Figures

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Here is a list of figures, other than the play characters, that are mentioned in Hamlet, either explicitly or implicitly. Some are real historical persons, some are Biblical, others are figures of legend, myth, or fiction.

The figures are presented in the order in which they're mentioned in the Hamlet playtext, Scene by Scene. They're only briefly described here. The goal is to assist the reader in understanding the playtext, and to provide enough information to guide the reader in learning more, if desired, by doing a web search, or by using library facilities.

The name of each figure is followed by a quote of the line where the figure is mentioned, or referenced implicitly. The spelling may, or may not, be modernized, depending on whether the original spelling appears to have significance.

Scene 1

Auriga/Erichthonius

Scene 1#01-042   When yond same star that's westward from the pole,
This is not certain beyond any question, but if the star is Capella, it is in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. Auriga is identified in Greek mythology with the legendary King Erichthonius of Athens. Concepts associated with Erichthonius match up well with some concepts in the play: madness, serpent, etc.

Julius Caesar

Scene 1#01-124   A little ere the mightiest Julius fell
Julius Caesar was a leader of ancient Rome, slain by Brutus and others on the Ides of March. In Hamlet, all the major events relate, in one way or another, to the death of the King. The well-known fact of Caesar dying on the Ides of March is part of what tells us Hamlet is set in the springtime.

Neptune

Neptune with Amphitrite

Scene 1#01-129   Upon whose influence Neptune's Empire stands
Neptune is the Roman god of the sea, and is usually equated to the ancient Greek god Poseidon. Poseidon is the brother of Zeus and Hades, which are equivalent to the Roman gods Jupiter and Pluto. Neptune/Poseidon is also the god of horses, relevant to the Horse Motif in Hamlet. Poseidon was on the side of the Greeks in the Trojan War. The sea is most obviously relevant to events in Hamlet when Hamlet is sent away on a voyage to England, but unexpectedly returns.

Jesus Christ

Scene 1#01-170   Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated
I decline the opportunity to insult the reader's intelligence.

Scene 2

Cain and Abel

(implicit allusion)
Scene 2#107 From the first course till he that died today;

"Course" puns with "corse," which is an obsolete spelling of "corpse." In the Bible, Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel were the first sons born to Adam and Eve. The first murder was committed when Cain slew Abel, because of envy. Thus, Claudius's phrase "first course/corse" is allusion to Abel, the first murder victim. The story of Cain and Abel is told in Genesis 4. Cain was the older brother, which is relevant to Claudius's characterization.

Hyperion

Scene 2#142 Hyperion to a satire; so loving to my mother,

In Greek mythology, Hyperion is one of the Titans, and the father of Helios, the sun god. Since Hyperion in this line is spoken by Hamlet in reference to King Hamlet, one hears a pun, "father of the sun/son. In some ancient sources, Helios, himself, is referred to as Hyperion, so there is occasional confusion of the names. One can see that in relation to Hamlet and King Hamlet having the same name.

Satyr

Scene 2#142 Hyperion to a satire; so loving to my mother,

The spelling "satire" in addition to its current meaning, could be used to mean satyr in Shakespeare's time. There is wordplay in the line. In Greek mythology, a satyr is a semi-human creature, attendant on Bacchus, the god of wine. Hamlet uses the term to insult Claudius as a drunk who's less than human.

Niobe

Scene 2#151 Like Niobe, all tears; why she, even she

In Greek Mythology, Niobe was a woman who was too proud of her many children, seven sons and seven daughters, which offended the goddess Leto, who had only two children, Apollo and Artemis. To teach Niobe a lesson, apparently, Apollo and Artemis killed all Niobe's children. When Niobe wept so pitifully, she was changed to stone. However, even as stone she continued to weep. Niobe is therefore the emblem of inconsolable tears.

Hercules

Scene 2#155 Than I to Hercules; within a month,

In Greek mythology, Hercules was the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmena. He was the emblem of strength, and is best known for his twelve labors, which were acts of penance he performed after he killed his wife and children in a fit of madness. The madness element of the Hercules myth obviously connects to the Madness theme in Hamlet.

