelia says, "I think nothing" which instead fuels more lewd comments ("nothing" was an Elizabethan euphemism for genitalia). The irony appears lost on Hamlet.
  • It's All About Me: When Hamlet comes across Laertes burying Ophelia, his beloved sister, how does he react? He claims that he loved Ophelia far more than her brother did, and no woe can possibly equal his.
  • Karma Houdini: Discussed when Hamlet considers murdering Claudius while Claudius is praying, which Hamlet worries would send him (Claudius) to Heaven. Subverted when, after Hamlet departs, Claudius reveals that he was not actually praying ("Words without thoughts never to Heaven go"), so Hamlet's hesitation was moot.
  • Karmic Death: Ophelia and King Hamlet didn't suffer this. Everyone else who died — i.e., almost the entire cast — did, in one way or another.
  • Kickthe Dog: Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia, with all the Double Entendre slang and then having the balls to ask to put his head in her lap, and to accuse her of being a spy for her father. Lampshaded by Claudius when he says that, contrary to Polonius's belief that Hamlet may be lovesick to Ophelia, he seems to be "melancholy" instead.
  • Kill 'em All: The play has become famous for killing off all the major characters except Horatio, even though it was a standard trope in tragedy at the time.
  • Kill Him Already!: A major part of the premise.
  • Kill the Cutie: Ophelia.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: During Act 3, Hamlet says "my father died within these two hours". This at first seems like an accident, but how long has the play been going on at this point?
    • Also, virtually everything to do with the Players.
  • Local Reference: The gravedigger says that Hamlet has been sent to England to cure his madness, and if it doesn't work nobody will notice since everyone there is mad anyway.
  • Love Hurts: It also kills.
  • The Low Middle Ages: Technically set in this era.
  • Make Up Is Evil: One charge he brings against Ophelia
    Hamlet: I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.
  • Malaproper: The First Gravedigger, though unfortunately his slips (like saying "argal" when he means "ergo") can be very easy to miss given all the formal language surrounding them.
  • Malicious Slander: "Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny."
  • Man Child: Hamlet is apparently 30, if the gravedigger scene is any indication, but continues to live with his parents, has not found a wife, does not possess a castle or any other feudal fief, and in general has not accomplished anything one would expect of a college-educated nobleman. (Many, though not necessarily all, scholars think that he's actually in his late teens or maybe early twenties.)
  • The Masochism Tango: Hamlet's terrible treatment of Ophelia.
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    Polonius: What are you reading?
    Hamlet: Words, words, words.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Hamlet and Polonius are obsessed with words and the craft of writing, and Hamlet has a LOT of opinions about the right and wrong way to act.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hamlet on witnessing Ophelia's funeral, and he only admits that he loves her after Laertes demands to be buried with his sister.
  • Mythology Gag: After seeing King Hamlet's ghost, Horatio remarks that similarly strange things happened in the days leading up to Julius Caesar's assassination.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: "What a piece of work is man ... and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me."
  • No, You: When Gertrude lectures her son.
    Queen Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
    Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Hamlet fakes insanity. Or hell, maybe he is actually insane. Or possibly he's faking insanity and is actually insane.
  • Old Windbag: Polonius
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Horatio is a scholar, so of course he knows how to speak to a ghost. Except it doesn't work. The ghost may be offended.
  • Over Protective Dad: Polonius again.
  • The Ophelia: Trope Namer. Ophelia becomes the Ophelia after going mad in Act IV — after her boyfriend stabs her dad through a curtain, her sanity quickly decays. Her brother, Laertes, returns to Elsinore from Paris in a rush, but by the time he gets there, Ophelia doesn't even recognize him. Her famous "mad scene" consists of singing filthy, bawdy songs that are out of place with her demure mien, strewing flowers, and sobbing over her father's death. The Queen later reports Ophelia drowned, saying she was collecting flowers by the riverbank and was so distracted she didn't even recognize the danger when she fell in and sank, but kept singing. Her gravediggers darkly assert she was Driven to Suicide, and is now damned.
