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By William Shakespeare

Main Characters

Hamlet - He is the main protagonist that wishes to avenge the death of his father who was killed by Claudius.

Claudius - He became the king and married Gertrude after he killed Old Hamlet.

Gertrude - She was the wife of Old Hamlet, and Claudius after Old Hamlet died, and was the mother of Young Hamlet.

The Ghost - He is supposedly Hamlet’s slain father and he encourages Hamlet to avenge his death.

Minor Characters

Horatio - He is a scholar that first attempts to speak with the ghost, and he is Hamlet’s best friend.

Ophelia - She is Hamlet’s fiancee who goes crazy when her father dies and Hamlet tells her he does not love her.


Denmark - The entire story takes place in Denmark and is about the royal family of Denmark.

Cemetery - When Hamlet returns to Denmark, he meets gravediggers and finds out that Ophelia died at the cemetery.

Elsinore Castle - This is where Hamlet lives.


 The play opens with Prince Hamlet depressed over his father's death and his mother's
decision to marry the new king, Claudius, after only two months. Hamlet goes to the ramparts
after Horatio, his confident, tells him he saw a ghost.  That evening, the ghost of King Hamlet
tells Hamlet that his brother, Claudius, killed him. Hamlet swears to avenge the murder.  Polonius
discloses to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude that he suspects Hamlet's madness stems from his
love for Ophelia, Polonius' daughter. Hamlet arranges for a play in which the actors perform a
scene similar to the actual murder of King Hamlet. Upon seeing the scene, Claudius calls for lights
and storms out of the room.
     Claudius prays and Hamlet hears him confessing to the murder and attempting to absolve
himself of sin.  Hamlet refuses to take action since Claudius may go to heaven.  Hamlet speaks
with Gertrude, and Polonius hides and listens to the conversation from behind a curtain. Hamlet
hears Polonius and kills him. Claudius sends Hamlet to England because of the murder. Laertes
returns to Elsinore after hearing of his father's death, and Claudius tells him to blame Hamlet.
Hamlet returns, and Claudius advises Laertes to duel with Hamlet. Claudius plans to have Laertes
kill Hamlet with a poisoned tip sword.  To ensure Hamlet's death, Claudius intends to present
Hamlet with a poisoned goblet of wine. Gertrude tells Claudius and Laertes that Ophelia drowned
in a creek.
  The duel begins and Hamlet scores two hits. Gertrude grabs the poisoned goblet and
drinks to Hamlet's fortune. Laertes manages to wound Hamlet, but in the scuffle they exchange
swords and Hamlet injures Laertes.  Gertrude falls and says Claudius poisoned her.  Laertes tells
Hamlet he will die as well, and Claudius planned everything.  Hamlet stabs Claudius and kills him.


Yorrick’s Skull - This symbolizes the way that death ultimately brings everyone to the same level so that kings rot the same way as beggars.

Poison - At the end of the play, this kills nearly all of the characters symbolizing that you can bring yourself down with your own bad intentions.

The play - Hamlet orders the actors to reenact the death of his father to see the reaction that Claduius give him.  This symbolizes the guilt that Claudius feels.


 Shakespeare is often considered one of the world’s greatest playwrights, and has a style to back it up.  He writes with poetic diction using eloquent words and phrases.  He uses irony and drama to create and sustain suspense through the play.  Shakespeare uses much figurative language and imagery.

Dominant Philosophy

 Bad things can happen to good people with one fatal flaw.  This is a theme often used in this sort of tragedy.  Hamlet was a good person in the beginning of the play and tried to avenge his fathers death like a good son.  His sense of revenge however got the best of him resulting his own death and the death of his loved ones.


“King: Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.”
Act 1, Sc 2, lines 1-7.  The King mourns the death of the previous king.  However, this is ironic since he killed the old king.

“Ghost: I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.”
Act 1, sc 5, lines 9-20.  The ghost explains to Hamlet that he is Hamlet’s father and that Claudius murdered him.

“Hamlet: To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep.”
Act 3, sc 1, lines 55-63.  This is Hamlet’s famous soliloquy where he contemplates getting revenge for the death of his father and suicide.

“Laertes: It is here, Hamlet. Hamlet, thou art slain;
No medicine in the world can do thee good.
In thee there is not half an hour of life.
The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
Unbated and envenom'd. The foul practice
Hath turn'd itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. Thy mother's poison'd.
I can no more. The King, the King's to blame.”
Act 5, sc 2, lines 270-279.  Laertes seems to be sorry for dueling Hamlet and seems to have thoughts of friendship return to him.  He does not want to die with Hamlet as his enemy.