Hamlet

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Hamlet Character Analysis

The prince of Denmark, son of Gertrude, nephew of Claudius, and heir to the throne. Hamlet is a deep thinker, focusing on impossible to answer questions about religion, death, truth, reality, and the motivations of others. He even obsessively contemplates the fact that he obsessively contemplates. He loves Ophelia and his mother, but his mother's marriage to Claudius makes him mistrust and even hate all women. He detests all forms of deception, yet plots and pretends to be insane. At times he even seems to be insane. Despite his obsessive thinking, he can act impulsively, as when he kills Polonius. Hamlet is an enigma, a man so complex even he doesn't completely know himself. In other words, he seems like a real person—which has made Hamlet the most well known character in English literature.

Hamlet Quotes in Hamlet

The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by Hamlet or refer to Hamlet. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not "seems."
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.79
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet says this line to his mother Gertrude when she inquires why he “seems” to be so dismayed. He corrects her word choice and points out that his sadness is an accurate reflection of his emotional state after his father’s death—rather than an external performance of mourning.

The difference between the truth of interior emotions (“is”) and exterior presentations in a social context (“seems”) is a critical theme throughout Hamlet. Many of the characters hide their true intentions in order to plot against others, and Hamlet’s actions, in particular, are the subject of much skepticism. As he becomes increasingly irrational and distraught, both the other characters and the audience of Shakespeare’s work are tasked to determine whether these behaviors are appearances or realities.

Hamlet has encapsulated this central concern of the play, here, within the correction of a single verb. The passage points out that while other characters may be more likely to attribute actions to displays of emotion, Hamlet holds a commitment to actual sentiment. Of course, we also must be skeptical of such a line: Perhaps Hamlet’s insistence on the “is” actually reveals just how carefully he coordinates his speeches. But regardless of whether we trust him, it is clear that he and Shakespeare have put high stakes on linguistic precision and the coherence between belief and act.

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O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.33-34
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet is left alone at this point and enters into his first soliloquy. He discourses on the spite he feels for the other characters and ponders the merits of suicide.

Though the question of suicide is most famously explored in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech, it appears already at this early moment in the play. Shakespeare, then, does not present Hamlet’s depressive rumination as so much the result of specific plot elements, but rather as an inherent component of his personality. In this case, the language remains more metaphorical and less assertive than it will be later.

What Hamlet desires is not to actively destroy his flesh but rather to let it passively become liquid through some process: It does not matter to him how this is done—melting, thawing, or inexplicable transformation—are all acceptable routes. He simply bids the natural world to allow this to occur in some way. (Associating suicide with water imagery also foreshadows Ophelia’s drowning later in the play.) The use of the interjection “O,” the conditional construction with “would,” and the repetition of “too too” all give the line a mournful and apathetic tone. Thus the passage positions the limits of human life as an important thematic conceit, while giving us a starting point of relative passivity toward the idea—which will come to contrast with Hamlet’s more assertive musings.

Frailty, thy name is woman!
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Gertrude
Page Number: 1.2.150
Explanation and Analysis:

In his soliloquy, Hamlet expresses disgust for Gertrude’s actions in the wake of King Hamlet’s death. The protagonist complains of her lustful nature and her moral weakness.

Shakespeare develops in this phrase a clever rhetorical strategy—one that has endured and been used in texts that range from James Joyce's Ulysses to a Supreme Court dissension to a Pokémon episode. The literal meaning of the sentence is that woman are frail, but by inverting the order of the sentence, he forefronts the accusative quality. Then by making the subject the “name” of the quality, he implies that frailty is epitomized and embodied by the female character. According to this logic, it is not just that some women are frail, but rather that they are synonymous with frailty.

Despite the rhetorical power of the statement, it is also a gross generalization—something of which Shakespeare would have certainly been aware. Hamlet rapidly switches from examining the specific case of Gertrude to making a general comment on her entire sex, which points to his tendency for rash action and totalizing language. We see, then, the playwright giving linguistic power to his characters, even as he also displays their shortcomings in rationality and sensibility.

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio
Page Number: 1.2.87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet continues to rant about Claudius and Gertrude’s marriage. Here, he complains to Horatio about how rapidly their wedding took place after his father’s death.

