Shakespeare 's Hamlet and Ophelia the play by William Shakespeare at Kronborg Castle Elsinore Hamlet Prince of Denmark 1603 " To be or Not to be "
|Hamlet is without question the most famous play in the English language. Probably written in 1601 or 1602, the tragedy is a milestone in Shakespeare’s dramatic development; the playwright achieved artistic maturity in this work through his brilliant depiction of the hero’s struggle with two opposing forces: moral integrity and the need to avenge his father’s murder.|
Prince of Denmark Summary
Hamlet Summary provides a quick review of the play's plot including every important action in the play. Hamlet Summary is divided by the five acts of the play and is an ideal introduction before reading the original text.
Shakespeare's longest play and the play responsible for the immortal lines "To be or not to be: that is the question:" and the advise "to thine own self be true," begins in Denmark with the news that King Hamlet of Denmark has recently died.
Denmark is now in a state of high alert and preparing for possible war with Young Fortinbras of Norway. A ghost resembling the late King Hamlet is spotted on a platform before Elsinore Castle in Denmark. King Claudius, who now rules Denmark, has taken King Hamlet's wife, Queen Gertrude as his new wife and Queen of Denmark.
King Claudius fearing Young Fortinbras of Norway may invade, has sent ambassadors to Norway to urge the King of Norway to restrain Young Fortinbras. Young Hamlet distrusts King Claudius. The King and Queen do not understand why Hamlet still mourns his father's death over two months ago. In his first soliloquy, Hamlet explains that he does not like his mother marrying the next King of Denmark so quickly within a month of his father's death...
Laertes, the son of Lord Chamberlain Polonius, gives his sister Ophelia some brotherly advice. He warns Ophelia not to fall in love with Young Hamlet; she will only be hurt. Polonius tells his daughter Ophelia not to return Hamlet's affections for her since he fears Hamlet is only using her...
Hamlet meets the Ghost of his father, King Hamlet and follows it to learn more...
Hamlet learns from King Hamlet's Ghost that he was poisoned by King Claudius, the current ruler of Denmark. The Ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death but not to punish Queen Gertrude for remarrying; it is not Hamlet's place and her conscience and heaven will judge her... Hamlet swears Horatio and Marcellus to silence over Hamlet meeting the Ghost.
Polonius tells Reynaldo to spy on his son Laertes in Paris. Polonius learns from his daughter Ophelia that a badly dressed Hamlet met her, studied her face and promptly left. Polonius believes that Hamlet's odd behavior is because Ophelia has rejected him. Polonius decides to tell King Claudius the reason for Hamlet's recently odd behavior.
King Claudius instructs courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out what is causing Hamlet's strange "transformation," or change of character. Queen Gertrude reveals that only King Hamlet's death and her recent remarriage could be upsetting Hamlet.
We learn more of Young Fortinbras' movements and Polonius has his own theory about Hamlet's transformation; it is caused by Hamlet's love for his daughter Ophelia. Hamlet makes his famous speech about the greatness of man. Hamlet plans to use a play to test if King Claudius really did kill his father as King Hamlet's Ghost told him...
The King's spies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report to King Claudius on Hamlet's behavior. Hamlet is eager for King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to watch a play tonight which Hamlet has added lines to.
King Claudius and Polonius listen in on Hamlet's and Ophelia's private conversation. Hamlet suspects Ophelia is spying on him and is increasingly hostile to her before leaving.
King Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England, fearing danger in Hamlet since he no longer believes Hamlet is merely lovesick. The King agrees to Polonius' plan to eavesdrop on Hamlet's conversation with his mother after the play to hopefully learn more from Hamlet. The play Hamlet had added lines to is performed. The mime preceding the play which mimics the Ghost's description of King Hamlet's death goes unnoticed.
The main play called "The Murder of Gonzago" is performed, causing King Claudius to react in a way which convinces Hamlet that his uncle did indeed poison his father King Hamlet as the Ghost previously had told him... Hamlet pretends not to know that the play has offended King Claudius. Hamlet agrees to speak with his mother in private...
King Claudius admits his growing fear of Hamlet and decides to send him overseas to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in order to protect himself. Alone, King Claudius reveals in soliloquy his own knowledge of the crime he has committed (poisoning King Hamlet) and realizes that he cannot escape divine justice...
Queen Gertrude attempts to scold her son but Hamlet instead scolds his mother for her actions. Queen Gertrude cries out in fear, and Polonius echoes it and is stabbed through the arras (subdivision of a room created by a hanging tapestry) where he was listening in. Hamlet continues scolding his mother but the Ghost reappears, telling Hamlet to be gentle with the Queen. For her part, Queen Gertrude agrees to stop living with King Claudius, beginning her redemption....
King Claudius speaks with his wife, Queen Gertrude. He learns of Polonius' murder which shocks him; it could easily have been him. Queen Gertrude lies for her son, saying that Hamlet is as mad as a tempestuous sea. King Claudius, now scared of Hamlet, decides to have Hamlet sent away to England immediately... He also sends courtiers and spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to speak with Hamlet to find out where Hamlet has hidden Polonius' body so they can take it to the chapel.
Hamlet refuses to tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where Polonius' dead body is hidden. He calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern lapdogs revealing his true awareness that they are not his friends. Hamlet agrees to see King Claudius.
Hamlet continues to refuse to tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where Polonius' body is. Hamlet is brought before the King. The two exchange words, clearly circling each other, each aware that the other is a threat. Hamlet tells King Claudius where Polonius body is. King Claudius ominously tells Hamlet to leave for England supposedly for Hamlet's own safety. With Hamlet gone, King Claudius reveals his plans for Hamlet to be killed in England, freeing King Claudius from further worry from this threat...
Young Fortinbras marches his army across Denmark to fight the Polish. Hamlet laments that he does not have in him the strength of Young Fortinbras, who will lead an army into pointless fighting, if only to maintain honor. Hamlet asks himself how he cannot fight for honor when his father has been killed and his mother made a whore in his eyes by becoming King Claudius' wife.
The death of Polonius leaves its mark on Ophelia who becomes mad from the grief of losing her father. Laertes storms King Claudius' castle, demanding to see his father and wanting justice when he learns that his father, Polonius has been killed. King Claudius remains calm, telling Laertes that he too mourned his father's loss...
Horatio is greeted by sailors who have news from Hamlet. Horatio follows the sailors to learn more... King Claudius explains to Laertes that Hamlet killed his father, Polonius. Deciding they have a common enemy, they plot Hamlet's death at a fencing match to be arranged between Laertes and Hamlet. Laertes learns of his sister Ophelia's death by drowning...
Hamlet and Horatio speak with a cheerful Clown or gravedigger. Hamlet famously realizes that man's accomplishments are transitory (fleeting) and holding the skull of Yorick, a childhood jester he remembered, creates a famous scene about man's insignificance and inability to control his fate following death.
At Ophelia's burial, the Priest reveals a widely held belief that Ophelia committed suicide, angering Laertes. Hamlet fights Laertes over Ophelia's grave, angered by Laertes exaggerated emphasis of his sorrow and because he believes he loved Ophelia much more than her brother.
Hamlet explains to Horatio how he avoided the death planned for him in England and had courtiers' Rosencrantz and Guildenstern put to death instead. Hamlet reveals his desire to kill King Claudius.
Summoned by Osric to fence against Laertes, Hamlet arrives at a hall in the castle and fights Laertes. Queen Gertrude drinks a poisoned cup meant for Hamlet, dying but not before telling all that she has been poisoned.
Hamlet wins the first two rounds against Laertes but is stabbed and poisoned fatally in the third round. Exchanging swords whilst fighting, Hamlet wounds and poisons Laertes who explains that his sword is poison tipped.
Now dying, Hamlet stabs King Claudius with this same sword, killing him.
Hamlet, dying, tells Horatio to tell his story and not to commit suicide. Hamlet recommends Young Fortinbras as the next King of Denmark. Young Fortinbras arrives, cleaning up the massacre. Horatio promises to tell all the story we have just witnessed, ending the play.
Hamlet Essay features Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous critique based on his legendary and influential Shakespeare notes and lectures
HAMLET was the play, or rather Hamlet himself was the character, in the intuition and exposition of which I first made my turn for philosophical criticism, and especially for insight into the genius of Shakspeare, noticed. This happened first amongst my acquaintances, as Sir George Beaumont will bear witness; and subsequently, long before Schlegel had delivered at Vienna the lectures on Shakspeare, which he afterwards published, I had given on the same subject eighteen lectures substantially the same, proceeding from the very same point of view, and deducing the same conclusions, so far as I either then agreed, or now agree, with him. I gave these lectures at the Royal Institution, before six or seven hundred auditors of rank and eminence, in the spring of the same year, in which Sir Humphrey Davy, a fellow-lecturer, made his great revolutionary discoveries in chemistry. Even in detail the coincidence of Schlegel with my lectures was so extraordinary, that all who at a later period heard the same words, taken by me from my notes of the lectures at the Royal Institution, concluded a borrowing on my part from Schlegel. Mr. Hazlitt, whose hatred of me is in such an inverse ratio to my zealous kindness towards him, as to be defended by his warmest admirer, Charles Lamb—(who, God bless him! besides his characteristic obstinacy of adherence to old friends, as long at least as they are at all down in the world, is linked as by a charm to Hazlitt's conversation)—only as 'frantic';—Mr. Hazlitt, I say, himself replied to an assertion of my plagiarism from Schlegel in these words;—"That is a lie; for I myself heard the very same character of Hamlet from Coleridge before he went to Germany, and when he had neither read nor could read a page of German!" Now Hazlitt was on a visit to me at my cottage at Nether Stowey, Somerset, in the summer of the year 1798, in the September of which year I first was out of sight of the shores of Great Britain. Recorded by me, S. T. Coleridge, 7th January, 1819.
The seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character of Hamlet have long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of critics; and, as we are always loth to suppose that the cause of defective apprehension is in ourselves, the mystery has been too commonly explained by the very easy process of setting it down as in fact inexplicable, and by resolving the phenomenon into a misgrowth or lusus of the capricious and irregular genius of Shakspeare. The shallow and stupid arrogance of these vulgar and indolent decisions I would fain do my best to expose. I believe the character of Hamlet may be traced to Shakspeare's deep and accurate science in mental philosophy. Indeed, that this character must have some connection with the common fundamental laws of our nature may be assumed from the fact, that Hamlet has been the darling of every country in which the literature of England has been fostered. In order to understand him, it is essential that we should reflect on the constution of our own minds. Man is distingtuished from the brute animals in proportion as thought prevails over sense: but in the healthy processes of the mind, a balance is constantly maintained between the impressions from outward objects and the inward operations of the intellect;—for if there be an overbalance, in the contemplative faculty, man thereby becomes the creature of mere meditation, and loses his natural power of action. Now one of Shakspeare's modes of creating characters is, to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess, and then to place himself, Shakspeare, thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances. In Hamlet he seems to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention to the objects of our senses, .and our meditation on the workings of our minds,—an equilibrium between the real and the imaginary worlds. In Hamlet this balance is disturbed: his thoughts, and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action, consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character Shakspeare places in circumstances, under which it is obliged to act on the spur of the moment:—Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrasti-nates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve. Thus it is that this tragedy presents a direct contrast to that of Macbeth; the one proceeds with the utmost slowness, the other with a crowded and breathless rapidity.
The effect of this overbalance of the imaginative power is beautifully illustrated in the everlasting broodings and superfluous activities of Hamlet's mind, which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the world without,— giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to be indefinite;—definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. Hence it is that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the sight of an outward object, but from the beholder's reflection upon it;—not from the sensuous impression, but from the imaginative reflex. Few have seen a celebrated waterfall without feeling something akin to disappointment: it is only subsequently that the image comes back full into the mind, and brings with it a train of grand or beautiful associations. Hamlet feels this; his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon ex-ternal things as hieroglyphics. His soliloquy—
O! that this too too solid flesh would melt, &c.
springs from that craving after the indefinite—for that which is not—which most easily besets men of genius; and the self-delusion common to this temper of mind is finely exemplified in the character which Hamlet gives of himself:—
—It cannot be
He mistakes the seeing his chains for the breaking them, jdelays action till action is of no use, and dies the victim of mere circumstance and accident.
There is a great significancy in the names of Shakspeare's plays. In the Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Winter's Tale, the total effect is produced by a coordination of the characters as in a wreath of flowers. But in Coriolanus, Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, &c. the effect arises from the subordination of all to one, either as the prominent person, or the principal object. Cymbeline is the only exception; and even that has its advantages in preparing the audience for the chaos of time, place, and costume, by throwing the date back into a fabulous king's reign.
But as of more importance, so more striking, is the judgment displayed by our truly dramatic poet, as well as poet of the drama, in the management of his first scenes. With the single exception of Cymbeline, they either place before us at one glance both the past and the future in some effect, which implies the continuance and full agency of its cause, as in the feuds and party-spirit of the servants of the two houses in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet; or in the degrading passion for shews and public spectacles, and the overwhelming attachment for the newest successful war-chief in the Roman people, already become a populace, contrasted with the jealousy of the nobles in Julius Caesar;—or they at once commence the action so as to excite a curiosity for the explanation in the following scenes, as in the storm of wind and waves, and the boatswain in the Tempest, instead of anticipating our curiosity, as in most other first scenes, and in too many other first acts;—or they act, by contrast of diction suited to the characters, at once to heighten the effect, and yet to give a naturalness to the language and rhythm of the principal personages, either as that of Prospero and Miranda by the appropriate lowness of the style,—or as in King John, by the equally appropriate stateliness of official harangues or narratives, so that the after blank verse seems to belong to the rank and quality of the speakers, and not to the poet;—or they strike at once the keynote, and give the predominant spirit of the play, as in the Twelfth Night and in Macbeth;—or finally, the first scene comprises all these advantages at once, as in Hamlet.
Compare the easy language of common life, in which this drama commences, with the direful music and wild wayward rhythm and abrupt lyrics of the opening of Macbeth. The tone is quite familiar;—there is no poetic description of night, no elaborate information conveyed by one speaker to another of what both had immediately before their senses—(such as the first distich in Addison's Cato, which is a translation into poetry of 'Past four o'clock and a dark morning!');—and yet nothing bordering on the comic on the one hand, nor any striving of the intellect on the other. It is precisely the language of sensation among men who feared no charge of effeminacy for feeling what they had no want of resolution to bear. Yet the armour, the dead silence, the watchfulness that first interrupts it, the welcome relief of the guard, the cold, the broken expressions of compelled attention to bodily feelings still under control—all excellently accord with, and prepare for, the after gradual rise into tragedy;— but, above all, into a tragedy, the interest of which is as eminently ad et apud intra, as that of Macbeth is directly ad extra.
In all the best attested stories of ghosts and visions, as in that of Brutus, of Archbishop Cranmer, that of Benvenuto Cellini recorded by himself, and the vision of Galileo communicated by him to his favourite pupil Torricelli, the ghost-seers were in a state of cold or chilling damp from without, and of anxiety inwardly. It has been with all of them as with Francisco on his guard,— alone, in the depth and silence of the night;—''twas bitter cold, and they were sick at heart, and not a mouse stirring.' The attention to minute sounds,—naturally associated with the recollection of minute objects, and the more familiar and trifling, the more impressive from the unusualness of their producing any impression at all —gives a philosophic pertinency to this last image; but it has likewise its dramatic use and purpose. For its commonness in ordinary conversation tends to produce the sense of reality, and at once hides the poet, and yet approximates the reader or spectator to that state in which the highest poetry will appear, and in its component parts, though not in the whole composition, really is, the language of nature. If I should not speak it, I feel that I should be thinking it;—the voice only is the poet's,— the words are my own. That Shakspeare meant to put an effect in the actor's power in the very first words— "Who's there?" — is evident fromt he impatience expressed by the startled Francisco in the words that follow —"Nay, answer me: stand and unfold yourself." A brave man is never so peremptory, as when he fears that he is afraid. Observe the gradual transition from the silence and the still recent habit of listening in Francisco's—"I think I hear them"—to the more cheerful call out, which a good actor would observe, in the—"Stand ho! Who is there?" Bernardo's inquiry after Horatio, and the repetition of his name and in his own presence indicate a respect or an eagerness that implies him as one of the persons who are in the foreground; and the scepticism attributed to him,—
Horatio says, 'tis but our fantasy;
prepares us for Hamlet's after eulogy on him as one whose blood and judgment were happily commingled. The actor should also be careful to distinguish the expectation and gladness of Bernardo's 'Welcome, Horatio!' from the mere courtesy of his 'Welcome, good Marcellus!' Now observe the admirable indefiniteness of the first opening out of the occasion of all this anxiety. The preparation informative of the audience is just as much as was precisely necessary, and no more;—it begins with the uncertainty appertaining to a question:—
Mar. What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?—
Even the word 'again' has its credibilizing effect. Then Horatio, the representative of the ignorance of the audience, not himself, but by Marcellus to Bemardo, anticipates the common solution—"tis but our fantasy!' upon which Marcellus rises into
This dreaded sight, twice seen of us—
which immediately afterwards becomes 'this apparition,' and that, too, an intelligent spirit, that is, to be spoken to! Then comes the confirmation of Horatio's disbelief;—
Tush! tush! 'twill not appear!—
and the silence, with which the scene opened, is again restored in the shivering feeling of Horatio sitting down, at such a time, and with the two eye-witnesses, to hear a story of a ghost, and that, too, of a ghost which had appeared twice before at the very same hour. In the deep feeling which Bernardo has of the solemn nature of what he is about to relate, he makes an effort to master his own imaginative terrors by an elevation of style,—itself a continuation of the effort,—and by turning off from the apparition, as from something which would force him too deeply into himself, to the outward objects, the realities of. nature, which had accompanied it:—
Ber. Last night of all,
This passage seems to contradict the critical law that what is told, makes a faint impression compared with what is beholden; for it does indeed convey to the mind more than the eye can see; whilst the interruption of the narrative at the very moment when we are most intensely listening for the sequel, and have our thoughts diverted from the dreaded sight in expectation of the .desired, yet almost dreaded, tale—this gives all the suddenness and surprise of the original appearance;—
Mar. Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!—
Note the judgment displayed in having the two persons present, who, as having seen the Ghost before, are naturally eager in confirming their former opinions,—whilst the sceptic is silent, and after having been twice addressed by his friends, answers with two hasty syllables—'Most like,' —and a confession of horror:
—It harrows me with fear and wonder.