  • Parent with New Paramour: A big source of Hamlet's angst.
  • Parting Words Regret: Hamlet at Ophelia's funeral, after spending most of the play tormenting her and implying she was a slut. It's only after Laertes jumps into his sister's grave that Hamlet declares his love for Ophelia, when she's dead and unable to hear him.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: If a character says something to another that outwardly appears thoughtful, compassionate, and constructive, chances are that it's actually insulting, emasculating, and harmful when you read between the lines. Especially prevalent in Hamlet's lines to Polonius:
    Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
    Hamlet: Slanders, sir, for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams.note 
  • Pet the Dog: Claudius prays and confesses his sins, unaware that Hamlet is watching him. He also states that it will not be enough to absolve him as he still benefits from his sins. Though some adaptations seem to imply that Claudius knows that Hamlet is listening and prays because he knows that Hamlet will not kill him while he is confessed because that means he will go to heaven.
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: Claudius famously sends Hamlet off to England with a message (and with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to watch him.) The message directs the English to kill the person holding it. Hamlet manages to escape, and gives them the message to deliver instead.
  • Posthumous Character: King Hamlet, whose murder by his brother prior to the beginning sets the story in motion.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Hamlet, when he finally kills Claudius after hearing that his sword was poisoned.
    Hamlet: The point!—envenom'd too! Then, venom, to thy work. [stabs Claudius]
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: When asked about the fact that he knowingly sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, Hamlet replies that they are "not near his conscience".
  • Pungeon Master: Hamlet
  • Rasputinian Death: Claudius. Although it's likely Hamlet's determination to make sure he's dead.
  • Remarried to the Mistress: Gertrude's marriage to Claudius is implied to have been this, since it's suggested the two were having an affair.
  • Revenge: Hamlet was written in the tradition of the revenge tragedies that were popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The final scene sees most of the cast dead with almost farcical suddenness.
  • Royal "We": Claudius uses this with abandon— though not, notably, during his soliloquy in the church ("Oh, my offense is rank...").
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    Polonius: Your noble son is mad, mad call I it; for to define true madness, what is't but to be nothing else but mad?
  • Show Within a Show: The Murder of Gonzago. (for Catch the Conscience.)
  • Sibling Triangle: Claudius murders his brother and marries his brother's wife. Interpretations vary as to how complicit Gertrude is in the plot.
  • Sketchy Successor: The late King Hamlet is considered a ruler among rulers. King Claudius assassinated him to get the job and spends his reign doing nothing but trying to keep people from becoming suspicious. Also inverted at the end of Hamlet, after everyone has died. The Danish crown is passed down to King Fortinbras, monarch of Norway. Throughout the story, it is mentioned that Denmark and Norway are having conflicts, but by the end, the entire Danish royal family is dead and Fortinbras is implied to be an improvement over Claudius.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: Hamlet's father was murdered during his afternoon nap.
  • Sleazy Politician: Polonius in certain interpretations, also Claudius, who quickly turns the rebellious Laertes to his side.
  • Slut-Shaming: What Hamlet does to Ophelia with his Double Entendre words, and implying to Polonious that she is pregnant.
  • 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 (" lisp, you nickname God's creatures...") a second, literal meaning.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion:
    Hamlet: For thou dost know, O Damon dear,
    This realm dismantled was
    Of Jove himself; and now reigns here
    A very, very — peacock.
    Horatio: You might have rhymed.note 
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: Hamlet has "been in continual practise" at fencing since Laertes went to France. Really? Because not a single word was uttered about that until Act V, Scene II. Kenneth Branagh's film version actually has Hamlet practicing continually.
  • Suicide by Sea: Ophelia drowns herself in a river. Or she was really just so insane she didn't even think to save herself from drowning after falling into the water while hanging garlands from a tree. It's not an unpopular theory that Gertrude murdered Ophelia after learning she knows too much (that or she was Mercy Killing her). The 2010/2011 London production at the National Theatre heavily implied this was the case.
