Essays on the main characters of Hamlet

Prince Hamlet, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude

 The Main Characters of Hamlet

#1: The Character of Hamlet

Hamlet Essay Kits #1: The Character of Hamlet

Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as the tragic hero of a story he did not want to be in.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #1: The Character of Hamlet
  • A ghost from the fires of purgatory demands Hamlet swear an oath that may endanger his life, damn his soul and plunge Denmark further into a bloody cycle of revenge.
  • But why should Hamlet avenge—or even remember—a man everyone else including his widow seems happy to forget?
  • Hamlet’s internal struggle isolates him from everyone around him, brings him to the brink of insanity, and sees him exiled to England to face execution.
  • Hamlet returns to face his father’s killer – but on his own terms and for his own reasons. In the end, Hamlet both accepts his fate and at the same time overcomes it.

#2: The Character of Claudius

Hamlet Essay Kits #2: The Character of Claudius

Appropriately for the villain of the play Hamlet, his name is never spoken aloud by any other character. Queen Gertrude loves him—but does Claudius love her as much as he loves her throne?

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Hamlet Essay Kits #2: The Character of Claudius
  • Claudius is the play’s antagonist whose corrupt ambition is the “something rotten” in the state of Denmark.
  • His political ability is consumed by the need to conceal the unlawful manner by which he achieved the throne. His kingly future is forever clouded by his criminal past.
  • Claudius’ dark secrets prevent him from opening his heart to Gertrude. He places the wife he loves second to the mistress of kingly power he loves even more.
  • Claudius can only achieve redemption by giving up what he has immorally gained; this he never does. He dies as he lived—an unrepentant villain.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

Hamlet Essay Kits #3: The Character of Gertrude

Her choice of husband dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her. Her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale descends into a nightmare and ends in a bloodbath.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #3: The Character of Gertrude
  • Gertrude loves two men who hate each other. Her peace-making attempts are undermined by what she does not know.
  • Hamlet is the antithesis of his mother. She wants to smooth over everything without thinking too deeply; he cannot but think deeply about everything.
  • After Ophelia's breakdown and death, Gertrude’s romantic optimism gives way to a dark realization of where her own choices have led her.
  • In her death, Gertrude finds redemption by becoming the person her son Prince Hamlet always longed for in life: a protective and self-sacrificing mother.

#4: The Character of Ophelia

Hamlet Essay Kits #4: The Character of Ophelia

Ophelia’s sanity is overwhelmed by a maddening world of deception and betrayal. Her ‘self-slaughter’ is her revenge against everyone who dismissed, silenced and humiliated her.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #8: Hamlet and Ophelia
  • In her opening scene, Ophelia’s teasing ripostes to Laertes (“No more but so?”) mirror the eloquence of the scholarly and pun-loving Prince Hamlet.
  • Although she laments that “There’s tricks i’ th’ world”, at her father's and the king's bidding Ophelia attempts to deceive Hamlet into revealing his past love for her.
  • Through the symbolic language of flowers, a traumatized Ophelia exposes the dark secrets of the Danish court.
  • Even at her own funeral, Ophelia is overshadowed by two male characters who jump into her grave and fight over who loved her more.

Also in the Hamlet Essaykit series:

#5: Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost

By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.

#6: Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

The relationship between uncle and nephew begins with mutual suspicion and dislike, escalates into a psychological battle of wits and ends with the destruction of the entire Hamlet family.

#7: Relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.

#8: Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she to the water, he to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.

#9: Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

A genuine friendship in an Elsinore poisoned by betrayal. But does Hamlet exploit his friend’s loyalty with his improbable tale of divinely-inspired rescue by pirates?

#10: Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude

A marriage of practical interest: Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the role of queen) she wanted to hold onto.

#11: The Themes of Hamlet

Deception, revenge, madness, corruption, decay, and death—all shaped by destiny. A prince is left with an impossible choice when his uncle chooses murder; his father, revenge; and his mother, self-delusion.

#12: The Theme of Revenge

Two young men journey from revenge, through madness and anger, to forgiveness. An opportunist claims an empty throne. And a restless Ghost is granted atonement for his sins by his kingdom-surrendering son.

#13: Deception and Appearance versus Reality

‘Seems’ and ‘is’ are as far apart as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to play a false role, and to perform in theater.

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