Hamlet: Character Profile - Hamlet


Quotations & Analysis:





“[Aside.] A little more than kin, and less than kind.” (pg. 36, line 65)


“Not so, my lord I am too much in the sun.” (pg. 36, line 67)

In this quotation, we can see that Hamlet is portrayed as an outsider because the stage direction of “aside” suggests that his opinion has no place in court. It also highlights the tension created between Hamlet and Claudius. Shakespeare might have also provided the “aside” to allow the audience to empathize with Hamlet, and not Claudius. The fact that Hamlet is openly disagreeing with the King in the second quotation serves to show his disapproval of Claudius as King. Furthermore, the play on words (as Claudius had claimed that the clouds still hang on Hamlet) exemplifies Hamlet’s wit and portrays a cleverness to Hamlet’s character.



“Seems, madam? Nay, it is, I know not “seems.”” (line 76-77)


“For they are actions that a man might play.” (line 84)

This quotation explores the notion of appearance versus reality, and reflects the idea that the audience cannot be certain that he is feeling this way solely because of his father’s death. Thus the quotation illustrates Hamlet to be a closed off, mysterious character as his intentions remain ambiguous throughout the play.



“I shall in all my best obey you, madam.” (line 120)

This quotation emphasizes Hamlet’s close relationship with his mother, as he clearly states he will obey her, but does not say the same to Claudius. Nonetheless, despite his closeness to her here, Shakespeare also suggests that Hamlet’s relationship with his mother is fragile, as he is seen later on in this act to be condemning his mother for her choices.


It is also interesting that he decides to follow his mother’s wishes, even if he does not agree with them. Laertes predicts (or says from experience) that Hamlet is not free to do what he wants, and Hamlet’s agreement with his mother is one example of this.



“O that this too, too sallied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!” (line 129-130)

This quotation is used to depict Hamlet’s disdain for the world, and the word “too” is repeated to highlight the extent of his contempt. Furthermore, the words “melt” and “thaw” connote freedom because it alludes to an object being released from its rigidity and form. Thus the quotation might be suggesting that Hamlet wants to be free of the world’s burdens and expectations. Hamlet’s lack of concern for his life is again reinforced when he sees his father’s ghost, and upon Horatio’s pleas to not follow the ghost, he insists that he doesn’t care much about what happens to him. This characterization suggests that Hamlet could, if he wanted to, carry out some atrocious deeds (such as avenging his father), as his life is of minimal importance to him. Instead, avenging his deceased father’s life is of more importance.



“How [weary], stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” (line 133-134)

Asyndeton is used in this quotation to emphasize Hamlet’s disgust with the world, and monosyllabic words such as “stale” and “flat” sound mundane, which illuminates the notion that Hamlet sees nothing special about the world. This quotation brings to light the immense feelings of desolation and depression that Hamlet is experiencing, but again, the source of this sadness is not truly explained.



“Heaven and earth, must I remember?” (line 142-143)

This quotation hints at the internal struggle within Hamlet, as he is torn by his obligations to his family and country versus what he truly desires. The word “must” and “heaven and earth” highlights Hamlet’s powerful desire to not think about Old Hamlet’s death because he realizes that his mother and Claudius want him to forget. The quotation is formatted in a rhetorical question to highlight Hamlet’s conflicted mind because what he feels appears to be contradictory to what he should be experiencing.



“But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” (line 158)

This quotation reinforces the sense of Hamlet’s internal struggle as it alludes to Hamlet’s obligations to “hold [his] tongue” and hide how he truly feels from his mother and Claudius and this might be because he knows it is wrong to feel this way about them. The word “must” reflects the expectations that have been placed upon him - ones that he cannot rid himself of.



“I prithee do not mock me, fellow studient, / I think it was to [see] my mother’s wedding.” (line 177-178)

Apart from Hamlet’s affirmation that there was only a short period between his father’s death and his mother’s wedding, Hamlet’s response of “do not mock me” reflects his bitterness about his mother’s wedding, and the way in which it followed soon after the death of his father. The phrase “do not mock me” itself suggests that Horatio has said something offensive to Hamlet, while Horatio actually hasn’t suggesting that even the slightest mention of that shames him.



“The King my father?” (line 192)


“But where was this?” (line 213)

The short sentence structure of these two quotations as well as the fact they are questions serves to illuminate Hamlet’s curiosity and hints at his desperation to see his father. In the whole section on pg. 40, featuring the conversation between Hamlet and Horatio regarding Old Hamlet’s ghost, Hamlet is asking short questions such as these ones. This creates an effect of urgency because it almost seems like Hamlet cannot wait to learn more about Old Hamlet’s ghost.



