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"To be or not to be . . . that is the question. "

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 ascended the throne after Hamlet's own father mysteriously passed away. Hamlet receives evidence that Claudius murdered the late king to seize power, and is commanded to exact Revenge, choosing to cover his behavior by faking insanity. As the play progresses, however, it becomes obvious that Hamlet is highly reluctant to follow through with the murder . . . and ambiguous as to how much of his madness is actually fake. Complicating matters are a number of other characters: Ophelia, the sometime object of Hamlet's affections; Polonius, Ophelia's father and Claudius's meddling royal chancellor; Gertrude, Hamlet's mother who has now married her brother-in-law; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's college buddies now conscripted to spy on him; and Claudius himself, who is well aware that Hamlet is Denmark's rightful heir note  and has started 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 figure 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.

But it is hardly the plot that has enraptured the play's generations of admirers. Hamlet devotees are generally drawn to either the language—which is vibrant even by Shakespearean standards—with its manifold layers of meaning and the staggering number of alternate readings it can support, or to the character of Hamlet himself, who often seems simply too big for the play he inhabits. The infinite interpretations, motivations, and traits readers and critics have ascribed to Hamlet is a testament to his universality as a character, and it is this universality, far more than any deconstructed revenge plot, that has captivated audiences for four hundred 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 (as Shakespeare's longest play, 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.

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    Notable productions 
  • c.1605—the presumed premiere at the Globe Theatre, London, with Richard Burbage playing the lead. The first recorded production was not for a number of years.
  • 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.
  • A 2017 production at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, directed by the aforementioned Kenneth Branagh and starring Tom Hiddleston.

    Notable Adaptations 

Characterization tropes are mostly located on the Characters sheet.


NOTE: All spoilers will be unmarked. This play is over 400 years old at this point and is available for free just about everywhere.

Examples Gross as Earth Exhort Me:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal
    Hamlet: Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief.
  • Advantage Ball: Hamlet may (or may not) have Minored in Ass-Kicking, but he should still not be able to hold the advantage in his duel with Master Swordsman Laertes except that the plot demands it.
  • Aggressive Categorism: Inverted. Hamlet concludes that because Gertrude is morally suspect, all women are evil and weak. He proceeds to take it out on Ophelia.
  • Alas, Poor Yorick: Hamlet encounters the alleged skull of Yorick, the court jester of his childhood, prompting the prince to reflect on his mortality.
  • All Deaths Final: Although it is shown early on to very much not be the case, this concept seems incorporated into Hamlet's worldview.
    Hamlet: ... death,
    The undiscovered country from whose bourn
    No traveler returns ...
  • 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".
  • All Women Are Lustful: Hamlet's tendency to universalize leads to this assumption. His mother was unfaithful; therefore all women (particularly his innocent admirer Ophelia) are lascivious whores with no moral compasses.
    Hamlet: [to Ophelia] Get thee to a nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Hamlet's moments of intense despair and violent mood swings (and, of course, his ambiguously-fake insanity) have lent themselves to many attempts to diagnose him with various forms of clinical depression.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: Hamlet is very insistent on the futility of trying to deceive oneself that death can be avoided or ignored.
    Hamlet: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?
    Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay,
    Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
    O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
    Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!
  • Arch-Enemy: Subverted. Hamlet likes to imagine that he and Claudius are "mighty opposites," but in reality, no one in the playnote  is anywhere near the intellectual equal Hamlet needs.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Poison is best administered through the ear. Who knew?
  • As You Know: Relied upon in the first two scenes especially. Used by Marcellus and Horatio to convey the atmosphere of apprehension in Denmark and the history between the kings of Denmark and Norway, and by Claudius to relate the recent death of King Hamlet and his own marriage to Gertrude.
    • Subverted the first time it is invoked. Barnardo begins to recount the story of the ghost's first appearance, which everyone onstage has purportedly heard before, but he is interrupted by the actual arrival of the ghost.
  • Audience Monologue: Claudius and Ophelia both indulge in a bit of soliloquy. Hamlet wallows in it.
  • Audience Surrogate: Horatio is onstage before and after Hamlet and during most of the play's important scenes, and often reacts in-universe as the audience would.
  • Author Filibuster: Hamlet's lecture to the players is generally regarded as Shakespeare's guide to acting.
  • Backstory: The event that catalyzes the plot—the murder of King Hamlet—takes place several months before the play picks up. Most of the backstory is exposited in the first two scenes.
  • Battle-Halting Duel: Played with. The duel Claudius arranges between Hamlet and Laertes is meant to resolve both Laertes's peasant uprising and Hamlet's revenge plot against him.
  • Becoming the Mask: There has been much debate over the extent to which Hamlet is only faking madness versus truly going mad.
  • Big Entrance: Hamlet manages one verbally, bursting out of the bushes at Ophelia's funeral.
    Hamlet: What is he whose grief
    Bears such an emphasis? Whose phrase of sorrow
    Conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand
    Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I,
    Hamlet the Dane
    .
  • Bit Character: There are loads of these, usually reduced in number in actual productions.
  • 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." (To those searching for Polonius' body)
      • Hamlet quips that Polonius is at a feast, "not where he eats, but where he is eaten" (by worms).
    • The Gravedigger amuses his assistant—and confounds Hamlet—by joking about gallows and tombstones while digging Ophelia's grave.
      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.
  • Blood Upgrade: Justified. Hamlet and Laertes were supposed to be dueling with blunted foils, so the First Blood Hamlet suffers wasn't supposed to be drawn at all. Hamlet goes into a rage, wresting the foil from Laertes and wounding him back with it.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Hamlet hires an acting troupe to perform a play about a king being murdered, with a few alterations to make it more like Claudius's murder of King Hamlet, hoping Claudius will react in a manner confirming the ghost's accusation.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Hamlet seems to realize that Polonius and possibly Claudius are listening in on his conversation with Ophelia. The direction he takes the interaction in response is . . . frankly bizarre.
