Play Guide

by Brian Coats, Education Programs Associate

NOTE: This Play Guide may contain mild spoilers about the story of the show. If you like to be completely surprised by the play, you may wish to wait until after seeing it to read the Play Guide.


October 11 – November 5, 2017



Who's Who?

  • King Claudius: the newly-crowned King of Denmark who struggles to control his nephew/stepson and prevent war with Norway while hiding the fact that he murdered his brother, the former king.
  • Prince Hamlet: The son of the late King, Hamlet seeking revenge for his father’s murder. He feels betrayed by his mother for her hasty remarriage to his uncle.
  • Queen Gertrude: Hamlet’s mother. She has married her late husband’s brother, much to the displeasure of her son.
  • Polonius: The Lord Chamberlain who is concerned that Hamlet wishes to take away his daughter’s virtue. He is a well-spoken man, but a weak strategist.
  • Ophelia: The innocent and virtuous daughter of Polonius who has caught the attention of Prince Hamlet, causing concern for her father and brother.
  • Laertes: Ophelia’s brother and a scholar in France who seeks revenge against those who have wronged his family.
  • The Ghost of King Hamlet: This spirit appears in Act One to reveal the truth about the late King’s death, causing Hamlet to enact his plot for revenge.
  • Horatio: A fellow scholar and friend to Hamlet who remains loyal throughout the prince’s plot for revenge. 
  • Fortinbras: The young Prince of Norway who has declared war on Denmark as revenge for his father’s death at the hand of the late King Hamlet many years before.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Two former classmates of Hamlet who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to find out the cause of Hamlet’s odd behavior.

What's The Story?

King Hamlet of Denmark has just died, and the new king is Claudius, his brother. War with Norway is looming and the young Prince Hamlet is not handling the sudden marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to his uncle very well. Also, there’s a ghost hanging around the castle claiming to have been murdered, and it looks just like the late king. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” one might say.

Prince Hamlet seeks revenge against his uncle, the king, for the murder of his father, leading him down a path of madness, cruelty, contemplation, loss, failure and success in William Shakespeare’s critically acclaimed revenge tragedy.

The Greatest Play Ever Written

The works of William Shakespeare are known all over the world, making him the most produced writer in history. He wrote approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as various other poems and verses. His plays have been translated and performed in every living language, and his name is synonymous with theatre and drama. He is, without a doubt, a legend.

Of his many works, Hamlet is oft-considered Shakespeare’s crowning achievement. Across its five acts, the largely inactive protagonist considers life and death, as well as choice and consequence, in the longest of The Bard’s performative works. The role of Hamlet is one that many working actors wish to conquer. The characters are so rich in detail and depiction that psychological studies have been written about them. Various lines from the play are spoken in everyday conversations, making it one of the most recognizable texts in history.

Though focusing on royalty and characters of high class, wealth and power, Hamlet has survived through the centuries because it is a story of human nature. Going directly against Aristotle’s rules of dramatic theory in Poetics, Shakespeare chose to value character over action and plot. The play is oftentimes reliant only on the characters’ inner turmoil, their consideration of right and wrong, and which path is the correct one to follow. All of the characters are rich in characterization and believability. When people watch Hamlet, they see real people considering life’s real questions. As Hamlet states halfway through the show, theatre is meant to be a “mirror to nature,” so that one may watch and connect and reflect. No production of this play can ever be lacking in this quality, for it is embedded deeply into the text’s fabric, making for a rich and engaging performance every time.

Join us for The Rep’s first ever production of this classical masterpiece as we continue our 51st season!