Hamlet: Character Analysis


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Over the centuries many people have complained that William Shakespeare did an inadequate job of steering the readers of Hamlet to a specific interpretation of each character. Each reader is left to decide the true extent of Hamlet’s evil and insane ways or to realize that he clearly is a victim of circumstances beyond his control, therefore declaring him innocent. Because of William Shakespeare’s writing style, the reader receives little help in discovering who is truly innocent and who is as guilty as Claudius.

Many scholars agree that Hamlet may be the most complex character presented by any playwrite. Over the centuries critics have offered many theories and explanations for Hamlet’s actions, but none have sufficiently explained him. Many people view Hamlet as a deeply troubled youth who caused many unnecessary deaths, such as those of Polonius and Laertes. Critics who support this theory point out the cruel actions carried out by Hamlet, one example being the indifferent and boastful way Hamlet describes the ingenious way he had his two good friend, Rosencrantz and Guildentsern killed.

But wilt thou hear now how I did proceed?…I sat down, devised a new commission, wrote it fair. I once did hold it, as our satists do, a baseness to write fair, labored much how to forget that learning, but, sir, now it did me a yeoman’s service. Wilt thou know th’ effect of what I wrote?…An earnest conjuration from the King, as England was his faithful tributary…that on the view and knowing of the contents, without debatement further more or less, he should those bearers put to sudden death. (Shakespeare 5:228-45)

The way Hamlet treats Ophelia, the woman he supposedly loved, also supports the portrayal of him being a barbarian.

If thou dost marry ,I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery[referring to a brothel], go and quickly, too.(Shakespeare 3:1 136-141)

Another offered interpretation suggests that using the information given by the ghost of King Hamlet, Hamlet seized the opportunity to regain what was rightfully his-the throne of Denmark. One less popular belief that has been expressed states that Hamlet was actually a girl, raised as a man, so there would be an heir to the throne. Critics who support this view say that this theory explains Hamlet’s reluctance and hesitation to commit murder(which is most often viewed as a masculine act).

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This is highly unlikely because there is, in fact, no evidence in the play that supports this explanation. All critics do agree that Hamlet is exceptionally intelligent and a sensitive young man, however his actions are left to personal interpretations.

Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is perceived by most as a loving yet mysterious figure throughout the play. Her innocence is not only questioned by Hamlet in Act 3 scene 4 ("A bloody deed-almost as bad Mother, as to kill a king and marry his brother")but by the readers as well. Many readers believe the final scene, in which Gertrude drinks the poisoned cup, is the clue to determining her guilt or innocence. Perhaps Gertrude drank the poison out of guilt from her role in her first husband’s death. It’s possible that she drank the wine without knowing that is would be fatal. It all depends on how the reader interprets one of the last things Gertrude says in the play, "I will my Lord, I pray you pardon me".

Cladius is often thought of as the villain of the play. Shakespeare portrayed Cladius as a true politician-tactful, manipulative and deceitfully clever. His power over people is demonstrated by his control over Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom he sent as spies .

And can you by no drift of conference get from him why he puts on this confusion, grating so harshly all his days of quiet with turbulent and dangerous lunacy?…Good gentlemen, give him a further edge and drive his purpose into these delights.[reply from Rosencrantz: We shall, my lord.] (Shakespeare 3:1 1-28)

Some scholars suggest that we are supposed to view Caldius as being better suited to be king than Hamlet, that is why Cladius does the things he does.

Polonius is viewed as a mixture of good and evil. He is clearly an intelligent man who was influential and well liked in the Danish court. Most critics speculate the Polonius’ intentions were usually good but he had a sinister side as well. His sinister side was demonstrated by his eagerness to obtain a higher political position by any means possible, such as trickery, spying and marrying his only daughter into the Royal family.

Ophelia, walk you here-gracious, so please you, we will bestow ourselves. Read on this book, that show of such an exercise may color your loneliness. We are oft to blame on this-‘tis too much proved-that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself…I hear him coming. Let’s withdraw, my lord.(Shakespeare 3:1 43-56)

‘A will come straight. Look you lay home to him. Tell him his pranks have been to broad to bear with, and that Your Grace hath screened and stood between much heat and him. I’ll shroud me even here. Pray you, be round with him.
(Shakespeare 3:4 1-5)

Every character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, from Hamlet himself to the priest, can be interpreted a number of different ways. There is no right or wrong character analysis. Even the reasons for a character’s actions can be interpreted different ways and tied to a number of the play’s hidden themes.

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