    Hamlet: Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.
  • 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 gentle, 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.
  • Cain and Abel: The premise. Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, murdered his brother (Hamlet's father) for the throne. But surprise! The dead king is still very much around, and he commands Hamlet to get back at Claudius for him, violently. Allusions to the Biblical Cain and Abel are sprinkled throughout the play.
  • 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 hopes the Mousetrap will catch Claudius's conscience, evoking visible guilt over his murder of the old king.
    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 deaths start in Act III . . . and don't stop.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Laertes is understandably distraught after the death of his sister, but his protestations of grief at her funeral (including actually jumping into her grave) get . . . melodramatic. Hamlet, of course, takes it as a personal slight and outdoes (mocks) him in spectacular fashion.
    Hamlet: ’Swounds, show me what thou ’t do.
    Woo’t weep, woo’t fight, woo’t fast, woo’t tear thyself,
    Woo’t drink up eisel, eat a crocodile?
    I’ll do ’t. Dost thou come here to whine?
    To outface me with leaping in her grave?
    Be buried quick with her, and so will I.
    And if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
    Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
    Singeing his pate against the burning zone,
    Make Ossa like a wart. Nay, an thou’lt mouth,
    I’ll rant as well as thou.
  • Clear My Name: Hamlet's Last Request is for Horatio (and us) to do this for him. Horatio goes on into the final part of the play with the mission to Clear Their Name.
    Hamlet: O good Horatio, what a wounded name,
    Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
    If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
    Absent thee from felicity awhile,
    And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
    To tell my story.
  • The Climax: The swordfight between Laertes and Hamlet, which goes wildly off the rails.
  • Comforting the Widow: Claudius "comforted" Gertrude. It helped win him the throne. On the other hand, he does seem to genuinely love her, and lists his three motives for his murder of the old king as "My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen."
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: Hamlet's revenge on Claudius ends up being this. Hell, he's dying anyway. Why not?
  • Continuity Reboot: Of the "Ur-Hamlet", a version of the story written a decade and a half earlier (possibly by the young Shakespeare himself) that Elizabethan audiences would have been familiar with. No copies of this version survive.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Played with. Ophelia's death is framed as an accident, but it was pretty clearly suicide.
  • Country Matters: Ophelia is upset by a dirty innuendo Hamlet has made, so he feigns ignorance and just upsets her more with his euphemistic response, "Do you think I meant country matters?"
  • Crapsack World: Hamlet's castle, Elsinore, is a microcosmic version. Hamlet views Denmark—and, by extension, the whole world—as one.
    Hamlet: Denmark’s a prison.
    Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
    Hamlet: A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.
  • 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 in nearly every one of his soliloquies, flip-flopping between ambivalent inaction and "my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"
  • Darker and Edgier: Considered one of Shakespeare's darkest plays.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Our hero's iconic black costume.
  • Deadly Euphemism:
    Horatio: So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't.
    Hamlet: Why, man, they did make love to this employment.
  • Dead Person Conversation: At the end of Act I, Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, who commands his son to avenge his death and kill King Claudius. The ghost returns in Act III to further encourage his son.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Hamlet worries that the ghost of his father may have in fact been a demon impersonating his father, driving him to seek further evidence of Claudius's guilt. Given that the Ghost alludes to enduring fiery punishment for his sins, implores Hamlet to take revenge, and ultimately sets off the events that kill most of the cast, Hamlet's fears may not have been unfounded.
  • Deathbed Confession: Exaggerated.
    Laertes: (as he lies dying from the poisoned blade) Lo, here I lie,
    Never to rise again. Thy mother’s poisoned.
    I can no more. The King, the King’s to blame.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Polonius's death? Eh, stabbed through a curtain, cries "O, I am slain!," not the most important character. Ophelia was pretty important, but overlooked; she gets a dramatic death offstage. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Pff. one sentence after all the drama's over. Gertrude, Laertes, and Claudius were main players, so they get some good melodrama . . . and then there's Hamlet.
  • Deconstruction: Of the "revenge drama" in vogue at the time.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Hamlet and Laertes reconcile . . . after each mortally wounds the other with the poisoned foil.
  • Deus ex Machina: Occurs offscreen between acts IV and V. 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, several of Hamlet's lines seem to imply that he 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. Her mad songs and some of Hamlet's lines to Polonius seem to suggest the two have had sex.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Hamlet usually dies with Horatio cradling him in his arms.
  • Dishonored Dead
    • Polonius is reportedly given very quick and shoddy funeral rites, what with the king and queen trying to brush their heir's new homicidal tendencies under the rug.
      Laertes: Let this be so;
      His means of death, his obscure funeral—
      No trophy, sword, nor hatchment o'er his bones,
      No noble rite nor formal ostentation—
      Cry to be heard, as 'twere from heaven to earth,
      That I must call't in question.
    • Act V, Scene 1, contains much 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.
  • Disposing of a Body: After Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius, he hides the body surprisingly well. Claudius has a hell of a time getting him to tell where it is.
    Hamlet: I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room.
  • Domestic Abuse: Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia, his former Love Interest, toes the line. The intensity of his aggression varies between productions, but his sudden rejection, mild gaslighting, and verbal abuse contribute to her descent into madness.
  • 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'.
  • Double Meaning: Pretty much every single one of Hamlet's lines can be read more than one way, holding awareness of all the connotations of the words he chooses.
    Hamlet: How like you this play, Mother?note 
  • 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).
  • The Dragon: Before Hamlet can (finally) kill King Claudius, he must win the duel with Laertes, Claudius's newly appointed Number Two.
  • Dramatic Irony
    • In Act V, Scene 2, we know that the grave and subsequent funeral are for Ophelia. Hamlet does not, until Laertes refers to his sister.
