Sorting Hat Saturday: Hamlet

If you’ve checked out my book blog lately, you’ll know I’ve been blogging a lot about Shakespeare. Of course, I can’t resist putting the characters from the books I read into Hogwarts houses. Shakespeare is hard to do because he wrote plays, which can easily be portrayed in different ways by different actors. Is Hamlet heroic, insane, nearly as corrupt as his uncle, or some combination of the above? Was Gertrude in on the murder? What’s going on with Ophelia? However, I’m going to do my best based on my own interpretations. As you may have guessed, this week’s play is Hamlet.

Hamlet: Ravenclaw. Hamlet is a difficult character to sort because he has traits of all the houses without being a textbook example of any of them. He’s cunning, but unambitious and hesitant to act. He values loyalty and courage but does not really demonstrate them in his actions. However, he’s closest to being a Ravenclaw. While he isn’t actively pursuing wisdom or knowledge in the way most Ravenclaws do, he contemplates life and death in a very philosophical way, observes the situation before acting, and does not take anything for granted. If life had allowed him to be a scholar instead of a prince, he might have had a happier fate.

Claudius: Slytherin. An ambitious man who will do anything – including killing his own brother – to gain power, Claudius spends most of the play trying to conceal his crime and keep what he’s gained. Although he does express remorse, it’s never powerful enough to make him change his ways. Being king means more to him than anything else.

Gertrude: Slytherin. While not as outright evil as Claudius, Hamlet’s mother is clever and pragmatic. Her choice to remarry almost immediately after her husband’s death shows that both marriages were likely political rather than motivated by love, and that her first objective is to maintain her power. Drinking the poison meant for Hamlet – if you interpret it as intentional –could be an act of self-sacrifice, a quality usually associated with Gryffindor. However, her behavior throughout the play is hardly brave or selfless. It’s not unheard of for Slytherins to show surprising courage when the people they love most are in danger, even if otherwise they’re all about strategy and self-preservation.

Ophelia: Undecided. My little disclaimer about interpretation applies more to Ophelia than any other character. Innocence and mental fragility aren’t house traits, but beyond that, it’s hard to get a solid grip on who Ophelia is. Unlike Hamlet, we never see her engaged in any intellectual pursuits, so she’s probably not a Ravenclaw. It would be easy to assume she’s a Hufflepuff, but she’s hardly the stable, grounded sort of person usually found in Hufflepuff house. And while she’s certainly obedient to her father, there’s a difference between forced obedience and genuine loyalty. Ophelia early in the play could be seen as a devoted daughter and ideal woman, or as the calm before the storm, and personally I prefer the latter interpretation. In that case, if she’s going through the motions and secretly breaking down inside, that’s hardly a Hufflepuff sort of loyalty. As for Gryffindor, she’s never really able to stand up for herself. Or is she? If you interpret the scene with the flowers as Ophelia telling the people around her exactly what she thinks, rather than just the rantings of a mentally unhinged girl, she could very well have a Gryffindor streak. Or Slytherin, for that matter, because it’s a very subtle way of speaking her mind. She’s capable of being cunning, as seen in the scene where she helps her father and Claudius spy on Hamlet. But she’s not particularly ambitious, and I’m not sure a Slytherin would crumble so easily. A Slytherin would be plotting to get what she wants rather than letting herself be walked all over and then finally snapping. Like I said, Ophelia is hard to sort. If I had to pick a house, it would be either Gryffindor or Slytherin, but even there I think those houses fail to really define who Ophelia is.

Laertes: Gryffindor. Laertes is a foil to Hamlet, a character whose purpose is to bring Hamlet’s character traits to light by being the opposite. While they are superficially similar – two young boys called upon to avenge the deaths of their fathers – Hamlet is cautious and hesitant, while Laertes is reckless and quick to act. He bursts in thirsty for revenge and won’t back down until Claudius promises to help him kill Hamlet – which, of course, Claudius already wanted. Laertes is ruthless, but not cunning; it’s Claudius who comes up with their scheme. Laertes is all Gryffindor passion and fearlessness.

Horatio: Hufflepuff. A loyal friend to Hamlet, Horatio is just about the only character who could be described as “normal”. He doesn’t speak to the ghost, he’s not implicated in the various murders or revenge plots, he’s not driven to insanity, and he doesn’t seem to have any skeletons in his closet. In the end, when he considers drinking the last of the poison, Hamlet insists that he has to live to tell their story, and he’s the only major character who does survive – the only one who remains almost completely untouched by the story’s layers of corruption and decay. As a decent, ordinary person and a true friend, he fits best in Hufflepuff.

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