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Introduction to Hamlet,
by William Shakespeare
•Written during the first part of the seventeenth century (probably
in 1600 or 1601), Hamlet was probably first performed in July 1602.
•Set in Denmark.
Before the play begins
•Hamlet is the story of a Danish prince, Hamlet, whose father
has died under mysterious circumstances while the Prince is
away at school.
• The Prince returns to Denmark to find that his mother is
about to marry his father’s brother, and that his uncle has
assumed absolute control of the country in the Prince’s
The Prince of Denmark and our
A reflective and thoughtful young
man who has studied at the
University of Wittenberg.
Hamlet is often indecisive and
hesitant, but at other times prone
to rash and impulsive acts.
The King of Denmark,
Hamlet’s uncle, and the
play’s antagonist.
Claudius is shrewd and
manipulating. Claudius
assumes control of the
kingdom at the death of
his brother.
He also convinces his
brother’s wife to marry
him, probably to
consolidate his control
in Denmark.
The Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s
mother, recently married to
The question of why Gertrude
marries so soon after her
husband’s death one of the most
important questions in the play.
What do you think?
Hamlet (Prince Hamlet’s
Before the play begins King Hamlet
dies while sleeping in his garden.
He appears in the play as a ghost.
The real question is whether he is
the ghost of Prince Hamlet’s father,
or a demon that has taken the late
king’s form to wreck havoc in the
Prince Hamlet’s close friend,
who studied with the Prince
at the university in
Horatio is loyal and helpful to
Prince Hamlet throughout
the play.
The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s
court, a pompous, conniving old
man. He is the King’s principle
Polonius appears to have risen to
power by skillful manipulation,
however, he suffers from overconfidence, and Hamlet enjoys
exposing him as a fool.
Polonius is the father of Laertes and
Polonius’s daughter and a
beautiful young woman.
Evidently, Prince Hamlet is in
love with her, but their
relationship is a secret at the
beginning of the play.
The problem is she is not of
royal birth, so she is not a
suitable match for the
Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s
brother, a young man who spends
much of the play away from court
enjoying the pleasures of France.
Passionate and quick to action,
Laertes is clearly a foil for the
reflective Hamlet.
In addition, Laertes is the greatest
swordsman in all of Denmark.
Young Fortinbras:
Another foil of Prince
The Prince of Norway,
whose father (also
named Fortinbras) was
killed by King Hamlet
when Prince Fortinbras
was a child. Now that
King Hamlet has died,
Fortinbras longs to
avenge his father’s
death, and regain the
land his father lost in
In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with
another character (usually the antagonist) in
order to highlight particular qualities of another
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern:
Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from
Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to
discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.