Hamlet study questions on Act 3
Act 3 scene 1
Hamlet’s madness is discussed and Claudius reveals his guilt 1-55
1. Find the references to acting.
2. Which lines in this passage most underline the theme of appearance and reality?
Why are they ironic?
3. In his aside, Claudius for the fist time in the play reveals his bad conscience.
Explain the metaphor he uses.
rd soliloquy “To be or not to be” 56-90 Hamlet’s 3
4. In this speech, Hamlet reflects on death. Explain in your own words lines 56, 57-
60, 60-4, 64-8, 68-82, 83-8. Write one line for each part.
5. What does the metaphor line 59-60 mean?
6. Find all the expressions referring to the condition of being alive. 7. Find the metaphor which refers to death. Can you see any contradiction with what
the Ghost told him when he first saw him?
8. What can you say about the lack of reference to “I” or “me”?
9. How else does Hamlet generalise this speech?
10. In lines 83 to the end, Hamlet realises that thinking prevents one from acting.
Explain the metaphor in 84-5.
11. What is the tone of lines 88-90? How do we anticipate Ophelia is going to be
Claudius and Polonius spy on Ophelia and Hamlet 90-150
12. As mentioned before, different stresses on words can change the meaning of a line.
There are different ways of saying line 96. Explore the various meanings. 13. Note that although Gertrude is on stage during the planning of the spying episode,
she takes no part in it. What do you think Shakespeare is preparing us for? 14. In lines 103-150, Hamlet attacks women quite savagely. In lines 111-114, he says
that beauty will corrupt virtue more easily than virtue can make beautiful people
virtuous or pure. Who is he thinking of as he says this?
15. In Act 2 scene 2 Hamlet had called Polonius a “fishmonger”, which was
Elizabethan slang for “brothel keeper.” Hamlet is thus accusing Polonius of
abusing his daughter to serve his own ends. Here Ophelia mentions the word
“commerce” in line 109, and he tells her to go to a “nunnery” which means
convent, but is also an Elizabethan slang word for “brothel.” What two things can
he be suggesting?
16. At which point could Hamlet realise that he is being spied upon and why? 17. Make a list of the insults Hamlet hurls at Ophelia. Explain them and decide at
whom they are directed.
18. Who is Hamlet designating by “all but one” in line 149? What does it show?
Ophelia’s despair 151-162
19. In these lines Ophelia paints a picture of the ideal prince. What ideal qualities did
20. Why is line 155 ironic?
21. Explain the metaphors and simile she uses to describe him.
Claudius resolves to send Hamlet to England 163-189
22. Which lines suggest the theme of surveillance?
Act 3 scene 2
Dialogue between Hamlet and the players 1-55
1. Why do you think this first passage is in prose?
2. Hamlet criticises the fact that “many of our players” overdo their acting. They
“tear a passion to tatters”, “split the ears of the groundlings”. They do more ranting
and raving than Herod himself (Herod and Termagant were noisy characters in
medieval Mystery plays). He is therefore asserting the superiority of restraint and
discretion over passion. What speech of his does this contrast with?
3. Hamlet sets himself up as an authority on acting. He advises that actors should be
moderate and not show excess (somewhat ironic after his outburst to Ophelia).
Find the quotes to the corresponding topics:
The purpose of theatre
Dialogue with Horatio 63-100
4. In these lines, Hamlet expresses his friendship for Horatio. What reasons does he
give for it being genuine, and not flattery?
5. What does he admire in Horatio?
6. Explain the three metaphors in lines 70-72, 77-78 and 80-81. What themes does he
seem obsessed with?
7. Find the lines which reveal that Hamlet is obsessed with appearance and reality.
The play is performed 102-279
8. Hamlet‟s puts on his “antic disposition” again (he has promised to be “idle” line
100) by seizing on meanings that no one intends. In line 102, Claudius means
“how are you?” How does Hamlet turn this meaning on its head?
