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.

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.

It also has a great number of tropes on its Characters sheet.

    Notable productions 
  • 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.

    Notable Adaptations 

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: Hamlet encounters the alleged of Yorick, the court jester of his childhood, prompting Hamlet 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.
    • Claudius calls for his Swiss guards before Switzerland was a country.
  • Audience Surrogate: Horatio is onstage before and after Hamlet and during most of the play's important scenes, and often reacts to Hamlet as the audience would.
  • Author Filibuster: Hamlet's lecture on properly acting a scene he'd written.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Few if any of the primary characters are indisputably virtuous, but very little in the play indicates that Claudius is anything but evil.
  • Black Comedy
    • Hamlet has many darkly humorous lines, especially when he's faking insanity.
      • "He will stay till ye come." (Hamlet about Polonius' body)
      • Hamlet quips that Polonius is at a feast, "not where he eats, but where he is eaten" (by worms).
    • The gravediggers amuse each other while digging Ophelia's graves by making jokes about the gallows and tombstones.
      Hamlet: What man dost thou dig it for?
      Gravedigger: For no man, sir.
      Hamlet: What woman then?
      Gravedigger: For none neither.
      Hamlet: Who is to be buried in't?
      Gravedigger: One that was a woman, sir; but, rest her soul, she's dead.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Hamlet's reason for staging The Murder of Gonzago is to see whether Claudius reacts to the murder scene.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Polonius is prone to this.
    • A famous 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: Ophelia is sweet, perceptive, and compassionate. Her sometime sweetheart apparently goes mad, hurls abuse at her when they meet, and kills her father. Her mind breaks, and then she dies.
  • 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.
  • Captain Obvious: 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: 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.
    Hamlet: The play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
  • 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: Ophelia is upset by a dirty euphemism Hamlet has made, so he feigns ignorance and just upsets her more with his euphemistic response, "Do you think I meant country matters?"
  • Creator Cameo: Shakespeare is thought to have played the Ghost and the First Player.
  • 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: At the end of Act I, Hamlet gets to talk to the ghost of his father, who gives his son the mission to avenge his death and kill King Claudius. The ghost returns in Act III to further encourage his son.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The ghost of King Hamlet may be a devil pretending to be a benign spirit; he talks about being forced to endure fire for his sins, implores Hamlet to take revenge, and ultimately sets off the events that kill off most of the cast. Hamlet himself worries about the ghost being a demon soon after their first meeting, forcing Hamlet to verify his statements through other means.
  • 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.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: It is left ambiguous what sort of relationship Hamlet and Ophelia have actually had, but her mad songs seem to suggest they have had sex.
  • Dishonored Dead: A good portion of Act V, Scene I consists of debate over whether Ophelia, who most likely drowned herself, deserves a full Christian burial (as Christianity considers killing oneself more sinful than killing someone else). The scene starts with two gravediggers arguing over it. During the actual burial, when her brother Laertes, disappointed with the sparseness of the proceedings, asks "What ceremony else?" the priest replies that she's only getting a cemetery plot at all because the king ordered it.
  • 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, 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).
  • Dramatic Irony: We know that the grave and subsequent funeral are for Ophelia. Hamlet does not, until Laertes refers to his sister.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: Horatio tries to talk to his best friend, Hamlet, about the latter's deceased father. Hamlet assumes Horatio is talking about a time long past, but Horatio makes it clear that he didn't see his father before his death, he saw the ghost of Hamlet the Older the night before.
    Horatio: My lord, I think I saw him yesternight.
    Hamlet: Saw who?
    Horatio: The king your father.
    Hamlet: The king my father?
  • Due to the Dead: In the final scene of Hamlet, Fortinbras orders Hamlet be given a soldier's burial as a mark of honor.
  • 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 Counterpart: Subverted. Hamlet likes to imagine that he and Claudius are "mighty opposites," but in reality, his uncle is nowhere near his intellectual equal.
  • Evil Uncle: Claudius murdered his brother to gain the throne, and married his brother's wife to secure it - and plots to have Hamlet killed as soon as he gets wind that Hamlet means him trouble, but this crosses over with good old Properly Paranoid.
  • Excessive Mourning: Hamlet, the only one grieving normally for his father's death, is treated as though his mourning is excessive.
    Claudius: . . . to persevere
    In obstinate condolement is a course
    Of impious stubbornness. 'Tis unmanly grief.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Gaslighting: Hamlet uses this on Ophelia with unclear intentions.
    Hamlet: I did love you once.
    Ophelia: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
    Hamlet: You should not have believed me . . . I loved you not.
    Ophelia: I was the more deceived.
  • Gender Scoff: "Frailty, thy name is woman!"
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: 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.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: The actual reveal happens before the play starts, so the story is about the fallout from this trope.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Info Drop: By the way, Hamlet got taken prisoner by pirates. But now on to more important matters . . .
  • 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.
  • Internal Reveal
    • Hamlet discovers that he has stabbed the concealed Polonius, not Claudius.
    • During the funeral, when Laertes refers to his sister.
      Hamlet: What, the fair Ophelia!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kick the 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 is Hamlet's reluctance to off his Evil Uncle, Claudius.
  • 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?
