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Reference Guide

Hamlet - Reference Guides

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Hamlet and Desire to avenge fathers deathThey love Ophelia and
Laertes mourn her death • Hamlet hesitates; Laertes seeks
immediate action • Hamlet knows that Claudius is evil;
Laertes is fooled • Hamlet mocks Polonius; Laertes
endures his father’s taunts • Hamlet and Horatio praise and
admire each other • Horatio is seen as just and temperate;
he is not swayed by lifes ups and downs • Hamlet is
tormented and confused by conflict; he responds to
difficulty by feigning insanity
Hamlet and Desire to avenge father’s death; Fortinbras is held back by
Fortinbras current King of Norway • Hamlet needs to be prompted by
the ghost to avenge his fathers death • Fortinbras is
endorsed as the new King of Denmark, which shows an
approval of character
Laertes and Laertes is second to Claudius; Horatio is second to Hamlet
Horatio • Laertes is manipulated by Claudius’ words; Horatio is
considered above flattery • Decent men who care about
Hamlet and their country
• A foil is a character who can be compared and contrasted to another character • Used to clarify character traits and issues in the play
Gertrude and Obedient to their men • They knowingly participate in plots
Ophelia against Hamlet • They learn about the cause of Hamlet’s
change in behavior • They are not completely aware of the
evil that is manipulating them • They humor Hamlet while
he feigns madness (melancholy), hoping to bring him back
to normal • Hamlet’s treatment of women leads Gertrude to
seek repentance, and turns Ophelia to madness
• Gertrude’s characterization is based on her overt
sexuality; Ophelia’s characterization is based on chastity
Claudius and Arrogant, manipulative men • Claudius pays attention to
Polonius his public image and seeks to improve upon it; Polonius is
seen as a foolish old man but thinks that he is liked
• Hamlet kills Polonius when he thought that he was
Hamlet and Hamlet waits too long to act; Polonius acts too quickly
Polonius Hamlet is viewed as insane for a period, and yet he is
respected; Polonius acts like an intelligent man, yet he is
known to be a fool
Act I Introduction • Presentation of setting, main characters, and central
Act II Development/rising action • Hamlet commences his plan to feign
madness and discover the truth about his father’s death
• Claudius looks for the reason behind Hamlets behavior
Act III Climax • Trap is sprung with the play’s performance • Claudius is
proven guilty in Hamlets eyes • Death of Polonius
Act IV Denouement/falling action • Presentation of events towards ultimate
conclusion • Claudius plans the demise of Hamlet
Act V Conclusion • Death of all main characters except Horatio and
Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras seek revenge for the murder of their fathers
In Hamlet’s play, the Player recites a scene showing Pyrrhus’ murder of
Priam for the murder of Achilles, Pyrrhus’ father
Polonius uses Reynaldo to spy on Laertes • Claudius and Gertrude use
Horatio, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ophelia to spy on Hamlet
Polonius spies on Hamlet and Gertrude
Polonius advises Laertes regarding his appearance to society and Ophelia
about Hamlet • Laertes advises Ophelia about Hamlet • Claudius advises
Laertes • Hamlet advises Gertrude regarding her actions
The play within the play is used to trap Claudius, as it reenacts the murder
of King Hamlet
In Act I, the ghost is visible to the sentinels but speaks only to Hamlet
• In Act III, the ghost stays invisible to Gertrude and talks only to Hamlet
Hamlet makes the sentinels keep the sighting of the ghost to themselves
(characters keeping secrets) • Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in
confidence that he is not really mad • Hamlet tells Gertrude to not reveal
the fact that he is pretending to be mad
Truth vs. duplicity
Characters pretending to be what they are not
Use of the play within the play
• Appearance of the ghost
• Hamlet pretends to be mad to fool those around him
• Ophelia becomes truly mad as she cannot handle the injustice around her
• Hamlets love for father and mother
• Gertrude betrays her late husband by marrying his brother
• Brother killing brother
• Children’s love for parents, and vice-versa
• Using others for ones gain
• Sons avenging the death of their fathers
A woman’s loyalty to her man
• Loyalty to the country
• Fighting fairly in a duel
• Hamlet seeks revenge for his fathers death
• Fortinbras seeks revenge for his father’s death and loss in battle
• Laertes seeks revenge for death of father and sister
• Revenge tragedy
• Death of King Hamlet; “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark...”