To do so, Hamlet uses a grotesque image of the same food being served at the funeral and the marriage. What were “bak’d meats” (baked meats) at his father’s death are allowed to chill and then be repurposed for Hamlet's father's widow and brother. This is, of course, not a literal description of what occurred with the meals at each ceremony, but rather a rhetorical way for Hamlet to stress the speed and discourtesy of his mother’s actions. That Hamlet chooses the exclamation “thrift, thrift” brings a darkly economic dimension into the text. The term indicates that Gertrude and Claudius reused the meats in order to save expenses—which would be an offensive choice in the wake of her husband’s death. Thus it is not just speed that falls under critique here, but rather the casual and desensitized way they have acted. The passage stresses both the importance of social norms in Hamlet’s world, but also how flagrantly they have been violated in the specific events of the play.

Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
O, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius
Page Number: 1.5.113
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hamlet converses with the Ghost, he curses both Gertrude and Claudius. Here, he exclaims on how Claudius is deceptive and presents an aura of goodwill despite his evil intent.

It’s worthwhile to track some of Hamlet’s repeated speech formations: once more he uses the interjection “O” to stress the emotional intensity of the phrase, and his triple invocation of “villain” is also characteristic of how he will often repeat words many times to build emphasis. Here, “villain” is first said twice to doubly-inscribe the role to Claudius, after which it is qualified with the mixed descriptor “smiling, damned.” Thus the reader only sees the specific qualities of Claudius behavior after we have been told repeatedly that they are evil.

Those specific qualities return us to the question of how one separates interior identity from exterior presentation. Though Claudius is externally “smiling” and thus presenting a positive, friendly image, he is internally still a “villain.” The term “damned” also adds important information: Claudius is ethically accountable for his actions and fated to a negative fate as a result of them. This term implies, then, that Hamlet believes in a system of moral justice, be it religious or secular, and furthermore stresses that this justice will be imposed based on interior identities, not on the external performance of how one comforts with smiles.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Horatio
Page Number: 1.5.187-188
Explanation and Analysis:

After speaking to the Ghost, Hamlet expresses a skepticism with Horatio’s observation that the ghost is “strange.” Hamlet points out here that Horatio’s way of viewing the world has excluded certain phenomena and experiences and thus has caused him to limit his idea of reality.

To assert this claim, Hamlet notes that Horatio is limited in his perceptions of what exists. This limitation exists in both “heaven and earth,” implying that Horatio is blind to not only things in a different realm (“heaven”) but also to what he could presumably see on “earth,” such as the Ghost. Hamlet implies that a given way of viewing the world prevents us from perceiving even those things all around us. He uses the term “philosophy” rather loosely then—not as a set of metaphysical concepts on, say, the existence of free will or God, but rather something more like a personal philosophy that dictates what is considered “strange” in the world.

The phrase “dreamt of,” after all, positions “philosophy” not as a rational body of thought, but rather something pseudo-scientific or even mystical. Hamlet could very well have said “Than exist in your philosophy,” but instead he chooses to present belief systems as akin to one’s dreams. Thus Hamlet can justify both his own somewhat erratic behavior by rendering it equally valid as a dreamt-of philosophy, and more broadly call into question any reader’s assumptions of the arbitrary separation of normal and strange.

Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Hamlet speaks to his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They have tried to express that Denmark is not as bad as Hamlet presents it to be, and in response he notes that the merit in things lies less in their actual existence and more in how they are subjectively experienced.

In the broadest sense, Hamlet is offering a brilliant metaphysical claim about the nature of reality: he is denying that external events are ever “good or bad,” but rather become so based on how one is “thinking.” It is not clear, in this case, whether Hamlet believes one can actively will via “thinking” for something to become positive or negative—or if he fatalistically believes that whatever one’s mental state is will determine if something is “good or bad.” Most likely, the second option is the case here, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have tried to shift his “thinking,” but Hamlet presents his interpretation of reality as pre-determined. This sort of nihilistic explanation may seem commonplace now, but it was certainly not widespread in Shakespeare’s time—and it is part of the reason for Hamlet’s lasting legacy as an early account of modern human psychology. Furthermore, this comment stresses that while Hamlet may seem to be descending increasingly into madness, that process has also given him a certain type of insight into the reality of the world.