“The King doth wake to-night and takes his rouse” (line 8)

In the Zefferelli version of the play, this line is said while Hamlet is looking down on the party, which is filled with lights, laughter, warmth and food. This image is juxtaposed with Hamlet’s locations which is dark, cold and eerie. Ultimately, this contrast serves to show that not only is Hamlet physically separated from his family and their celebrations, but he is also emotionally detached in that what he feels is the opposite of what they are experiencing.



“though I am native here and to the manner born, it is a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance.” (line 14-15)

This quotation portrays Hamlet to be an outsider, as he dissociates himself from the traditions that his country and family follow through the word “native” which is juxtaposed with Hamlet’s disapproval of Denmark’s culture of drinking and celebrating.



“be they as pure as grace, as infinite as man may undergo, shall in the general censure take corruption from that particular fault” (line 32-35)

This quotation illustrates Hamlet’s hypocrisy, in as he comments on society’s tendency to judge and condemn an individual or a group of people based on one flaw in their personality or character while he seems to be doing exactly this to his mother, although it is important to note that what his mother did could arguably be worthy of condemnation.


This may also be read as a reference from Hamlet to himself, and how he is judged by his parents based on his unwillingness to get forget his father’s death as, especially in King Claudius’ eyes, it is a weakness.



“I’ll call thee Hamlet, / King, father, royal Dane.” (pg. 48, like 44-45)

This quotation exemplifies Hamlet’s desperation to call the ghost his father. Interestingly the assertion ‘I’ll call you …’ suggests that it is Hamlet’s determination to call the ghost his father that is paramount here rather than something about the ghost that compels him to give it this name.


In addition, the list-like structure of the different names Hamlet wishes to call his father (Hamlet, King, father, royal Dane) represents how much he thinks of his father, as Old King Hamlet seems to be a more significant role than father which could suggest that Hamlet’s principal concern is with the inheritance of power rather than the loss of his father. The ordering here creates the impression that Young Hamlet is desperate to call someone else his king.



“It will not speak, then I will follow it.” (line 2)


“It waves me still. - Go on, I’ll follow thee.” (line 77-78)



These quotations reiterate how desperate and curious Hamlet is, as he seems determined to talk with the ghost. The short sentence structure suggests an urgency and certainty which is emphasised by the use of definite modal verbs like “will”.



Mark me. “I will.” (line 3)

When responding to his father, Hamlet speaks in very short sentences. This could show respect towards his father as he gives his father more time to speak alternatively it might also reflect his loss for words at the situation. Furthermore, the stichomythia that is displayed in these quotations represents the immediate rapport formed with his father, and instantly forms a bond that Young Hamlet has never seemed to have with Claudius.


“O God!” (line 24)


“Murther!” (line 26)


“O my prophetic soul! My uncle?” (line 40-41)

The “O God!” Hamlet says parallels the “O God” said in Hamlet’s soliloquy, and serves the same purpose. Both of these “O God”’s replace a more detailed exploration of ideas as if to suggest that Hamlet does not want to think the thought to which his mind has been drawn. In this case, is exclamation is in reference to his father’s statement: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love” and so his response suggests that not loving his father is a thought too preposterous to even answer properly. It shows Hamlet’s undying love and devotion to his father.


“Murther!”, which is equally short accentuates the sense that Hamlet is shocked and both  of these quotations show Hamlet trying to digest information that seems too much to bare.


“O my prophetic soul! My uncle?” is one of the most interesting lines in the text as it suggests that the accusation that the Ghost makes against Claudius is one that Hamlet has already thought of and thus this raises the possibility that the Ghost is really just confirming something that Hamlet already wants to believe. As such this line introduces a key element of uncertainty about the trustworthiness of Hamlet’s interactions with the ghost that continues throughout the play.



“[He writes] So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word: It is “Adieu, adieu! remember me.” I have sworn’t.” (pg. 53, line 110-111)

These lines shows Hamlet’s determination to kill Claudius in revenge for the murder of his father, which is a stark contrast to before, when he is shown to be undecided about what to do. This determination suggests his hate for Claudius and, at the same time, it also shows the relationship between Old Hamlet and Hamlet, where Hamlet trusts every word Old Hamlet says and does not hesitate to act on his orders.



“Heavens secure him!” (Horatio) (line 116)

This quotation serves to reiterate how determined Hamlet is to seek revenge and follow through with Old Hamlet’s wishes. The referral to “heavens” suggests that nothing but the heavens can stop Hamlet, and the notion that he has to be “secure[d]” makes it seem as though Hamlet’s anger and violence has now been unleashed, and is uncontrollable. This quotation portrays Hamlet to be an extremely loyal yet impulsive person.



