Characters and Terms
Hamlet The Prince of Denmark, the title character, and the protagonist. About thirty years old at the start of the play, Hamlet is the son of Queen Gertrude and the late King Hamlet, and the nephew of the present king, Claudius. Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of hatred for his uncle’s scheming and disgust for his mother’s sexuality. A reflective and thoughtful young man who has studied at the University of Wittenberg, Hamlet is often indecisive and hesitant, but at other times prone to rash and impulsive acts.
Claudius The King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, and the play’s antagonist. The villain of the play, he is a calculating, ambitious politician, driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power, but he occasionally shows signs of guilt and human feeling—his love for Gertrude, for instance, seems sincere.
Gertrude The Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius. She loves Hamlet deeply, but she is a shallow, weak woman who seeks affection and status more urgently than moral rectitude or truth.
Polonius The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a pompous, conniving old man. He is the father of Laertes and Ophelia.
Horatio Hamlet’s close friend, who studied with the prince at the university in Wittenberg. He is loyal and helpful to Hamlet throughout the play. After Hamlet’s death, he remains alive to tell Hamlet’s story.
Ophelia Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. She is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father and her brother, Laertes. Dependent on men to tell her how to behave, she gives in to Polonius’s schemes to spy on Hamlet. Even in her lapse into madness and death, she remains maidenly, singing songs about flowers and finally drowning in the river amid the flower garlands she had gathered.
Laertes Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France. Passionate and quick to action, he is clearly a foil for the reflective Hamlet.
Fortinbras The young Prince of Norway, whose father the king (same name as him) was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). Now he wishes to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor, making him another foil for Prince Hamlet.
Yurick the old jester of King Hamlet whose skull Hamlet finds when he returns to Denmark
Voltemond and Cornelius Courtiers whom Claudius sends to Norway to persuade the king to prevent Fortinbras from attacking.
The Ghost The specter of Hamlet’s recently deceased father. He, who claims to have been murdered by Claudius, calls upon Hamlet to avenge him. However, it is not entirely certain whether the ghost is what it appears to be, or whether it is something else. Hamlet speculates that the ghost might be a devil sent to deceive him and tempt him into murder, and the question of what the ghost is or where it comes from is never definitively resolved.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
Reynaldo Polonius’s servant, who is sent to France by Polonius to check up on and spy on Laertes.
Murder of Gonzago play within Hamlet
the Mousetrap Name given to the “Murder of Gonzago” when he discusses it with Claudius
Elsinore name of the castle where the king of Denmark lives
Osric The foolish courtier who summons Hamlet to his duel with Laertes.
Marcellus and Bernardo The officers who first see the ghost walking the ramparts of Elsinore and who summon Horatio to witness it. Marcellus is present when Hamlet first encounters the ghost.
Francisco A soldier and guardsman at Elsinore.
Revenge • Hamlet desires revenge on Claudius for murdering his father• Laertes wants revenge on Hamlet for murdering his father Polonius• Fortinbras wants revenge for King Hamlet’s having murder his father and for having taken land previously ceded to Norway
Madness • Hamlet utilizes madness to carry out the main plot points of the play, and to ultimately give an explanation for the reason he would have to murder Claudius • Ophelia becomes mad when she finds out that her father has been killed
Sin and Salvation / Heaven and Hell • Hamlet doesn’t murder Claudius when given the chance to as Claudius was confessing his sins at the time and thus would have gone to heaven upon death, whereas Hamlet wanted him to suffer in hell• Hamlet is unhappy with Claudius because he murdered King Hamlet while he was still sinful• two gravediggers discuss whether or not Ophelia should receive proper Christian funeral rites since she killed herself, forbidden in Christianity
Study Questions
What is the setting at the opening of the play Denmark, outside a castle at night
Who are bernardo and francisco castle guards
What have they seen the past couple of nights? What kind of mood does this set? an apparition of dead king Hamlet creating a mood of darkness and death
What does Horatio suggest this apparition means or Denmark? What do we find out about King Hamlet’s military history? the ghost is not a good sign and that King Hamlet ought numerous battles against the king o Norway and the Polish
