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Wild Mass Guessing for Hamlet.

Hamlet murdered his own father.
According to Pierre Bayard, Claudius was innocent, which is proven by the fact that he didn't react to the first theatrical showing of Hamlet Sr.'s murder during the dumbshow, only leaving the theatre when it was done for the second time and Hamlet got noisy. As for the motive, Bayard goes on, Hamlet probably saw - or thought he saw - that Hamlet Sr. slept with Ophelia, which explains his later jealousy. And some say that by "nunnery" where Hamlet wants Ophelia to go Shakeseare really meant a brothel...As for the ghost, it was either just Hamlet's hallucination, or... the ghost actually tried to haunt the Hamlet himself! For, Bayard reminds us, in Shakespeare's oeuvre it is usually the murderers who see ghosts, as can be seen in Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Richard III.
Gertrude murdered Ophelia.
She seems to know an awful lot about Ophelia's death - before, during and after it happened. She talks as if she she witnessed it all, yet apparently made no attempt to rescue the girl. She also doesn't seem that upset. Hmm.
  • Alternately if Ophelia is indeed pregnant with Hamlet's baby (see below) perhaps Gertrude performed a Mercy Kill.

Hamlet is Claudius's illegitimate son, and Hamlet is one of the few people at court who doesn't know it.
Doesn't it seem odd that Gertrude willingly leaped right into bed with her husband's brother Claudius once Hamlet Senior kicked the bucket? Indeed, the Gravedigger scene informs us that Hamlet was born the same day that Hamlet, Sr. killed Fortinbras, Sr. Old Hamlet was out on military campaigns all the time. It's hardly a stretch to think that Gertrude fooled around with Claudius behind her husband's back. Claudius himself knows that Hamlet is his son, which is why he initially tries to be friends with him and insists that he remain at Elsinore rather than return to France for school. Indeed, Kenneth Branagh's adaptation all but makes this assertion. Branagh bears a much greater resemblance to Derek Jacobi than BRIAN BLESSED, and the scene where Claudius orders Hamlet's murder makes Claudius seem genuinely reluctant to do so.
  • At least once, Claudius calls Hamlet "our son" when speaking to Gertrude. Maybe a figure of speech ... maybe not.
  • This would explain why the crown went to Claudius instead of Hamlet, and no one appears to have a problem with it. It also explains why, on the other hand, everyone is fine with Hamlet's eventually inheriting the crown from Claudius (mentioned several times). It might also be because Denmark has an electorate system of kingship, as mentioned in the play, but still...
  • It adds layers of ambiguity, guilt, and secrets to Hamlet's Act IV confrontation with Gertrude where he basically calls her a whore: think of all the things she could say that might clarify matters, yet leave them even worse.
  • Old Hamlet's ghost knows this, but relishes the chance of using his brother's bastard as his instrument of vengeance.
  • Suddenly, Fridge Horror abounds everywhere one looks.

Hamlet is a robot.
Built by Hamlet Sr., he struggles to understand humans.

Ophelia is pregnant.
She and Hamlet have consummated their relationship, and now she knows she's pregnant, but isn't showing yet. It explains her drastic reaction when Hamlet rejects her and when he goes anticking around. Without Hamlet's hand in marriage, she's a ruined woman and can hope for a nunnery at best. When she hands out flowers, she keeps rue, an abortifacent, for herself.

Ophelia's madness and/or her death are caused by an overdose of rue.
This guess goes with the above guess that Ophelia is pregnant. Modern doctors discourage using rue as an abortifacent, because it can cause serious illness or even death. It might be that Ophelia doesn't really go mad with grief, but suffers brain damage from the drug. Since her death takes place offstage, it could also be that she doesn't really drown, but just succumbs to the poisoning, and Gertrude concocts the story of her drowning (possibly having her already-dead body planted in the brook) to keep her pregnancy hidden and spare her honor. Whether Ophelia willingly took the rue herself or was drugged with it against her will by Gertrude and/or Claudius is unknown...

Horatio is making this whole thing up.
He actually killed everyone. Possibly driven mad by all the angst.

Horatio is a spy for Fortinbras.
He has been secretly manipulating things at court to make Fortinbras's takeover smoother. He pretended he was going to drink the poison because he truly liked Hamlet and wanted Hamlet to still think of him as a friend before Hamlet died. This leaves Horatio alive at the end to report to Fortinbras everything that has happened.