“O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” (line 188)

This quotation suggests that Hamlet feels that he has inherited a burden, or an obligation that is too large or too demanding for him. Thus Laertes’ claim that Hamlet is not free to make his own choices is once again proven to be true and this sense of helplessness reinforces the impression created of Hamlet that he is the unlucky victim of change and fate … a tragic character who finds himself at the mercy of powers greater than he is.



HAMLET: “Excellent well, you are a fishmonger.”


POLONIUS: “Not I, my lord.”


HAMLET: “Then I would you were so honest a man.” (line 174)

These quotations exemplify Hamlet’s ability to manipulate words to trap people and make them say what he wants. He usually employs a method of arguing that consists of flipping the meaning of a word between two binary choices (called quibbling): either you are impure (as the word fishmonger suggests the owner of a brothel) or you are pure like the hard worker fisherman who sells his fish. Reading this scene from a feminist perspective we can once again see women presented as unwholesome (unhygienic) sexual temptresses and note also that it is the male figure as the brothel owner who essentially controls them.


An alternate reading of this line might be that Hamlet wishes that Polonius were in fact honest like a brothel owner. Although there is clearly something morally repugnant about this line of business there is also something straightforward about it as everyone is aware of the kind of transaction that they are engaged in. This straight-forward immorality perhaps compares favorably to the world of subterfuge and political intrigue that plagues court life that Shakespeare appears to be using Polonius to criticise.



“Why then ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (lines 245-246)

This quotation shows Hamlet’s intelligence, as well as one of the main themes that runs through the play, which is how thinking can lead to severe consequences.


This line can also be read from an existential perspective as it implies that there is no definite measure of good or bad and that it is in fact mankind who decides what is right or wrong.


Interestingly Hamlet’s assertion here undermines his accusations against Claudius as it implies that there are no really bad actions.



“Am I a coward?” (line 551)

Hamlet’s question suggests that he is aware that over thinking has caused him to become cowardly and has prevented him from avenging his father. Here Shakespeare explores one of the central dilemmas of the play - the irony that the ability to reason, which appears to be the characteristic that distinguishes us from beasts, can also be our greatest weakness.


Interestingly, the self-awareness demonstrated here further suggests that he is not mad.



More relative than this - the play’s the thing, / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (line 584)

Dramatic tension is created here through the rhyming couplet which suggests a sense of resolution as does the movement from thinking (why can I not act? etc.) to actually acting. This itself is ironic because it is only the act of thinking that brought him to this idea.



“To be, or not to be, that is the question” (line 55)

This quotation reveals Hamlet’s distaste for living and once again can be seen as raising the fundamental existential question – what is the point of living?



“Thus conscience does make cowards [of us all].” (line 82)

Hamlet acknowledges the fact that over thinking has prevented him from acting which re-emphasises one of the overarching ideas of the text: that overthinking cripples us and robs us of the ability to act.



“Get thee to a nunn’ry” (83-84)

This line is repeated throughout Hamlet’s conversation with Ophelia, and is used to highlight his brutality towards Ophelia as well as his lack of faith in women and mankind in general. Hamlet appears to believe that women can be nothing but the ‘breeder[s] of sinners’ which once again paints women as the vehicle through which sin is introduced into the world while at the same suggesting that we all succumb to sin one way or another in the end.



“Excellent, i’ faith, of the chamelion’s dish. I eat the air, promise-cramm’d - you cannot feed capons so.” (line 88)

Interestingly, whether mad or sane, Hamlet always has a sharp tongue although the interpretation of his words differs depending on their view of him. In some ways this line suggests, as Claudius says, there is ‘method’ in Hamlet’s madness as he the King is just about to watch the play and the air is indeed ‘promise-cramm’d’.



“That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.” (line 111)

This quotation highlights the more vulgar side to Hamlet’s character. He seems cruel as he teases and embarrasses Ophelia with his sexual innuendo … lines which must be particularly hurtful given their recent closeness.



“Make you a wholesome answer - my wit’s diseas’d.” (line 302)

The phrase “my wit’s diseased” refers to Hamlet’s madness, which is, or so he says, ‘diseased’. Ironically, his wit is far from diseased (literally), as he still manages to speak with a sharp tongue.


Furthermore, the notion that wit can be diseased as opposed to a diseased ‘mind’ shows that wit is one of the most important and defining characteristics of the mind, and of thinking.



