Essays on the main character relationships in Hamlet

Prince Hamlet, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude

 The Main Character Relationships of Hamlet

#5: Hamlet and the Ghost

Hamlet Essay Kits #5: Hamlet and the Ghost

By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Prince Hamlet grants his “dear father” (2.2) something more than vengeance: forgiveness for his sins committed “in his days of nature” (1.5).

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Hamlet Essay Kits #5: Hamlet and the Ghost
  • “The king’s to blame”, says Laertes of Claudius. But is the Ghost “like the king that’s dead” ultimately responsible for the play’s multiple deaths?
  • Is the “illusion” in its “questionable shape” a spirit from a Catholic purgatory? A demon from a Protestant hell? Or a mere hallucination?
  • Hamlet does not promise to avenge the Ghost, only never to forget him: “Remember me. I have sworn ’t.”
  • “Taint not thy mind”—but the Ghost’s appearance is followed by Hamlet’s feigned insanity and later by Ophelia’s very real madness.
  • “Leave her to heaven”, says the Ghost of Gertrude. But Hamlet wants to rescue his mother’s soul before he can condemn his uncle’s to hell.

#6: Hamlet and Claudius

Hamlet Essay Kits #6: Hamlet and Gertrude

The relationship between uncle and nephew begins with mutual suspicion and dislike, escalates into a psychological battle of wits and erupts finally into a fight to the death.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #6: Hamlet and Gertrude
  • Prince Hamlet and King Claudius: two men at war with each other—and themselves. One is an anguished idealist with a violent streak; the other, a scheming cynic with a conscience.
  • The play opens with Claudius celebrating his winning of two prizes: crown and the queen. In stark contrast, Hamlet is devastated by two losses: the death of his father and respect for his hastily remarried mother.
  • Both are expert play-actors: one in theater, the other in politics. But it is Hamlet’s murderous intent rather than the king’s guilt that is exposed by his play-within-a-play.
  • Hamlet escapes an execution plot and returns to confront his father’s killer in a final scene that consumes his entire family.

#7: Hamlet and Gertrude

Hamlet Essay Kits #7: Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude’s “o’erhasty marriage” to the prince’s despised uncle Claudius creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #7: Hamlet and Gertrude
  • Gertrude colludes with Claudius in blocking Hamlet’s return to Wittenberg. Yet she seems in no need of emotional support from her son who is confined in the “prison” of Elsinore.
  • Hamlet wants to rescue Gertrude’s soul before he condemns his uncle’s to hell. And by so doing reunite in the afterlife his fractured-by-Claudius family of mother and father.
  • Despite his misdeeds, and all his resentment and ranting against her husband, Gertrude is overjoyed at her son’s return from exile—“Hamlet, Hamlet.”
  • The man who divided them in life brings about both their deaths. Hamlet is forgiven by Laertes, but her son withholds forgiveness from his mother—“Wretched queen, adieu!”

#8: Hamlet and Ophelia

Hamlet Essay Kits #8: The Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

Their relationship 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.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #8: Hamlet and Ophelia
  • A relationship of “purposes mistook”: Ophelia mistakenly believes her rejection of the prince has caused his insanity. Hamlet mistakenly thinks his pretend madness is the cause of her rejection.
  • Although Hamlet complains “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain” and Ophelia laments that “There’s tricks i’ th’ world”, both characters also practice deceit against one another.
  • Hamlet reacts first with suspicion and then with rage on suddenly encountering the woman who for two months has shunned his company.
  • Ophelia and Hamlet each leave behind a “wounded name”: she, a “document in madness” who was “incapable of her own distress”; the prince, “he that is mad” after “losing his wits.”

#9: Hamlet and Horatio

Hamlet Essay Kits #9: The Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

Horatio’s relationship with Prince Hamlet as friend, confidant and ultimately biographer is a genuine friendship in an Elsinore poisoned by deception and betrayal.

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Hamlet Essay Kits #9: The Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio
  • Horatio may be Hamlet’s confidant who the prince holds in his “heart of heart” (3.2). But he never forgets his inferior rank to old King Hamlet’s son and always addresses him as ‘My lord.’
  • Hamlet disregards Horatio’s advice against speaking with the Ghost (“What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord?”, 1.5), just as he does later about the rigged fencing duel.
  • Asked by the guards in 1.1 to confirm the Ghost’s reality, Horatio is recruited by Hamlet in 3.2 to test the spirit’s truthfulness by observing Claudius’ reaction to The Murder of Gonzago.
  • A dying Hamlet asks a despairing Horatio to “Report me and my cause aright” and “tell my story … more and less” to “unknowing world” (5.2).

#10: Claudius and Gertrude

Hamlet Essay Kits #10: The Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

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

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Hamlet Essay Kits #10: The Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius
  • A union of murderous jealousy (“My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen”, 3.3) and self-deluding (“hoodman-blind”, 3.4) naivety.
  • A marriage that should never have happened means another never can: the dark shadow of Claudius’ crime creates a climate of duplicity and distrust that dooms the love affair of Hamlet and Ophelia.
  • External events trouble but do not destroy the royal marriage: it survives Hamlet’s resentment, Polonius’ murder, his daughter’s suicide and his son’s open revolt.
  • In the end, their marriage is destroyed from within. Gertrude dies by the same means her second husband used to murder her first: poison.

Also in the Hamlet Essaykit series:

#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 both the tragic hero and victim of a story he did not want to be in.

#2: The Character of Claudius

His “ambition” for Denmark’s throne leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet asks of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.

#4: The Character of Ophelia

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

#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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