Hamlet

The civilized prince

Prince Hamlet is the main character in William Shakespeare’s drama bearing the same name. He is the prince of Denmark and the son of the recently deceased king, whose name was also Hamlet. Claudius, the brother of the late king and the new king of Denmark, is his uncle. Gertrude, the widow of the old King Hamlet and the newly married wife of Claudius, is his mother. It can be assumed that Hamlet is about 30 years old.

Hamlet is studying at the University of Wittenberg when he learns of his father's death. Because of this terrible news, he immediately returns to the Danish royal court. Here he is confronted with the fact that his mother Gertrude has not even mourned her deceased husband for two months, but has immediately married Hamlet's uncle Claudius, who now sits on the Danish throne (Act 1; Scene II).

Hamlet's university education comes through clearly throughout the play. He is civilized and intelligent, and also shows great interest in poetry and art. For example, when an acting troupe arrives at Elsinore Castle in Denmark, Hamlet immediately wants to hear them give a speech about the Trojan War. He himself can already recite a large part of the speech by heart and perform it artistically (2.2.422-452). This shows not only that he is artistically inclined, but also that he is well acquainted with the core aspects of Greek mythology.

Moreover, Hamlet is skilled enough in acting to be able to give the actors numerous pieces of advice for the planned performance (3.2.1). This indicated that he had already seen several plays and had intensively studied the nature of acting.

Hamlet's creativity is expressed in many moments of the drama. For example, it is no problem for him to forge an official document, to give symbolic and eloquent answers to replies (5.2.115), and to make new plans in a flash as the plot unfolds.

The isolated mourner

When the new King Claudius marries Hamlet's mother, it has been less than two months since the death of Hamlet's father. For Hamlet, his mother's hasty marriage is equal to a betrayal of his father's memory (1.2.132-162). He feels that he is the only one who sincerely mourns his loss: out of loyalty and continued love for his father, he still dresses entirely in black, indulges in no pleasures, and does not keep his grief a secret even from court society (1.2.80-89).

His uncle Claudius describes this attitude as "praiseworthy" for the heart, but clearly instructs his nephew to stop involving himself in "unmanly grief" (1.2.97). He promises Hamlet to be a new loving father to him and asks him to remain at the Danish royal court as "Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son." (1.2.120). When his mother repeats the request, Hamlet agrees not to continue his studies for the time being and not to return to Wittenberg.

Once Hamlet is alone, however, it becomes clear how distraught, disappointed, and saddened he is by his mother's remarriage. He lapses into an almost melancholy state and seriously ponders the meaning of his future life. The whole hustle and bustle of the world seems to him to be "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable" (1.2.136).

The marriage of Claudius and his mother breaks Hamlet’s heart, and he does not feel able to express his feelings openly (1.2.155-163). Thus, already in the first act it becomes exceedingly clear that Hamlet is a thoughtful, sensitive and emotional character, who rightly calls himself the antithesis of the strong Hercules (ibid.).

The plan of revenge and faked madness

When Hamlet's college friend Horatio and two castle guards tell him shortly after the royal wedding ceremony that they have seen a ghost resembling the deceased king, Hamlet immediately decides to seek it out at night. Hamlet, unlike his friend Horatio, is apparently convinced of the presence of the supernatural: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio" (1.5.185-186). 

In fact, the ghost appears again. He shows a special interest in Hamlet and promptly waves him away from his companions. Although they urge him not to go off alone with the apparition, Hamlet is daring enough to disregard their advice. He says he does not value his life even at the price of a pin: “I do not set my life in a pin's fee” (1.4.71).

The ghost then actually introduces itself to him as the embodiment of his deceased father and reveals to him that he has died not from the effects of a snakebite but at the hands of his brother. He challenges Hamlet to avenge his death on Claudius (1.5.11-32). Hamlet promises to fulfill his wish. He takes it upon himself to keep his plans for revenge secret from the court society by playing a madman: “To put an antic disposition on” (1.5.185).

Hamlet immediately puts his plan to play a madman successfully into practice. Soon the castle society can no longer reconcile his unusual appearance with his old and obviously distinctly different nature. He no longer pays attention to his clothing arrangement, but dresses very neglectfully (2.1.87-94). He no longer answers questions clearly, but in an ambiguous and symbolic way, which, however, often reveals a high intelligence and sharpness of thought: "LORD POLONIUS: [Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord? / HAMLET: Into my grave." (2.2....

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