    • It abounds in the final scene, when Claudius, Laertes, and the audience know that the wine and the foil are poisoned, Hamlet and the courtiers do not, and Gertrude . . . may or may not.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: Horatio tries to talk to 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?note 
  • Duel to the Death: Hamlet's fencing match with Laertes is this, although Hamlet (probably) doesn't know it. Claudius needs Hamlet dead, so he arranges a swordfight between him and Laertes in which Laertes weilds an unblunted, poisoned foil—which ends up getting used on Hamlet, Laertes, and Claudius himself. If you're still interested in the technical outcome of the duel, we can reasonably say Hamlet won either way, since he both gained more hits against Laertes in the friendly part and died last in the deadly part—though both parties likely disqualified themselves when they started attacking each other between bouts.
  • Due to the Dead: In the final scene, Fortinbras orders Hamlet be given a soldier's burial as a mark of honor.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Family relationships and loyalties are important themes of the play, and both family units shown (Gertrude/Hamlet/Claudius and Polonius/Laertes/Ophelia) are seriously screwed up in their own ways.
  • Easily Forgiven: After the duel, Laertes forgives Hamlet (who is responsible for the death of everyone in his family, now including him), and Hamlet forgives Laertes (who has just poisoned him), when they remember who the real Big Bad is.
    Laertes: Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.
    Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
    Nor thine on me.
    Hamlet: Heaven make thee free of it.
  • Elective Monarchy: The Danish monarchy is apparently elective, as it also was in reality until the late 1600s (though in practice, the eldest son was pretty much always elected). This is the reason why Claudius is king instead of Hamlet himself. Hamlet describes his uncle as having "popp'd in between the election and my hopes", and later says that he foresees that "the election lights on Fortinbras" as he himself is dying (and the Danish royal line with him).
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: A recurring theme, from Hamlet's "But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue" to Fortinbras's calm remark that he has "some rights of memory" prompting him to seize the throne of Denmark.note 
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Hamlet is considerably shaken after discovering that even his "excellent good friends," Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have become Claudius's spies.
  • 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.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Claudius and Polonius try to engineer this, planting Ophelia in Hamlet's path and hiding nearby to listen in on the conversation and try to gain insight into the cause of his madness. It doesn't work.
  • 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.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Hamlet may take a while to get around to killing Claudius, but once he does, he goes for it. He wounds him (or, in most productions, stabs him) with a poisoned foil; then he holds the same foil on him and forces him to drink what's left of the poisoned wine. And in some productions he goes ahead and stabs him again for good measure.
  • Final Speech: Whereas the poisoned blade kills Laertes fairly quickly, it allows Hamlet time to start a final speech, abort it, foil Horatio's suicide attempt, implore Horatio and the audience to tell his story, get interrupted by news of Fortinbras's arrival, endorse Fortinbras as the next king, and finish things off with some killer Famous Last Words:
    Hamlet: The rest is silence.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: The Ghost of Hamlet's father reveals that as his punishment in the afterlife, he must spend the days in "sulf'rous and tormenting flames" (by night, he walks as a ghost). The Ghost's prison is not Hell, but Purgatory, as (he says) his punishment will last (only) until his earthly crimes "are burnt and purged away".
  • 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: One of the most famous examples in the Western canon occurs during Ophelia's mad scene, when she distributes real or imaginary flowers to the assembled cast.
    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.
    • Interpretations of each flower's significance vary between scholars, but some include:
      • Rosemary = memory
      • Pansy = thought
      • Fennel = flattery
      • Columbine = male adultery
      • Rue = regret, female adultery. Notably, rue is also a powerful poison and abortifacient, which might be the way Ophelia wears it "with a difference."
      • 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.
  • For Your Own Good: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern agree to spy on Hamlet because they are genuinely concerned for his mental stability.
  • 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 to usurp the throne that should be Hamlet's.
  • 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.
    • Hamlet later deploys it against Osric, when it's Played for Laughs.
      Hamlet: Put your bonnet to its right use: ’tis for the head.
      Oscric: I thank your Lordship; it is very hot.
      Hamlet: No, believe me, ’tis very cold; the wind is northerly.note 
      Osric: It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.
      Hamlet: But yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my complexion.
      Osric: Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry, as ’twere—-I cannot tell how.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: The way Claudius and Gertrude work together. When the power couple wants one of their subjects to do X, Claudius generally leads off with a stern half-command, all too aware that it's being issued by a king, while Gertrude tries a softer, more empathetic approach. Especially evident when the two convince Hamlet not to return to school (he responds to Gertrude) and when they convince Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet (they respond to Claudius).
  • Gender Scoff
    Hamlet: Frailty, thy name is woman!
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: The play contains many 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).
  • Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Sigh.
    Hamlet: Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
  • 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.
  • The Gloves Come Off: In the final duel. The rules of fencing are quickly abandoned once Hamlet realizes Laertes is wielding an unblunted foil.
  • Go Look at the Distraction: Hamlet sends Polonius and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to "Bid the players make haste" so that he can talk with Horatio in private.
  • Good Night, Sweet Prince: Horatio when Hamlet dies.
    Horatio: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
    And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: The actual reveal happens before the play starts, so the story is about the fallout from this trope.
  • Happily Married: Claudius and Gertrude, ironically. They work well together, show genuine concern for each other's wellbeing, and apparently have a more-than-healthy sex life.
  • Heaven Above: The characters follow the tradition of their religion in regarding Heaven and God as being "above"—such as when Claudius laments that his "offense is rank, / It smells to Heaven" and later that there is "not rain enough in the sweet heavens" to wash the metaphorical blood off his hands.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Subverted. Claudius expresses consuming guilt over the murder of his brother and stoops to pray, crying, "Help, angels!" but after rising reveals he does not feel true remorse and is therefore unable to ask forgiveness.
  • The Hero Dies: But he's not special.
  • Heroic Lineage: King Hamlet was a warrior-hero and seems to assume his son will take up the mantle, if his request for revenge is any indication. Hamlet is mortified by his seeming inability to live up to the lineage.
