Characters in Hamlet

Last updated

What follows is an overview of the main characters in William Shakespeare's Hamlet , followed by a list and summary of the minor characters from the play. [1] Three different early versions of the play survive: known as the First Quarto ("Q1"), Second Quarto ("Q2"), and First Folio ("F1"), each has lines—and even scenes—missing in the others, and some character names vary.


Overview of main characters

A detail of the engraving of Daniel Maclise's 1842 painting The Play-scene in Hamlet, portraying the moment when the guilt of Claudius is revealed Hamlet play scene cropped.png
A detail of the engraving of Daniel Maclise's 1842 painting The Play-scene in Hamlet, portraying the moment when the guilt of Claudius is revealed

Elsinore sentries

Marcellus, Barnardo and Francisco

Marcellus, Bernardo (or Barnardo) and Francisco are sentries at Elsinore. Francisco gives up his watch to Bernardo in the opening of the play, and it is Bernardo and Marcellus, who first alert Horatio to the appearance of King Hamlet's Ghost. [2] Marcellus goes with Horatio to tell Hamlet about the Ghost's appearance. [3] Marcellus is the most prominent of the three. [4]

Barnardo (in F1) is spelled Bernardo in Q2 (Second Quarto) and Barnard in Q1 (First Quarto).

Elsinore entourage

Voltemand and Cornelius

Voltemand and Cornelius are ambassadors sent by the King of Denmark, Claudius, to old King Norway. [5]


He is a servant to Polonius. [6] (In the "Q1" text, Reynaldo is called "Montano" and Polonius is called "Corambis.") Polonius sends Reynaldo to Paris to spy on what Laertes is doing.

A Gentleman

He informs Gertrude of Ophelia's strange change in behaviour, before Ophelia's first "mad" appearance. [7]


He is the courtier sent by Claudius to invite Hamlet to participate in the duel with Laertes. [8] (This character is called "Ostricke" in the Second Quarto.) Osric, as well as Polonius, attempts to engage with Hamlet in the elaborate, witty discourse, fully consistent with Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 work, The Courtier . This work outlines several courtly rules, specifically advising royal retainers to amuse their masters with inventive language. [9]

The Players

The Players are a company of actors who arrive at Elsinore Castle. Friends of Hamlet, they had earlier performed in "the city" (presumably Copenhagen), but faced stiff competition from boy performers, so they have traveled to Elsinore to offer Hamlet their services. At Elsinore, they perform a version—which Hamlet has modified and called The Mousetrap—of the play The Murder of Gonzago in the "play within a play".

First Player or Player King

He is the leader of the troupe of touring actors. In the "play within a play", he takes the part of the king who is murdered. [10]

Second Player or Player Queen

This role was traditionally performed by a man, as were all the female parts in Hamlet, since women did not appear on stage in Elizabethan times. [10]

Third Player

He is also called Lucianus in the "play within a play". [11] The name may be a reference to Lucius in the Brutus legend, a source for Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum , itself a candidate source for Hamlet. Plays the role similar to Claudius and kills the king by pouring poison into his ear.

Fourth Player

The Mousetrap play-within-a-play has a very brief Prologue recited by one of the Players. The First Player may do the Prologue, but if not, a Fourth Player, with a speaking part, is probably required to do it.

Ophelia's funeral

Two Clowns (a sexton gravedigger, and a bailiff)

The bailiff informs the sexton that Ophelia's death was suicide, but the sexton argues the point. Later, the sexton unearths Yorick's skull, which leads to Hamlet's famous "Alas, poor Yorick" speech. During the Interregnum, all theatres were closed down by the puritan government. [12] However, even during this time playlets known as drolls were often performed illegally, including one based on the two clowns, called The Grave-Makers, based on Act 5, Scene 1 of Hamlet. [13]

A Priest, or Doctor of Divinity

He officiates at Ophelia's funeral, and does not give her full Christian burial rites, since the church suspects her death was suicide. Called a "Priest" in the First Folio edition of "Hamlet," his speech prefix in the Second Quarto is "Doct" for Doctor of Divinity, a Protestant clergyman. Thus, the two original "good" printings of the play are in disagreement whether the clergyman is Protestant or Catholic. [14]

Other characters

A Captain

He is a commander in Fortinbras' invading army, and is assigned by Fortinbras to get the license from Claudius for Fortinbras's army to be in Denmark. [15]

Sailors (pirates)

The sailors are two pirates who deliver a letter from Hamlet to Horatio, informing Horatio that Hamlet has returned to Denmark.