O heaven! words are wasted on those who feel, and to those who do not feel the exquisite judgment of Shakspeare in this scene, what can be said ?—Hume himself could not but have had faith in this Ghost dramatically, let his anti-ghostism have been as strong as Sampson against other ghosts less powerfully raised.Act i. sc. i.
Mar. Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
How delightfully natural is the transition to the retrospective narrative! And observe, upon the Ghost's reappearance, how much Horatio's courage is increased by having translated the late individual spectator into general thought and past experience,—and the sympathy of Marcellus and Bernardo with his patriotic surmises in daring to strike at the Ghost; whilst in a moment, upon its vanishing the former solemn awe-stricken feeling returns upon them:—
We do it wrong, being so majestical,
Ib. Horatio's speech:—
I have heard,
No Addison could be more careful to be poetical in diction than Shakspeare in providing the grounds and sources of its propriety. But how to elevate a thing almost mean by its familiarity, young poets may learn in this treatment of the cock-crow.
Ib. Horatio's speech:—
And, by my advice,
Note the inobtrusive and yet fully adequate mode of introducing the main character, 'young Hamlet,' upon whom is transferred all the interest excited for the acts and concerns of the king his father.
Ib. sc. 2. The audience are now relieved by a change of scene to the
royal court, in order that Hamlet may not have to take up the leavings of
exhaustion. In the king's speech, observe the set and pedantically
antithetic form of the sentences when touching that which galled the heels
of conscience,—the strain of undignified rhetoric,—and yet in what
follows concerning the public weal, a certain appropriate majesty. Indeed
was he not a royal brother?—
And now, Laertes, what's the news with you? &c.
Thus with great art Shakspeare introduces a most impor-tant, but still subordinate character first, Laertes, who is yet thus graciously treated in consequence of the assistance given to the election of the late king's brother instead of his son by Polonius.
Ham. A little more than kin, and less than kind.
Hamlet opens his mouth with a playing on words, the complete absence of which throughout characterizes Macbeth. This playing on words may be attributed to many causes or motives, as either to an exuberant activity of mind, as in the higher comedy of Shakspeare generally; —or to an imitation of it as a mere fashion, as if it were said—'Is not this better than groaning?'—or to a contemptuous exultation in minds vulgarized and overset by their success, as in the poetic instance of Milton's Devils in the battle;—or it is the language of resentment, as is familiar to every one who has witnessed the quarrels of the lower orders, where there is invariably a profusion of punning invective, whence, perhaps, nicknames have in a considerable degree sprung up;—or it is the language of suppressed passion, and especially of a hardly smothered personal, dislike. The first and last of these combine in Hamlet's case; and I have little doubt that Farmer is right in supposing the equivocation carried on in the expression 'too much i' the sun,' or son.
Ham. Ay, madam, it is common.
Here observe Hamlet's delicacy to his mother, and how the suppression prepares him for the overflow in the next speech, in which his" character is more developed by bringing forward his aversion to externals, and which betrays his habit of brooding over the world within him, coupled with a prodigality of beautiful words, which are the half embodyings of thought, and are more than thought, and have an outness, a reality sui generis, and yet retain their correspondence and shadowy affinity to the images and movements within. Note also Hamlet's silence to the long speech of the king which follows, and his respectful. but general, answer to his mother.
Ib. Hamlet's first soliloquy:—
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
This tædium vitæ is a common oppression on minds cast in the Hamlet mould, and is caused by disproportionate mental exertion, which necessitates exhaustion of bodily feeling. Where there is a just coincidence of external and internal action, pleasure is always the result; but where the former is deficient, and the mind's appetency of the ideal is unchecked, realities will seem cold and unmoving. In such cases, passion combines itself with the indefinite alone. In this mood of his mind the relation of the appearance of his father's spirit in arms is made all at once to Hamlet:—it is—Horatio's speech, in particular—a perfect model of the 'true style of dramatic narrative;— the purest poetry, and yet in the most natural language, equally remote from the ink-horn and the plough.
Ib. sc. 3. This scene must be regarded as one of Shakspeare's lyric movements in the play, and the skill with which it is interwoven with the dramatic parts is peculiarly an excellence of our poet. You experience the sensation of a pause without the sense of a stop. You will observe in Ophelia's short and general answer to the long speech of Laertes the natural carelessness of innocence, which cannot think such a code of cautions and prudences necessary to its own preservation.
Ib. Speech of Polonius:—(in Stockdale's edition.)
Or (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,)
I suspect this 'wronging' is here used much in the same sense as 'wringing' or 'wrenching'; and that the paren-thesis should be extended to 'thus.' 1
Ib. Speech of Polonius:—
——How prodigal the soul
A spondee has, I doubt not, dropped out of the text. Either insert 'Go to' after 'vows';—
Lends the tongue vows: Go to, these blazes, daughter—
Shakspeare never introduces a catalectic line without intending an equivalent to the foot omitted in the pauses, or the dwelling emphasis, or the diffused retardation. I do not, however, deny that a good actor might by employing the last mentioned means, namely, the retardation, or solemn knowing drawl, supply the missing spondee with good effect. But I do not believe that in this or any other of the foregoing speeches of Polonius, Shakspeare meant to bring out the senility or weakness of that personage's mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties of life, where to distinguish the fit objects for the application of the maxims collected by the experience of a long life, requires no fineness of tact, as in the admonitions to his son and daughter, Polonius is uniformly made respectable. But if an actor were even capable of catching these shades in the character, the pit and the gallery would be malcontent at their exhibition. It is to Hamlet that Polonius is, and is meant to be, contemptible, because in inwardness and uncontrollable activity of movement, Hamlet's mind is the logical contrary to that of Polonius, and besides, as I have observed before. Hamlet dislikes the man as false to his true allegiance in the matter of the succession to the crown.
Ib. sc. 4. The unimportant conversation with which this scene opens is a proof of Shakspeare's minute knowledge of human nature. It is a well established fact, that on the brink of any serious enterprise, or event of moment, men almost invariably endeavour to elude the pressure of their own thoughts by turning aside to trivial objects and familiar circumstances: thus this dialogue on the platform begins with remarks on the coldness of the air, and inquiries, obliquely connected, indeed, with the expected hour of the visitation, but thrown out in a seeming vacuity of topics, as to the striking of the dock and so forth. The same desire to escape from the impending thought is carried on in Hamlet's account of, and moralizing on, the Danish custom of wassailing: he runs off from the particular to the universal, and, in his repugnance to personal and individual concerns, escapes, as it were, from himself in generalizations, and smothers the impatience and uneasy feelings of the moment in abstract reasoning. Besides this, another purpose is answered;—for by thus entangling the attention of the audience in the nice distinctions and parenthetical sentences of this speech of Hamlet's, Shakspeare takes them completely by surprise on the appearance of the Ghost, which comes upon them in all the suddenness of its visionary character. Indeed, no modern writer would have dared, like Shakspeare, to have preceded this last visitation by two distinct appearances,—or could have contrived that the third should rise upon the former two in impressiveness and solemnity of interest.
But in addition to all the other excellences of Hamlet's speech concerning the wassel-music—so finely revealing the predominant idealism, the ratiocinative meditativeness, of his character—it has the advantage of giving nature and probability to the impassioned continuity of the speech instantly directed to the Ghost. The momentum had been given to his mental activity; the full current of the thoughts and words had set in, and the very forgetfulness, in the fervour of his argumentation, of the purpose for which he was there, aided in preventing the appearance from benumbing the mind. Consequently, it acted as a new impulse,—a sudden stroke which increased the velocity of the body already in motion, whilst it altered the direction. The co-presence of Horatio, Marcellus, and Bemardo is most judiciously contrived; for it renders the courage of Hamlet and his impetuous eloquence perfectly intelligible. The knowledge,—the unthought of consciousness, —the sensation,—of human auditors,—of flesh and blood sympathists—acts as a support and a stimulation a. tergo, while the front of the mind, the whole consciousness of the speaker, is filled, yea, absorbed, by the. apparition. Add too, that the apparition itself has by its previous appearances been brought nearer to a thing of this world. This accrescence of objectivity in a Ghost that yet retains all its ghostly attributes and fearful subjectivity, is truly wonderful.
Ib. sc. 5. Hamlet's speech:—
O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?
I remember-nothing equal to this burst unless it be the
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!
Mar. Hillo, ho, ho, my lord!
This part of the scene after Hamlet's interview with the Ghost has been charged with an improbable eccentricity. But the truth is, that after the mind has been stretched beyond its usual pitch and tone, it must either sink into exhaustion and inanity, or seek relief by change. It is thus well known, that persons conversant in deeds of cruelty contrive to escape from conscience by connecting something of the ludicrous with them, and by inventing grotesque terms and a certain technical phraseology to disguise the horror of their practices. Indeed, paradoxical as it may appear, the terrible by a law of the human mind always touches on the verge of the ludicrous. Both arise from the perception of something out of the common order of things—something, in fact, out of its place; and if from this we can abstract danger, the uncommonness will alone remain, and the sense of the ridiculous be excited. The dose alliance of these opposites—they are not contraries— appears from the circumstance, that laughter is equally the expression of extreme anguish and horror as of joy: as there are tears of sorrow and tears of joy, so is there a laugh of terror and a laugh of merriment. These complex causes will naturally have produced in Hamlet the disposition to escape from his own feelings of the overwhelming and supernatural by a wild transition to the ludicrous, —a sort of cunning bravado, bordering on the flights of delirium. For you may, perhaps, observe that Hamlet's wildness is but half false; he plays that subtle trick of pretending to act only when he is very near really being what he acts.''
