The Top 6 Famous Shakespeare Characters

These are the best-known and most-loved Shakespearean characters

From Hamlet to King Lear, there are several characters crafted by William Shakespeare who have withstood the test of time and have become synonymous with classic literature. If you don’t know them already, you probably should. These are the famous Shakespeare characters that are considered the best of the best.

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Hamlet ('Hamlet')

Paul Rhys Performing in Hamlet
Paul Rhys holds up a skull to his face during his performance in Hamlet at the Young Vic Theatre in London. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

As the melancholy Prince of Denmark and grieving son to the recently deceased King, Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s most complex character. He is deeply contemplative, which we see in the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, and he quickly descends into madness throughout the play. Thanks to the playwright’s skillful and psychologically astute characterization, Hamlet is now often considered the greatest dramatic character ever created.

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Macbeth ('Macbeth')

Scene From MacBeth
Hilary Lyon and Paul Higgins perform in MacBeth at the Lyric in London. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most intense and attractive villains. However, much like Hamlet, he is intriguingly complex. He is a brave and honorable soldier when first introduced, but his ambition leads him to murder, paranoia, and manipulation by his wife, Lady Macbeth. His evilness is endlessly debatable, as he maintains guilt and self-doubt throughout all of his terrible actions. This is why he is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting characters.

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Romeo ('Romeo and Juliet')

Simon Ward and Sinead Cusack in Romeo and Juliet, ca. 1976
Actor Simon Ward and actress Sinead Cusack in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the Shaw Theatre, 1976. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Undoubtedly, Romeo is literature’s most famous lover; thus, it would be remiss to exclude him from this list of memorable Shakespeare characters. That said, it’s important to remember that he is more than just an icon of romance. Often criticized for his immaturity, Romeo falls in and out of intense love seemingly at the drop of a hat. The combination of his romanticism and irrationality offers a surprise to new readers who only know him from the balcony scene.

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Lady Macbeth ('Macbeth')

Hopkins And Rigg
Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins as Macbeth and English actress Diana Rigg as Lady Macbeth. Steve Wood / Getty Images

Lady Macbeth from "Macbeth" is one of Shakespeare’s most intense female characters. She shows much less reserve toward evil acts than Macbeth and is famously manipulative in getting the hesitant Thane to commit murder, making her an important influencer over the events of the play. When we think about strong women in Shakespeare, it’s impossible to forget Lady Macbeth.

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Benedick ('Much Ado About Nothing')

UK -'Much Ado About Nothing' performance in London
Eve Best as Beatrice and Charles Edwards as Benedick at the Globe Theater. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Shakespeare’s comedic characters are just as memorable as his tragic ones. Young, funny, and locked into a love-hate relationship with Beatrice, Benedick from "Much Ado About Nothing" is one of the playwright’s most hilarious creations. His melodramatic tendencies tend to steal attention from other characters, and his inflated rhetoric supports his exaggerated personality. Like “Much Ado About Nothing” as a whole, Benedick is a delightful character sure to bring you a laugh.

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Lear (‘King Lear’)

Just as Shakespeare’s comedies shouldn’t be ignored, neither should his history plays. Lear goes through a journey through “King Lear,” starting as an egotistical ruler and ending as a sympathetic man. However, this journey is not quite linear, as the titular character still maintains some of his flaws by the end of the play. It is exactly that drama of his story that makes Lear one of the most famous Shakespeare characters.

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Jamieson, Lee. "The Top 6 Famous Shakespeare Characters." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Jamieson, Lee. (2023, April 5). The Top 6 Famous Shakespeare Characters. Retrieved from Jamieson, Lee. "The Top 6 Famous Shakespeare Characters." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).