    Hamlet: ... Yet I,
    A dull and muddy-mettled rascal peak
    Like john-o-dreams, unpregnant of my cause
    And can say nothing. No, not for a king
    Upon whose property and most dear life
    A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward?
  • Heroic Vow: Hamlet (completely unprompted) swears a solemn oath to remember the ghost and his final words, "adieu, adieu, remember me." Unfortunately, he doesn't vow to do anything else the ghost commanded, like leave Gertrude out of it, preserve his own mind, or actually carry out his revenge on Claudius.
  • Hidden Depths: Hamlet consists of nothing else.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Hamlet is purportedly loved by the common people, a fact which worries Claudius constantly, but his influence was apparently not enough to uphold his right to the throne—several lines suggest that the king of Denmark is supposed to be chosen by election, but that does not seem to be how Claudius seized power. Laertes's peasant uprising is easily stymied by Claudius, and it is only the introduction of a foreign military power and new dictator that seems to finally restore order to turbulent Denmark.
  • 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.
  • Honey Trap: Considerably downplayed from the source material, where the Ophelia equivalent was actually sent to have sex with Hamlet, but Polonius's intention to "loose my daughter to him" carries the same connotations.
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: Polonius's parting words to his son Laertes, the famous "to thing own self be true" speech.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Polonius's main character trait.
    • He delivers the well-known line "brevity is the soul of wit"—in the middle of a lengthy diatribe—despite being the least brief and least original character in the play. He later complains that the Player King's speech is "too long."
    • In general, one can assume that any advice given by Polonius will be advice he does not follow himself.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: A meta reading of Hamlet's death wish. Is he referring to God's laws prohibiting suicide . . . or the everlasting writer having fixed the canon of his work against his protagonist killing himself?
    Hamlet: O ... that the Everlasting had not fixed
    His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!
  • Iconic Item: The skull of Yoricknote  disinterred by the Gravedigger, which Hamlet has a little chat with. Most advertisements and amateur depictions feature the skull in some way.
  • Iconic Outfit: Our hero is infamous for his exclusively black outfits, which he actually wears in mourning for his father.
  • Idiot Ball: One explanation for why Hamlet enters into a fencing match with Laertes (a Master Swordsman who loathes him for killing his family) at the behest of Claudius (who has already tried to have him assassinated). There are alternative implications, however.
  • Incest Is Relative: At the time of the setting, marrying your late husband's brother (ala Gertrude) would have been considered incest. The rest of the Danish court doesn't seem to care, but Hamlet is pretty squicked at the idea of his mother and his uncle doing the nasty.
  • Indy Ploy: Hamlet's revenge strategy, arguably. Aside from the Mousetrap scheme and his intention to fake insanity, he shares very little of his actual plan with the audience and often appears to be making things up on the fly.
  • Infectious Insanity: A recurring theme. Madness is consistently referred to with the same terminology as disease, and Hamlet's (probably) fake insanity communicates itself to Ophelia in the form of very real madness. In Shakespeare's day, there was some doubt as to whether madness might actually be a communicable disease—likely why Gertrude is so reluctant to meet with Ophelia when she requests it.
  • 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.
  • Insanity Defense: Played for all the creep-factor it's worth.
    Hamlet: Give me your pardon, sir: I've done you wrong;
    But pardon't, as you are a gentleman.
    This presence knows,
    And you must needs have heard, how I am punished
    With sore distraction. What I have done,
    That might your nature, honour, and exception
    Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.
    Was't Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet:
    If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away,
    And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes,
    Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.
    Who does it, then? His madness: if't be so,
    Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged;
    His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy.
  • 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 III, Scene 2 when 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 Gets Easier: Discussed in the graveyard scene. Hamlet asks what kind of cold-blooded man could sing while digging graves, to which Horatio calmly replies "Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness."
  • 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.
  • Kill 'em All: The play has become famous for killing off all the major characters except Horatio. First Polonius, (mistaken for Claudius and stabbed through a curtain), then Ophelia (goes mad and drowns, likely in a suicide), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (beheaded by the English king at Hamlet's command), Gertrude (drinks poisoned wine meant for Hamlet), Laertes (killed by the poisoned blade meant for Hamlet), Claudius (finally), and Hamlet himself (nicked by the poisoned blade).
  • Kill Him Already!: A main source of dramatic tension is Hamlet's reluctance to off his Evil Uncle, Claudius.
  • King Incognito: When Hamlet returns from England, he runs into a gravedigger on the castle grounds who apparently does not recognize him, and they have a conversation in which Hamlet asks questions about himself, pretending unfamiliarity with the case of the mad prince of Denmark (though it seems to be more for fun than to try to gauge the common people's opinion of him). Whether the Gravedigger actually doesn't recognize him is open to interpretation, though it stretches WSD somewhat that the man who has been sexton at Elsinore Hamlet's entire life (and who remembers the length of his employment specifically by that fact) would fail to recognize the prince, who usually sports only a Paper-Thin Disguise at best.
  • Last Disrespects: Hamlet kills Polonius accidentally, thinking he's someone else. But this is the prince of Denmark, and we can count on him to speak a suitable eulogy, right? Right?
    Hamlet: Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell. I took thee for thy better.

    Hamlet: [later] Indeed this counsellor
    Is now most still, most secret and most grave,
    Who was in life a foolish prating knave.
  • Lap Pillow: Hamlet with Ophelia when they're watching the play. It gives him the opportunity to use a string of Double Entendres.
  • The Last Dance/Taking You with Me: Hamlet learns he has been poisoned and has minutes to live. Only then does he finally kill Claudius—by first stabbing him with the poisoned blade, then forcing him to drink poisoned wine.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • In Act III, Hamlet says "my father died within these two hours," seemingly to draw attention to how short a time it has actually been. 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.
    • As Hamlet lies dying, he ostensibly addresses the courtiers:
      Hamlet: You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
      That are but mutes or audience to this act . . .
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Hamlet and Laertes both want to avenge their fathers on Claudius. Instead, Claudius plays them against each other, arranging a duel between them. it doesn't go quite as planned.