English Ambassadors

They appear in the final scene to report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. [16]

Related Research Articles

<i>Hamlet</i> Tragedy by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1601. It is Shakespeare's longest play, with 29,551 words. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his attempts to exact revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother.

<i>Hamlet</i> (1948 film) 1948 film by Laurence Olivier

Hamlet is a 1948 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name, adapted and directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. Hamlet was Olivier's second film as director and the second of the three Shakespeare films that he directed. Hamlet was the first British film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is the first sound film of the play in English.

<i>Hamlet</i> (1996 film) 1996 film

Hamlet is a 1996 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as Prince Hamlet. The film also features Derek Jacobi as King Claudius, Julie Christie as Queen Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Michael Maloney as Laertes, Richard Briers as Polonius, and Nicholas Farrell as Horatio. Other cast members include Robin Williams, Gérard Depardieu, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, Rufus Sewell, Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Ken Dodd.

<i>Hamlet</i> (2000 film) 2000 American film

Hamlet, also known as Hamlet 2000, is a 2000 American drama film written and directed by Michael Almereyda, set in contemporary New York City, and based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. Ethan Hawke plays Hamlet as a film student, Kyle MacLachlan co-stars as Uncle Claudius, with Diane Venora as Gertrude, Liev Schreiber as Laertes, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz, Bill Murray as Polonius, and Sam Shepard as Hamlet's father.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polonius</span> Character in Hamlet

Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. He is chief counsellor of the play's ultimate villain, Claudius, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. Generally regarded as wrong in every judgment he makes over the course of the play, Polonius is described by William Hazlitt as a "sincere" father, but also "a busy-body, [who] is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent". In Act II, Hamlet refers to Polonius as a "tedious old fool" and taunts him as a latter day "Jephtha".

Laertes (<i>Hamlet</i>) Character in Hamlet

Laertes is a character in William Shakespeare's c. 1600 play Hamlet. Laertes is the son of Polonius and the brother of Ophelia. In the final scene, he mortally stabs Hamlet with a poison-tipped sword to avenge the deaths of his father and sister, for which he blamed Hamlet. While dying of the same poison, he implicates King Claudius.

Gertrude (<i>Hamlet</i>) Character in Hamlet

In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her marrying her husband's brother Claudius after he murdered the king. Gertrude reveals no guilt in her marriage with Claudius after the recent murder of her husband, and Hamlet begins to show signs of jealousy towards Claudius. According to Hamlet, she scarcely mourned her husband's death before marrying Claudius.

<i>Hamlet: The Drama of Vengeance</i> 1921 film

Hamlet, or Hamlet: The Drama of Vengeance, is a 1921 German film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play Hamlet starring and produced by Danish silent film actress Asta Nielsen. It was directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall. The film was shot at the Johannisthal Studios in Berlin.

<i>Gertrude and Claudius</i> 2000 novel by John Updike

Gertrude and Claudius is a novel by John Updike. It uses the known sources of William Shakespeare's Hamlet to tell a story that draws on a rather straightforward revenge tale in medieval Denmark, as depicted by Saxo Grammaticus in his twelfth-century Historiae Danicae. It also incorporates extra plot elements added by François de Belleforest in his Histoires tragiques, published in 1576, and furthermore brings in various elements from Shakespeare's play itself, including the name "Corambis" for Polonius from the "bad quarto" of 1603. This story, in its three forms, is primarily concerned with Hamlet avenging his father's murder, but the story starts earlier. The novel is concerned with that earlier life of Gertrude, Claudius, and old Hamlet, and it ends at the close of Act I, scene ii of Hamlet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prince Hamlet</span> Character in Hamlet

Prince Hamlet is the title character and protagonist of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet (1599–1601). He is the Prince of Denmark, nephew to the usurping Claudius, and son of King Hamlet, the previous King of Denmark. At the beginning of the play, he is conflicted whether, and how, to avenge the murder of his father, and struggles with his own sanity along the way. By the end of the tragedy, Hamlet has caused the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Claudius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two acquaintances of his from childhood. He is also indirectly involved in the deaths of his love Ophelia (drowning) and of his mother Gertrude.