9. How does Hamlet mock Polonius in the first lines of this passage?
10. Find the theatrical in-joke in these first lines.
11. How does Hamlet treat Ophelia in these lines? What theme does he pun on?
12. In lines 134-144, what obsessions does Hamlet return to?
13. Why do we see no reaction of the King and Queen to the dumb show?
14. In The Murder of Gonzago, there are two parts. Which function does each part
15. Find examples to show that these speeches are very formal.
16. How long does it say the Player King and Queen have been married? 17. How does the player Queen stereotype women in the first part of the Murder?
18. In lines 196-225, the Player King makes a speech on the theme that strong
intentions do not last (“But what we determine oft we break”), because time makes
us forget. Explain in your own words what he means by lines 198-201. How many
times does he repeat this argument?
19. The theme that nothing lasts forever is also evoked in these lines. Find examples of
20. Lines 210-219 echo the Roman philosopher Cicero. He wrote that friendship
(“love”, “favourite”) changes with circumstance (“fortune”). What does this mean?
Who or what could this be referring to in the play?
21. What is the conclusion the King Player comes to?
22. How does this speech reflect Hamlet‟s situation? Is there any sign that these could
be the “dozen lines or sixteen lines” (2.2 538) that Hamlet wished to insert into the
23. Why does Hamlet say “If she should break it now!” in line 234?
24. What does Gertrude‟s response in line 240 show about her?
25. How relevant is the expression “poison in jest” to Hamlet?
26. Why does Hamlet call the play The Mousetrap?
27. N.B. “Tropically” refers to the idea of using tropes, or plays on words.
28. Note all the references to acting in lines 254-256. What does Hamlet see himself as? 29. N.B. “to take off mine edge” means put off or deter my jokes, blunt the edge of my
sexual desire. Once again he in punning on sexuality. What is his other pun in line
Discussions about the play-within-the-play
30. Hamlet‟s reaction to Claudius leaving the play shows his exultation at the success
of his plan. He begins by singing an old song, which means the wounded
(“strucken”) deer were believed to go off on their own to weep, while the
unwounded male (“hart ungallèd”) played on unconcerned. Then Hamlet says that
even if everything else fails, the success of the play would gain him the exotic
dress and footwear (“feathers” and “razed shoes”) of an actor. What theme in the
play does this reflect?
31. N.B. Hamlet sings another old song that parallels the situation in Denmark where
the good king (“Jove”) is dead (“dismantled”) and a villain (“peacock”) rules in his
32. Find the words with which Hamlet mocks the two courtiers Rosencrantz and
33. What does Rosencrantz mean in lines 344-6?
34. In this exchange find one of the few references in the text to Hamlet‟s rightful role
as successor to the throne of Denmark.
35. In lines 358-379 Hamlet uses an extended musical metaphor. What does this
36. To show Rosencrantz and Guildenstern how they are “playing” him, Hamlet does
the same to Polonius. He makes him say anything that he, Hamlet, chooses. How
does he achieve this?
37. In lines 395-406, find the language of the traditional revenger in Elizabethan
38. How is it ironic that he uses this language?
39. How does he intend to treat her?
40. What does he mean by his “tongue and soul in this” being hypocrites?
Act 3 scene 3
1. Find evidence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern‟s flattery.
2. How does Guildenstern view kingship in lines 8-10? How is this later reinforced
3. In lines 25-27, what technique does Shakespeare use to show Claudius‟ anger and
4. What do the king and Guildenstern/Rosencrantz plot? How do they feel they are
5. What does Polonius say he will now do? What atmosphere does Shakespeare
create? How does Polonius reinforce the idea we have of his personality? Give
quotes to back this up.
6. How does the language used by the King reinforce his state of mind? How is his
soliloquy different from Hamlet‟s?
7. Claudius refers to “his sin” using a biblical reference. What sin does he refer?
What other sins do we know him guilty of?
8. In line 40, the king is telling us about his desires. What double meaning is hidden
here? How is this important?
9. What is the “double business” he speaks of in line 41?
10. Claudius is asking himself and God several questions. What is it that he wants?
Give a quote. Why does he say this is impossible in lines 51 to 55? 11. What does he reveal in lines 57 – 60 about how he would normally go about the
12. How does Claudius show the battle his is fighting with his conscience in lines 64 –
13. For over 200 years Hamlet‟s lines were cut from this scene. Why do you think this
was done? Give evidence from the text to back up your ideas.