    • Another interpretation is that, in her madness, Ophelia simply fell and, being nobility, didn't know how to swim. Ophelia is often depicted wearing a dress and well... just try swimming in that.
  • Suicide Is Shameful:
    • The play's subplot involves deciding whether Ophelia drowned herself on purpose or not. If it were to be determined a suicide, she would have not gotten her burial rights, which according to the belief of the characters, would have denied her soul entry to heaven.
    • Hamlet's famous "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy is about how he would kill himself if he weren't afraid it would damn his soul.
  • Surrogate Soliloquy: The Alas, Poor Yorick bit.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Osric can very easily be argued to be this to Polonius.
  • Sword Fight: Hamlet vs. Laertes.
  • Take That, Audience!: The First Gravedigger casually insults England, saying that everyone there is mad.
  • Talkative Loon: Hamlet (feigned), Ophelia (real).
  • Tender Tears: A player, over Hecuba.
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: In a surreal touch, this scene is often set indoors, far from any windows.
  • Those Two Guys: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
  • Together in Death:
  • Tomato Surprise: During the duel with Laertes, Gertrude casually mentions that Hamlet is "fat and scant of breath". This fact seemingly justifies the whole deal with everyone assuming fight will immediately make him thirsty. Authenticity of this line is fiercely challenged by many Shakespearean scholars, who argue it's supposed to read "hot", not "fat"; or that "fat" is Shakespeare using an archaic regional term for "sweaty".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Hey, Polonius. Maybe it's not a good idea to hide behind the curtains while spying on Hamlet. *stab* Never mind.
  • Tragedy: One of William Shakespeare's four major tragedies.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: After blowing his first chance to kill Claudius, Hamlet strikes out blindly at a shape in the curtains he thinks is Claudius. This turns out to be Polonius, who is the father of the woman Hamlet loves, which sends everything straight to hell for him.
  • Tragic Hero
  • 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.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Polonius. Osric.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Reynaldo is an agent of Polonius's sent to both spy on and ruin the reputation of Laertes when the latter leaves for France. Whatever actual impact Reynaldo has on anything is never touched on, and he hasn't returned to Denmark by the end of the play.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After Hamlet kills Polonius.
    Gertrude: O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: The ghost of Hamlet's father appears to him shortly after midnight. It had previously appeared to other people at about that time as well.
  • Windbag Politician: Polonius is prone to being long winded. Lampshaded when he says "Brevity is the soul of wit," at the end of one of his rambling speeches.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math:
    • Hamlet is at least 27 if his memory of Yorick is to be believed, but he was studying at Wittenberg University when his father died. In Shakespeare's time, most university students were teenagers. People seem to forget this when insisting that Hamlet must be thirty years old. There is a theory that Shakespeare originally wrote for Hamlet to be in his teens, but somewhere towards the end decided to age him up so a specific actor could play the part.
    • Dawn comes, by Horatio's count, one hundred seconds after midnight.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Polonius seems to think that Hamlet's affliction is entirely because he and Ophelia are Star-Crossed Lovers. His actions (instructing Ophelia to shun Hamlet's affections) only exacerbate the problems at court— not that he realizes this.
    Polonius: Hath there been such a time, I would fain know that, that I have positively said "'Tis so", when it prov'd otherwise?
    Claudius: Not that I know of.
  • You Killed My Father: The main plot. Also, the reason Laertes kills Hamlet and possibly why Fortinbras wants to invade Denmark.

The Play Within A Play contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Karma Houdini: Lucianus, unless his comeuppance was left out of the dumb-show and occurred after the play is stopped.