• Insanity and illness of the mind
• Sickness of the soul; imagery
• Death of Hamlets father is the impetus for action; ghost
• Death imagery
• Polonius is killed through an arras
• Mysterious death of Ophelia; possible suicide or accidental drowning
• Death of Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, and Gertrude
• Hamlets failure to take action
• Claudius takes action for his own gain
• Laertes and Fortinbras avenging father’s deaths
• Polonius interferes and is killed
• Characters’ own actions work against them
• Display of tragic flaw
• Hamlets generosity towards Claudius (i.e., does not kill him during prayer)
• Gertrude’s betrayal of her love for her dead husband
• Claudius’ crime of murder
• Polonius’ attempt to further his career by spying
• Ophelia’s desire to please those around her
• Laertes’ treachery in his quest for revenge
• Most of the play takes place in and around the royal castle at Elsinore, which
is located on the coast of Denmark • Locations include castle rampart, palace
court, Polonius’ house, royal bedrooms, graveyard, and palace hall • Some time
is spent abroad (i.e., England, ocean)
• Born 1564; died 1616 • Plays are divided into the early plays
(e.g., The Taming of the Shrew), comedies (e.g., Much Ado About Nothing),
histories (e.g., Henry V), tragedies (e.g., Hamlet), problem plays
(e.g., Measure for Measure), and romance plays (e.g., The Winters Tale)
Written around 1601 • Often considered to be most popular Shakespearean
play in the world • Based upon Amlethus, a Danish prince from 10th century
• Similar storyline to Ur-Hamlet, a play written by Thomas Kyd around 1590
• Protagonist dies while defeating antagonist • In revenge tragedy, protagonist
is driven by desire to exact revenge, which leads to demise • Tragic hero is
dominated by a fatal flaw in character, which leads to his/her downfall • Tragic
hero is held in high standing, making the downfall more tragic for the audience
Hamlet Prince of Denmark, son of Queen Gertrude and late
King Hamlet, and nephew/stepson of current King
Claudius • Protagonist and tragic hero • Focus of the
play and involved with all the other characters
• Intelligent young man with university education
(Wittenberg) • Young man of physical ability and skilled
with the sword • Love of theater becomes a part of his
actions • Man of integrity who is loved by many
Complex character on many levels • His tragic flaw
is his inability to decide on a course of action
(procrastination due to too much thought) • Actions
are fueled by desire for revenge • His failure to take
action against Claudius is linked to the death of the
other characters • Prone to analysis of himself and
those around him before taking action • Constantly
remorseful due to father’s death and mother’s
remarriage; possible Oedipus complex
Claudius Current King of Denmark, husband of Gertrude,
Hamlets uncle, and the brother of late King Hamlet
Antagonist and source of evil • Man of action;
murdered his brother to attain the throne • Opposite of
Hamlet in many ways (i.e., decisive, strong-minded,
passionate, and aware of future) • Perceptive,
calculating, ambitious, and ruthless • Understands
human motivation and knows how to manipulate those
around him (e.g., controls Polonius and Laertes)
• Does not let his conscience interfere with his plans
Directly or indirectly responsible for the death of all
major characters
Gertrude Queen of Denmark, Hamlets mother, wife of Claudius,
and widow of late King Hamlet • Decent, loving
woman; innocent of her husband’s death • Her
meekness allows her to accept whatever happens to
her (e.g., husband’s death, immediate marriage to
Claudius) • Easily controlled by Claudius • Her love for
Hamlet leads to guilty feelings, as her loyalty is split
between her current husband and her son • Does not
instigate events but she must take responsibility for
Ophelia Polonius’ daughter and Laertes’ sister • Hamlet’s
beloved • Beautiful, sweet, industrious, and gentle
• Easily manipulated by Polonius and Laertes; swayed
by Hamlet • Intelligence displayed in conversations
• Direct, honest, and trusting, which leads to her
downfall • Naive in the ways of the world; cannot
survive treacheries of court life • Love for Hamlet
leaves her blind to his madness
Polonius Father of Laertes and Ophelia • Lord Chamberlain and
advisor to King Claudius • Cynical and self-seeking in
his desire to receive favor from Claudius and Gertrude
• Not inherently evil, but foolish • Realistic (e.g., tells
Ophelia that Hamlet is above her station in life)
Pragmatic (e.g., advises Laertes on how to be
deferential and inoffensive so that he may improve his
station in life) • Lack of sensitivity leads to verbosity,
inopportune interference, and eventual death
Laertes Polonius’ son and Ophelia’s brother • Friend to Hamlet
• Honest and courageous • Torn between youth and
adulthood (i.e., responsibility) • Cynical (e.g., advises
Ophelia that she can never have a life with Hamlet)
• Hot-tempered yet full of honor (e.g., seeks to avenge
wrongs against his family) • Unwittingly controlled by
Claudius and Polonius
Ghost Spirit of the late King Hamlet • Sets an ominous tone
for the play with his appearance • Acts as the impetus
for Hamlet’s quest for revenge
Rosencrantz, Hamlet’s contemporaries • Students at Wittenberg
Guildenstern yet not really bright • Controlled by authority figures
(e.g., Claudius) • Not truly evil; tools of their superiors
• Displayed as types common to their position; not
real (i.e., stereotypes) • An inseparable couple; they
depend upon each other • Follow the fashions and
opinions of the day • Superficial and foolish
Horatio Hamlets friend and confidant • Student at Wittenberg;
scholarly type • Person of good character; just and
honorable • Treated as an equal by Hamlet • Serves
as an informer of bad tidings (e.g., tells of the ghost)
Acts as Hamlet’s conscience; not heeded
Fortinbras Prince of Norway, nephew to current King of Norway,
and son of late King Fortinbras • Driven by revenge to
regain lands lost by father in battle • Admires Hamlet’s
princely qualities • Feels sorrow for tragedy
(e.g., death of Hamlet) • Willing to take over the throne
Osric Messenger; courier • Brings notice to Hamlet of duel
• Man of position (i.e., superficial, verbose) • Despite
use of flowery language, he is not very bright
Reynaldo Polonius’ servant • Fulfills a role; no real importance
Barnardo, Francisco, Sentinels and officers in king’s army • Serve as
Marcellus witnesses of ghost’s appearance
Voltemand, Messengers • Sent by Claudius to King of Norway
Gravediggers Comic relief in the graveyard scene
Name Description
Characters Relationship
• Play begins in the winter at midnight • Takes place over a span of 7 days,
as represented on stage, with 2 intervals
Day 1 Act I, Scenes 1-3
Day 2 Act I, Scenes 4-5
Interval Over two months
Day 3 Act II, Scenes 1-2
Day 4 Act III, Scenes 1-4
Act IV, Scenes 1-3
Day 5 Act IV, Scene 4
Interval About one week
Day 6 Act IV, Scenes 5-7
Day 7 Act V, Scenes 1-2
Name Description
Characters Relationship
Just the Facts
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