I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.273-275
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet continues to reflect on whether his happiness is primarily based on his disposition or events occurring in the external environment. Here, he points out that joy would come easily to him except for the psychic baggage of negative dreams.

What exactly Hamlet means by “bad dreams” is, however, far from clear. Hamlet is often fixated on his and others’ dreams, for they exist on the borderline of reality. They thus seem to introduce foreign or irrational concepts into daily life—here ones that prevent one from living peacefully. Were Hamlet not to have these invasive thoughts, he implies, he would live ignorantly but at peace. “Bounded in a nutshell” functions as a metaphor for a closed and secluded world with no stream of information—and without being tempted by anything exterior, Hamlet would be able to redefine his reality as “a king of infinite space.” His mind could set its own limits and be content and empowered even with an objectively negative situation. Dreams, however, allow one access beyond one’s own reality—so they become a metaphor for escaping the nutshell and then becoming dissatisfied with its cramped surroundings.

Another, slightly narrower, interpretation could see his communication with the Ghost as a sort of dream, for the specter appears only at night and does not speak with any other characters. In that case, Hamlet implies that the Ghost is his “bad dream”: for he introduces the ethical imperative to avenge his father by killing Claudius. In both cases, Hamlet seems nostalgic for a state of lesser awareness in which he could still be that ignorant “king of infinite space.”

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.327-332
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet continues to soliloquize to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about human nature. He first lauds mankind’s many incredible characteristics in accomplishments before tempering his praise by pointing out human mortality.

At first, Hamlet seems to have strikingly changed his tone from his previous condemnations of human nature. Man’s reason is “noble” or honorable and just, while the “infinite” nature of his “faculty” means it can extend beyond mundane occurrences. He then appreciates the external appearance and behaviors of humanity, likening them first to an “angel” and then “a god.” Indeed, at the time humans are considered the most beautiful thing in the world and deemed the “paragon” or best of all animals. The turn comes when Hamlet says that despite all these remarkable characteristics, humans are just “this quintessence of dust”: Their essential quality is neither noble nor beautiful, but just basic material of the earth.

Yet even before the chilling last line, the phrases glimmer with a negative bent. Hamlet shouts with a seemingly ecstatic air, but the obsessive repetition of exclamation marks grows hollow by the eighth repetition—putting the emphasis more on the phrase’s desperation than any sense of real excitement. Likening men to angels or a god may just seem laudatory, but it is also implausible, and so it comes off as parodic or shrill. Hamlet thus pokes fun at the way that humanity has built up a conceited vision of itself, and points out that they are all fundamentally dust: they have come from nothing and, being mortal, will eventually return to that state.

What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), First Player
Page Number: 2.2.586-587
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Hamlet responds to having watched one of the actors perform a speech from the Trojan War, in which Hecuba grieves for her husband Priam. He struggles with his own emotional apathy at his father’s death, considering how intensely the player could exhibit emotion for a fictional grief.

Hamlet’s anxiety here occurs on several levels. First, he is confronting the fact that he has not yet avenged his father. He is distraught that someone who is merely performing grief would seem capable of serious action, whereas he himself deliberates and talks endlessly without having acted. There is thus a disjunction between the “him” of the actor and the historical figure of Hecuba that has caused him to weep—in a way that makes Hamlet feel he should be more capable of weeping.

But the passage also returns us to the questions of performance that have occupied Hamlet throughout the text. After all, he does not presumably believe that the player actually identifies fully with Hecuba—and thus his concern over the weeping has more to do with the fact that humans are able to craft their emotions so effectively. This ability calls into the question anyone’s emotional responses—even his own—for they seem less predicated on actual feelings, if Hamlet’s request that the player take on a role allows him to do so with ease. Hamlet will, of course, make use of this exact quality in the next act, when he puts on a mock play to test Claudius’s response, so he is far from dispensing with the performative aspect of emotions. Rather, Shakespeare shows us a character struggling to make sense of the disconnect between interior and exterior—here with the artifice of theater itself.