The subterraneous speeches of the Ghost are hardly defensible:—but I would call your attention to the char-acteristic difference between this Ghost, as a superstition connected with the most mysterious truths of revealed religion,—and Shakspeare's consequent reverence in his treatment of it,—and the foul earthly witcheries and wild language in Macbeth.
Act ii. sc. i. Polonius and Reynaldo.
In all things dependent on, or rather made up of, fine address, the manner is no more or otherwise rememberable than the light motions, steps, and gestures of youth and health. But this is almost everything:—no wonder, therefore if that which can be put down by rule in the memory should appear to us as mere poring, maudlin, cunning,— slyness blinking through the watery eye of superannuation. So in this admirable scene, Polonius, who is throughout the skeleton of his own former skill and statecraft, hunts the trail of policy at a dead scent, supplied by the weak fever-smell in his own nostrils.
Ib. sc. 2. Speech of Pofonius:—
My liege, and madam, to expostulate, &c.
Then as to the jingles, and play on words, let us but look into the sermons Of Dr. Donne (the wittiest man of that age) and we shall and them full of this vein.
I have, and that most carefully, read Dr. Donne's sermons, and find none of these jingles. The great art of an orator—to make whatever he talks of appear of importance—this, indeed, Donne has effected with consummate skill.
Ham. Excellent well;
That is, you are sent to fish out this secret. This is Hamlet's own meaning.
Ham. For if the sun breeds maggots in a dead dog,
These purposely obscure lines, I rather think, refer to some thought in Hamlet's mind, contrasting the lovely daughter with such a tedious old fool, her father, as he. Hamlet, represents Polonius to himself:—'Why, fool as he is, he is some degrees in rank above a dead dog's carcase; and if the sun, being a god that kisses carrion, can raise life out of a dead dog,—why may not good fortune, that favours fools, have raised a lovely girl out of this dead-alive old fool?' Warburton is often led astray, in his interpreta-tions, by his attention to general positions without the due Shakspearian reference to what is probably passing in the mind of his speaker, characteristic, and expository of his particular character and present mood. The subsequent passage,—
O Jephtha, judge of Israel I what a treasure hadst thou!
is confirmatory of my view of these lines.
Ham. You cannot. Sir, take from me any thing that I will more
willingly part withal; except my life, except my life, except my
This repetition strikes me as most admirable.
Ham. Then are our beggars, bodies; and our monarchs, and ont-stretched heroes, the beggars' shadows.
I do not understand this; and Shakspeare seems to have intended the meaning not to be more than snatched at:—'By my fay, I cannot reason!'
The rugged Pyrrhus—be whose sable arms, &c.
This admirable substitution of the epic for the dramatic, giving such a
reality to the impassioned dramatic diction of Shakspeare's own dialogue,
and authorized too, by the actual style of the tragedies before his time
(Porrex and Ferrex, Titus Andronicus, &c.)—is well worthy of notice.
The fancy, that a burlesque was intended, sinks below criticism: the
lines, as epic narrative, are superb.
—— had seen the mobled queen, &c.
A mob-cap is still a word in common use for a morning cap, which conceals the whole head of hair, and passes under the chin. It is nearly the same as the nightcap, that is, it is an imitation of it, so as to answer the purpose ('I am not drest for company'), and yet reconciling it with neatness and perfect purity.
Ib. Hamlet's soliloquy:
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am! I &c.
This is Shakspeare's own attestation to the truth of the idea of Hamlet which I have before put forth.
The spirit that I have seen,
See Sir Thomas Brown:
I believe————that those apparitions and ghosts of departed persons arc not the wandering souls of men, but the unquiet walks of devils, prompting and suggesting us unto mischief, blood and villany, instilling and stealing into our hearts, that the blessed spirits are not at rest in their graves, but wander solicitous of the affairs of the world. Relig. Meet. Pt. I. Sect. 37.
Act iii. sc. i. Hamlet's soliloquy:
To be, or not to be, that is the question, &c.
This speech is of absolutely universal interest,—and yet to which of all Shakspeare's characters could it have been appropriately given but Hamlet? For Jaques it would have been too deep, and for Iago too habitual a communion with the heart; which in every man belongs, or ought to belong, to all mankind.
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourne
Theobald's note in defence of the supposed contradiction of this in the apparition of the Ghost.
O miserable defender! If it be necessary to remove the apparent contradiction,—if it be not rather a great beauty,—surely, it were easy to say, that no traveller returns to this world, as to his home, or abiding-place.
Ham. Ha, ha! are you honest?
Here it is evident that the penetrating Hamlet perceives, from the
strange and forced manner of Ophelia, that the sweet girl was not acting a
part of her own, but was a decoy; and his after speeches are not so much
directed to her as to the listeners and spies. Such a discovery in a mood
so anxious and 'irritable accounts for a certain harshness in him;—and
yet a wild up-working of love, sporting with opposites in a wilful
self-tormenting strain of irony, is perceptible throughout. 'I did love
Ib. Hamlet's speech:—
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.
Observe this dallying with the inward purpose, characteristic of one
who had not brought his mind to the steady acting point. He would fain
sting the uncle's mind;
Ib. sc. 2. This dialogue of Hamlet with the players is one of the happiest instances of Shakspeare's power of diversifying the scene while he is carrying on the plot.
Ham. My lord, you play'd once i' the university, you say? (To Polonius.)
To have kept Hamlet's love for Ophelia before the audience in any direct form, would have made a breach in the unity of the interest;—but yet to the thoughtful reader it is suggested by his spite to poor Polonius, whom he cannot let rest.
Ib. The style of the interlude here is distinguished from the real dialogue by rhyme, as in the first interview with the players by epic verse.Ros. My lord, you once did love me.
Ham. So I do still, by these pickers and stealers.
I never heard an actor give this word 'so' its proper emphasis. Shakspeare's meaning is—'lov'd you? Hum! —so I do still, &c.' There has been no change in my opinion:—I think as ill of you as I did. Else Hamlet tells an ignoble falsehood, and a useless one, as the last speech to Guildenstern—'Why, look you now,' &c.— proves.
Ib. Hamlet's soliloquy:—
Now could I drink hot blood,
The utmost at which Hamlet arrives, is a disposition, a mood, to do something:—but what to do, is still left undecided, while every word he utters tends to betray his disguise. Yet observe how perfectly equal to any call of the moment is Hamlet, let it only not be for the future.
Ib. sc. 4. Speech of Polonius. Polonius's volunteer obtrusion of himself into this business, while it is appro-priate to his character, still itching after former importance, removes all likelihood that Hamlet should suspect his presence, and prevents us from making his death injure Hamlet in our opinion.
Ib. The king's speech:—
O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven, &c.
This speech well marks the difference between crime and guilt of habit. The conscience here is still admitted to audience. Nay, even as an audible soliloquy, it is far less improbable than is supposed by such as have watched men only in the beaten road of their feelings. But the. final—'all may be well!' is remarkable;—the degree of merit attributed by the self-flattering soul to its own struggle, though baffled, and to the indefinite half-promise, half-command, to persevere in religious duties. The solution is in the divine medium of the Christian doctrine of expiation:—not what you have done. but what you are, must determine.
Ib. Hamlet's speech:—
Now might I do it, pat, now he is praying:
Dr. Johnson's mistaking of the marks of reluctance and procrastination for impetuous, horror-striking, fiendishness! — Of such importance is it, to understand the germ of a character. But the interval taken by Hamlet's [speech is truly awful! And then—
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
O what a lesson concerning the essential difference [between wishing and willing, and the, folly of all motive-mongering, while the individual self remains!
Ib. sc. 4.
Ham. A bloody deed;—almost as bad, good mother,
I confess that Shakspeare has left the character of the
Act iv. sc. 2.
Ros. Take you me for a spunge, my lord?
Hamlet's madness is made to consist in the free utterance of all the thoughts that had passed through his mind before;—in fact, in telling home-truths.
Act iv. sc. 5. Ophelia's singing. O, note the conjunction here of these two thoughts that had never subsisted in disjunction, the love for Hamlet, and her filial love, with. the guileless floating on the surface of her pure imagina-tion of the cautions so lately expressed, and the fears not too delicately avowed, by her father and brother, concern-ing the dangers to which her honour lay exposed. Thought, affliction, passion, murder itself—she turns to favour and prettiness. This play of association is instanced in the close:—
My brother shall know of it, and so I thank you for your good counsel.Ib. Gentleman's speech:—
And as the world were now bnt to begin
Fearful and self-suspicious as I always feel, when I seem to see an error of Judgment in Shakspeare, yet I cannot reconcile the cool, and, as Warburton calls it, 'rational and consequential,' reflection in these lines with the anony-mousness, or the alarm, of this Gentleman or Messenger, as he is called in other editions.
