Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-
Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in
London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing
company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later
known as the King's Men.
His early plays were mainly comedies and histories,
genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and
artistry by the end of the 16th century.
He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608,
Hamlet is the son of the late King Hamlet (of Denmark),
who died two months before the start of the play. After
King Hamlet's death, his brother, Claudius, becomes king,
and marries King Hamlet's widow, Gertrude (Queen of
Denmark). Young Hamlet fears that Claudius killed his
own brother (Hamlet's father) to become king of Denmark,
greatly angering Hamlet. Two officers, Marcellus and
Barnardo, summon Hamlet's friend Horatio, and later
Hamlet himself to see the late King Hamlet's ghost appear
at midnight. The ghost tells Hamlet privately that Claudius
had indeed murdered King Hamlet by pouring poison in
his ear. Hamlet is further enraged and plots of how to
revenge his father's death.
The title is very straightforward, as long as the
protagonist is named Hamlet.
Hamlet - The Prince of Denmark, the title character,
and the protagonist.
Claudius - The King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle,
and the play’s antagonist.
Gertrude - The Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s
mother, recently married to Claudius.
Polonius - The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a
pompous, conniving old man. Polonius is the father of
Laertes and Ophelia.
Horatio - Hamlet’s close friend, who studied with the
prince at the university in Wittenberg.
Ophelia - Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman
with whom Hamlet has been in love.
Laertes - Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young
man who spends much of the play in France.
Fortinbras - The young Prince of Norway, whose father
the king (also named Fortinbras) was killed by Hamlet’s
father (also named Hamlet).
The Ghost - The specter of Hamlet’s recently deceased
father. The ghost, who claims to have been murdered by
Claudius, calls upon Hamlet to avenge him.
Hamlet sets in the middle ages (XIV or XV) in the royal
palace in Elsinore, Denmark.
The Impossibility of Certainty
The Complexity of Action
The Mystery of Death
The Nation as a Diseased Body