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Hamlet: Analysis of Shakespeare's Main Character

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600-01), regarded by numerous scholars and critics as his finest play, is based on the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which 1st appeared in the Historia Danica, a Latin text by the twelfth-century historian Saxo Grammaticus. The principal protagonist, getting Hamlet, the so-known as “Dark Prince” of Shakespearean tragedy, is an extremely complicated man with a wonderful depth of character who “suffers from insecurity and a sense of the absurd. . . and as a man and a revenger, shifts from an external struggle for vengeance to an internal one” (McConnell, Web).

As a individual, Hamlet experiences a wide range of emotions linked with particular events, such as becoming betrayed by his friends and family which causes him a lot grief and despair that sooner or later leads to a state of utter melancholy. As an emotional young man, Hamlet becomes drastically disillusioned by the incestuous marriage of his mother Gertrude to Claudius, the present king of Denmark, and grieves more than his father’s untimely death. He also views his own life with much disgust and disappointment and likens it to an “unweeded garden” complete of pitfalls and weariness. Upon the realization that his father was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet’s distress multiplies and becomes really unnerving, especially after the ghost of Claudius demands that Hamlet seek revenge against these who murdered him. Nonetheless, at the time of this revelation, Hamlet’s grief is so overwhelming that he finds it hard to obey the command of his dead father and wishes that he had never ever been born to bear the consequences.

Also, critics have often attempted to clarify or interpret the actions of Hamlet in this play the excellent Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) viewed the character of Hamlet as becoming complete of evil, cruelty, violence and cynicism. Conversely, the popular British essayist William Hazlitt sees Hamlet fairly differently, for he states that the Prince of Denmark “is not marked by strength of will or even passion, but by refinement of believed and sentiment” (AbsoluteShakespeare, Web). Also, Hamlet’s sanity has been questioned more than the years and has brought about many comments as to whether or not he was truly mad or was feigning madness either way, Hamlet the man reinforces his psychological reality through his thoughts and actions.

In essence, Hamlet displays two of the key traits related with characters of his sort as exemplified in many of Shakespeare’s excellent plays. Therefore, Hamlet is a paradox–he is a noble and sensitive hero but also a tragic hero and a victim of his “fatal flaw,” a character deficiency which propels much of the plotline in the play. As the perfect Renaissance gentleman/noble, Hamlet’s refinement of spirit is best represented when he criticizes Claudius, the murderous king, for his drunkenness his wonderful sensitivity of mind is exemplified in his stupor more than his mother’s swift re-marriage to Claudius following the death of Hamlet’s father, and his humility is evident in his deep adore for Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius the chamberlain and a woman who is socially beneath his stature as the king of Denmark.

As a tragic hero and victim, Hamlet passes through a series of events that test his strengths and weaknesses. At the opening of the play, it is clear to the reader that Claudius has violated the natural order of the kingdom with the murder of the former king and his take-over of the throne which profoundly disturbs Hamlet despite his ignorance of the evil that has been carried out by his new stepfather. Even though Hamlet displays several indicators of weakness, his part in the creation of the evil that runs all through the play is non-existent. His “fatal flaw” appears to hinge on his procrastination in avenging the death of his father, for if this flaw did not exist there would be no play to study or ponder, i.e. this “waiting game” moves the plot forward and forces the other characters into action. However in the conclusion of the play, Hamlet does attain his revenge but at a expense far as well higher, for every main character, as a outcome of his “fatal flaw” induced procrastinations, is killed which areas the play of Hamlet in the category of a genuine Greek tragedy.

But in contrast to this, Hazlitt understands Hamlet as “little of the hero as a man can well be” who is drawn by his thoughts and actions into the “strangeness of the situation” (AbsoluteShakespeare, World wide web). In addition, Hamlet, despite becoming the dominant character in the play, “is not a commanding figure,” for his “posture (as a prince) is passive. . . towards the events that have befallen him” (Moore, All Shakespeare, Net), all of which goes against Hamlet as a correct tragic figure.

A number of essential scenes in Hamlet illustrate these feelings and traits and also show other sides of Hamlet’s complex character. He appears to derive great pleasure from observing and relishing the suffering of other folks in his orbit, not to mention his obvious lack of concern for Ophelia, for he tells her that “. . . you make your wantoness your ignorance. . . I say we will have no far more marriage. . . all but one shall live to a nunnery, go” (III.i. 52). With this statement, Hamlet is telling Ophelia that she represents the lowest kind of womanhood, and with this, Hamlet send her off to a nunnery which in his eyes is also a spot for prostitutes, for he later tells her that she is a whore. However Ophelia certainly has deep feelings for the “Dark Prince” and these harsh words set her into a position of much suffering which later led to her suicide.

An additional incident closely associated to a type of mental torture happens when Hamlet finds himself alone with Claudius and slyly decides against instituting his revenge towards the new king till he is in a position of utter debauchery. “When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, or in the incestuous bed” (III.iii. 92), Hamlet will then kill him and send his soul to eternal damnation. This may seem like an act of pure brutality, but in reality it is really fair, due to Hamlet’s father being murdered just before offered the possibility to confess his sins to God.

In regard to Hamlet’s alleged madness, it would appear that he is indeed mad, for following the tragic murder of his father and seeing his ghost, Hamlet falls into a state of full insanity. Right after killing Polonius the chamberlain by stabbing him by means of a curtain, Hamlet is asked to reveal the location of his physique, whereby he replies “At supper. . . Not where he eats, but where (he) is eaten” (IV.iii. 19), meaning that Polonius is now really dead. Hamlet later tells Claudius that the physique of Polonius is beneath the stairs “You shall nose him,” he says, “as you go up the stairs into the lobby” (IV.iii. 37).

The universal appeal of Hamlet seems to rest mostly on the character of Hamlet, for following becoming known as upon to avenge his father’s murder, he starts to experience many problems concerning duty, morality and ethics, all of which reflect the complexity of his character and his character. As Frank N. Magill points out, “In Hamlet himself are mirrored the hopes and fears, the feelings of aggravation and despair, of all mankind” (1449).


Hazlitt, William. Hamlet Character Evaluation. Internet. AbsoluteShakespeare. 2002.

Magill, Frank N., ed. Masterplots: Digests of Globe Literature. Vol. 6. New York: Salem Press, Inc., 1964.

McConnell, Heron. Hamlet and Revenge. World wide web. March 2001.

Moore, R. Hamlet: Character Evaluation. Web. All Shakespeare. 2003.
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