Suggestions for Hamlet paper: Sharrett AP English
Length: minimum 4 pages typed double-spaced
Topics to be covered
1. His choice is complex and difficult
a. Denmark is an unweeded garden
b. The King is a murderer
c. The Queen is deeply stained by lust and incest
d. Hamlet is born to “set it right”
2. Hamlet’s response is to deliberate in the full sense of weighing and evaluating the
alternatives before him. Hamlet approaches him problems by thinking about them,
by attempting to reason them out before taking action.
3. Hamlet is a man of thought as well as action and should be understood primarily
within the frame of reference.
4. Hamlet’s soliloquies record his efforts to achieve resolution.
5. Hamlet brings to the above problems a superb intellect, evidencing the finest
mind of any literary character in our tradition.
a. Problem posed by ghost. Whether it be “a spirit of health or goblin
damned.” Are its intents “wicked or charitable”
b. Feigning of madness gives Hamlet valuable time to maneuver “a noble
mind is [not] here o’erthrown.”
1. How convinced the King and the Danish Court are of his madness may
be uncertain but they are sufficiently confused to give Hamlet valuable
time to maneuver.
2. At points the King and Polonius refer to Hamlet as though they were
certain of his madness (2.2 98-100) and 3.14) while at other times they
make comments such as Polonius’ “ though this be madness yet there
is method in’t,” and the king’s “what he spake, though it lack’d form a
little,/ Was not like madness” (2.2 223 and 3.1 178). Even
Guildenstern can qualify by calling it “crafty madness” (3.18)
3. Ophelia’s description of his deranged and unkempt appearance when
he came to visit her represents this “antic disposition” in its most
extreme form, far more blatant than any which Hamlet even assumes
4. On the basis of planning to “put an antic disposition on” and of the
words her speaks to his mother 2 acts later the audience is told that
“how strange or odd some’er I bear myself” nonetheless “I essentially
am not in madness,/ but mad in craft.” (1.5 192, 3.4 209-210)
5. So understood, Hamlet’s “antic disposition” implies not only the
fantastic and bizarre behavior we see the Prince assume, but also the
sense of the “disguised” associated with the word “antic” in the section
devoted to hard and unusual English words in Robert Cawdery’s Table
Alphabetical of English Words (Pub. 1604)
6. “Melancholy” is another matter and Hamlet’s “customary suits of
solemn black” would have given visible expression to this
temperament through the contemporary code of dress. As a seriousness
of temperament it was often characteristic of noble minds not only
among scholars and artists but soldiers and statesmen as well.
Melancholy is NOT madness.
c. “To be or not to be”
d. The Mousetrap “catch[ing] the conscience of the king.”
e. Claudius kneeling in prayer
f. Hamlet bringing Gertrude to virtue
g. Hamlet growing to maturity in the two scenes of Act 5. Coming to terms
with own morality. Reflection on death attaining new balance, maturity
and wisdom. Contemplating Yorick’s skull, gravemaking, Alexander and
h. Other considerations: teaching the actors how to act, dealing with
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, tooling Polonius, repenting to Laertes,
reacting to Ophelia, conversing with Horatio “the readiness is all”
6. Thought must be embodied by action, as action must be tempered by thought. 7. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s opportunities to kill the king have been severely
limited by Shakespeare’s presentation of the action.
a. until he can find convincing confirmation of the murder, he cannot take
b. he must assure the ultimate perdition of Claudius’ soul “that his heels may
kick at heaven and that his soul may be as damned and black as hell,
whereto it goes.”
c. He must foil his own assassination
For the passage memorization: you may do either the “To be or Not To Be” speech
which is found in Act 3 scene 1 around line 65, and ends “ but soft the fair Ophelia.” or you may do the passage which begins with Gertrude announcing that Ophelia has drowned in Act 4 scene 7 at the very end on the act and ends with Laertes saying “but
that this folly drowns it.”
The passage will be delivered in front of class without props. If you lose your place or have trouble, I’ll give you a prompt to get you going again.