“Call me what instrument you will, though you fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.” (lines 349-351)

There is a sense that Hamlet had known all along about his friends’ betrayal, and this brings to question what else Hamlet knows and how aware he is of the plots against him. Furthermore, Shakespeare also emphasizes how witty Hamlet is, as he is quibbles on the idea of playing and instrument and manipulates the situation to the best of his ability.



“Queen: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended

Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended

Queen: Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.

Hamlet: Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.”


Shakespeare creates an impression of Hamlet as witty and intelligent throughout this conversation with his mother. He also seems ruthless as he disrespectfully attacks his mother and condemns her for her choices without mercy.


“... for madness would not err” (line 73)

The idea that madness could not err suggests that, despite madness having a connotation of leading to bad actions, madness itself sometimes (perhaps always) results in the actions that the person (i.e. Hamlet) really wants to do.



“How is it with you, lady?” (line 115)

Hamlet says this when ordered by his father to talk to his mother. This exemplifies the way he tends to act without thinking in the presence of his deceased father which in turn suggests how desperate he is to get his father’s approval, or perhaps, to avenge his father.


The oddity of the question highlights his distractedness … something that is particularly significant given the fact that Gertrude can not see the ghost.



“I must be cruel, only to be kind.” (line 178)

Although this may go some way to excusing Hamlet’s treatment of his mother it may also suggest that his moral compass is skewed and that, like many other characters for whom we have less respect, Hamlet also believes that the ends justify the means.



“Not this, by no means, that I bid you do: Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed, pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse, and let him for a pair of reechy kisses or paddling in your neck with his damn’d fingers,” (lines 181 – 185)

This quotation highlights Hamlet’s obsession with his mother’s relationship with Claudius, which hints at Hamlet’s possible sexual interest in his mother. The sentence is an extremely long, run on sentence which creates the impression that overwhelmed here and also suggests how relentless his onslaught against his mother is.



“I am glad of it, a knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear.” (line 22)

This phrase is Hamlet’s response to Rosencrantz’s confusion. If Rosencrantz is the fool, then Hamlet is the knave, where his words cannot be trusted; he is, in a sense, unscrupulous.



“Not where he eats, but where ‘a is eaten; a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him.” (line 19)

Shakespeare hints at Hamlet’s madness in this quotation with the use of prose. His lack of sincerity or remorse further emphasizes his madness, as he seems to be unashamed of having killed Polonius, despite Gertrude’s claim that he weeps for what he has done.



“O from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (line 65)

This quotation highlights Hamlet’s determination to seek revenge on his father, but there is a juxtaposition between his desire to act and the fact that he is still over thinking. The fact that he wants his “thoughts” to be violent contrasts with his desire to act on his revenge, and thus shows that despite Hamlet’s desire to act without thought, he is unable to as his tendency to overthink continues to paralyse him.



“ High and mighty… To-morrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes” (line 43)

Hamlet appears to be mocking Claudius here but cleverly remains within the bounds of what a loyal subject and son might acceptable say, as it is only the tone that is amis. Once again, Hamlet’s with shines through.



“I lov’d Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?” (line 255)


“'Swounds, show me what thou'lt do.

Woo’t weep? Woo’t fight? Woo’t fast? Woo’t tear thyself?

Woo’t drink up eisel, eat a crocodile?

I’ll do ’t. “


This quotation creates a sense of ambiguity surrounding Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia, as he seems to have treated her with cruelty throughout the play, but in this quotation, he states that he loved her unlike any other. Shakespeare might have done this to create an impression of Hamlet as mad or to suggest that his madness was pretence all along as he was playing the part of not being interested in Ophelia solely to confuse Polonius and Claudius that it was love and not revenge that was upsetting Hamlet.


The second quotation highlights the difference between Gertrude and Hamlet, as when Old Hamlet died, Gertrude was described to have only mourned for a short period of time, and Hamlet was convinced that her grief was not genuine. Whereas Hamlet hints at the genuine sadness he feels towards Ophelia’s death, as he says that he will do anything for her. Although there is a contrast between how he treated her throughout the play, and how much he says he loves her in this quotation, there is a sense of genuine emotion. Nonetheless the fragmented structure of the passage hints at Hamlet’s madness, which adds to the ambiguity surrounding Hamlet’s true character/emotions/thoughts.



“Why, man, they did make love to this employment.

They are not near my conscience.”

This quotation shows how Hamlet feels towards Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s death, and highlights his hard-heartedness as he seems to feel no remorse after sending his friends to die. Shakespeare suggests a slight change in Hamlet’s character, as he seems to be more willing to act and less crippled by his tendency to over think because his plan to send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to die was not a premeditated one.