Ib. King's speech:—
There's such divinity doth hedge a king,
Proof, as indeed all else is, that Shakspeare never intended us to see the King with Hamlet's eyes; though, I suspect, the managers have long done so.
Ib. Speech of Laertes:—
To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!
Mercy on Warburton's notion of goodness! Please to refer to the seventh scene of this act;—
I will do it;
uttered by Laertes after the King's description of Hamlet;—
He being remiss,
Yet I acknowledge that Shakspeare evidently wishes, as much as possible, to spare the character of Laertes,—to break the extreme turpitude of his consent to become an agent and accomplice of the King's treachery;—and to this end he reintroduces Ophelia at the close of this scene to afford a probable stimulus of passion in her brother.
Ib. sc. 6. Hamlet's capture by the pirates. This is almost the only
play of Shakspeare, in which mere accidents, independent of all will, form
an essential part of the plot;
Ib. sc. 7. Note how the King first awakens Laertes's vanity by praising the reporter, and then gratifies it by the report itself, and finally points it by—
Sir, this report of his
Ib. King's speech:
For goodness, growing to a pleurisy,
Theobald's note from Warburton, who conjectures 'plethory.'
I rather think that Shakspeare meant 'pleurisy,' but involved in it the thought of plethora, as supposing pleurisy to arise from too much blood; otherwise I cannot explain the following line—
And then this should is like a spendthrift sigh,
In a stitch in the side every one must have heaved a sigh that 'hurt by easing.'
Since writing the above I feel confirmed that 'pleurisy' is the right word; for I find that in the old medical dictionaries the pleurisy is often called the 'plethory.'
Queen. Your sister's drown'd, Laertes.
That Laertes might be excused in some degree for not cooling, the Act concludes with the affecting death of Ophelia,—who in the beginning lay like a little projection of land into a lake or stream, covered with spray-flowers, quietly reflected in the quiet waters, but at length is under-mined or loosened, and becomes a faery isle, and after a brief vagrancy sinks almost without an eddy!
Act v. sc. i. O, the rich contrast between the Clowns and Hamlet, as two extremes! You see in the former the mockery of logic, and a traditional wit valued, like truth, for its antiquity, and treasured up, like a tune, for use.
Ib. sc. i and 2. Shakspeare seems to mean all Hamlet's character to be brought together before his final disappearance from the scene;—his meditative excess in the grave-digging, his yielding to passion with Laertes, his love for Ophelia blazing out, his tendency to generalize on all occasions in the dialogue with Horatio, his fine gentlemanly manners with Osrick, and his and Shak-speare's own fondness for presentiment:
But thou would'st not think, how ill all's here about my heart;
1 It is so pointed in the modem editions.—Ed.
Commentary - Act I.
Hamlet Commentary provides a comprehensive description of every act with explanations and translations for all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - Elsinore. A Platform before the Castle.
Francisco: "'tis bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart."
King Hamlet of Denmark has recently died from poisoning. Denmark is in a state of high alert and preparing for possible war with Young Fortinbras of Norway. A ghost resembling the late King Hamlet is spotted on a platform before Elsinore Castle in Denmark.
The play opens to the solitary scene of Francisco a soldier on guard duty on a platform before Elsinore Castle.
Bernardo, another soldier enters, asking "Who's there?" (Line 1).
Francisco does not reply, demanding identification from the intruder. Bernardo supplies this (Line 3) and Francisco warmly greets Barnardo as his replacement on guard duty. Barnardo tells us that it is midnight and advises his friend to"get thee [go to] bed," (Line 7).
Francisco is happy to do this, thanking Barnardo and saying "'tis [it is] bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart" (it is very cold and I am sick at heart), (Line 8), a line which symbolizes the mood of this play and the state of tension in Denmark.
Before leaving we learn from Francisco that it has been a quiet watch with "Not a mouse stirring" (not a mouse moving), (Line 10).
Francisco hears the approach of two men whom we soon learn are the soldiers Horatio and Marcellus who identify themselves as being loyal to Denmark (Lines 15-16).
Before leaving, Francisco tells Marcellus that Barnardo has relieved him.
Bernardo now meets up with Marcellus and Horatio, Marcellus asking if a certain apparition (The Ghost) seen before on a watch has returned.
Marcellus: "What! has this thing appear'd again to-night?" (Has the thing or the Ghost appeared again tonight?), (Line 21).
Learning from Bernardo that the apparition (The Ghost) has not returned, Marcellus explains the apparition further...
Barnardo explains that "Horatio says 'tis [it is] but our fantasy, [imagination]" but also that Horatio has agreed to sit with the men in case it appears again so Marcellus can prove the apparition is real and not merely fantasy (Lines 23-29).
Barnardo tells the skeptical Horatio to "sit down awhile," (Line 31) as Barnardo begins to tell the story of the apparition (Lines 29-39) when Marcellus notices the Ghost and cries out "Peace!" (Line 40), telling Horatio and Barnardo to look "where it [The Ghost] comes again!" (Line 40).
The Ghost now enters, Barnardo noting that this ghost has "the same figure [appearance], like the king that's dead" (the recently deceased King Hamlet of Denmark), (Line 41).
Marcellus tells Horatio to question the Ghost, after all "Thou [you-Horatio] art [are] a scholar;" he says (Line 42) .
Horatio is reluctant since he says the Ghost "harrows me with fear and wonder" (fills me with fear and wonder), (Line 44), but on Marcellus' urging, Horatio speaks to the Ghost.
Horatio now questions the Ghost, asking "What art [are] thou [you] that usurp'st [disturbs / takes] this time of night, / Together with that fair and war-like form [appearance] / In which the majesty of buried Denmark [King Hamlet of Denmark] / Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee [command you], speak!" (Lines 47- 48).
The Ghost does not answer, Marcellus saying it is offended and Bernardo saying that it "stalks [runs] away" (Line 50).
With the Ghost gone, Marcellus and Bernardo notice that the unbelieving Horatio is pale and trembling (Line 53). Bernardo asks Horatio "Is not this something more than fantasy?" (Is this not more than fantasy as you suggested earlier), (Line 54).
Horatio still trembling, says he would never have believed in the Ghost had he not seen it with his own eyes (Line 56) and Horatio mentions that the Ghost not only looked like the now dead King Hamlet but wore the "very armour" that King Hamlet had on when "he the ambitious Norway combated;" (he fought the ambitious Fortinbras, King of Norway) and when King Hamlet "smote the sledded Polacks [Poles] on the ice" (defeated the Poles on the ice), (Lines 60-63).
Marcellus reminds Horatio that the Ghost of the King has appeared twice before, wearing this very armor, Horatio saying that in his opinion, the appearance of the Ghost "bodes some strange eruption to our state" (foretells that something very bad will happen to our country), (Line 68).
Marcellus now sets the context of the play by asking Horatio why their guard duty watches Denmark by night, why weapons are being constructed and being bought and why shipwrights are being made to work on Sunday, against normal custom (Lines 70-78).
Horatio answers that all these actions are happening because Denmark is preparing for war.
Horatio explains that the late King Hamlet fought King Fortinbras of Norway, killing him in single combat and securing for Denmark, Norwegian territory which by agreement fell to King Hamlet since he won the fight and killed King Fortinbras (Lines 80-95).
Now, explains Horatio, Young Fortinbras, the son of the late King Fortinbras and nephew to the current King of Norway, has raised a force of "lawless resolutes," (lawless men) to help him reclaim the lands his father, King Fortinbras of Norway lost by losing the fight against the late King Hamlet of Denmark (Lines 96-100).
Young Fortinbras is not described favorably, being characterized by Horatio as being "of unimproved mettle hot and full," (unlearned, hot-blooded and reckless / rash), (Line 96).
It is this fear of attack, Horatio explains, that is the main reason their watch guards against intruders and the main reason for their preparations for war (Lines 96-108).
Bernardo agrees that it is Young Fortinbras who motivates their preparations for war, noting that the "portentous figure" (The Ghost), did come armed and during their watch (Lines 108-111).
Horatio agrees that it is significant that the Ghost appears now, saying that it is "trouble to the mind's eye" (Line 112) and remembering that such portents did precede Caesar's death, Horatio believing that the Ghost must be a precursor of things to come in Denmark. Just as Horatio finishes this thought, he sees the Ghost reappear (Lines 112-126).
Horatio demands that the illusion stay and not leave as it did before, asking it to speak to him if it can and tell them the future "If thou art privy to thy country's fate," (if you know my country's future), which Horatio hopes their foreknowledge of may avoid, and finally why this spirit exists (Line 132).
Unfortunately a cock crows, the Ghost rapidly moving twice before vanishing once more without saying a word (Lines 139-142).
Bernardo, Horatio and Marcellus all agree the Ghost was about to speak before the cock crowed, Horatio advising that they "impart [tell] what we have seen to-night / Unto [to] young Hamlet;" since as Horatio says, "upon my life [on my life], / This spirit, dumb [silent] to us, will speak to him" (Lines 168-171).
With the morning approaching (daybreak), (Lines 165-168), the three men agree to speak to young Hamlet, Marcellus saying he knows where to find the "young Hamlet" (son of the late King Hamlet and nephew to the current King "most conveniently" to tell him what they have seen (Line 174).
Act I. Scene II. - A Room of State in the Castle.
King Claudius: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?"
