This essay will inform the reader regarding the characterization found in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet – whether the dramatis personae are three-dimensional or two-dimensional, dynamic or static, and other aspects of the character portrayal.
John Dover Wilson in What happens in Hamlet tells how the Bard is capable of even bringing realism to a ghost:
Shakespeare’s Ghost is both a revenge-ghost and a prologue-ghost, that is to say from the technical point of view it corresponds with its Senecan prototype. But there the likeness ends; for it is one of Shakespeare’s glories that he took the conventional puppet, humanised it, christianized it, and made it a figure that his spectators would recognize as real, as something which might be encountered in any lonely graveyard at midnight.[. . .] The Ghost in Hamlet comes, not from a mythical Tartarus, but from the place of departed spirits in which post-medieval England, despite a veneer of Protestantism, still believed at the end of the sixteenth century. And in doing this, in making horror more awesome by giving it a contemporary spiritual background, Shakespeare managed at the same time to lift the whole ghost-business on to a higher level, to transform a ranting roistering abstraction into a thing at once tender and majestical. (56-57)
The genius of the Bard is revealed in his characterization. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt in Literature of the Western World examine the universal appeal of Shakespeare resulting from his “sharply etched characters”:
Every age from Shakespeare’s time to the present has found something different in him to admire. All ages, however, have recognized his supreme skill in inv…
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…tts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.
Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Shakespeare.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.
Wilson, John Dover. What happens in Hamlet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959.
Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “Hamlet: A Man Who Thinks Before He Acts.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. N. p.: Pocket Books, 1958.
Characterization in Hamlet
“In some respects we can know fictional characters even better than we know people.” The author of Literature, Structure, Sound, and Sense makes an important point about fictional characters. An author can “make” or “break” a story by how they portray the characters as well as how relatable they are. An author can also make a story interesting by using different types of characters, as well as following the three principles of a good character. Shakespeare uses these concepts in Hamlet to brilliantly display his characters and allow readers to relate to each of them.
The protagonist in this play is Hamlet. Hamlet is a character presented indirectly, because readers are not told explicitly who Hamlet is. Throughout the story readers learn new things about him. Hamlet even tells other characters in the story that there is more to him than they know. Even at the end of the story readers may not feel like they completely understand Hamlet. Hamlet is also a round character. Hamlet is a very complex individual, who is philosophical as well as contemplative. Readers see many sides of Hamlet, from his “love” with Ophelia in the beginning and then his carefree approach to her later, as well as his passionate fight for revenge over his father’s death. Hamlet also develops during the entire play. Readers at first see Hamlet’s disbelief when confronted by the ghost but through some investigating, mainly the play used to prove Claudius’ guilt, Hamlet finally comes to realize that his uncle really did kill his father.
Hamlet also follows the three principles of a good character: consistent, motivated, and plausible. Hamlet is consistent throughout the whole story. Even when readers see him change and develop, it is because of a significant event in the story. An example of this is the change in actions towards Ophelia. Hamlet starts out treating Ophelia lovingly, but because of her rudeness to him he starts to back off. He is also motivated, as he attempts to find his father’s killer and seek revenge. Hamlet is also a plausible character. He is not completely removed from human nature, as readers see him struggle with emotions and revenge. He also is not the “perfect” human as he is subject to rage and impulses.
This character is essential to this story because he is the protagonist. Without Hamlet there is no story.