Characters in Hamlet – Introduction
In Hamlet, most of the characters tend to work against each other in some way, even if they initially were friends or allies. This makes for a play full of dramatic deaths and strife.
In the midst of all this tension, the main character is Hamlet, who has recently experienced the death of his father, the King of Denmark. His uncle, Claudius, has not only usurped the throne but has also married his mother, Gertrude. Hamlet finds himself bound by honor to avenge his father’s death, so he sets out to take his revenge against Claudius, the play’s main antagonist.
The problem, however, is that poor Hamlet cannot settle on a course of action. He is not only doomed to struggle against Claudius, he must also struggle against himself. Hamlet is deeply contemplative and because of this, he is positioned as both protagonist and also factors in somewhat as an antagonist.
Who are the main characters in Hamlet?
- Protagonist – Hamlet
- Antagonist – Claudius; Hamlet
- Villain – Claudius
Hamlet Character Traits
Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, and probably around 30 years old during the time of the play. His mother is Queen Gertrude and his father, King Hamlet, has recently died. He is the nephew to Claudius who takes over the throne and marries Queen Gertrude. By nature, Hamlet is deeply contemplative, moody, and cynical. He is full of spite and hatred towards Claudius for killing his father and usurping the throne, and he is also resentful of his mother for marrying the murderer of her first husband. Hamlet is indecisive and this is where a lot of the driving conflicts of the play originate. It seems like his frustration towards his indecisiveness and inability to act can boil over at times, as well, which causes Hamlet to act impulsively. All of this makes Hamlet both the play’s protagonist and an antagonist as well.
Who is the villain in Hamlet? King of Denmark at the time of the play. He is Hamlet’s uncle and has married Hamlet’s mother. The is the antagonist of the play, he is an overly ambitious politician-type who will do anything to rise to power, including killing his own brother. Although he is cold and conniving, he sometimes shows brief moments of remorse and worry, making him a more complex villain than one would originally assume.
Queen of Denmark and Hamlet’s mother. She was originally married to King Hamlet but after his death she married his brother, Claudius. Although Gertrude does seem to love her son very much, she is ultimately shallow and cares more about her status and safety than right vs. wrong.
A cold and evil man who serves as Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s royal court. He is proud and calculating and seems to suck up to Claudius any chance he can get because he deeply enjoys his high status. He is the father to Laertes and Ophelia.
The beautiful young woman who is the object of Hamlet’s love. She is the daughter of Polonius and is impressionable and pliable. Above all, she wishes to obey her father and brother without question. This leads to her downfall as she participates in Polonius’s scheming to spy on Hamlet and eventually, she is driven mad and dies.
The son of Polonius and brother to Ophelia, he is enraged when he learns of his father’s death and then is pushed even deeper into rage when his sister dies as well. He vows to get revenge on Hamlet. He is a passionate and reactive character, a foil to Hamlet who is contemplative, quiet, and indecisive.
Hamlet’s scholarly friend who remains loyal throughout the play when no one else does. He tells Hamlet’s life story after his death to honor his memory.
The Prince of Norway. His father was killed by the late King Hamlet and he is planning an attack against Denmark to get revenge for his father’s death. He also serves as a foil to Hamlet and his planned attack serves to juxtapose a sense of urgency against Hamlet’s inability to choose a course of action.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Hamlet’s two friends who turn on him and spy on Hamlet for Claudius and Gertrude.
A spectral version of Hamlet’s father appears at the beginning of the play, serving as a bad omen and harbinger of the truth. He tells Hamlet that Claudius killed him, and that Hamlet must get revenge. In typical Hamlet fashion, Hamlet doubts whether it is truly his father’s ghost or some devil trying to manipulate him into committing a murder.