Who does Horatio suggest they tell about what they have seen and why? Hamlet (Jr.) because the spirit may be able to speak to him
How does mood set by this opening scene parallel the political situation in Shakespeare’s day? It emphasizes the political issues of Denmark (similar to those Britain was experiencing with Spain) and conflates them with a negative tone
How are King Claudius and Queen Gertrude related? they aren’t related, but Gertrude is his wife and was also the wife of King Hamlet, Claudius’s brother
Who is Fortinbras? What has Fortinbras done to king Claudius? the king of Norway who is about to come to Denmark to reclaim a piece of land lost in battle
Who is Laertes? To where does he want to go and why? Ophelia’s brother and the son of Polonius, he is about to go to France to study
What is wrong with Hamlet? What does his mother mean when she says Hamlet should cast off his nightly color? What is Claudius’ response to Hamlet? he is still sad due to his father’s death, thus he is wearing dark (mourning) clothing and Claudius calls Hamlet weak and unmanly as a result
What does Hamlet reveal in his soliloquy afterward about how he feels? What is Hamlet’s opinion of Claudius and his mother? he strongly opposes the relationship between them and he feels that his father is superior to Claudius
What does Horatio tell Hamlet? What does Hamlet agree to do? that an apparition of his father appeared, Hamlet agrees to keep watch that night
Of what does Laertes warn his sister Ophelia? Why? What is her response? be cautious of Hamlet’s advances due to his odd temper, she doesn’t want to him since she thinks he is a hypocrite
What kind of advice does Polonius give Laertes before his departure? What does this tell us about their family relationship compared to Hamlet’s? be a good listener, a good person, be true to yourself, be smart; they have a better relationship than that of Hamlet and his relatives
Lit term – foil two characters who strongly contrast each other
How so far are Hamlet and Laertes foils to one another? Hamlet is introverted and Laertes is extoverted; Hamlet’s family is dysfunctional but Laertes’ is fine
What do the trumpets and gunfire signify is occurring? What is Hamlet’s opinion of this? a party is taking place and Hamlet feels their party is a disgrace to Denmark
What does Hamlet see in this scene? Where do they go? he sees the ghost of his father; wherever the ghost leads him to
Why is Hamlet not more cautious about doing this? because he cares little about his life due to his familial troubles
What information does the ghost reveal to Hamlet? Specifically, how did this happen? his brother murdered him through a poison that was poured into his ear which caused coagulation of his skin
What does the ghost tell Hamlet to do? To avenge his death but not hurt his mother
What does Hamlet tell Horatio and Mercellus afterward? To not tell the others about what they have seen
How does Hamlet feel about his newfound responsibility? He welcomes it heartily and proposes he’ll act crazy to kill Claudius
What does polonius ask of Reynaldo? Why? what impression does this give us of polonius’s character? How many danes are in Paris, how rich they all are, where do they live; to gain knowledge of Laertes whereabouts, then to make up lies about him, polonius is a snooping individual
How was hamlet acting towards to Ophelia? What might be causing this? Awkward and overtly sexual uncharacteristic of his character; he looks disheveled and trash; he caresses her face, holds her tight; they suppose it it is because he is in love with her
What does polonius think is the cause of hamlet’s behavior? He thinks it is because he is in love with Ophelia but he may just be acting or faking it
Who wore Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Two of hamlet’s childhood friends
For what purpose of a been invited to Elsinore? To cheer hamlet up and find out what is troubling him
What is going on with Norway / Denmark /Poland? (Conversation with Voltimand and in Cornelius) An ongoing series of battles of which Fortinbras has been requested to cease
What plan has Polonius proposed to ‘ test ‘ hamlet? He will allow Ophelia to be with him with and spy on them behind a tapestry while they are talking
Describe Polonius and hamlets conversation both discuss hamlets affection towards Ophelia
How does hamlet react to seeing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Why do they tell him they’ve is coming to Elsinore? He is somewhat judgmental and perceptive and realizes that they have been sent for; they say that the only reason they have come was to see him
What is hamlet’s plan for the actors? What is is goal in having them do this? have them read a speech he writes for them in the play that they are to perform; to view the reaction of his uncle and make sure he truly did murder his father
What do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet? he was open to talk to them but his mood was forced
What do Gertrude and Claudius agree to? take Hamlet to a play i he wants to god / to spy on him