King Claudius who now rules Denmark, has taken King Hamlet's wife, Queen Gertrude as his wife. King Claudius fearing that Young Fortinbras of Norway may invade, has sent ambassadors to Norway to urge the King of Norway to restrain Young Fortinbras. Young Hamlet distrusts King Claudius. The King and Queen of Denmark (Claudius and Gertrude) do not understand why Hamlet still mourns his father's death over two months ago. In his first soliloquy, Hamlet explains that he does not like his mother marrying the next King of Denmark so quickly within a month of his father's death...
Within Elsinore Castle, the current King of Denmark, King Claudius (succeeding King Hamlet) Queen Gertrude (Hamlet's mother), Lord Chamberlain Polonius, his son Laertes, the courtiers Voltimand and Cornelius, Lords and Attendants enter.
The King (Claudius) expresses his grief for King Hamlet's (his predecessor's) death, saying that all in their kingdom grieve and mourn "our dear brother's death" (Line 1), adding that "discretion" (discretion) has "fought with nature" (the natural desire to mourn a loved one) in their suppressing their complete grief of King Hamlet's death (Line 4).
King Claudius, the newly appointed King of Denmark explains that he has taken Hamlet's previous wife, Gertrude as his wife and as "our queen," whilst adding that his court in "Your better wisdoms [judgment]," have "freely gone [allowed] / With this affair [marriage] along:" (Line 16) or have accepted this and now receive King Claudius' thanks.
It is important to note that this marriage would have drawn gasps from Shakespeare's audience since such a marriage would have been viewed as quite incestuous...
Claudius now outlines recent events, reminding all that Young Fortinbras even now in their time of grief has sought back the lands his father lost now that King Hamlet has died (Lines 17-20), Claudius explaining that "young Fortinbras," may be encouraged by the belief that Denmark is now in disarray following King Hamlet's death (Lines 17-28).
Claudius explains that he has written to the leader of Norway who is currently "impotent and bed-rid," (sick and weak / bedridden), (Line 28) to suppress his nephew Young Fortinbras from pushing this issue. Claudius has done this by dispatching Cornelius and Voltimand to Norway, the two men exiting after pledging their loyalty (Line 40).
We learn also of a parallel in that King Hamlet has been succeeded by his brother as has the late King Fortinbras since both their sons are referred to as nephews of the current rulers of Denmark and of Norway.
Turning his attention to Laertes, King Claudius asks Laertes to speak his mind to him (Lines 42-50).
Laertes now asks King Claudius for "Your leave and favour [permission] to return to France;" (Line 52) from where he left willingly and dutifully to witness King Claudius' coronation as the new King of Denmark.
After the King finds that Polonius, Laertes' father has given his permission, (Lines 57-61), Claudius gives his permission for Laertes to leave (Line 63).
Hamlet makes his first observation, suspiciously commenting in an aside (a speech sharing his private thoughts with the audience) that Claudius who referred to him as a "son,-" (Line 64) is "A little more than kin [family], and less than kind" (a little more than family and less than kind), (Line 65).
King Claudius now asks how Hamlet who has recently lost his father (King Hamlet) can still be sad...
King Claudius: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" (How is it that you are still gloomy as if dark clouds hang over you?), (Line 66).
Hamlet coyly replies that this is "Not so, my lord;" explaining that "I am too much i' [in] the sun" (it is not so my Lord. I have been in the sun too long), (Line 67).
Queen Gertrude, no doubt sensing the tension, tells her son to "cast thy [your] nighted colour off, / And let thine [your] eye look like a friend on Denmark" (drop your sad outlook and let your eye look like friend on Denmark), telling her son not to "Seek for thy noble father in the dust:" (look for your father in the dust) since Hamlet must realize "all that live must die, / Passing through nature to eternity" (Lines 68-73).
Hamlet agrees too easily, prompting his mother to ask why her husband's death "seems it so particular with thee?" (seems so important to him), (Line 74).
Hamlet now explodes, saying "Seems, madam!" adding "Nay, it is; I know not 'seems'" (Line 76), explaining that his color or mood are "but the trappings and the suits of woe (what happens when you are sad), (Line 86).
It seems only Hamlet appears to be mourning his father's death whilst those around him go on with life as if King Hamlet had never lived, let alone died. Even Queen Gertrude, his mother, feels this way; she married King Hamlet's replacement (King Claudius) almost immediately after King Hamlet, her husband, had died!
The King praises Hamlet as being "sweet and commendable (praiseworthy)" (Line 87) in his nature to mourn his father, but tells Hamlet that his father lost a father and this father, his father, explaining that loss is a part of life (Lines 88-92).
Claudius explains that to grieve for some time is acceptable but to "persever [carry on] / In obstinate [stubborn] condolement [grieving] is a course [action] / Of impious [unbecoming / undignified] stubbornness; " (Line 92) adding that such ongoing grieving is above all else, "unmanly grief:" (Line 93).
King Claudius develops this theme of grieving being "unmanly" for some time before telling Hamlet that his desire to go back to school in Wittenberg will not be granted since it is "most retrograde [the opposite] to our [King Claudius' and company's] desire;" (Lines 112-116).
The Queen (Gertrude, Hamlet's mother) asks Hamlet to stay as well, Hamlet agreeing by saying, "I shall in all my best obey you, madam" (Line 119).
The King is pleased that Hamlet will stay, saying "'tis a loving and a fair reply:" (it is a loving and fair reply) adding that "This gentle and unforc'd [unforced] accord [agreement] of Hamlet / Sits smiling to my heart;" (Line 120-124), the King announcing that a celebration, complete with drinking and "cannon" fire will celebrate and mark this change of heart in Hamlet.
The King and Queen now exit, leaving Hamlet alone to discuss his true feelings in his first soliloquy...
Alone, Hamlet expresses his real feelings about King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, his mother. Hamlet is not happy and wishes he could commit suicide since the "uses of this world" have become "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable" to him but Hamlet quickly chides himself for such thoughts, they are like weeds in a garden and a sin (Lines 132-136).
Hamlet now explains to us that his father (King Hamlet), unlike the impression we get from King Claudius, is "But two months dead:" (has only recently died), (Line 139).
Hamlet now tells us that King Hamlet was "so loving to my mother / That he might not betweem the winds of heaven / Visit her face too roughly" and yet within a month, a mere month, his very own mother remarried with the current King of Denmark (Claudius), (Line 140).
So angry is Hamlet that he generalizes that all woman like his mother are weak when he says: "Frailty, thy [your] name is woman!" (Line 146).
Hamlet sarcastically and bitterly describes his mother as being "Like Niobe, all tears;" a woman who shed not a tear for her husband but only for her dead children, saying that even this woman would have mourned longer than Gertrude, his mother and the former wife to the now dead King Hamlet (Line 149).
Hamlet cannot believe this, exclaiming "O God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, / Would have mourn'd longer,-" (O God! a beast that wanted or needed a reason, would have mourned longer) than his mother (Line 151), Hamlet still barely believing that she could so quickly have "married with mine uncle, [married my uncle, King Claudius]", (Line 151).
Hamlet cannot accept this, and still not believing his mother could do this, describes King Claudius as "My father's brother, but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules [regarded as a great man in this time]:" and yet "within a month, / Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears / Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, / She married" (and yet barely had her tears left her eyes when she remarried), (Line 153).
He remarks again on his mother's speedy marriage as being with "most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets" (Line 157).
Hamlet is sure none of this can come to any good but decides to keep his opinions to himself.
Hamlet: "It is not nor it cannot come to good; / But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue!" (Line 158).
Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo arrive, telling Hamlet of the Ghost they saw.
Before this happens, we get a further insight into Hamlet's troubled nature when Horatio says he came to see King Hamlet's funeral (Line 176). Hamlet sarcastically replies that "I think it was to see my mother's wedding" since the two events happened so close to each other (Line 177).
Hamlet gives us more imagery of the speed with which one ceremony (the funeral) was replaced by the marriage when he remarks that "the funeral bak'd meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables" (the meat prepared for the funeral did coldly furnish the marriage tables which followed), (Line 180), a line sarcastically suggesting that Gertrude's remarriage following King Hamlet's death was so rapid, the food prepared for the funeral could have served as food for the subsequent marriage.
Hamlet now mentions that he believes he has seen his father in "my mind's eye," (Line 186), Horatio agreeing that King Hamlet "was a goodly king" (Line 186).
Hamlet agrees, and now Horatio describes what he, Bernardo and Marcellus have seen, describing The Ghost as "a figure like your father [the late King Hamlet], / Armed at points exactly," (Line 199).
Hamlet questions Horatio and Marcellus further and decides that if the Ghost is "my noble father's person," (Line 244) he will speak to it. Hamlet tells Horatio and company that he will meet them on the guard platform between eleven and twelve o'clock to see the Ghost.
Hamlet ends the scene, saying "My father's spirit in arms!" fearing "all is not well; / I doubt some foul play:" (Line 255).
Act I. Scene III. - A Room in Polonius' house.
Laertes: "This above all: to thine own self be true...."
Laertes, the son of Lord Chamberlain Polonius, gives his sister Ophelia some brotherly advice. He warns Ophelia not to fall in love with Young Hamlet; she will only be hurt. Polonius tells his daughter Ophelia not to return Hamlet's affections for her since he fears Hamlet is only using her...