The play's the thing,
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.633-634
Explanation and Analysis:

As Act Two ends, Hamlet’s settles on a plan to determine whether Claudius is guilty: he proposes to stage an altered version of The Murder of Gonzago, which will have much in common with the story the Ghost recounted of his murder. Thus by watching Claudius’s response, Hamlet hopes to ascertain his guilt.

That Hamlet sees theater as the way to best access human truth is somewhat ironic. The art form would seem to epitomize performance and deceit, for it shows just how easily people can take on alternate identities and emotions. Yet this is the exact quality of theater that Hamlet seeks to exploit, for staging the play in a certain way will allow it to function as a trap for “the conscience.” Artificiality, he implies, can serve as a route to honesty if properly exploited.

The comment also has meta-textual implications for the play, for if Hamlet is using The Murder of Gonzago to his advantage, he is himself on trial within Shakespeare’s tragedy. Yet things are not so clear cut in Shakespeare’s work: in a sense, the characters remain caught in his artifice, displaying their “conscience” for the viewer. But at the same time their mixed motives and allegiances resist our interpretive abilities—we remain uncertain whether Hamlet is mad or whether Claudius is fully guilty—thus questioning the limits of an artwork to reveal the truth of a conscience.

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
To be, or not to be, —that is the question:—
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.64-68
Explanation and Analysis:

While Polonius and Claudius hide and eavesdrop, Hamlet breaks into this most famous soliloquy, perhaps the best-known speech in the English language. Hamlet returns to the question of suicide, wondering if it would be preferable to end his life or not.

Though Hamlet’s language has grown more direct from its earlier references to "dew," it still speaks to his passivity in the face of desperation. He phrases the question of death in the abstract with the infinitive verb forms “to be, or not to be”—and makes it “the question” of humanity, as opposed to a personal matter. These choices imply that the decision whether or not to exist is a constant struggle for each person, a struggle that Hamlet tries to mediate through the metric of what is “nobler in the mind.” This phrase implies that death is evaluated based on perceived correctness or social value, as opposed to, say, a universal ethical system.

For the two options themselves, Hamlet chooses evocative images: “To be” is put in relatively more passive terms as a continuous process of “suffering” an onslaught of external attacks from “outrageous fortune”—that is to say, the constant influx of events that cannot be shifted in one’s destiny. Suicide, on the other hand, is presented as an active fight that wages war on “a sea of troubles” and, indeed, is successful in the endeavor. The phrase “by opposing end them” seems noble or glorious, but what it literally means is to vanquish one’s “outrageous fortune” by ending one’s life. Thus Hamlet presents his lack of suicide not as the result of insufficient desperation, but rather his apathy from wishing to take on such a fight. Life becomes, for him, a constant decision of whether he will finally arrive at sufficient motivation to shift course and end his and/or Claudius’s life.

Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Ophelia
Page Number: 3.1.131-134
Explanation and Analysis:

After Ophelia tries to return a set of gifts Hamlet has given her, he renounces their relationship. He first disparages Ophelia for her lack of honesty, and then implicates himself as the cause of moral wrongdoing.

This passage is another striking example of how Hamlet’s apparent insanity covers up complex reflections on human nature and society. His general claim is that Ophelia should not continue to propagate the species, for all men are sinners even if they are generally honest and well-intentioned. Yet instead of expressing this statement directly, Hamlet couches it in the lunatic demand that Ophelia enter a “nunnery”: a place where should would be celibate and therefore unable to “be a breeder of sinners,” or give birth to more children.

Though this passage might be interpreted in passing as chastising Ophelia for her sins, Hamlet’s claim is actually based on his own transgressions. He notes, in a somewhat roundabout manner, that others could consider his actions reprehensible despite his “indifferent honest” behavior: “indifferent” in that he remains relatively passive, and “honest” in that any sins are supposedly driven by a strong moral compass. Yet, Hamlet reasons, if even his disposition makes him worthy of accusation, then presumably other similar men are sinners, and Ophelia should not risk giving birth to one of them. Shakespeare, here, shows how Hamlet’s nihilistic images of the world are a fascinating mixture of compelling and irrational. The logic makes sense and carries deep philosophical weight, while being simultaneously insensitive and outrageous. The two, Shakespeare shows us, can quite easily coexist.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery ... 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Page Number: 3.2.393-402
Explanation and Analysis:

Hamlet responds angrily to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern here, believing correctly that they are agents from his mother. He rejects their support as manipulative and asserts his own autonomy.

