E419—Pine Hamlet Study Guide
1. In one of the editions of , the editor contends that “a recurring motif in is of a HamletHamlet
seemingly healthy exterior concealing an interior sickness.” How is this theme shown in Act I?
1. Identify Bernardo, Francisco, Marcellus, Horatio, and King Hamlet.
2. What has Bernardo seen at a prior watch?
3. Why does Marcellus think Horatio should speak to the ghost?
4. What does young Fortinbras want to do?
5. Who do the soldiers/guards want to tell about the ghost?
6. Identify King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Laertes, and Polonius.
7. Where does Claudius send Cornelius and Voltimand?
8. What does the King tell Hamlet?
9. Hamlet is upset for two reasons. What are they?
10. What news does Horatio bring Hamlet?
11. What does Hamlet decide to do after he hears Horatio’s news?
12. What is Laertes’ advice to Ophelia?
13. What is Polonius’ advice to Laertes?
14. At the end of Scene III, Ophelia agrees to “obey.” What will she do?
15. What does the ghost tell Hamlet?
16. Hamlet swears Horatio to two things. What are they?
17. Where does Polonius send Reynaldo? Why?
18. Why does Polonius think Hamlet is “mad”?
19. Why have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to the castle?
20. What is Polonius’ plan for testing his theory that Hamlet is love-crazy?
21. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern finally meet with Hamlet, and Hamlet discovers they were sent for by the King. How does Hamlet describe his personal problems to them? What does he tell them?
22. What arrangement does Hamlet make with Player 1?
23. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leaven Hamlet, what does he basically say in his soliloquy?
24. What message do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern carry to the King? What is the King’s response?
25. Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy is in scene one. In a sentence or two paraphrase
his main points.
26. Describe Hamlet’s tone when he speaks to Ophelia.
27. What do the King and Polonius decide about Hamlet’s condition after eavesdropping on Hamlet and
28. Why does Hamlet give instructions to the players?
29. What was the King’s reaction to the play, and what did Hamlet and Horatio decide his reaction meant?
30. What message does Rosencrantz deliver from the Queen?
31. The King has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern prepare to do what? Why?
32. Why doesn’t Hamlet kill the King when the King is kneeling?
33. How does Polonius die?
34. What would Hamlet have his mother do?
35. What does Hamlet think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
36. Why must the King “not put the strong arm on” Hamlet?
37. When the King asks Hamlet where Polonius is, what is Hamlet’s answer?
38. What is the content of the letters the King sends with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to England
39. What prompts Hamlet to say, “My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!”?
40. What has happened to Ophelia?
41. Why does Laertes force his way in? What does he want?
42. What is the content of Hamlet’s letter to Horatio?
43. What plan do the King and Laertes discuss to kill Hamlet?
44. What news does the Queen bring Laertes?
45. Laertes thinks that Ophelia should have a better funeral service. What is the priest’s answer?
46. Why does Hamlet jump into Ophelia’s grave?
47. What does the King say to Laertes to console him after Laertes and Hamlet are separated?
48. What did Hamlet do to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
49. What news does Osric bring Hamlet?
50. What happens to the King, Hamlet, Laertes, and the Queen?
51. Who does Hamlet recommend to the throne?
Hamlet: Discussion Questions
1) To what extent does Hamlet correspond to classical or medieval notions of tragedy (a form of drama defined by Aristotle characterized by seriousness and dignity and involving a great person who experiences a reversal of fortune—This reversal of fortune must be caused by the tragic hero's
hamartia, which is often mistranslated as a character flaw, but is more correctly translated as a mistake)? What (if anything) is Hamlet's fatal flaw? Why does he hesitate to act after promising his father's ghost that he will avenge his murder? Compare/contrast the protagonist's decisiveness and will to act in Macbeth.
2) Note the various familial relationships in Hamlet. Compare and contrast the family unit of Polonius/Laertes / Ophelia with Hamlet's relationships to the Ghost of Hamlet Sr., to Gertrude and to Claudius. Like Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras are sons confronted with a father's death. To what extent do they function as foils (A foil is a secondary character who contrasts with a major character and, in so doing, highlights various facets of the main character's personality) to Hamlet? What do they have in common? How do they differ?
3) Why does Hamlet wait so long to kill Claudius? What are the reasons for his hesitation? How valid are they? How many times does he have the opportunity to attack Claudius? What are his reasons for not doing so?
4) Hamlet is a play in which nothing can be taken at face value: appearances are frequently deceptive, and many characters engage in play-acting, spying and pretense. What deliberate attempts are made at deception? Are the intended audiences deceived? While some deceptions are perpetrated in order to conceal secrets, others aim to uncover hidden truths. Which are which? To what extent are they successful? Note references to appearances, disguises, pretense, seeming, masks, acting, etc.
5) Pay attention to the treatment of the women characters Gertrude and Ophelia. Is there any basis for the Freudian interpretation of an Oedipal attraction between Hamlet and his mother? Hamlet does seem obsessed with his mother's sexuality. How old is Hamlet? How old do you think Gertrude is? Is Hamlet's disgust at Gertrude's sexuality justified? To what extent is Gertrude guilty? Was she "in on" her husband's murder? Has Claudius confided in her since the murder? How does Hamlet's perception of his mother affect his behavior or attitude toward Ophelia? Why does he tell Ophelia to go to a nunnery? Does Hamlet really love Ophelia? If so, why is he cruel to her?
6) Hamlet claims that his madness is feigned, an "antic disposition" which he puts on for his own purposes (I.v.172). Why would Hamlet want to feign madness? How can an appearance of insanity help him achieve his ends? (Compare the role of Touchstone, the "fool" in AYLI.) Is he really sane throughout the play, or does he ever cross the line into madness? What about Ophelia's mad scene? Is it real or feigned? Is there "method in her madness" as well, or is she entirely irrational? Why has she gone mad? (What two reasons do her songs suggest?)
7) Hamlet famously declares that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." What other natural imagery is used to describe the corruption of the Danish court? What "unnatural" events or behaviors preceded the events recounted in the play? What "unnatural" events or behaviors occur during the play?
8) Moral ambiguity? Hamlet and Macbeth recount similar stories (the usurping of a throne) from differing perspectives -- those of perpetrator and avenger. Just as Macbeth was not ALL bad, Hamlet is not ALL good. What are some of his faults or short-comings? Do these constitute a "fatal flaw" (to use the concept and terminology of Aristotle or Bradley)? Why might Shakespeare have chosen to remain in the "grey area" rather than a more "black and white" depiction of Good and Evil? Compare with Shakespeare's depiction of the protagonist in Macbeth.
Turn The Page;
Favorite Lines—As you are reading the play, I want you to note quotes/passages that stand out
to you (5 for each act). Copy the quotes and explain why you chose them. This will serve for
discussion as we go along as well as at the end of the play.
Act I Passages
Act II Passages
Act III Passages
Act IV Passages
Act V Passages