Analysis of Characters in Hamlet

The play ‘Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’ is one of the four greatest tragedies of William Shakespeare. It is the longest play written by him, and also one of the most powerful. The play is about the conflict of a person, who had to choose between moral values and personal revenge.

Synoptic Overview

The plan involves complex themes like revenge, treachery, moral corruption, and incest. Prince Hamlet is enraged by the fact that his mother, Queen Gertrude, married his uncle, Claudius, soon after the death of his father, King Hamlet. When he sees the ghost of his deceased father, he learns that his father was murdered by his uncle. This arouses in him, a feeling of revenge towards his uncle. He also suspects that his mother was involved in the murder plan, and this angers him even further.

He starts acting like a madman so that no one suspects his actual motive, and also turns away from his lady love Ophelia. However, when he kills Polonius, the King’s chief counselor who was trying to know about his actual motives, by eavesdropping his conversation with his mother, Claudius suspects that even his life is in danger. Learning about the death of her father Polonius, Ophelia becomes mad with grief and commits suicide. To save himself, Claudius makes plans to kill Hamlet.

When his first attempt fails, he convinces Laertes, Polonius’ son to avenge the death of his father and sister, and arranges a combat between him and Hamlet. To make sure that Hamlet dies, he coats Laertes’ sharp sword with poison, and also prepares a poisonous drink for him. However, Claudius’ plan backfires on him. Instead of Hamlet, Gertrude drinks the poison and dies. Hamlet kills Laertes but is wounded by his poisonous sword. Before dying, Hamlet slays Claudius, thus avenging his father’s death.

Prominent Characters

The credit for the success of Shakespeare’s tragedies not only goes to the plot, but also to his characters. They are very human, and react to situations in the way people would behave in certain situations, even in real life. The protagonists in his tragic plays have superior characteristics that make them great and powerful, but they all have one flaw, which leads them to their tragedy. It is the same in the case of prince Hamlet. It is a complex play, and understanding its characters is not a simple task. Each one has different layers, and are rounded, as seen in most plays of Shakespeare. He never portrayed characters as black and white because he believed that human beings have a mixture of good virtues as well as bad.

» Hamlet

Hamlet is very complex, and many scholars have given different interpretations for this enigmatic character of Shakespeare. He is an intelligent and knowledgeable person, a University student, thoughtful and philosophical by nature. He thinks deeply about important matters, and decisions in life. However, this contemplative nature is also his major flaw. His lack of timely action is the cause of his tragedy. Even after he sees the ghost of his father, he does not totally believe that Claudius killed his father. Only when he gets the proof that his uncle is guilty, he is ready to kill him. Even after that, he delays his action in spite of getting plenty of chances to do it. However, he has a contradictory personality too. This is seen when he suddenly kills Polonius, thinking that it was Claudius, who was standing behind the tapestry. This comes as a shock to the audience, because Hamlet does not even think about checking who the person is before killing.

» King Claudius

King Claudius is the villain of the play who is portrayed as cunning and selfish. His powerful ambition leads him to kill his own brother, and marry his widow to usurp the throne from Hamlet, who is the heir apparent. He is a calculative man who can fall to any level to hold his power to himself. He thinks only of himself, and has the ability to manipulate people the way he wants to. However, this evil character shows its human nature too. He feels guilty, and is shown to be praying for forgiveness in various acts of the play. Although he may have married Gertrude for power, he seems to truly love her. However, his evil virtues foreground his good ones, leading to his tragic end.

» Gertrude

Gertrude’s character in the play is a little confusing one, as Shakespeare has not explained her intentions and attitudes clearly. Her character is completely opposite to that of Hamlet. She is a person who does not think much about consequences of her actions. It can be said that her hasty marriage to Claudius led to the destruction of the entire family. In many parts of the play, Hamlet condemns Gertrude for having weak moral standards, as he could not accept the fact of her remarriage. Although she married her brother-in-law, it is not even remotely mentioned anywhere in the play that she had a relationship with him before, or had a share in King Hamlet’s murder. Her actions reveal that by marrying Claudius, she made a choice that would be beneficial to her without affecting her power and position. Although Gertrude appears to be a shallow woman, she is shown as a loving mother who cared for her son till her last breath.

» Ophelia

Ophelia is the most pitiable character in the play. Hamlet loves this beautiful and innocent daughter of Polonius and apparently she loves him too. But, her father and brother dissuade her from having any relationship with Hamlet, as they think that he does not love her truly. Being an obedient daughter, she never professes her love for him. Ophelia gets disturbed when she sees Hamlet acting as a madman, and under the orders of the king and her father, tries to know about his real motive. Hamlet accuses her of being a spy, and condemns her for betraying him. This behavior of Hamlet shocks her and when he kills her father, her gentle heart is shattered. She goes mad with grief and finally kills herself. The people she loved i.e., her father, brother, and lover failed to understand her, and were in some way responsible for her untimely death.

Hamlet emphasizes the fact that Shakespeare was truly a genius. Although the play was written in the 16th or 17th century, by observing the people of those times, it surely rings true even in this century. The complexity of the characters make ‘Hamlet’ a real masterpiece.

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