Hamlet and Horatio are lovers.
"Give me that man / That is not passion's slave, and i will wear him / In my heart's core, aye, in my heart of hearts / As I do thee. " - Act 3 Scene 2, 71-74This wayward passion if of course not appropriate for a prince. But the anxiety of being closeted with his love serves as a major source of his anger and melancholy.
  • Asta Nielsen's Hamlet, but without the gender-presentation/transgender themes. Extremely buyable.

Ophelia was visited by the ghost of King Hamlet after Polonius died.
On that note, said ghost is an Eldritch Abomination who drives whoever it talks to to insanity. That's why it refused to speak to the guards. Lastly, Ophelia realized that the ghost planned to throw Denmark into ruin, so she committed suicide so she wouldn't be a part of it.

The ghost is a hallucination, not the actual spirit of King Hamlet.
It doesn't speak to anyone except Hamlet, and when it does, it doesn't really give him new information. In fact, it tells him exactly what he wants to hear — his reaction is even "I knew it!" Also, not only is it the only character other than Hamlet to label Gertrude and Claudius' marriage as "incest", it actually seems more passionate and vehement about that topic than the whole, you know, murder thing. If it was really the ghost of Hamlet Sr., wouldn't he be more concerned with his brother killing him than his brother marrying his wife (as was standard practice back then)? Hamlet's the one with the "incest" hangup, so the only way this makes sense is if the ghost is a reflection of his own neuroses! And of course, Gertrude can't see the ghost, which is highly suspect given that the ghost is telling Hamlet to take mercy on her in that scene — why wouldn't it show itself to her?

As for the guards, they never appear again after act 1 scene 2. Who's to say they aren't hallucinations either, made up by Hamlet to rationalize the ghost's appearance?

  • This explanation makes a lot of sense thematically, but leaves several plot holes. Even going so far as to assume that the guards are hallucinations, what about Horatio? In fact, what about the entire first scene, in which Hamlet does not appear at all? Why doesn't the play simply start with I.ii?

Polonius aided Claudius in Old Hamlet's murder

Since Polonius is a much more sinister and shifty character than the senile old man many misinterpret him as, it stands to reason that he may have conspired with Claudius to put him on the throne being the one to make sure that Old Hamlet was alone in the orchard. This makes Polonius' death at Hamlet's hands all the more enjoyable and it is perfectly obvious since any idiot who believes that Hamlet is a Designated Hero can't be anything but wrong.

  • John Updike held to this idea and developed it in his novel Gertrude and Claudius.

Hamlet's insanity is real and is the result of a sublimated Oedipal complex.
Oops, it looks like this theory's not so wild after all.

Horatio killed everybody.
We see the events of Hamlet from Horatio's perspective. He is in every important scene and has off-stage events reported to him. He promises to tell Fortinbras the story of how Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wound up dead. So he makes up an odd story involving ghosts, dueling with poisoned swords, mistaken identity and insanity to cover up that he's an Ax-Crazy maniac. For all we know, Horatio even murdered Yorick when he was a boy.
  • I can see where this comes from, but Shakespeare isn't one for ambiguous endings; if something that dramatic was true in-play, he would have told us that somehow. Or maybe it's in a lost epilogue somewhere...

Horatio murdered everyone because he was Fortinbras's Brainwashed and Crazy puppet.
Notice how he came in right when King Claudius was trying to appeal peace with Norway.

Hamlet knew Yorick in a biblical sense.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio!
  • He hath borne me on his back a thousand times.
  • Which is a bit squicky, considering the age difference.
  • It's doubtful that Hamlet would be so eager to tell Horatio he was having sex with Yorick.
    • Which opens up the debate on whether Hamlet and Horatio are having a torrid affair...
      • Yes.
    • Horatio was a pagan, so he would have been cool. (Interesting, in light of Ophelia.)
    • It would've been old news by then, anyway.
  • On a more serious note, the joke might be that "knew" also meant "recognized." Much of the scene revolves around the idea that all skulls are equal and indistinguishable in death.

Hamlet knew everyone in the cemetery in a biblical sense.
Except Ophelia.

Claudius is Laertes's biological father
Suggested in the Mel Gibson Hamlet.