Scene 3

(none apparent)

Scene 4

Nemean Lion

Scene 4#092 As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve;

Christian III coat of arms

The first Labor of Hercules was to kill the Nemean Lion, which was said to be the offspring of Typhon, the monstrous god of the wind, and Echidna, called the mother of all monsters. The Nemean Lion's skin was impervious to arrows, so Hercules stunned it with his club and then strangled it.

Hamlet's mention of the Nemean Lion expresses his determination to face the Ghost, even if it kills him. The imperviousness of the Nemean Lion's skin is relevant to a later remark by Claudius, in Scene 18, about his "arrows" not being able to hurt Hamlet.

The lion is a traditional symbol of Denmark, as mentioned in the regular Notes for the play, and as the image shows. The image is the coat of arms of King Christian III, from a Bible published in 1550.

Scene 5

Lucifer

Scene 5#059 So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,

The radiant angel can be identified as Lucifer. Certainly the deadly sin of Lust is linked with Satan.

Lazarus

Scene 5#076 Most lazarlike, with vile and loathsome crust,

Lazarus is an individual in the Gospel of Luke, in the Bible. He was a diseased beggar who was denied charity by a rich man. In the afterlife, Lazarus was rewarded and the rich man was tormented. (Luke 16, 19-31) The Roman Catholic Church venerates Lazarus as the patron saint of lepers, thus the Ghost's use of "lazarlike" in describing his "crusted," leper-like skin. The Bible story of Lazarus concludes with mention of rising from the dead, which relates to the Ghost appearing as the image of King Hamlet, and also to Hamlet appearing to "rise from the dead" in the Graveyard Scene, Scene 19, when Claudius first sees Hamlet after his return.

Saint Patrick

Scene 5#149 Hamlet: Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, my Lord,

Of significance to Hamlet, Saint Patrick is credited in legend with driving the serpents out of Ireland, and lends his name to Saint Patrick's Purgatory.

Truepenny

Scene 5#166]] Hamlet: Ha, ha, boy, say'st thou so, art thou there, Truepenny?

Tom Truepenny is a character in the play Ralph Roister Doister, the first full-fledged comedy play printed in English.

Scene 6

(none apparent)

Scene 7

Horace

Scene 7#210 Hamlet: Slanders, sir; for the satirical slave says here, that old

Hamlet is probably reading Horace.

Dame Fortune

Scene 7#237 Guildenstern: Happy, in that we are not ever-happy; on Fortune's cap

Fortune is understood to be reference to Dame Fortune, the goddess of luck.

Hercules

Scene 7#356 Rosencrantz: Aye, that they do, my Lord; Hercules and his load, too.

Hercules gets mention again.

Roscius

Scene 7#380 Hamlet: My Lord, I have news to tell you: when Roscius was an actor

Quintus Roscius Gallus, a Roman actor who lived from about 126 BC to 62 BC and whose name became a byword for good acting.

Jephthah

Scene 7#392 Hamlet: Oh, Jephthah, Judge of Israel, what a treasure had'st thou?

Jephthah is the biblical character in the Book of Judges.

Aeneas

Scene 7#426 'twas Aeneas' talk to Dido, and there about of it especially, when he

A Trojan prince who escaped the destruction of Troy and sailed to Carthage, then to Italy. Hero of the Aeneid by Vergil.

Dido

Scene 7#426 'twas Aeneas' talk to Dido, and there about of it especially, when he

A princess of Tyre who founded and became Queen of Carthage. Killed herself when abandoned by Aeneas.

Priam

Scene 7#427 speaks of Priam's slaughter; if it live in your memory, begin at

The last King of Troy.

Pyrrhus

Scene 7#429 The rugged Pyrrhus, like the Hyrcanian beast . . .

Now called Neoptolemus, he was a son of Achilles, and was the slayer of Priam when Troy fell.

Scene 8

Scene 9

Scene 10

Scene 11

Scene 12

Scene 13

Scene 14

Scene 15

Scene 16

Scene 17

Scene 18

Scene 19

Scene 20


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