    • Hamlet's conversations with the Players offer plenty of opportunities to comment on the theatre and stagecraft without explicitly acknowledging that they are characters on a stage.
    • When Hamlet lies dying:
      Hamlet: You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
      That are but mutes or audience to this act . . .
  • 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.
  • The Low Middle Ages: Technically set in this era.
  • Make-Up Is Evil: One charge Hamlet 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 is to be believed, 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.)
  • Mathematician's Answer: Polonius attempts to get some information on Hamlet to report back to the king, but not wanting to betray his regicidal scheme and not wasting an opportunity to bother his girlfriend's intrusive father, Hamlet gives the most obvious and unhelpful answers he can.
    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.
  • 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. Later, Polonius tells Hamlet that he once played Julius Caesar at university.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: When Hamlet finally brings himself to act, he mistakenly stabs and kills Polonius, setting off the Disaster Dominoes.
  • 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 as part of his plot to kill Claudius and avenge his father. Or hell, maybe he is actually insane. Or possibly he's faking insanity and is actually insane.
  • Old Windbag: Polonius, the father of two adults, cannot talk to anyone without going off on artistic languages and drowning his point in flowery language. He can't even be concise when he's saying that he hopes to speak concisely!
  • 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.
  • The Ophelia: After Hamlet's abuse and her father's murder, Ophelia's mind cracks. There's artistry in her madness — she strews flowers and sings bawdy songs — but she horrifies everyone around her, especially as she doesn't even recognize her brother, Laertes.
  • Over Protective Dad: Polonius refuses to let Ophelia see Hamlet because he thinks he will take advantage of Ophelia's innocence.
  • Parent with New Paramour: A big source of Hamlet's angst is his mother's marriage to his uncle not three months after Hamlet the First's death.
  • 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".
  • 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 alternates between "I" and "we," depending on the mood and subject matter of his speech.
  • Self-Parody: The Mousetrap and Dumb Show walk through a slightly altered version of the play's premise.
  • 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?
  • Shout-Out: Hamlet is constantly comparing himself and everyone around him to mythological figures.
    • One of Hamlet's first sentences shows the extent to which he hates his uncle and loves his father by comparing the difference between those two brothers to the difference between Hamlet himself and the super-strong, half-god Hercules.
      "But no more like my father than I to Hercules!"
    • When Claudius is left by himself, he laments that by killing his brother, he will share in the curse placed upon Cain, who the Book of Genesis describes as humanity's first murderer.
  • Show Within a Show: Hamlet puts on a revised version of The Murder of Gonzago with the intent of creating some visible sign of guilt from Claudius over his murder of Hamlet's father.
  • 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 Polonius that she is pregnant.
  • 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: In Act V Scene i, Hamlet discovers the [purported] skull of his childhood jester, Yorick, holds it eye-to eye socket, and starts talking to the skull about mortality.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Osric can very easily be argued to be this to Polonius.
  • Sword Fight: Act V culminates in a duel between Laertes and Hamlet orchestrated by Claudius in order to kill Hamlet with either a poison drink or a poison sword he provides Laertes. The plan backfires when Queen Gertrude drinks the poison, Hamlet hits Laertes with the poison sword, Laertes exposes Claudius with his dying breath and Hamlet kills Claudius, only for Hamlet to succumb to his poisonous injuries moments later.
  • Take That, Audience!: The First Gravedigger casually insults England, the country of Shakespeare's audience, saying that everyone there is mad.
  • Tender Tears: The First Player sheds them while performing a soliloquy about the downfall of Troy, inspiring Hamlet to comment that he feels bad because he can't express his own genuine grief for his father nearly as well as the Player expresses an imaginary grief for people he's never met.
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: In a surreal touch, this scene is often set indoors, far from any windows.
  • Together in Death: Attempted by Horatio, when he tries to poison himself to follow Hamlet. Averted by Hamlet, who ordered Horatio to live.
  • 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". Of course, she could just be teasing him.
  • 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: Hamlet sets out to put the kingdom to rights, but due to his Tragic Mistake his quest goes off the rails and although he succeeds in the end it is only at a great cost that includes his own death and the deaths of nearly everyone he loves.
  • 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 is a hypocritical buffoon who rambles on at length about how he's going to get swiftly to the point.
    • Osric also has a tendency to ramble, and is mocked by Hamlet and Horatio for his overly fancy dress sense.
  • Vague Age: Piecing together several of the gravedigger's lines seems to reveal that Hamlet is 30. However, he is unmarried, frequently referred to as "young," and at the start of the play revealed to be attending university, which would have been nearly unheard of for someone past his early twenties. Besides, his emotional and mental states hardly seem congruent with a mature adult. Since no more than a few weeks can have passed since Act IV, some scholars believe Shakespeare wished to impose a new maturity on the very much changed Hamlet of Act V. It is also possible that the gravedigger was simply mocking him.
  • 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.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math
    • Dawn comes, by Horatio's count, one hundred seconds after midnight.
    • Hamlet's Tomato Surprise age is sometimes attributed to this.
  • 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:

  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Hamlet rewrote the play in order to remind Claudius of the murder of King Hamlet.
  • 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.
  • Crucial Hero Shot: A non-sacrificial example appears in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, when the "four captains / bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage."
  • 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.