A vengeful ghost, a
brother’s murder, a corrupt court—this is the gloomy landscape of Hamlet’s
Denmark. The play opens with an encounter between young Hamlet, the prince of
Denmark, and his father’s ghost. The ghost tells Hamlet that he was killed by
his brother Claudius, who then quickly married his widowed queen, Gertrude.
Seeking revenge, Hamlet
recreates the monstrous deed in a play with the help of some traveling actors
to torment the conscience of the evil Claudius. Yet he is plagued by
indecision, and as he delays he begins to behave erratically. In a visit with
his mother, Hamlet expresses his anger and disappointment concerning her
swiftly untimed marriage. Thinking a concealed spy in his mother's chamber to
be the lurking Claudius, he mistakenly kills the meddling counselor, Polonius,
father of Ophelia and Laertes. Claudius, on the pretext that Hamlet will be
endangered by his subjects for the murder of Polonius, sends the prince to
But he manages to slip away
from his guards and returns to Denmark, determined to carry out his plans. The
final thrilling scene involves a fencing match, a poisoned goblet, and deadly
swords, and leaves few characters alive when all is finished.
Book in Detail
Characters To Personalize
Hamlet — The prince of Denmark, son of Gertrude, nephew of Claudius, and heir to the throne. Hamlet is devastated by his father’s death, he had hoped to succeed him, only to see his uncle Claudius both be chosen as king and marry his mother. He loves Ophelia and his mother, but his mother's marriage to Claudius makes him mistrust and hate all women. He’s being closely watched and everyone think’s he’s going mad. But is he?
Claudius — Hamlet's uncle, and Gertrude's second husband. Power-hungry and lustful, Claudius murders his brother in order to take the throne of Denmark and marry his wife.
Appears throughout the play as King [name].
Gertrude — Hamlet's mother. After Hamlet's father dies, Gertrude quickly marries Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, making him the King of Denmark. She loves her son but he’s unforgiving about her hasty re-marriage
Appears throughout the play as Queen [name].
Polonius — The Lord Chamberlain of Denmark, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia, whom he loves deeply and wishes to protect. He is chief advisor to King Claudius and his right-hand man. He's entrusted with keeping a close watch on Hamlet and even enlists the help of his own daughter to achieve his objectives. He keeps a close eye on everyone, including his own son, sending a spy out to his University to keep watch on him.
Horatio — Hamlet’s best friend and the only one he can trust. He tells Hamlet about the appearance of his father’s ghost. Horatio becomes Hamlet's confidante in his effort to take revenge against Claudius.
Ophelia — Polonius's daughter, Laertes's sister, and Hamlet's love. Despite warnings from her father to stop speaking to Hamlet he uses her to find out the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Ophelia's loyalty to her father and resulting estrangement from Hamlet ultimately causes her to lose her mind.
Laertes — Polonius's son and Ophelia's brother. Laertes shares his father’s concerns about her relationship with Hamlet.
Fortinbras — A prince of Norway, whose father, Old Fortinbras, died in battle with Old Hamlet and lost lands to Denmark. Fortinbras seeks to revenge his father's death and retake the lost lands.
Marcellus - A soldier who is among the first to see the ghost of Old Hamlet.
Ghost / Hamlet’s Father - The former King of Denmark. Old Hamlet appears as a ghost and exhorts his son to kill Claudius, whom he claims has killed him in order to secure the throne and the queen of Denmark.