  • 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 Letter: Hamlet has written quite a few to Ophelia. Polonius reads one aloud to the King and Queen, and Ophelia later tries to return the lot to Hamlet, at which he denies ever writing them.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Polonius is convinced Hamlet is mad with love for Ophelia. The King and Queen (and Ophelia) are . . . less sure.
  • 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.
    • His later speech to the (alleged) skull of Yorick suggests he resents makeup as simply one of many masks with which people fool themselves that they will never age nor die:
      Hamlet: Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Polonius attempts to get some information on Hamlet to report back to the king. Hamlet gives the most obvious and unhelpful answers he can.
    Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
    Hamlet: Words, words, words.
  • Men Don't Cry
    • Claudius calls Hamlet's supposed Excessive Mourning "unmanly grief."
    • Laertes is ashamed of crying over his sister's death.
      Laertes: I forbid my tears: but yet
      It is our trick; nature her custom holds,
      Let shame say what it will: when these are gone,
      The woman will be out.
    • Hamlet, however, admires characters who are able to shed Tender Tears, an expression of grief he cannot manage himself.
  • Midfight Weapon Exchange: Happens in the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, meaning they are both mortally wounded with the poisoned blade.
  • Missing Mom: Laertes and Ophelia's mother is never mentioned; they seem to form a nice little Dysfunctional Family with Polonius alone.
  • The Mole: Claudius brings Hamlet's college buddies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to Elsinore to spy on Hamlet for him. Hamlet sees through it almost immediately and begins to Feed the Mole . . . probably. He's not exactly being forthcoming with us, either, so for all we know he could be telling them the truth.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Hamlet is obsessed with words and the craft of writing, and he has a lot of opinions about the right and wrong ways to act.
  • Multilayer Façade: Is Hamlet sane, faking insanity? Or is he insane faking sanity faking insanity?
  • Murder by Mistake
    • Hamlet stabs Polonius through a curtain, mistaking him for Claudius.
      Gertrude: O me, what hast thou done?
      Hamlet: Nay, I know not:
      Is it the king?
    • The poisoned wine and poisoned sword Claudius prepares for Hamlet end up killing Gertude and Laertes, respectively.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Laertes does not want Hamlet seeing Ophelia. As it turns out, he was right to worry.
  • 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.
  • Narrative Filigree: It's a revenge tragedy . . . In which a man instructs his servant at length on the proper way to spy on his son, a group of traveling players drops by and performs a play, the hero's college buddies show up to spy on him, the hero plays the recorder, many messengers are sent to and from Norway, the hero gets exiled to England, pirates attack on the way, many superfluous letters are read onscreen, a girl distributes flowers to the Danish court, an auxiliary character attempts to overthrow the king for his own revenge plot, two gravediggers discuss the definition and implications of suicide, the hero and his buddy spend 116 straight lines mocking an unnecessarily detailed courtier, and a conquering army arrives at the end to clean up the corpses.
  • 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.
    Hamlet: I loved Ophelia! Forty thousand brothers
    Could not, with all their quantity of love,
    Make up my sum!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: When Hamlet finally brings himself to act, he mistakenly stabs and kills Polonius, setting off the Disaster Dominoes.
  • No, You: When Gertrude starts to lecture 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.
  • Off with His Head!: The reason Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Claudius sends them to England with Hamlet, bearing an order for the English king to have Hamlet decapitated—but Hamlet finds the letter and replaces it with one ordering his escorts' death instead. They do not return to Elsinore with Hamlet, but a messenger arrives from England in the final scene to announce that yes, they have been beheaded.
  • One Mario Limit: If a character in a newer work is named Hamlet, it's almost definitely a Shout-Out.
  • One-Way Trip: One interpretation of V.2. The audience cannot accept that Hamlet would fail to recognize the duel with Laertes (who hates him), arranged by Claudius (who wants him dead), as the obvious death trap it is. His resigned detachment from the situation seems to imply that he is prepared to die—as long as he takes Claudius down first.
  • Out, Damned Spot!
    Claudius: What if this cursèd hand
    Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood?
    Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
    To wash it white as snow?
  • Paralysis by Analysis: This trope is at the core of the play—Hamlet's Fatal Flaw, some say. He's so caught up analyzing the implications of his revenge—paralyzed by the sheer expansiveness of his own consciousness—that he can't bring himself to actually carry it out.
  • Parental Betrayal: Hamlet sees Gertrude's "o'erhasty marriage" as this.
  • 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 
  • Perfect Poison: The "hebona" with which Claudius poisoned King Hamlet, the poison-pearl Claudius drops in Hamlet's wine, and the poison with which Laertes annoints his sword.
    Laertes: I bought an unction of a mountebank
    So mortal that, but dip a knife in it,
    Where it draws blood no cataplasm
    . . . can save the thing from death
    That is but scratched withal.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: . . . Probably?
    Hamlet: [to Horatio] Dost thou hear?
    Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
    And could of men distinguish, her election
    Hath sealed thee for herself.
    . . . Give me that man
    That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
    In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
    As I do thee.—Something too much of this . . .
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern travel to England with Hamlet to deliver a letter by King Claudius which orders Hamlet's execution (of which the two are probably unaware). To their misfortune, Hamlet secretly finds the letter and replaces it with one ordering the execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. They deliver the letter, and are decapitated.
  • Poison Is Evil: Poison is Big Bad Claudius's weapon of choice.
  • Poisoned Weapons: Claudius proposes that Laertes duel Hamlet with an unblunted foil in the hope of killing him. Laertes goes one step farther by poisoning the tip of the blade so that any cut will be fatal. It backfires when Hamlet gets ahold of the poisoned weapon and stabs both Laertes and Claudius.
  • Posthumous Character: King Hamlet, whose murder by his brother prior to the beginning sets the story in motion. In this case, he does make it fully onscreen as a ghost.