Hamlet is Hamnet
Hamlet is close enough to his father to hate his mother when he dies. Shakespeare's supposed to have been recovering from the loss of his similarly named son when he wrote his adaption of the Amleth legend and probably hated his wife, what with his whole moving-to-London thing. What if at least part of Hamlet's character is what Shakespeare wished had happened if he'd died first (you know, aside from the poisoned daggers, &c.)?
  • There's no record of Shakespeare going home for his son's funeral, and we know for a fact that his daughters were illiterate. Not exactly the picture of a loving father who'd write a play in his grief to honor his dead son.

Hamlet knows he's in a play.
At least by Act 5 he does. Hamlet is constantly making metatheatrical references— to the practices common in Elizabethan theatre in general and to the Globe specifically. When he gets picked up by the pirates, he realizes what an obvious plot device it is (and it is— Shakespeare uses it in Pericles as well)— and he's Genre Savvy enough already for that to clue him in that he's a character in a play. This explains why he's so calm about facing the duel in Act 5— he knows how it's going to end already.

Hamlet is a flashback.
Horatio is the narrator. He's in the first and last scenes, and in between he's in a lot of scenes but does almost nothing but observe. Hamlet tells him everything, and he's unobtrusive enough to have observed other scenes without being noticed, so that accounts for the scenes that he's not in. In his last speech to Fortinbras, he says: "Give order that these bodies high on a stage be placed to the view, and let me speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about." That's another metatheatrical reference— the bodies are on a stage. Horatio has just finished narrating the entire tale to Fortinbras and this speech is where the flashback comes full circle.
  • Addendum to this theory: That speech is a prologue, and as soon as they get offstage the entire play starts again. This is why Hamlet isn't bothered by death after realizing that he's in a play— see above— because he knows everything will reset next time the play starts.
  • Which, if this were actually staged, would give Horatio the first and last lines of the play. It would open with him surrounded by bodies saying, "Why does the drum come hither?" and end with his previous line of, "Goodnight Sweet Prince..."

Hamlet didn't know Yorick at all.
In his angst and near-lunacy, Hamlet gives an eloquent speech about the happiness of his youth...personified as a man he never even met. This represents the fact that Hamlet's youth probably wasn't as good as he thinks it was (after all, his mother seems to have loved his uncle all along, not to mention all that royal stress). With his father gone, Hamlet mentally rewrites his past: he had the best father ever born, the most loving mother, and, of course, the funniest and most loyal court jester.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were innocent.
They didn't know the contents of the letter they were delivering. They were roped into Claudius' schemes because they genuinely wanted to help their poor mad friend.
  • Heh heh, "roped" ...
    • While they didn't know the contents of the letter, they were hired by Claudius to spy on Hamlet, a detail they hide so unskillfully that Hamlet picks up on it himself. So "innocent" is not the word I would use to describe them.

The Hamlet in the play is an impostor.
As Claudius points out, 'neither the inward nor the outward man resembles' the Hamlet he remembers. Hamlet, taking caution from reports of his father's ghostly appearances and the rather suspicious succession of Claudius, does not come himself but instead sends a man impersonating him. The false Hamlet mostly tries to keep everyone off balance by acting unpredictably in order to preserve his secret while investigating the death of Hamlet's father. At the same time, he struggles with a strong attraction to Gertrude (hey, she's not his mother), and resorts to manipulating others to their deaths in order to stay alive himself. Finally, he is trapped into a duel with Laertes which he cannot evade, and it all goes terribly wrong.
  • Then... where's the real Hamlet? Is Fortinbras actually "real" Hamlet, invading his own country by pretending to be his enemy? Or... is Hamlet Hiding in Plain Sight as Horatio, wearing a big mustache and glasses?

