Hamlet: A Character Analysis and Review


Alex Moehring, Contributor

William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is regarded as one of the legendary writers strongest works. The protagonist (who shares his namesake with the title of the play) is Hamlet, the Danish prince of Denmark who is determined to avenge his father’s death. In his quest for revenge, he ruins the lives of those around him to satisfy his insanity. This spirals into a whirlwind of catastrophic proportions.

Throughout the story, Hamlet shows an emotionless degree of ruthlessness towards his friends and family. When Claudius convinces Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to betray Hamlet, and deliver a note that would cause his execution, Hamlet turns the tables. He rewrites the letter so that the king will be forced to execute his two former best friends instead of himself. He does this instead of stealing the letter and fleeing. Hamlet purposely chooses to end Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s lives.

In his quest for vengeance, Hamlet makes many reckless decisions. His harsh words to Ophelia in his feigned lunacy drive her into a state of delirium. This leads to his former lover’s drowning in the beginning of act 5.  Also, when confronting his mother about Claudius, he makes the assumption that Claudius is hiding behind a curtain in the room. Instead of checking who is actually there, Hamlet immediately stabs the curtain. It is revealed that instead of the antagonist of the play hiding behind the curtain, it is instead Polonius, the father of Ophelia and one of the more sensible characters in the story.  This action spirals out of control and leads to the death of Polonius and eventual demise of almost every character in the story.

In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, the foremost character trait Hamlet is known for is his insanity. To kill Claudius, he decides to feign madness in a successful attempt not to be suspected as he investigates his father’s murder. However, hidden behind his unhinged appearance, hides a much deeper insanity that shines through his actions and reactions. After receiving instructions from the ghost of his deceased father, Hamlet goes on a quest to kill his father’s murderer Claudius. After Claudius marries his (Hamlet’s) mother, Hamlet makes the decision that avenging the death of his father means more to him than how it affects himself, his allies, and his family. With the aforementioned killing of Polonius and willingness to sacrifice himself and others for the sake of vengeance, Hamlet had truly gone insane.

Hamlet’s actions ripple into waves that cause destruction throughout Denmark. His ruthless nature drives him to have his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern executed in response to their manipulation. Hamlet’s reckless leads to the fatal stabbing of Polonius, which causes many more tragic events to happen. His insanity in his plan leads to the bloodshed in the finale of the play. In the end, after the poisoning of his Mother, the stabbing of Laertes, and Hamlet securing his vengeance against Claudius, Prince Hamlet succumbs to the poison having finished his goal. Overall, Hamlet is a flawed character who reflects humanities darker instincts.

On the whole, “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is a masterfully written tragedy. It is a brilliant story with many twists and turns. If you are looking to learn more about Shakespeare’s tragedies, “Hamlet” is the place to start.