To criticize his friends’ actions, Hamlet uses a series of images of instruments, each of which position Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as seeking to “play upon” Hamlet. “My stops” refers to the holes in a recorder or flute, also called a “fret,” while “pluck” calls up a stringed instrument such as a lute (which also has "frets"). By mixing a variety of different instruments, Hamlet points out that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s tactics are lacking in specificity. It does not matter which metaphor they select, or which type of instrument they imagine Hamlet to be. They may “fret” him—a pun on playing an instrument, but also provoking frustration or angst—but he refuses to produce the corresponding music.

Hamlet demonstrates with these images his understanding of the game being played by his friends: he resists manipulation by pointing out that their effects are foolhardy. And his references to art are striking, considering the way that theater has been used to make sense of human duplicity and manipulation. Shakespeare thus present the arts as a way for the characters to conceptualize human interaction—to theorize, grasp, and fight against the way we try to control each other.

Act 4, scene 3 Quotes
Claudius: What dost thou mean by this?
Hamlet: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Claudius (speaker)
Page Number: 4.3.33-35
Explanation and Analysis:

When Claudius asks Hamlet where he has put Polonius’s body, Hamlet offers an expectedly indirect response that Polonius is food for worms. He adds, here, that this is the eventual fate of all men.

Hamlet’s comment functions simultaneously as an evasive maneuver, an indirect threat, and an existential comment on humanity. First, it allows him to avoid giving a specific location for the body—stressing that it does not matter where Polonius is located, for his fate in all places is the same. Second, he implies through the reference to “a king” that Claudius may soon meet a similar fate as Polonius. And third, Hamlet points out how humans of all social statuses find equal ground in their death. Since the worms now feasting on Polonius are transforming his flesh into soil, his body may soon be feeding someone of lowly status like “a beggar.”

This point returns to Hamlet’s earlier anxieties about how humans, despite their nobility and pretenses, are never anything more than “dust.” Here, he takes this same comment and makes it a weapon against the pomp of a kingly figure like Claudius. Once more Shakespeare has housed this compelling reflection on human mortality in a multi-layered comment that encapsulates Hamlet’s madness, manipulation, and jesting nature in a single line.

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest.... Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker), Horatio, Yorick
Related Symbols: Yorick's Skull
Page Number: 5.1.190-198
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hamlet speaks to the gravediggers, he comes across a skull and learns it is from the court jester Yorick. This shock causes Hamlet to wonder about the distance between Yorick’s behavior in life and his current decaying state.

This passage mixes Hamlet’s characteristic philosophical rumination with an intense dark humor. He offers a series of apostrophe-questions addressed to Yorick, which point out how the dead man will remain ever unable to respond. And the jocular disposition of Yorick reiterates the lack of humor in the current situation. Thus Hamlet is able to take a positive set of terms—“jest,” “gibes,” “gambols,” “songs,” and “merriment”—and turn them all into bleak descriptions of what has been lost. The lines recall his earlier description of how man’s nobility only served to cover an essence of dust. Yet here it is not only great deeds that fade into non-existence, but even small moments of laughter. Shakespeare thus channels the grave scene to point out how the most impressive accomplishments—be they the creation of kingdoms or of “infinite jest”—ultimately end in an empty and absent skull.

Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
We defy augury; there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
Related Characters: Hamlet (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.233-237
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the play’s final duel commences, Horatio and Hamlet discuss his chances of wining the fight. Hamlet expresses confidence in his abilities, as well as a fatalistic belief that death will come to all at some point.

Here, Hamlet stakes out a direct claim against a deterministic viewpoint with the phrase “We defy augury.” (Augury was a means of predicting the future through observing the actions of birds.) Though Hamlet's resulting language takes its cues from prophecy—with the term “providence,” the image of a “sparrow.” which is often interpreted as a portent, and the “will be” future verb tense—Hamlet firmly denies the value of such pseudo-mystic beliefs. Instead, he points out that this “special providence” is actually just a sign of a fate that must transpire at some point, no matter what. Death, for him, will either come “now” in the moment of the duel, or it will arrive at some future point. When he says, “yet it will come,” Hamlet reiterates his point on the eventuality of death.

