These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Hamlet: Insane, or faking it? Too Good for This Sinful Earth prince manipulated into evilnote No, seriously; this was in vogue in the 19th century.? Deeply troubled youth wrestling with moral and honor codes? Spineless whiny git who killed in cold blood many times before hitting his actual mark? Misogynistic, Oedipal, whiny jerk? Non-Action GuyBookworm who would prefer to be back at school studying or writing more poetry for his girlfriend instead of carrying out the unsavory task of murder, unlike his predecessors in the Revenge Tragedies his story deconstructs? Suffering from multiple personality disordernote Hamlet's has been played by two different people in some versions of the play, with each one having a different personality and lines.? All of the above?
Ophelia: Is she a:
Sweet but fragile girl who got caught in the political crossfire between her father and boyfriend?
Cassandra-like oracle who can see the future but only speaks in riddles, rhymes and metaphors due to her insane state of mind?
Or, as was the trend in the psychoanalytic interpretations of the 1960s and 1970s, a sexually-frustrated young woman torn between her lust for her Hamlet and her lust for—wait for it—Laertes. Hey, we said 'overanalyzed', didn't we?
At least one critic interpreted Ophelia as an Ice Queen who's been treating Hamlet terribly and genuinely deserves what he puts her through.
While there's no doubt whatsoever that he's a villain (he admits in prayer to murdering his own brother), some think that he still was a pretty good ruler, and that Hamelt's revenge on him just made things worse for Denmark.
It's debateable whether he did love Gertrude at all - he tells Laertes he really does love her and wanted to avoid Hamlet's death in a manner that would be more direct then looking like an accident. However, he fails to do more to stop Gertrude from drinking poison than just telling her not to drink from the cup. He could be seen as being letting logic rule over him for that moment, simply being too late to stop her by the time she drinks (where he is standing at the time depends on the adaptation) or it can be seen as clear proof he really doesn't care.
Or it could just be an Oh Crap moment- as soon as he tells her not to drink it, he realises he's basically admitted that the drink is poisoned and he's just tried to murder her son.
Fortinbras: Noble war hero who acted the most logically and justly of the cast? Bloodthirsty barbarian prince who's willing to send hundreds to their deaths for a scrap of land? Deus ex Machina on legs? Expy for King James?
A genuinely caring father looking out for his son's personal development and raising legitimate concerns about his daughter's future, or a domineering, invasive patriarch spouting cliched wisdom and taking advantage of his children for political favour-currying?
Loving mother forced to marry her brother-in-law to save her son's life or deceitful accomplice in a palace coup? (Some believe that Hamlet's emphasis on revenge over capturing the throne for himself implies that Gertrude was the queen regnant, and both Hamlet's father and Claudius were only kings consort — which at the time would have made them the rulers, not her. If this is the case, the play may also have been in part Shakespeare's approval of Elizabeth I's unmarried status. Roger Ebert and others note that Gertrude may being practical to avoid a power vacuum that would invite usurpation of the throne.)
The scene in which Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine is also open to interpretation; in some adaptations, she is unaware that there is poison in the wine and her line "I will, My Lord, I pray you pardon me" is said as if she's just having a good time. In others, "I will..." is delivered to imply that she knows exactly what's in there and has been Driven to Suicide.
And speaking of Driven to Suicide, Gertrude's report of how Ophelia died is realistically rather suspect since it implies someone saw her fall into the water, and watched her slowly sink to her death. Did she actually kill her as a Mercy Kill, or did something else happen entirely?
Ever read The Scottish Play? There's this great line: "and oftentime, to win us to or harms, the instruments of darkness tell us truths." Consider if the above quote applies to him, if he's actually an evil spirit. Hamlet himself even lampshades this possibility. Mind you, some scholars would say that any good Elizabethan would consider any spirit as an evil one.
From the play one could walk away with the impression that the King was a cold, stern, warmongering bastard in life and Denmark is better off with him dead, even if he was killed for selfish motives. One notes how Hamlet seems to care more about him than his mother, partly because she married Claudius and did so shortly after her husbands death: was he a crap husband and is she relieved he's gone? And was he a cold and distant "Well Done, Son" Guy Hamlet has a higher opinion of than he should? Does he want justice for his death or revenge? Or does he see no difference? Maybe he died because he was a crap brother too?