Why do Polonius and Claudius plan to spy on hamlet? to determine if Ophelia is the true cause of his odd disposition
Hamlet enters. Discuss significance of his soliloquy “To be or not to be” he is contemplating whether or not he should commit suicide
List some of the comments Hamlet makes to Ophelia when she tries to return his tokens of love he’d rather she be good than be attractive, he used to love her, he doesn’t like promiscuous (slutty) women and thinks that she is one
What has happened to hamlet’s view of women in general? patronizing and misogynistic, it has transformed into an ideal of women being in the house cooking and keeping pure
What does Claudius intend on doing with Hamlet because of his behavior? What does Polonius ask of Claudius and why? he will send Hamlet to England to rid his mind of his depressing thoughts, Polonius asks Claudius to allow Hamlet to share his feelings with his mother, the queen
Based on this scene, is Hamlet really crazy or is he really just acting crazy? simply acting; he realizes Ophelia talks to Polonius who is freinds with Claudius; thus he is still putting on an act
What instructions are being given to the actors by Hamlet? dont be too passionate; dont exaggerate too much; dont use too many hand gestures; dont be too tame; act natural
Why does Hamlet ask Horatio to watch Claudius during the play? the scene in the play where one character is murdered is similar to the death of king Hamlet; if Claudius is guilty, his guilt will manifest (make itself visible) somehow in whatever action Claudius does in response to the play
What is Claudius’ response to the play? What do Hamlet and Horatio think of his behavior? he stands up and becomes unsettled, thus alerting Hamlet and Horatio that he is guilty
To where does Polonius take Hamlet? to his mother
How does the play in this scene differ from the actual events prior to this scene? the individual who kills the king is his nephew instead of his brother as in the play Hamlet itself. Gonzago, duke of Vienna, is murdered by his nephew Lucianus, who in turn marries Gonzago’s wife Baptista
To where does Claudius send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and why? to England to secure Hamlet’s transport there so as to ease his madness
Where is Polonius going to be? behind the tapestry in the Queen’s room listening to her and hamlet’s conversation
How does Claudius react once he is alone again? he admits that he is guilty of killing his brother and is fully remorseful for having murdered him
Who is secretly in the room that Claudius is in? What revelation does he have that prevents him from murdering Claudius? What would he rather see happen to Claudius? Hamlet, he believes he should wait to kill Claudius until he is sinful once more (Claudius is confessing his sins at that point, and would go to heaven if Hamlet murdered him then)
Where is Polonius hiding in the queen’s chamber? Why? behind the Queen’s tapestry to listen in on her and hamlet’s conversation
Describe their conversation…why does it get so intense? What might hamlet be trying to find out? it is contentious but becomes more intense after hamlet kills Polonius; Hamlet is trying to see if his mother has any knowledge of his father’s murder; he insults his mother’s judgement and disses his uncle
What happens when his mother cries out for help? Polonius repeats her call and is slain by Hamlet
What happens as Hamlet is denouncing Claudius to his mother? King Hamlet’s ghost appears but only Hamlet can see it
Of what does he try to convince his mother? Does it work? do not continue to have sexual relations with Claudius and pray to God for forgiveness
What does Hamlet say about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? What does he take with him as he leaves his mother’s chamber? he knows they are to escort him to England and may hurt him in some way and thus does not trust them; he takes Polonius’ body with him
How does Gertrude describe her encounter with Hamlet to Claudius? he is crazy and in his frenzy he killed Polonius
What is Claudius concerned with? Hamlet may be a danger to everyone around him
How does he plan on handling these recent events? send Hamlet to England as soon as possible and hold a funeral or Polonius
What is Hamlet doing as the scene opens? nothing; just standing talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Of what does he accuse the two of them? Of being stupid
What information does Claudius request of Hamlet? where he has buried the body of Polonius
How is Hamlet’s behavior towards Claudius changing? he is talking mysteriously in riddles to confuse Claudius
What does Hamlet think of his “friends” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? he understands they are Claudius’ pawns
What does claudius reveal in his soliloquy at the end of the scene? Why is he really sending Hamlet to England? he is going to banish Hamlet to England and have him executed while there