Yet whereas before this conclusion might have crippled Hamlet from acting, here he finds in it a source of empowerment. Human mortality shows him that one need not pay attention to “augury,” for the expectation of death will be manifested at one point or another—and thus Hamlet finally decides to take up arms against his demons. Shakespeare shows, then, a decisive change in Hamlet's character, in which existential despair can now actively motivate action instead of paralyzing it.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Related Characters: Horatio (speaker), Hamlet
Page Number: 5.2.397-398
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hamlet dies, Horatio speaks these emotional words of farewell. With them, he sanctifies Hamlet’s character and actions in the final moments of the play.

First Horatio stresses both Hamlet’s royal heritage and his moral goodness through the term “noble heart.” Next, he reasserts Hamlet’s social position by referring to him as “sweet prince.” And finally he gives him a religious and ethical pass by claiming that “flights of angels” will accompany his death. Each of these moves is significant for a friend that has, throughout the play, often expressed mixed beliefs with respect to Hamlet’s actions. Yet here, Horatio ignores such skepticisms and decides to fully vindicate Hamlet on his deathbed.

What are we to make of how these final judgments are positioned in Horatio’s character? After all, he is presumably quite biased toward his friend, and thus cannot be trusted as the main moral judge of the play. Yet at the same time, he is tasked by Hamlet with carrying on the legacy of the events that have thus transpired—which renders him the author of the tragedy, and thus the closest representative of Shakespeare himself. Perhaps Horatio returns here to Claudius’s earlier explanation of how his words would not rise to heaven because they were divorced from his actual sentiments. Here, Horatio contends that Hamlet is indeed responded to by the heavens—indicating that Hamlet's language has been a truthful representation of his intentions. Whether or not one believes this to be accurate, it reiterates the characters’ belief in a (religious) moral compass for the play that could sense the real significance of actions, and determine who deserved to rise to heaven.

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Hamlet Character Timeline in Hamlet