One issue raised in the play itself is the question of whether the Ghost is indeed his spirit or simply a demon impersonating him (or if it is him, he's incompetent). The Ghost leaves when the cock crows, a behavior associated with evil spirits, and he purports to be suffering in flames and torment, which could mean he comes from Purgatory, but this concept was rejected by Protestantism (the play is ambiguous/inconsistent about its religious background). In terms of intention, the Ghost is extorting Hamlet to do something arguably immoral (under the view that only God should take revenge on sinners), and his commands lead to the deaths of tons of people, including some (e.g. his son and wife) who King Hamlet would presumably want to live.
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: The Zefirelli version completely removes the Hecuba monologue, thereby rendering Hamlet's "Oh what an ass am I" sequence afterwards one of these.
Also, there's a certain dark humor in Fortinbras finally invading only to find Claudius, Getrude, Hamlet, and Laertes all dead. His "WTF?" reaction is priceless.
Designated Hero: After learning from the ghost of his father that his father was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet spends the next Act or so mocking and taunting Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, while also verbally abusing and Slut Shaming Ophelia. What do all 4 of these characters have in common? All 4 of them had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of Hamlet's father. When Hamlet finally does something, he murders Polonius because he heard a voice behind some curtains and jumps to the conclusion that it must be Claudius. He then hides the body and jokes that everybody'll smell him soon enough. This murder drives Ophelia to insanity and her death (she may even have been Driven to Suicide). Hamlet then brings about the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern despite little to no evidence that they actually did anything wrong. He finally gets around to the one person he was supposed to be killing, Claudius, only after the latter has poisoned Gertrude and gotten Laertes to poison Hamlet who then gets accidentally poisoned by Hamlet. So it could be argued that every death that occurs from the start of the play onward is all Hamlet's fault.
Draco in Leather Pants: Hamlet is often idealized by many fans, and even scholars, because they project themselves onto him. Thus, his negative qualities are often downplayed or just ignored altogether.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern due to their spin-off.
In the David Tennant version Polonius is the standout (the character is difficult to play due the need to be simultaneously hilarious and boring, but Oliver Ford Davies nails it. He's also the only character other than Hamlet to blatantly break the fourth wall.).
Arguably, Claudius letting the Queen drink from the poisoned cup. He earlier claimed to truly love her, but only tells her to not drink from the cup once rather than risk giving up his scheme to stop her from drinking from it to save her life.
That depends on the production. He could be on the other side of the stage from her, and unable to do anything without betraying that the cup is poisoned.
Also, using Laertes' grief at his sister's death to manipulate him into being his pawn.
Frankly murdering his own brother to steal his kingdom and his wife probably crosses this before the play even starts.
At the end of the "Play Within a Play" scene, Claudius has the line, "Bring me some light! Away!" It is very difficult to portray this seriously.
In Branagh's version, Derek Jacobi nails it. His achievement is then ruined by the overreaction of his sycophants, who begin to scream "LIGHTS, LIGHTS, LIGHTS!" like they are trapped in a darkened room.
Also from Branagh's version, Polonius' face after his death looks more like a mischievous frog than a murder victim, although this may be intentional.
Every bit of Claudius' death in the Branagh version. Especially the sword
And again from Branagh:
Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, WOUEUOEOUEUOERRRDS.
Branagh's Hamlet is definitely set in a World of Ham, but this was probably necessary to maintain the audience's interest in a four-hour-long movie.
On one hand, seeing so many well-known faces in the Branagh version is impressive. On the other, it can ring up many giggles due to the Hey, It's That Guy! effects.
Sacred Cow: Shakespeare's the greatest writer of all time, right? And Hamlet is his greatest play, right? It's irrefutable! Never mind that some believe the main character is a procrastinating cipher, the pacing is erratic, and the plot is random. It's the highest form of literature that there can ever be.
The sheer number of lines in the play that have become established expressions in English can make it seem like all Shakespeare has done is just string a bunch of clichés together.
Most people have heard Hamlet praised as "the crowning achievement of Elizabethan drama" so often that it's easy to forget just how revolutionary its approach to drama was in its day. In the late 16th century, it was a pretty big deal for a play to consciously slide that far to the "Character" side of the Sliding Scale of Plot Versus Characters, and it required breaking the rules of drama set up by Aristotle's Poetics nearly two millennia earlier. Today, we tend to take it for granted that plays are even allowed to spend this much time psychologically examining their characters, and that characters can be analyzed as much as we've analyzed Hamlet.