  • The Power of Acting: Hamlet is amazed by the First Player's rendition of "Aeneas' Tale to Dido." The piece itself is a blatant Stylistic Suck, but the Player manages to make it art with Tender Tears. This ends up plunging Hamlet into a depressive episode, shaming him for being unable to even act his grief for his father.
  • Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Before Hamlet and Laertes wrestle over Ophelia's corpse.
    Laertes The Devil take thy soul!
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Hamlet gets two before he finally kills Claudius.
    • Before stabbing Claudius with a poisoned blade:
      Hamlet: Then, venom, to thy work. [stabs him]
    • Except that's not enough. So he forces him to drink the poisoned wine he (Claudius) prepared:
      Hamlet: Here, thou incestuous, murd’rous, damnèd Dane,
      Drink off this potion. Is thy union here?
      Follow my mother.
  • Prequel: The Mousetrap and Dumb Show function as this, oddly.
  • Pretext for War: The "little patch of ground / That hath no profit in it but the name" that Hamlet sees Fortinbras leading his forces to defend. Whether the intended war is with Poland or Denmark is less clear.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: When asked about the fact that he knowingly sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, Hamlet replies, "they are not near my conscience".
  • Protagonist Title: Usually just known as Hamlet these days, though it's sometimes still published as The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
  • Publicly Discussing the Secret: Claudius may be discussing it with us, but he's still discussing it, and it's still stupid.
  • Purple Prose: Yeah yeah, they speak in verse, not prose, but these unnecessarily flowery descriptions exceed the Shakespearean norm by enough to merit this trope.
    • Why say "this same time last night" when you could say . . .
      Barnardo: Last night of all,
      When yond same star that's westward from the pole
      Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
      Where now it burns ...
    • And why call it "the moon" when you could call it . . .
      Horatio: the moist star,
      Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands ...
  • This is also Osric's normal mode of speech—which Hamlet mocks endlessly.
    Hamlet: Sir, his definement suffers no perdition in you; though, I know, to divide him inventorially would dizzy the arithmetic of memory, and yet but yaw neither, in respect of his quick sail. But, in the verity of extolment, I take him to be a soul of great article; and his infusion of such dearth and rareness, as, to make true diction of him, his semblable is his mirror; and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: It is a revenge tragedy, after all. Hamlet succeeds in his goal of ridding the kingdom of The Usurper and setting a better ruler on the throne,note  but it costs the lives of eight people, including the entire Danish royal family and five relatively innocent collateral victims.
  • Rabble Rouser: When Laertes learns of his father's death, he returns to Denmark and leads an angry mob against Claudius in a coup for the throne. The mob invades the castle, but Claudius succeeds in talking Laertes out of it. The mob is, presumably, left waiting outside the throne room forever.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: There are overtones of this. Killing Claudius is Hamlet's chance to prove himself to his father, who is himself a very manly war machine, and the constant degrading of the feminine in the play only adds to the implications.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: A concise version.
    Hamlet: Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damnèd Dane;
    Drink off this potion. Is thy union here?
  • Redemption Failure: Claudius seeks absolution for his sins but realizes that he cannot be truly remorseful while still benefiting from his heinous deeds. He attempts to pray for forgiveness but rises to reveal:
    Claudius: My words fly up: my thoughts remain below.
    Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
  • 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—and in response to—the revenge tragedies that were popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.
  • Rightful King Returns: Subverted. Hamlet's return to Elsinore in Act V should play out like this—he's the rightful heir to the throne, returning to his kingdom to confront The Usurper who has just tried to have him assassinated, and the last thing we heard from him was "My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!"—but this being a revenge tragedy and all . . .
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Hamlet's confused revenge plot claims the lives of eight major characters—four deaths accidental, four intentional.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: Downplayed, as four of the show's eight deaths occur before this, but the final scene sees Hamlet, Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius dead with almost farcical suddenness.
  • Royally Screwed Up: Claudius's tendency towards regicide and Hamlet's ambiguous sanity could be a comment on this trope.
  • Royal "We"
    • Claudius alternates between "I" and "we," depending on the mood and subject matter of his speech.
    • Hamlet uses it sarcastically.
      Hamlet: We shall obey, were she ten times our mother.
      Have you any further trade with us?
  • Rule of Symbolism
    • How likely is it that the Players would have brought recorders with them, that they would be willing to let Hamlet borrow them at a moment's notice, that a servant would be passing by right when Hamlet needs to call for one to make his pointnote  to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Who cares! It's symbolic, and it's COOL.
    • The Gravedigger is disinterring a charnel house-like mass grave full of anonymous skulls. He could not possibly identify one skull as Yorick's, nor could Hamlet be so gullible as to forget this. But hey, do you wanna point that out to Shakespeare? And ruin this? Didn't think so.
  • Ruling Family Massacre: Inverted. The Danish royal family wipes itself out, leaving the invading Fortinbras nothing to do but stroll in and take the throne—carefully stepping over the corpses, of course.
  • Self-Parody: The Mousetrap and Dumb Show each walk through a slightly altered version of the play's premise.
  • Shaming the Mob: When Laertes and his followers invade Elsinore.
    Gertude: How cheerfully on the false trail they cry!
    O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!
  • 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?
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Nearly all the play's more lighthearted comedy occurs before Act III, Scene 4, when Polonius, the closest thing the show has had to a comic-relief character, is brutally stabbed through a curtain and dragged across a castle once dead. The actual clowns, when they eventually bother to show up, are a pair of gravediggers. Oh, and a skull.
  • Shout-Out
    • Hamlet is constantly comparing himself and everyone around him to mythological figures.
      • One of his first lines demonstrates his love for his late father and disgust for his uncle by comparing the difference between those two brothers to the difference between Hamlet himself and the super-strong demigod Hercules.
        Hamlet: 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, whom the Book of Genesis describes as humanity's first murderer.
  • Show Within a Show: Hamlet has a group of traveling players perform a revised version of The Murder of Gonzago, hoping to elicit 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 (by his son, at least). King Claudius assassinated him to get the job and spends his reign trying to keep people from becoming suspicious and making questionable foreign policy decisions.
