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Analyzing Hamlet:  Key Elements to Consider

Analyzing Characters:  Hamlet  |  Claudius  |  Ophelia  |  Gertrude  |  Polonius  |  Laertes  |  Horatio

Analyzing Other Aspects of the Play:  Opening Scene  |  Setting  |  Foils  |  Comic Relief


Analyzing Characters--Key Questions:
What techniques does Shakespeare use to present/portray this character?
What preoccupations does this character have and how are they revealed?




Key techniques used to develop Hamlet's character:


character foils (Laertes, Fortinbras)

word play/sarcasm (feigned madness)

tragic hero/tragic flaw

question/answer structure to soliloquies and more

inner play: "The Mousetrap" & Pyrrhus and Hecuba


Key preoccupations:

thought versus action

death & suicide

incest/Oedipal complex







Key techniques used to develop Claudius's character:

juxtaposition (i.e., in opening speech, in Hamlet's descriptions of him: "smiling villain")

word play/disguises & reveals self through words

soliloquies (esp. long one when he's attempting to pray)


poison motif

manipulates others (esp. Laertes)/Machiavelli


Key preoccupations:

ambition & power





Key techniques used to develop Ophelia's character:

songs/herb & flower giving (this also reveals the reality of what's going on in the play in terms of other characters)

other people's advice to her (Laertes, Polonius, Hamlet)

used character/pawn

Gertrude's speech about her death:  ambiguity between suicide/accident

key quote:  "I do not know, my lord, what I should think."


Key preoccupations: (particularly revealed through her songs)

her relationship with Hamlet

the death of her father