Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. Devastated by his father’s death, he had nevertheless hoped to succeed him, only to see his uncle Claudius both be chosen as king and marry his mother. This does nothing for his depression.
Beloved by the people, he is thirty years old, a superlative fencer, a student at the university in Wittenberg, introspective, and suspicious. He is in love with Ophelia, or at least has been courting her. He keeps on his mourning clothes despite the royal wedding and wishes to return to Wittenberg to escape this new Denmark. Virtually suicidal, he is roused to action by the news that his father’s ghost has been seen, though he is skeptical enough to double-check the claims of the ones who have seen it. This lack of concern for his life is strong enough, however, that he does not care what danger the ghost may lead him to. The ghost’s revelation that he was murdered by Claudius gives Hamlet a reason for his hatred of his uncle. He decides to mimic madness to avert suspicion, and may at times actually slip into genuine madness. He uses his madness as a license to speak his genuine feeling about Polonius. Highly intelligent, he catches on to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s mission within a few sentences, and runs rings around their attempts to diagnose him. He has a great love of theatre, knowing the players personally and having heard them perform plays almost never performed, as well as knowing exactly what play exists to trap Claudius, writing lines to be added to it, and having a great deal of advice on how to act for the professionals. His loathing of his uncle is visceral, and he also spits out detestation for himself, women, makeup, and his traitorous friends. He is disgusted at the idea of his mother having sex, much less enjoying it, believing that middle-aged ladies do not feel desire. His hatred for Claudius leads him to forgo an excellent opportunity to kill him, out of concern that his uncle might end up in heaven instead of hell.
Discovering that Claudius intended him to be executed as soon as he set foot in England, he has no compunction about having this done to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead. This new ruthlessness follows him when he returns to Denmark after having been captured by pirates. His conscience clear, he is determined to bring the matter to an end. Distressed by Ophelia’s death, he does not take his first opportunity. He accepts the duel with Laertes with a sense of fatalism, though claiming that all the injuries he did to his opponent were done in madness. Hearing that he has been poisoned, he finally kills Claudius, refuses to give a valedictory speech, prevents Horatio from killing himself and asking him to tell the whole story, and naming Fortinbras as the best successor to the throne of Denmark.