    • Possibly inverted at the end. Hamlet prophecies the Danish crown will be passed to Fortinbras of Norway, who has successfully overthrown the Danish army and invaded Elsinore. Although Fortinbras is essentially an unknown quantity, Hamlet's endorsement of him ("He has my dying voice") and Fortinbras's respectful treatment of the Danish dead imply that he will be a better ruler than his predecessor.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: Hamlet's father was murdered during his afternoon nap.
  • Slut-Shaming: Hamlet viciously attacks Ophelia with cruel double entendres and accusations of infidelity at every opportunity. Polonius and Laertes employ it against her with less malice, suggesting she has been too "liberal" in allowing Hamlet access to her.
  • Snakes Are Sinister
    • Claudius's cover-up for the murder of King Hamlet is that he was stung by a snake in the garden.
      Ghost: The serpent that did sting thy father's life
      Now wears his crown.
    • Hamlet later compares his treacherous schoolfellows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to "adders fanged."
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In-universe. Hamlet and Horatio come across a man digging a grave—and singing a jaunty love song.
    Hamlet: Has this fellow no feeling of his business, that he sings at grave-making?
  • Standard Royal Court: Elsinore, the Danish castle where the play takes place.
  • Stalling the Sip: Mid-duel, Hamlet is given the cup of wine poisoned by Claudius. He lifts it to his mouth, alllllmost drinks . . .
    Hamlet: I'll play this bout first; set it by awhile.
    • It is up to interpretation whether he suspects or just gets extremely lucky. In the end, Gertrude drinks the wine instead, which could also be intentional.
  • Stealth Insult
    • Hamlet's weapon of choice. Most of the people he insults don't quite get that they're being insulted. See especially Hamlet's mocking lapse into flowery, affected language when conversing with Osric, who suffers naturally from an overabundance of the same.
    • Claudius to Laertes, after Laertes calms down and stops wanting to kill him.
      Claudius: Why, now you speak
      Like a good child and a true gentleman.
    • Hamlet is narrating the events of The Mousetrap. Ophelia tells him, "You are as good as a chorus, my lord," subtly implying he is only as good as a chorus—not good enough for a major role.
  • Strong Empire, Shriveled Emperor: Denmark is a powerful war nation (able to command the king of England to do its bidding at times), largely due to the late King Hamlet's military prowess. The Usurper, however, seems wildly inadequate for the position he now holds and spends the entire play making terrible diplomatic decisions.
  • 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. Even though not a word has been uttered about it until now and it directly contradicts Hamlet's earlier assertion that he has "forgone all customs of exercise."
    • Kenneth Branagh's film version actually shows Hamlet practicing continually.
  • Suicide by Sea: Ophelia purportedly drowns in a river after falling from a tree where she was hanging flower garlands, but it is strongly implied to have been suicide.
  • Surrogate Soliloquy: In Act V Scene 1, 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 cup of poisoned wine or the unblunted, poisoned foil Laertes wields. 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.
  • Sword over Head
    • Happens in-universe in the First Player's speech recounting Pyrrhus's slaughter of Priam:
      Player: for, lo! his sword,
      Which was declining on the milky head
      Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick:
      So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,
      And like a neutral to his will and matter,
      Did nothing.
    • And this is almost always how the prayer scene is staged: Hamlet finds Claudius praying, raises his sword to finish his revenge . . . And pauses.
    • The trope is important to the play as a whole, since it serves as a visual metaphor for Hamlet's reluctance to kill Claudius. Some productions, like the 2008 RSC version, have Hamlet adopt the pose (minus sword) at various other moments of heightened emotion mid-soliloquy.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Just in case the poisoned foil doesn't off Hamlet, Claudius prepares some poisoned wine for him. He attempts to ward off suspicion by drinking from the cup himself and then dropping the poison in, calling it a "pearl" for Hamlet in celebration of his triumph. Hamlet doesn't seem fooled ("I'll play this bout first: set it by awhile"), but then Gertrude pulls an accidental Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo and drinks from the goblet herself. Later, Hamlet forces Claudius to drink from the poisoned chalice, and Horatio attempts suicide with it.
  • Tender Tears: The First Player sheds them while performing a soliloquy about the downfall of Troy, embarrassing Hamlet 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.
  • Take That!: The long, seemingly out-of-left-field dialogue in II.2 in which Hamlet and Rosen-stern discuss why the Players are traveling instead of performing in the city is an elaborate dig at a rival London theatre company and its custom of using young boy actors to draw crowds.note 
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: In a surreal touch, this scene is often set indoors, far from any windows.
    Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
    Polonius: By th' mass, 'tis like a camel indeed.
    Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
    Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
    Hamlet: Or like a whale.
    Polonius: Very like a whale.
  • Together in Death: Attempted by Horatio when he tries to poison himself to follow Hamlet. Hamlet prevents Horatio from following through, imploring him to live and tell the story of Hamlet's death.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Hey, Polonius. Maybe it's not a good idea to hide behind the curtains while spying on Hamlet and yell suspiciously the second things start to go downhill. *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. It instead turns out to be Polonius, whose death sends everything straight to hell.
  • 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: The mistake that leads to Hamlet's downfall can be traced back to the prayer scene, where he doesn't kill Claudius when he has the chance. Hamlet has confirmed Claudius's guilt with the Mousetrap, and now he runs across his uncle at prayer, unaware and vulnerable. It would be the perfect moment to finish his revenge once and for all . . . but he doesn't, worrying that Claudius's soul, released while praying, will go straight to Heaven, unlike Hamlet's father, who has claimed to be enduring fiery punishment for the sins he was not given time to confess. But despite Hamlet's noble intentions, the play goes downhill for him from there on out.