Within a room in Polonius' house, Laertes (Polonius' son) is giving Ophelia, Polonius' daughter some brotherly advise.
Laertes warns his sister not to follow her heart with Hamlet too deeply, for as he says, "his will is not his own," (Hamlet does not control himself, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude influence him), owing to his position as Queen Gertrude's son (Line 16).
Laertes adds that Hamlet cannot as "unvalu'd persons do," (common people do) carve out a life for himself "for on his choice depends / The safety and the health of the whole state;" (Line 20).
"Then if he says he loves you," Laertes warns, she should remember that the Prince's wife (Hamlet's wife) will largely be dictated by the King (Claudius), (Line 24).
Laertes therefore reminds Ophelia to be wary and fearful of the loss of honor she could sustain if she should lose her heart and be used, warning her to protect her "chaste treasure" (her virginity), (Line 32).
Laertes now further describes the perils of following one's heart (Lines 24-52), telling her that the "best safety lies in fear:" (Line 43).
Ophelia says she will follow Laertes advise, warning Laertes not to show her the righteous way to live whilst not following his own advise. Laertes tells his sister to "fear me not" (Line 51) announcing that their father, Polonius arrives.
I shall th'effect of this good lesson keep, / As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother, / Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, / Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, / Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine, / Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads, / And recks not his own rede" (Lines 45-51)
Polonius now gives his daughter advise suggesting that Ophelia not speak her thoughts (Line 60), nor be vulgar but rather familiar instead (Line 61).
He tells his daughter to "Give every man thine [your] ear, but few thy [your] voice:", telling her to "reserve thy [your] judgment" (Line 69).
Polonius also advises that Ophelia would be wise to "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;" because "For loan oft loses both itself and friend, [in loans one often loses oneself and friend] / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry" Laertes warns (Line 76).
Famously, Polonius tells his daughter, "This above all [above all else]: to thine own self be true," (be true to yourself), (Line 78), adding that in his opinion as night follows day, Ophelia "canst not [cannot] then be false to any man" (Line 80).
Laertes must now leave (Line 85), telling his sister to "remember well / What I have said to you" before exiting (Line 85), Polonius wanting to know what this was (Line 88).
Alone with his daughter, Polonius demands to know the truth of any relationship between his daughter (Ophelia) and Prince Hamlet.
Polonius explains that he knows Hamlet has very recently "Given private time to you;" and Ophelia the same (Line 92), asking to know what is going on so he can be sure of his daughter's honor (Lines 88-99).
Ophelia replies that Hamlet has "made many tenders / Of his affection to me" (has spoken sweet words of love to me), (Line 100).
Polonius is not impressed saying "Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl [innocent naive girl]," asking if his daughter believes Hamlet's "tenders," (words), (Line 101).
Ophelia replies she is not sure, but her father is. He is certain Hamlet merely wishes to "use" his daughter and in doing so Ophelia will "tender me a fool" (make a fool of Polonius), by being used (Line 108).
Ophelia defends Hamlet saying he has "importun'd me with love / In honourable fashion" (Line 111) but Polonius does not believe a word of it, saying Hamlet's "holy vows of heaven" (Line 113) are merely like "springes to catch woodcocks", a lie to catch or seduce his daughter...
Polonius now lays down the law, telling his daughter to keep her distance, ordering her to "be somewhat scanter [less available] of your maiden presence;" (Line 120), nor to believe Hamlet's vows, "for they are brokers [lies]," finally telling Ophelia that he does not want Ophelia to "give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet" since Polonius obviously fears his daughter being made a fool and by the culture of the time, himself being made one as well (Lines 120-134).
Ophelia will not disobey her father saying, "I shall obey, my lord" (Line 136).
Act I. Scene IV. - The Platform.
Hamlet meets the Ghost of his father and follows it to learn more...
Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are all on the platform before Elsinore Castle, waiting for the apparition (The Ghost) of King Hamlet to appear once again.
We learn from their conversation that it is just past midnight and that "The air bites shrewdly"; it is a very cold night (Line 1).
A flourish of trumpets is heard along with ordnance (canon fire) being shot off, Hamlet explaining that this noise signals the King's revels or celebrations.
Hamlet describes King Claudius' behavior quite negatively, remarking at how he drinks too much, saying that it would be more honorable to ignore the custom of Danish kings drinking than to maintain such lewd behaviour out of tradition alone.
Hamlet says this himself with the line, "though I am native here [born in Denmark] / And to the manner born,-it is a custom / More honour'd [honored] in the breach [by not performing it] than the observance [performing the custom]" (Line 16).
Hamlet also describes what he imagines to be the less than dignified revels (celebrations) King Claudius and company are enjoying:
"The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse, / Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels; / And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down, / The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out / The triumph of his pledge" (The King wakes up and drinks his toasts in celebration, sings badly and drunkenly dances around, heavily drinking his alcohol, the trumpets finally sounding out the triumph of his pledge in a foolish not triumphant manner), (Lines 8-11).
Hamlet is not impressed with this behavior, arguing that the dancing and drinking "takes / From our achievements," (takes something away from our achievements), giving the Danish a bad name abroad (Line 20).
He likens this to impressive men's reputations, which are reduced by them having one vice (Lines 23- 36).
At this point the Ghost reappears, Horatio telling Hamlet, "Look, my lord, it comes" (Line 38).
Hamlet decides that if the Ghost will speak to him, he will address the Ghost as "Hamlet, / King, father; royal Dane," and excitedly demands answers (Line 45).
Hamlet wanting to know why his father has returned, asks "Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?" (Line 58).
The Ghost says nothing, beckoning Hamlet to follow him to as Marcellus says "a more removed [private] ground:", Marcellus telling Hamlet not to follow the Ghost.
Hamlet ignores Marcellus, deciding that since "It [The Ghost] will not speak; then, will I [I will] follow it" (Line 62).
Horatio also tells Hamlet not to follow the Ghost since it may tempt him towards a flood or seek to kill him by leading Hamlet to a cliff (Lines 69-76).
Hamlet however despite the advise of Marcellus (Line 79) and Horatio (Line 81), follows the Ghost since "My fate cries out, / And makes each petty artery in this body / As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve" (my fate cries out and makes each petty artery in my body as strong as that of a Nemean lion's nerve, a powerful Lion encountered by Hercules), (Line 83).
With the Ghost beckoning, Hamlet asks the men to "Unhand me," (let me go) and Hamlet follows the Ghost, Marcellus and Horatio deciding to follow him (Line 84-86).
Marcellus now remarks that "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" but Horatio is more trusting, saying "Heaven will direct it" (Heaven will take care of things), (Lines 90- 91).
Act I. Scene V. - Another Part of the Platform.
King Hamlet's Ghost: "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder."
Hamlet learns from his father's Ghost that he was poisoned by King Claudius, the current ruler of Denmark. The Ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death but not to punish Queen Gertrude for remarrying; it is not Hamlet's place to do so and her conscience and heaven will judge her... Hamlet swears Horatio and Marcellus to silence over Hamlet meeting the Ghost.
The Ghost has now led Hamlet away from Horatio and Hamlet impatiently tells the Ghost, "speak; / I'll go no further" (Line 1).
The Ghost now speaks, saying, "Mark me", Hamlet replying that he will (Line 2).
The Ghost explains that time is short for him (Line 3) and that soon he must render or surrender himself to "sulphurous and tormenting flames" since he has been condemned to walk Denmark by night and burn in the flames of Purgatory by day (Line 3).
Nonetheless, the Ghost tells Hamlet to "Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing / To what I shall unfold" (pity me not Hamlet but listen carefully to what I am about to tell you), (Line 5).
Hamlet now tells the Ghost to "Speak; I am bound to hear" (Line 6).
The Ghost agrees, saying "So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear" (so you are to revenge when you hear what I have to say), (Line 7).
The Ghost now announces that "I am thy [your] father's spirit;" (Line 9) explaining that he is "Doom'd [doomed] for a certain term [time] to walk the night, / And for the day confin'd [confined] to fast in fires, / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature [life] / Are burnt and purg'd away" (Lines 9-13).
The Ghost explains that because he is forbidden, he cannot fully describe the "secrets of my prison-house," (Line 13).
The Ghost of King Claudius tells Hamlet to "List, list, O list! [Listen] If thou [you] didst [did] ever thy [your] dear father love-" (Line 23).
Hamlet, listening, hears the Ghost tell Hamlet to,
"Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (Line 25).
The Ghost goes on to describe his murder as "Murder most foul, as in the best it is; / But this most foul, strange and unnatural" (Line 28).
Hamlet pledges to make his revenge if told more (Line 29), the Ghost explaining that as he slept in his orchard, "A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark" was abused, Hamlet explaining that this "serpent" now wears the crown of the man (King Hamlet) he had killed (Lines 33-39).
Hamlet immediately realizes that this is his uncle, now King Claudius, and the Ghost explains that as he was "Sleeping within mine orchard," (Line 60) in the afternoon as he always did, King Claudius referred to as "thy [your] uncle" secured a poison, pouring it into his ears (Line 64) killing him (Lines 64-73).
The Ghost explains that "Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand, / Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd;" (thus as I was sleeping, by my brother's hand was I murdered and deprived of my life, my crown and my wife, Queen Gertrude), (Line 74).