<i>Hamlet</i> (Thomas) 1868 opera by Ambroise Thomas

Hamlet is a grand opera in five acts of 1868 by the French composer Ambroise Thomas, with a libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier based on a French adaptation by Alexandre Dumas, père, and Paul Meurice of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Hamlet at Elsinore is a 1964 television version of the c. 1600 play by William Shakespeare. Produced by the BBC in association with Danish Radio, it was shown in the U.S. on NET. Winning wide acclaim both for its performances and for being shot entirely at Helsingør, in the castle in which the play is set, it is the only version of the play to have actually been shot at Elsinore Castle. This programme was recorded and edited on video tape and not 'filmed'. The director was Philip Saville. It was the longest version of the play telecast in one evening up to that time, running nearly three hours. A 1947 telecast of the play had split it up into two ninety-minute halves over two weeks.

Literary influence of <i>Hamlet</i>

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragedy, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601. It tells the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark—who takes revenge on the current king for killing the previous king and for marrying his father's widow —and it charts the course of his real or feigned madness. Hamlet is the longest play—and Hamlet is the largest part—in the entire Shakespeare canon. Critics say that Hamlet "offers the greatest exhibition of Shakespeare's powers".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ophelia</span> Character in Shakespeares drama Hamlet

Ophelia is a character in William Shakespeare's drama Hamlet (1599–1601). She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes and potential wife of Prince Hamlet, who, due to Hamlet's actions, ends up in a state of madness that ultimately leads to her drowning.

<i>Hamlet</i> Q1 First printed edition of "Hamlet"

Q1 of Hamlet is a short early text of the Shakespearean play. The intended publication of the play is entered in the Stationers' Register in 1602 by James Roberts, but Q1 was not published until summer or autumn 1603. It was published by the booksellers Nicholas Ling and John Trundell, and printed by Valentine Simmes. Roberts later printed the "Second Quarto" (Q2).

<i>Hamlet</i> (2009 film) 2009 film by Gregory Doran

Hamlet is a 2009 television film adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2008 modern-dress stage production of William Shakespeare's play of the same name, aired on BBC Two on 26 December 2009. It was broadcast by PBS' Great Performances in the United States on 28 April 2010.

<i>Hamlet</i> (1913 film) 1913 film by Hay Plumb

Hamlet is a 1913 British silent drama film directed by Hay Plumb and starring Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Gertrude Elliott and Walter Ringham. It is an adaptation of the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare made by the Hepworth Company and based on the Drury Lane Theatre's 1913 staging of the work.

<i>Ophelia</i> (2018 film) 2018 film by Claire McCarthy

Ophelia is a 2018 historical romantic drama film directed by Claire McCarthy and written by Semi Chellas about the character of the same name from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Based on the novel by Lisa Klein, the film follows the story of Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective. It stars Daisy Ridley in the title role, alongside Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, George MacKay, Tom Felton and Devon Terrell. The dialogue is in modern English.

<i>Hamlet. XXI Century</i> 2009 miniseries by Yuri Kara

Hamlet. XXI Century is a 2009 four-episode television miniseries by Yuri Kara. It is an adaptation and modernization of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet.

<i>Elsinore</i> (video game) 2019 adventure game

Elsinore is a 2019 point-and-click adventure game developed and published by Golden Glitch for Windows, Linux, and macOS. The game follows the character of Ophelia from William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In Elsinore, Ophelia has a vision of the deaths of everyone in Elsinore Castle and relives the same four days again and again as she works to prevent the tragedy that will fall over everyone.


All references to Hamlet, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Arden Shakespeare "Q2" (Thompson and Taylor, 2006a). Under their referencing system, 3.1.55 means act 3, scene 1, line 55. References to the First Quarto and First Folio are marked Hamlet "Q1" and Hamlet "F1", respectively, and are taken from the Arden Shakespeare "Hamlet: the texts of 1603 and 1623" (Thompson and Taylor, 2006b). Their referencing system for "Q1" has no act breaks, so 7.115 means scene 7, line 115.


  1. Character list collated from Spencer (1980, 61–2) and from Thompson & Taylor (2006a, 140). For Q1 Character names see Thompson & Taylor (2006b, 42)
  2. Hamlet 1.1 & 1.2
  3. Hamlet 1.2
  4. Hamlet 1.1, 1.2, 1.4 & 1.5
  5. Hamlet 2.2
  6. Hamlet 2.1
  7. Hamlet 4.5
  8. Hamlet 5.2
  9. MacCary (1998, 84–85).
  10. 1 2 Hamlet 3.2
  11. Hamlet 3.2.26
  12. Marsden (2002, 21)
  13. Holland (2007, 34)
  14. Hamlet 5.1.197 onwards
  15. Hamlet 4.4
  16. Hamlet 5.2.236 onwards


Further reading