  • Stylistic Suck: A spoileriffic dumb show followed by a series of tedious heroic couplets. This may be Hamlet's fault, since he rewrote bits of it, and was more concerned with trying to Catch the Conscience of Claudius than with coming up with a truly decent play.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Before the play properly starts, three clowns come out and act out almost the entire plot. Many modern productions omit this part, since you're not supposed to spoil The Mousetrap.

Particular productions or adaptations also provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Certain interpretations of Polonius show him as this towards Ophelia, manipulating her and keeping her emotionally stunted.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Gregory Doran's 2008 production made this with Osric, having him present in all the court scenes, giving magnificent "Bitch, please!" Eye Take over what is happening around him, elevating him from a One-Scene Wonder to a Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • Alternate History: The Klingon version, wherein Earth has owed tribute to Qo'noS.
  • Anachronism Stew: In-universe, in the Klingon version.
  • Camp Gay: Osric in Gregory Doran's 2008 production.
  • Captain Obvious: In the 1990 film version, Mel Gibson interprets the following line in this way to turn the tables on Polonius (Ian Holm):
    Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
    Hamlet: [looks down at his book] Words... [looks at the cover of the book] words... [looks up at Polonius] Words.
  • Dead Guy Puppet: It's not quite explicit in the text, but the graveyard scene can be very naturally played this way.
  • Death by Adaptation: The Branagh version goes above and beyond the call of duty by adding Osric and all of the named palace guards to the fatalities in the final scene.
  • Does Not Like Shoes:
    • In many adaptations — theatrical productions, films, paintings, etc. — Ophelia is barefoot during the mad scene.
    • The RSC film has Tennant's Hamlet barefoot in most of the indoor scenes.
  • Gender Flip: While not exactly common, there is a recurring trend of recasting characters as the opposite sex in modern productions:
    • Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress of her time, played Hamlet in an 1899 production (and was the first to portray him on film in Le Duel de Hamlet.)
    • The 2000 film version, starring Ethan Hawke, not only changes the character of Marcellus to a girl, but also gives her a romantic relationship with Horatio. At the end of the play, the two of them are shown sharing an apartment and sleeping in the same bed.
    • Alexander Fodor's 2007 arthouse film adaptation featured a female Horatio and "Polonia".
    • The 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production converts minor character Cornelius to Cornelia.
  • Held Gaze: The "long distance love-scene" from Laurence Olivier's film version, where Hamlet and Ophelia hold each others' gaze from opposite ends of a corridor.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • In the 1990 and 1996 film adaptations, Laertes explicitly breaks the rules of the dueling conduct to wound and poison Hamlet.
    • Productions vary on how much effort Claudius puts into preventing Gertrude from drinking from the cup of wine he poisoned for Hamlet; in some, he only tells her to not drink from it (which she does anyway) but makes no move to stop her — despite earlier claiming that he really does love her. This differs by production. Derek Jacobi in Branagh's film version is visibly shaken at not being able to stop her from drinking.
  • Not My Driver: In the Almereyda/Hawke film, the scene where Hamlet intends to kill his uncle Claudius is played this way — Hamlet replaces the chauffeur. Claudius gives his Ignored Epiphany soliloquy in the backseat of his limo.
  • Race Lift: Modern versions will usually find a traditionally white character to cast as a different race, in order to diversify the cast.
    • This was done to great effect in the 2008 David Tennant production, where Horatio was portrayed by a black actor.
    • Campbell Scott's 2000 film adaptation, which takes place on a Southern plantation, depicts Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia as a family of house slaves.
  • Railing Kill: Part of Laertes's death in Branagh's version.
  • Spin-Off: Many, many, many. The most famous is Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. A more recent example is John Updike's novel Gertrude and Claudius.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: How Claudius dies in the Branagh version. Hamlet stabs him in the leg with a sword thrown from across a rather large chamber, crushes him with a Falling Chandelier of Doom and then force-feeds him poison.
  • World of Ham: Branagh may have intentionally directed his adaptation in this style in order to maintain the audience's interest in a four-hour-long movie.