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The Character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet is arguably the greatest dramatic character ever created. From the moment we meet the crestfallen Prince we are enraptured by his elegant intensity. Shrouded in his inky cloak, Hamlet is a man of radical contradictions — he is reckless yet cautious, courteous yet uncivil, tender yet ferocious. He meets his father’s death with consuming outrage and righteous indignation, yet shows no compunction when he himself is responsible for the deaths of the meddling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the pontificating lord chamberlain, Polonius. He uses the fragile and innocent Ophelia as an outlet for his disgust towards the Queen, and cannot comprehend that his own vicious words have caused her insanity. Hamlet is full of faults. But unlike Macbeth, who has committed murder and, as a direct consequence, has been relegated to the heap of weak-willed villains, Hamlet has remained a demigod of sorts — his faults having been quashed under his good qualities. What are Hamlet’s good qualities? How is it that even seemingly negative qualities like indecisiveness, hastiness, hate, brutality, and obsession can enhance Hamlet’s position as a tragic hero — a ‘prince among men’? To answer these questions we must journey with Hamlet from beginning to end, and examine the many facets of his character.

Our first impression of Hamlet sets the tone for the whole play. Even without Shakespeare providing an elaborate description of Hamlet’s features, we can envision his pale face, tousled hair, and intense, brooding eyes. Dressed totally in black, Hamlet displays all the ‘forms, moods and shapes of grief’. His mother cannot help but notice Hamlet’s outward appearance of mourning, but Hamlet makes it clear that the overt signs o…

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…ally die, it is his princely qualities that make the lasting imprint in our minds. Hamlet remains

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue,


The expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion, and the mould of form

The observ’d of all observers (III.i.153-56)


Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966).

Burnett, Mark, ed. New Essays on Hamlet. (New York: AMS Press, 1994).

Evans Lloyd Gareth. Shakespeare IV. (London: Oxford university Press, 1967).

Granville-Barker, Henry. Prefaces to Shakespeare.3 (New York, Hill and Wang, 1970).

Loske, Olaf. Outrageous Fortune. (Oslo: Oslo University Press, 1960).

Muir, Kenneth. Shakespeare and the Tragic Pattern, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol.XLIV (London: Oxford University Press, 1958).

Hamlet: The Character of Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet: The Character of Claudius

Of all the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, perhaps the role of Claudius is the most intriguing and crucial. Claudius is the most controversial, the most mysterious and the most talked about character in this play. Many people look at Claudius and only see a villain, but there are additional sides to him that are often overlooked: Claudius the father, the husband, the ruler and the mortal individual. In this play the characters are not super-human beings. They make mistakes, just as Claudius does, but it goes to show that they are only human.

Claudius, the father is very recognizable in Scene 2 of Act 1. He states to Hamlet starting at Line 109 “…think of us as of a father: for let the world take note, you are the most immediate to our throne, and with no less nobility of love that that which dearest father bears his son do I impart toward you.” Hamlet is “Our chiefest courtier, cousin and our son.” (Line 119) Here Claudius is speaking to Hamlet and saying that he is loved and accepted even since he is not Claudius’ natural son. Claudius seems to have no trouble speaking to his son Hamlet in front of a crowd. But when the two men are alone, Claudius is at a loss for words and cannot figure out what to say, or when to say it. It could be that the King feels so guilty about murdering King Hamlet that he is unable to speak to Hamlet in private, for fear of his true self emerging. Along the same lines, Claudius is also a great and sovereign leader. When young Fortinbras came to demand the surrender of those lands lost by his father to King Hamlet, Claudius handled the matter with such ease and grace. He informed Fortinbras that a letter was going to be sent to the King of Nor…

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…d turned-bad turned-even worse characters of all time. His strength to get through all of the circumstances in this play is tremendous. In the end, Claudius was the cause of nine deaths, including himself. Claudius’ obsession for control and power ruined one of the greatest kingdoms in history.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Bradley, A.C. “Shakespeare’s Tragic Period–Hamlet.” Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Toronto: MacMillan, 1967. 79-174.

Oakes, Elizabeth. ” Claudius.” New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. NY: AMS Press, 1994. 103-112.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Sven Birkerts, ed., Literature The Evolving Canon, Boston: Allyn

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