What is Hamlet’s thoughts on the captain’s answer to why Fortinbras is attacking Poland? he finds it similar to his own cause of exposing Claudius and thinks that he should have already killed him
Why is Hamlet upset with himself? What does he vow to himself? he never killed Hamlet’s brother Claudius and vows to do so to please his father
What does Horatio tell Gertrude about Ophelia and her recent behavior? she is speaking madly and not making any sense
What reason does Claudius suggest to Ophelia’s actions? she is acting like this because her father is dead and Hamlet is to be exiled
Describe Laertes’ entrance he bursts into the castle and furiously demands answers pertaining to what has been going on
Who does Horatio meet and what does he receive? he meets sailors and receives a letter from Hamlet
What information does it reveal about Hamlet? he has been taken captive by pirates who are treating him kindly and are bringing him back to Denmark
Compare and Contrast Laertes and Hamlet in regard to thought vs. action in his letters, Hamlet is cordial and intellectual but in real life he is crazy
What is “deus ex machina” “god from the machine” – an unforeseen event that saves the day
What reason does Claudius give Laertes for not punishing Hamlet for the murder of his father? 2 reasons: 1. the Queen loves him dearly and Claudius doesnt want her to reject him for doing it 2. the public loves him
What does the letter to Claudius in this scene reveal about Hamlet? that Hamlet is coming back to Denmark
How does Laertes feel about this and why? How does this work out in CLaudius’ favor? Laertes still wants revenge on Hamlet so he agrees to come up with a plot to kill hamlet
What plan do Claudius and Laertes devise for Laertes to kill Hamlet in an unsuspicious manner? Laertes and Hamlet will have a fencing match and in it Laertes will kill Hamlet with poison placed on his sword
What is Claudius’ plan B? he will poison a cup of wine to kill hamlet
What tragic news does Gertrude bring? How does Laertes react? What does Claudius now fear? Ophelia has drowned in the river surrounded by flowers; Laertes simply leaves; Claudius fears Laertes will go to kill Hamlet now
What is happening at the opening of this scene? Ophelia is being buried
What is the significance of the gravediggers’ conversation about Ophelia? How is this connected to an earlier event in the play? they were discussing whether or not Ophelia was to have a Christian burial since she may have killed herself
Who does the skull belong to? What does this make Hamlet realize? Yurick, the old king’s jester, making Hamlet realize that death comes to all people sooner or later
What is Hamlet unaware of, but eventually realizes in this scene? that Ophelia has (presumably) killed herself
How does Laertes react to the priest’s statements? How does Hamlet react? he reacts solemnly while Hamlet is incredulous
What does Hamlet tell Horatio he has done to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? he has forged a letter to have the king of England kill them because they were to do the same to him and he doesnt really care about them
How does Hamlet empathize with Laertes at this point in the play? his plight is the same as his (father is dead) and they both want revenge on the person that did it
What new does Osric bring regarding Claudius? he has st up a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes
Hamlet agrees to fight and comes to this conclusion about death it will come sooner or later and everyone has to be prepared for it
What does Hamlet say to Laertes upon seeing him and what is his response? he asks for Laertes’ forgiveness since he claims he himself did not kill Laertes’ father but his madness did; Laertes still wants revenge and will only forgive Hamlet once told it is wise to do so
Describe the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. does Hamlet fall for Claudius’ plan with the wine? Hamlet makes the first and second hits and does not fall or Claudius’ wine trick
Who drinks from the cup instead? the Queen
What happens after Laertes wounds Hamlet? he tells Hamlet of the poison on the sword; they drop their swords and mistakenly take each others such that Hamlet now has the one with the poison on it
What does Laertes do right before he dies? he begs forgiveness from Hamlet and tells him that Claudius behind the whole thing
Who does Hamlet say should be the successor to the throne in Denmark? Why do you think he makes this choice? Fortinbras, who deserves the throne since King Hamlet killed his father
How is Hamlet honored in the end? He is given a military funeral, wherein four captains will bear him onto the stage like a soldier
How is the theme of revenge brought to a climax in this scene? All people receive what revenge they wanted: Hamlet receives the death of Claudius, Laertes that of Hamlet, and Claudius that of Hamlet
How does Fortinbras serve as a contrast between the members of the dead royal family? He is sympathetic and calm while the royal family espoused deceit, cunning, and vengeful-ness which brought about their deaths