King Claudius. He is the brother to King Hamlet, second husband to Gertrude and uncle and later stepfather to Hamlet. He obtained the throne of Denmark by murdering his own brother with poison and then marrying the late king’s widow. Hamlet finally exacts his revenge and slays Claudius by stabbing him with the sword and then forcing him to drink the very poison that he had intended for Hamlet.
Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother and Queen of Denmark. Her relationship with Hamlet is somewhat turbulent, since he resents her marrying her husband’s brother Claudius after he murdered the King. Gertrude reveals no guilt in her marriage with Claudius after the recent murder of her husband, and Hamlet begins to show signs of jealousy towards Claudius. She drinks a cup of poison intended for Hamlet by the King, against the King’s wishes, and dies, shouting in agony as she falls.
Polonius: He is chief counsellor of the king, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia in his last attempt to spy on Hamlet, Polonius hides himself behind an arras in Gertrude’s room. Hamlet deals roughly with his mother, causing her to cry for help. Polonius echoes the request for help and is heard by Hamlet, who then mistakes the voice for Claudius’ and stabs through the arras and kills him.
Horatio: Horatio makes his first appearance in act one, scene one, when he, Bernardo, Marcellus and Francisco encounter the ghost of the deceased King Hamlet. He, having attended a university, is called upon as a scholar and is told to communicate with the ghost by Marcellus, and unsuccessfully attempts to do so. It is he who then explains the conditions surrounding King Hamlet’s death.
Later, in act two, Horatio is revealed to be Hamlet’s most trusted friend, to whom Hamlet reveals all his plans.Horatio swears himself to secrecy about the ghost and Hamlet’s pretense of madness, and conspires with Hamlet to prove Claudius guilt through the traveling players’ production of The Murder of Gonzago. He is also the first to know of Hamlet’s return from England, and is with him when he learns of Ophelia’s death.
Ophelia: She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet. Queen Gertrude reports that Ophelia had climbed into a willow tree, and the branch had broken and dropped Ophelia into the brook, where she drowned.
Laertes: His name is taken from the father of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. Laertes is the son of Polonius and the brother of Ophelia. In the final scene, he kills Hamlet with a poisoned sword to avenge the deaths of his father and sister, for which he blamed Hamlet. While dying of the same poison.
Fortinbras: Fortinbras makes only two brief appearances in the latter half of the play, he is referred to throughout: King Claudius sends ambassadors to Norway in the hopes of staving off his invasion, and they return with the news that Fortinbras will attack Poland but leave Denmark alone. At the very end—after all the major characters except Horatio are dead—Fortinbras and his army enter, accompanied by ambassadors from England who have come to announce that Claudius’ supposed orders to execute Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been carried out. With the throne of Denmark now vacant, Fortinbras is to be crowned ruler.
The Ghost The ghost of Hamlet’s late father. In the stage directions he is referred to as “Ghost.” His name is also Hamlet, and he is referred to as King Hamlet to distinguish him from the Prince.