There are multiple ghosts in the play.
Murdered folks come back as ghosts. Hamlet Jr respected Hamlet Sr more than anyone, so when Hamlet Sr gets murdered he visits his son and orders vengeance. Hamlet murdered Polonius. Polonius comes back and tries to convince Ophelia, who respects him more than anyone else did, to avenge him. Ophelia makes up a complicated test to see if Hamlet did it, or if the ghost was a demon or something, ala Hamlet's play-within-a-play. She seeks Hamlet out, knowing if he murdered her father he'd try to get rid of her to avoid the sense of guilt, but if he didn't he'd want to bond with her more than ever given their shared pain over a lost parent. When Hamlet proves his guilt, she fakes insanity and starts planning her vengeance. Gertrude overhears the plot and murders Ophelia. Ophelia's ghost comes back to seek vengeance, and since Gertrude is the person who most respects Ophelia, she's the one that gets to see and hear her, although Ophelia doesn't necessarily catch on that she can. Ophelia spends the rest of the play casting her presence over various scenes, including the one where Claudius and Laertes plot against the man she loves/hates, and she flips out on everyone in the duel scene. Gertrude hears the ghost's monologue, realizes her son is in danger, and avenges Ophelia by poisoning herself to save her son and make recompense to Ophelia's ghost.

Hamlet Sr.’s was not the only murder perpetuated by Claudius.

There are five characters that witnessed the ghost of Hamlet (Sr.): Hamlet, Horatio, Francisco the soldier, and (the officers) Marcellus and Bernardo. The latter three never make an appearance again after Act 1. Francisco only appears in the scene where he sees the ghost [1.1]. Bernardo appears in the first two scenes: seeing the ghost, and then telling Hamlet that he saw the ghost. Neither of them accompanies Hamlet (their crown prince) and Horatio to the ramparts the next night [1.4 & 1.5]. Marcellus appears in the same two scenes as Bernardo and does accompany Hamlet and Horatio to the ramparts the next night. Marcellus and Horatio are sworn to silence regarding the ghost, and Marcellus never appears again (seems like an officer would be a handy guy to keep around). Francisco and Bernardo are never sworn to secrecy.

All it would take is someone even seeing the conversation between Hamlet and the officers (and moments before Hamlet’s “O that this too, too solid flesh would melt” shtick the room was full of other people [seven named characters plus extras]). To Claudius (full of guilty paranoia), Hamlet going out to the ramparts, where he is not likely to be overheard as it would be difficult to spy on him, with two officers and an ally of his looks mighty suspicious. With no one talking, and Hamlet acting odd, it would seem too much like a plot to off Claudius for the crown (after all, everyone thinks Hamlet Sr. died via venomous snake bite).

This makes the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look more like “you kill three of mine; I’ll kill two of yours ("the Chicago way")”.

Horatio manipulated an insane Hamlet and an innocent Claudius into killing everyone so Fortinbras would become king.

It's hinted that Hamlet is actually insane, so Horatio could have hired an actor to pretend to be a ghost, who would fool Hamlet into thinking Claudius killed Hamlet Sr., and then he would use the play to catch out Claudius, making Claudius think an insane Hamlet believed he killed his father. Hamlet would hallucinate guilt on Claudius's face, and then Horatio would lie to Hamlet, saying he saw it too. Claudius was honestly concerned about Hamlet at first, thus his hiring of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and then rightly feared Hamlet would kill him. Hamlet hallucinated what he said in the prayer scene, when he was really praying for a way to survive, and then Claudius knew Hamlet had to die to protect himself (he was king, after all, and his survival was important) and tried to have him killed, but Hamlet, who by then hates and fears everyone but Horatio, has them killed instead. Then, Horatio makes sure Fortinbras is coming at the right time so everyone will be dead, and watches the final scene take place with glee, before pretending to want to drink so that Hamlet will support Fortinbras with his last breath. Magnificent Bastard indeed.

  • An interesting theory, but not really based on anything — and conflicts with a lot of the play's themes.
    • Also, Claudius's main motivation behind getting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern involved seemed to be more out of paranoia than real concern. Disingenuous sympathy would've made more sense for his character, considering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were old friends of Hamlet and might not have been as willing to cooperate with Claudius if they knew he was coming from a place of suspicion.

Yorrick was the primary caregiver of Hamlet, and he was killed because he found out Claudius's plans.

Yorrick deeply cared about the young prince, and tried to ensure he had some joy in his youth. When Yorrick overheard Claudius planning the king's murder, he tried to tell the king, but Claudius killed him before he could and buried him in the garden.

Gertrude was the reigning monarch.
Hamlet Sr. and later Claudius were her consorts and only called King as a form of courtesy title. This is why Hamlet was still just a prince and not a king, even though his father had already died.