14. What is Hamlet‟s intention in line 74? In other versions, Hamlet draws his sword
after “now I‟ll do‟t”. What is he going to do?
15. How many lines does it take for him to talk himself out of this action? What does
he call the act he was about to commit in line 79? Some other versions use “base
and silly” instead of “salary”; how is this change important?
16. What image is created in lines 80 - 81?
17. When does Hamlet decide to take action? List the various times he suggests and
say why this would be better.
18. How should Hamlet‟s last lines be read? What emotion in coming out and how?
What does this underline?
19. Why is it ironic that Hamlet does not hear the King‟s last lines?
Act 3 scene 4
Hamlet kills Polonius 1 – 33
1. What is Polonius saying to the Queen here? What does this mirror? How is the
Queen‟s response important?
2. What other scene do these lines remind us of? What major theme does this
3. List the various ways Hamlet plays with words in lines 10 – 18. How does the
Queen change her speech to adapt? Why is she shocked at his words? 4. What does Hamlet say he intends to do to her? How does she react? Can you give
any evidence that her fear is well-founded?
5. In line 25, how can we tell Hamlet places very little value on the person he thinks
he has killed?
6. How does Hamlet reveal what he knows to his mother? How does this show his
mistake (see line 33)?
7. Hamlet‟s reaction here starkly contrasts the previous scene. How? Why?
8. In some versions line 31 ends in a question mark. How is this important?
Hamlet warns his mother against Claudius 34 – 105
9. What does Hamlet say to Polonius‟ body? How was this foreshadowed in previous
10. How is Gertrude‟s state of mind shown in her acts? How do her words echo this?
11. What „act‟ is Hamlet referring to in lines 42 – 52? What language does he use?
12. The Queen shows her ignorance of his meaning in line 53. How is this „ignorance‟
countered in lines 89 – 92?
13. What does Hamlet use to reinforce the strength of his argument? How is this
reflected in his speech?
14. What themes does he bring out in lines 73 – 82?
15. In Hamlet‟s speech find images of hot and cold, passion and reason, disease and
health. Find other oppositions.
16. In the last lines of this extract (90-105) the Queen begs Hamlet to stop his verbal
assault on her. Find examples of how his words are like an attack on her. Look at
the lexical field, sounds and literary devices. How is the overall effect of passion
and madness created and underlined?
Hamlet sees the Ghost 106 – 137
17. Why is this first line so important? Look at the punctuation and think of what it
reveals about the Queen. How is this different from previous Ghost scenes? What
various interpretations are possible?
18. What does Hamlet‟s next line reveal?
19. How does the Ghost‟s reply convey an ambiguous meaning? What literary devices
are used to reinforce this idea?
20. How does Hamlet express his guilt?
21. What imagery does the Queen use and to what purpose in lines 117 – 125?
22. When Hamlet addresses the Ghost, what does he ask him not to do? Why? What
literal contrast is used to underline the image created?
23. How is the Ghost different here from Act One? How is this important in regards
Hamlet’s recommendations to his mother 140 – 200
24. With regards to the previous question, how does Hamlet show this is not a
hallucination? What does he accuse Gertrude of?
25. What image does he create in lines 149 – 153? What theme is underlined?
26. How does Hamlet „apologize‟ to his mother for his behaviour in this scene? What
is he really saying?
27. What is the Queen‟s response in line 157? What does Hamlet tell her to do? Look
at the imagery used here.
28. How is the theme of acting brought out again here in lines 161 - 166? What is
ironic about this? What literary device is used to reinforce the idea? 29. In lines 175 – 178 Hamlet says he is “scourge and minister”. Explain the meaning
here. How is this important with regard to the main themes of the play? 30. What advice does Hamlet give his mother in line 182? How is his sarcasm shown
31. What is troubling about Hamlet‟s thoughts in lines 183 – 192?
32. How is the Queen‟s change of heart revealed at the end of this extract? What is
her role in the play from now on?
33. What do the lines after this extract reveal to the audience? What feeling is created
here and how?