  • Trash Talk: Hamlet to Laertes between bouts of their duel . . . with disastrous results. Unbeknownst to Hamlet, Laertes has just begun to waver on following through with Claudius's murderous plan, but the jibe provokes him all over again and seals Hamlet's fate. May crisscross with Suicide by Cop if you interpret Hamlet as playing Act V to lose.
    Laertes: [Aside] ... 'tis almost 'gainst my conscience.
    Hamlet: Come, for the third, Laertes: you but dally;
    I pray you, pass with your best violence;
    I am afeard you make a wanton of me.
    Laertes: Say you so? come on.
  • Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: One of Hamlet's excuses for callously ordering the execution of Rosen-stern, who betrayed their friendship with him to spy for Claudius. Either that or they were just Innocent Bystanders.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Played with. Hamlet doesn't just relive his Cynicism Catalyst—he stages a play based on it. The Show Within a Show he has the Players perform to Catch the Conscience of the king is altered to directly imitate the murder of King Hamlet as told by the Ghost, which occurred prior to continuity and informed Hamlet's dark & troubled persona.
  • Unfinished Business: King Hamlet rises from the grave to command Hamlet to avenge his murder. He himself has been Barred from the Afterlife, or at least from Heaven, because of the sins he was not allowed time to seek absolution for before his death.
  • [Verb] This!:
    Hamlet: [to the skull of Yorick] Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.
  • Victim Blaming: Hamlet insists, somewhat unsettlingly, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are responsible for their own unwitting demise.
    Hamlet: Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
    They are not near my conscience. Their defeat
    Does by their own insinuation grow.
  • War Is Glorious: Pretty much played straight. King Hamlet, purportedly a king-among-kings, seems to have earned his reputation by prowess in battle. And Hamlet's "World of Cardboard" Speech in Act IV is prompted by his brush with Fortinbras, whom Hamlet exalts for his willingness to go to war over a triviality for the glory of it.
  • We All Die Someday: Hamlet returns from England obsessed with this fact, as evidenced by the graveyard scene and his conversation with Horatio before the fatal duel with Laertes.
    Horatio: If your mind dislike anything, obey it. I will forestall their repair hither and say you are not fit.
    Hamlet: Not a whit. We defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?
    • Marcellus is the Danish watchman who takes first Horatio, then Hamlet himself to see the ghost. He witnesses Hamlet's first reactions to the ghost and is privy to much discussion of the apparition, including Hamlet's plan to fake insanity. He is neither seen nor mentioned again after Act I.
    • Reynaldo is an agent of Polonius's sent to spy on 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!
  • Wild Goose Chase: Polonius wastes quite a bit of Claudius and Gertrude's time trying to convince them that Hamlet is mad for Ophelia's love—which is quite possibly what Hamlet intended.
  • 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.
  • Why Are You Not My Son?: In his first scene, Claudius publicly names Hamlet as his heir and implores him to "Think of us as of a father," but not until he has addressed Laertes's suit to return to France and made it quite clear who his favorite young nobleman really is.note 
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Hamlet's final soliloquy at the end of Act IV. News of Fortinbras's military action, supposedly to defend a "little patch of ground," forces Hamlet to (again) confront his own reluctance to follow through with his revenge. He concludes that it is most definitely time to act—but the conviction, unsurprisingly, does not last long.
    Hamlet: I do not know
    Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do.”
  • World of Pun: Hamlet is Pungeon Master Supreme, but almost every other character gets in on the action at some point.
  • 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.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy
    • When Horatio first confronts the ghost, he asks it if 1) some good deed may be done to quiet it, 2) it comes to warn the country against some fate, or 3) it comes to tell where it buried the treasure in its life—which were all common tropes and would be perfectly plausible . . . if this were something other than a revenge tragedy.
    • Polonius, meanwhile, seems to think he's in some sort of Star-Crossed Lovers romance.
  • You Are Already Dead: Laertes reveals to Hamlet that the wounds they have both sustained will be fatal because the blade was poisoned.
    Laertes: Hamlet, thou art slain.
    No medicine in the world can do thee good.
    In thee there is not half an hour’s life.
    The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
    Unbated and envenomed.
  • You Killed My Father: The main plot. Also the motive driving Laertes to kill Claudius, then to kill Hamlet after Claudius talks him down, and Fortinbras to seize the throne of Denmark.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Hamlet's conversation with Horatio prior to the duel in Act V implies that he is ready to die, so the outcome will benefit him whether Claudius kills him or he kills Claudius.

Tropes Appearing in "The Mousetrap"

  • Hidden Depths: At first read, the play seems like a total Stylistic Suck—a spoileriffic dumb show followed by a series of tedious heroic couplets. But when we recall that Hamlet wrote some if not most of what we see here, the play (and particularly the Player King's dense but philosophically rich filibuster) serve as a rare window into Hamlet's true beliefs and moral code.
    Player King: Most necessary 'tis that we forget
    To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt:
    What to ourselves in passion we propose,
    The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
    The violence of either grief or joy
    Their own enactures with themselves destroy:
    Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament;
    Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.
    This world is not for aye, nor 'tis not strange
    That even our loves should with our fortunes change;
    For 'tis a question left us yet to prove,
    Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.
  • Karma Houdini: Lucianus, unless his comeuppance was left out of the dumb-show and occurred after the play is stopped.
  • 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 and Adaptations 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.
  • Crucified 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.
  • Hypocritical Humour: In Branagh's version, Polonius has just had sex with a prostitute before giving instructions to the spy he is sending to England to check that his son is behaving virtuously and chastely.
  • 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 often feature non-white actors in traditionally white roles, since there's no particular reason any of the characters have to be a certain race, especially if it's a modernized production.
    • In the 2008 David Tennant production, Horatio is 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.
  • Speech Impediment: In certain interpretations, Ophelia does have a lisp, and some of her lines actually reflect this (for example, "twice two months" is understood as "two-es...two months). This gives Hamlet's line (" ... you lisp, you nickname God's creatures ... ") a second, literal meaning.
  • 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: Even more extreme in the Branagh version, where Hamlet stabs Claudius 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.


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