The timeline below shows where the character Hamlet appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...without speaking when the cock crows to greet the dawn. Horatio decides they should tell Hamlet, the dead King's son, about the ghost. (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Next, Claudius turns to Hamlet, and asks why he is still dressed in mourning clothes. Gertrude wonders why he "seems"... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
...sons to mourn, but that mourning for too long is unnatural and unmanly. He asks Hamlet to see him as a father, since Hamlet is first in line to the throne.... (full context)
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Gertrude seconds the request. Hamlet promises to obey his mother. (full context)
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
All exit but Hamlet. In a soliloquy, Hamlet wishes he could die and that God had not made suicide... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo enter. Hamlet, who studied with Horatio at Wittenberg, is happy to see his friend, and pleased when... (full context)
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost. Hamlet, troubled, decides to watch with the men that night. (full context)
Act 1, scene 3
Women Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...he prepares to leave for France, Laertes warns his sister Ophelia not to fall for Hamlet, a young man whose passions will change, and a prince who must marry to preserve... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Polonius asks Ophelia what she was talking about with Laertes. Ophelia answers: Hamlet. After Polonius asks her to explain, she says that Hamlet has expressed his love for... (full context)
Act 1, scene 4
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
On the bitter cold ramparts, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus keep watch. Meanwhile, from inside the castle they hear the roar of... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
The Ghost appears and beckons Hamlet to follow it. But Horatio and Marcellus hold him back: they think the ghost may... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Hamlet breaks free of them and follows after the Ghost. (full context)
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Marcellus says "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1.4.90). They run after Hamlet. (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
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When Hamlet and the Ghost are alone, the Ghost speaks. It claims to be the spirit of... (full context)
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The Ghost commands Hamlet to seek revenge against Claudius for murder and for corrupting Gertrude. Yet the Ghost also... (full context)
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Hamlet promises to do nothing but seek revenge. He curses first Gertrude, "O most pernicious woman!"... (full context)
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Horatio and Marcellus rush in. Hamlet refuses to tell them what happened, saying they'll reveal it. But he does say he... (full context)
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Hamlet despairs at the burden the Ghost has given him: "The time is out of joint.... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
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Ophelia enters, upset. She tells Polonius that Hamlet burst into her room and held her wrists, studying her face and sighing. Then he... (full context)
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Polonius concludes that Hamlet has gone mad with love because, on Polonius's orders, Ophelia stopped speaking with him. (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
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Claudius and Gertrude greet Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom they summoned to Elsinore to figure out why Hamlet... (full context)
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Polonius enters and says that he has figured out the cause of Hamlet's lunacy. But, first, the ambassadors have returned from Norway. He goes to get them. While... (full context)
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After a long-winded ramble about Hamlet's madness, Polonius reads love letters Hamlet sent to Ophelia. Claudius and Gertrude agree that lovesickness... (full context)
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Hamlet enters, reading. The King and Queen leave Polonius alone to talk with him. Polonius speaks... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter. Hamlet greets his old friends warmly, and tells them that Denmark is a prison. They disagree.... (full context)
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Hamlet asks why they've come. They say to visit him, but Hamlet angrily demands whether they... (full context)
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Hamlet cheers up a little when Rosencrantz mentions the arrival of a troupe of players (actors).... (full context)
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Polonius enters with the players. Hamlet mocks Polonius, but greets the players warmly. He asks the First player to act a... (full context)
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Hamlet tells Polonius to treat the players well and give them good lodgings, and privately asks... (full context)
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Alone, Hamlet is furious that the Player could get so emotional over long-dead Hecuba, while he can't... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can't figure out what's behind Hamlet's odd behavior, but tell Claudius and Gertrude that he was excited by the arrival of... (full context)
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...about a "deed" that his "painted words" (3.1.52) can't hide from his conscience. They hear Hamlet coming and hide. (full context)
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In a soliloquy, Hamlet agonizes over whether to kill himself: "To be or not to be" (3.1.55). He thinks... (full context)
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Hamlet asks Ophelia if she's honest, then says beauty corrupts honesty. Becoming angry, he tells Ophelia... (full context)
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Claudius, from his hiding place, decides that Hamlet neither loves Ophelia nor is he mad. Instead, he thinks Hamlet is "brooding" on something,... (full context)
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Polonius still thinks Hamlet loves Ophelia. He requests that after the play Hamlet be sent to talk with Gertrude,... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
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Hamlet lectures three of the players on how to act. His lecture focuses on how to... (full context)
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Hamlet has already told Horatio what the Ghost said, and now reveals his plan: the play... (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, and others arrive to watch the play. Hamlet tells Horatio he's now going to act insane. (full context)
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Claudius asks how Hamlet is faring. Hamlet responds as if Claudius were using the word "fare" to mean food,... (full context)
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...to act the full play. As the plot becomes clear, Gertrude and Claudius become uncomfortable. Hamlet mocks them, while continuing to launch sexual puns at Ophelia. Claudius asks the name of... (full context)
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Hamlet is triumphant. He tells Horatio that this proves the Ghost was telling the truth. (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and say that his mother wants to see him. Hamlet agrees to go, but furiously tells them they cannot "pluck out the heart of his... (full context)