The Ghost tells Hamlet to do something about this, telling Hamlet, "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury and damned incest" (let not the royal rule of Denmark remain a place of luxury and incest), (Line 84).
The Ghost also tells Hamlet to "Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive / Against thy mother aught;" (do not let your mind be tainted into seeking revenge against your mother), advising Hamlet instead to leave her punishment to heaven and her own conscience (Line 84-89).
Running out of time (Lines 89-91), the Ghost tells Hamlet "Hamlet, remember me" before exiting (Line 91).
Hamlet resolves to remember the Ghost and to avenge his father's death as asked, saying that he put aside all else but this "commandment" (to avenge his father's death) which he says he will devote his entire "brain," or time to (Lines 92-112).
Hamlet also scorns his mother, calling her "O most pernicious woman!" (Line 105), also scorning King Claudius' behaviour.
Horatio and Marcellus now join Hamlet who continuously refuses to answer their questions as to what has happened (Lines 116-132).
Horatio also notes that Hamlet speaks now in "wild and whirling words," (Line 133).
Hamlet apologizes for this and asks his friends Marcellus and Horatio to not tell anyone "what you have seen to-night" (Line 144), Hamlet wanting them too swear this upon his sword, taking an oath not to tell (Lines 144-148).
Marcellus and Horatio will not agree to this until the Ghost from beneath the platform says "Swear" (Line 149), Horatio quickly saying "Propose the oath, my lord" (Line 152).
Telling Marcellus and Horatio to swear on his sword not to tell anyone what they have seen, Hamlet again is helped by the Ghost saying "Swear" (Line 155), the Ghost repeating this again (Line 161).
Hamlet now decides that should he appear mad, the two men should not give any reason explaining his behaviour (Lines 164-179).
Upon hearing the Ghost say "Swear" again (Line 181), Marcellus and Horatio swear to keep what they have seen a secret (Line 180).
Thanking his friends, Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus depart, Hamlet reminding the men not to say a word and lamenting that his fate now is to avenge his father's death (Lines 181-188).
Prince of Denmark Characters
Hamlet Characters guide studies each character's role and motivation in this play.
Hamlet: Son of the late King Hamlet of Denmark and nephew to the present King. Famous for the graveyard scene where holding the skull of deceased jester Yorick, Hamlet realizes man has little lasting control over his fate and also for describing man as the "paragon of animals!" Educated in Wittenburg and introduced to us in Act I, Scene II, Hamlet resents his mother Queen Gertrude marrying King Claudius within two months of his father King Hamlet's death to which she was previously married.
Distrustful of King Claudius, Hamlet is equally weary of the King's spies, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz who attempt to know his true intentions. When Hamlet meets King Hamlet's Ghost and learns that King Claudius murdered his father, Hamlet changes from a distrustful, disillusioned young man to one driven to avenge his father's death. To this end, Hamlet distrusts and rejects all those around him whom he believes are spying on him for King Claudius.
Fearing that his intentions could be revealed, Hamlet invents a madness to distract and hide his true intentions from King Claudius' many spies. This includes Ophelia, the women he loves whom he bitterly rejects when he learns she has betrayed him.
Cunning and inventive, Hamlet changes the lines of a play performed before King Claudius to divine whether King Hamlet's Ghost told him the truth about his father's death. At the end of the play, Hamlet kills both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (indirectly), Laertes and finally King Claudius before dying himself from a wound inflicted by Laertes.
Horatio: Friend to Hamlet and the one person Hamlet truly trusts. Witnesses King Hamlet's Ghost in Act I. At the end of the play, Horatio wishes to commit suicide to join Hamlet in death but Hamlet convinces him to live so he can tell his story, restoring Hamlet's name.
Claudius: The present King of Denmark, King Claudius took Queen Gertrude whom he loves as his queen and wife, much to the consternation of Hamlet who believes his mother has betrayed him and his father's memory by doing so. Cautious and suspicious, Claudius has courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hamlet's love interest Ophelia spying on Hamlet for him since as he says, the great ones must be watched. Distrustful of Hamlet and his "madness", King Claudius has Hamlet deported to England to be killed when he fears he has become a threat.
Instead, Hamlet returns to Denmark, and King Claudius manipulates Laertes into killing Hamlet for him. Unfortunately, King Claudius' plan to poison Hamlet backfires, killing his beloved Queen Gertrude instead. In Act III, Scene III, King Claudius reveals his inner guilt and the knowledge that he cannot avoid God's judgment of him... Dies at the end of the play to the poison tipped sword of Hamlet.
Gertrude: Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet, Queen Gertrude is resented deeply by Hamlet for marrying King Claudius within two months of his father, King Hamlet's death. Hamlet makes this bitterly clear throughout the play especially in his first soliloquy in Act I, Scene II. Queen Gertrude loves her son but when she sees a play mocking her actions, she famously says of the female character who vows never to forget her husband, "The lady doth [does] protest too much, methinks [I think]", (Act III, Scene II, Line 242) in an attempt to justify her own actions in remarrying so quickly. Clearly loving of Hamlet, she realizes her wrong when Hamlet scolds her mercilessly in Act III, Scene V. She agrees to no longer share King Claudius' bed, and aids her son by hiding Hamlet's true mental state from King Claudius. Dies in Act V, Scene II, to a poisoned cup of wine meant for Hamlet.
Polonius: Lord Chamberlain. The father of Laertes and Ophelia, Lord Chamberlain Polonius dutifully serves King Claudius. When news of Hamlet's madness circulate, Polonius is certain that his daughter Ophelia is responsible, having made Hamlet lovesick. Worried that Hamlet's intentions for his daughter are dishonorable, Polonius orders Ophelia to keep her distance. Later when King Claudius needs information, Polonius uses his daughter to spy on Hamlet. He even has Reynaldo, a servant spy on his own son Laertes in Paris. An enthusiastic spy for King Claudius, Polonius is killed by Hamlet when he attempts to listen in on a conversation between Hamlet and Queen Gertrude in Act III, Scene IV. His death leads to Ophelia's madness and later drowning brought on by grief and also to Laertes' alliance with King Claudius to kill Hamlet, to avenge Polonius, his father's death.
Reynaldo: Servant to Polonius, Reynaldo is instructed to spy on his Laertes in Paris in Act II, Scene I.
Laertes: Polonius' son, Laertes is held in high esteem for his fencing skills. Famous for the advise, "to thine own self be true," (be true to yourself) and the advise to "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;" in Act I, Scene III. Laertes' role in this play is minor until the death of his father Polonius. From this point on, Laertes emerges as rather more assertive, confronting King Claudius personally to know his father's whereabouts, arguing with a Priest for being disrespectful to his sister, fighting Hamlet above his sister's grave and ultimately conspiring to and killing Hamlet with the help of King Claudius. We see little of Laertes' inner character however since he responds to events continuously. Loving of his sister Ophelia, he must watch his sister's cruel decay into madness helplessly following his father's death. Dies in Act V, Scene II, the victim of a wound inflicted upon him by Hamlet with his own poison tipped sword.
Ophelia: The daughter to Polonius, Ophelia is loved by Hamlet. Unfortunately as Queen Gertrude laments at Ophelia's funeral, Ophelia never marries Hamlet. Dutiful to her father, she ignores Hamlet's romantic overtures when instructed to ignore them by her father Polonius. Receives advice on how to live from brother Laertes in Act I, Scene III. Though loved by Hamlet, Ophelia ultimately betrays him by spying on him for King Claudius. As a result Hamlet mercilessly insults her virtue during the play "The Murder of Gonzago" in Act III, Scene II. A dutiful daughter, Ophelia descends into madness from the grief of losing her father Polonius and later drowns in circumstances that suggest a possible suicide. Her funeral is the location of a fight between Hamlet and Laertes that centers on which loved her more; Hamlet believes he did, resenting Laertes exaggerated emphasis of his sorrow...
Fortinbras: Prince of Norway. The son of King Fortinbras, who was defeated by King Hamlet, Young Fortinbras has raised an army to reclaim the lands lost by his father to King Hamlet and Denmark. Convinced into attacking the Polish instead, Young Fortinbras displays all the noble, honor driven qualities, Hamlet wishes he had. At the end of the play, Young Fortinbras is recommended by Hamlet to be the next King of Denmark. Parallels Hamlet's character in that like Hamlet his father was a ruler (King of Norway) and that both are now nephews to the current rulers of their lands..
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern: Courtiers to King Claudius, both these men grew up with Hamlet. As a result King Claudius recruits them to spy on Hamlet for him. Neither man has a problem trading in their friendship to betray Hamlet; they serve the King. Both die when the instructions they bear from King Claudius are altered by Hamlet to instruct King Claudius' English associates to kill those bearing his commission immediately (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).
Voltimand, Cornelius, Osric and a Gentleman: Courtiers.
A Priest: Introduces at Ophelia's funeral, the Priest insults Laertes by expressing his personal opinion that Ophelia does not deserve a proper Christian burial for ending her life by suicide, which was considered a sin unworthy of proper burial.
Marcellus and Bernardo: Officers who initially spot King Hamlet's Ghost in Act I, Scene I.
Francisco: A soldier. Famous for the lines "'tis [it is] bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart" which sets the tone of this tragedy.
A Captain, English Ambassadors, Players, Two Clowns (Gravediggers), Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Messengers, and Attendants.