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Polonius enters, repeating Gertrude's request to see him. Hamlet pretends to see odd shapes in a non-existent cloud. Polonius also pretends to see the... (full context)
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All exit but Hamlet, who says to himself that he could "drink hot blood" (3.2.360), but forces himself to... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
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Claudius says Hamlet is a danger, and orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to prepare to leave for England. They... (full context)
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Polonius enters with news: Hamlet is headed to Gertrude's room, where Polonius will hide behind a tapestry. (full context)
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Hamlet enters. He draws his sword to kill Claudius and be revenged. But it occurs to... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
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Polonius and Gertrude wait for Hamlet in Gertrude's chamber. Polonius advises her to be tough with Hamlet. Just then they hear... (full context)
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Hamlet enters. Gertrude says he has offended his father (i.e. Claudius). Hamlet says that she's offended... (full context)
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From his hiding place behind the tapestry Polonius hears Gertrude's cry and calls for help. Hamlet, mistaking Polonius for Claudius, stabs Polonius through the tapestry. (full context)
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Gertrude shouts, "What a rash and bloody deed!" (3.4.27). Hamlet responds, "As bad… as kill a king, and marry with his brother" (3.4.29). Gertrude is... (full context)
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Hamlet forces Gertrude to look at a picture of his father and compare it to one... (full context)
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Hamlet tries to convince Gertrude that he's sane, and begs her to confess her sins, to... (full context)
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Hamlet exits, dragging Polonius's body after him. (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
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Claudius sees that Gertrude is upset. She says Hamlet was acting insane, and in his madness killed Polonius. (full context)
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...best to explain the murder to the public, and sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet. (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find Hamlet. They ask where Polonius's body is. Hamlet responds in riddles and insults—he calls Rosencrantz a... (full context)
Act 4, scene 3
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Claudius mulls how to deal with Hamlet. The killing of Polonius has convinced him that Hamlet is too dangerous to remain nearby,... (full context)
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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter with Hamlet. Claudius asks where Polonius is. Hamlet answers that Polonius is feeding worms. He explains that... (full context)
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Claudius sends Rosencrantz to get the body, then tells Hamlet that to protect him he will send him immediately to England. Hamlet agrees, though he... (full context)
Act 4, scene 4
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The captain runs into Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and happily tells them the land about to be fought over is... (full context)
Act 4, scene 7
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Alone with Claudius, Laertes asks why Claudius didn't punish Hamlet for killing Polonius. Claudius answers: First, he loves Gertrude and she's Hamlet's mother; second, Hamlet... (full context)
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A messenger enters with letters from Hamlet. Claudius is bewildered at Hamlet's return. Laertes is pleased: now he'll get his chance at... (full context)
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Claudius reveals his plan: they will poison Laertes's sword. The slightest scratch will kill Hamlet. As a backup, Claudius decides to poison a glass of wine and offer it to... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
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Hamlet and Horatio enter. The second gravedigger exits. The first gravedigger throws up a skull he... (full context)
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Hamlet asks the gravedigger how long it takes a body to decompose. The grave digger points... (full context)
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Horatio says Hamlet is considering "too curiously"—is overthinking things. (full context)
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Hamlet and Horatio hear a noise and hide. Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, a priest, and other lords... (full context)
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Laertes jumps into Ophelia's grave to embrace her once more. Hamlet, shocked and distraught at Ophelia's death, follows Laertes into Ophelia's grave and claims to have... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
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In Elsinore, Hamlet tells Horatio that he discovered that the letters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bore to England asked... (full context)
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Hamlet says he has no sympathy for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who gave up their honor to... (full context)
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A dandyish nobleman, Osric, enters. Hamlet gets him to agree first that it's cold, then that it's actually hot. Osric announces... (full context)
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Horatio says that Hamlet will lose the wager. Hamlet says he'll win a fair fight, but he has a... (full context)
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Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and the entire court enter to watch the duel. Hamlet apologizes to Laertes. Laertes won't accept the apology until he can consult an expert on... (full context)
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Claudius announces that if Hamlet gets one of the first three hits he will drink to Hamlet's health and then... (full context)
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Hamlet scores the second hit. Gertrude lifts the poisoned cup to drink in Hamlet's honor. Claudius... (full context)
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They duel. Laertes wounds Hamlet, drawing blood. They scuffle, and in the scuffle end up exchanging swords. Hamlet wounds Laertes. (full context)
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Gertrude falls. Claudius claims Gertrude fainted because she saw Hamlet and Laertes bleeding, but Gertrude says the wine was poisoned. She dies. (full context)
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Hamlet stabs Claudius and then forces him to drink the poisoned wine. Claudius dies. (full context)
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Laertes forgives Hamlet and asks for forgiveness. Laertes dies. Hamlet forgives him. (full context)
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Horatio wants to kill himself, but Hamlet forbids it: Horatio must tell Hamlet's story to the world. (full context)
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...returning victorious from Poland, and fired the blast to honor English ambassadors arriving to Denmark. Hamlet says that Fortinbras should be made King of Denmark, then dies. (full context)
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Horatio begins to tell the story of what has happened in Denmark. Fortinbras orders Hamlet be honored as a soldier, since he would have made a great king. (full context)