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Act I

Scene i:

1. What is Francisco doing at the opening of the play? How does he feel? Why might he feel this way?

2. For whom is Barnardo waiting?

3. How does Shakespeare begin the play with an immediate sense of suspense?

4. Why has Horatio been asked to join the soldiers in the night watch?

5. Whom does the ghost resemble?

6. Why does Marcellus think that Horatio should speak to the ghost?

7. Horatio, a sensible and practical man, doubts Marcellus’s and Bernardo’s ghost story until he sees the apparition himself. After its appearance, how does he show that he too believes in ghosts?

8. Of what, according to Horatio, might the appearance of this ghost be a warning?

9. What is happening in Denmark at this time?

10. When the ghost reappears, what does Horatio do that shows his courage?

11. How does the reader/audience know this ghost is not a hallucination?

12. What is the current threat to Denmark? What is Young Fortinbras’ motivation?

13. According to Horatio, what happened in ancient Rome before Julius Caesar was assassinated?

14. What does Horatio ask of the ghost? What does he think the ghost might know?

15. What signs are seen in the walking of a ghost (by Horatio)?

16. What is suspension of disbelief?

17. How do the men feel as they leave the watch? What is their plan of action now?

18. Based on the entire scene, what reasons do the guards have to be on edge?

Scene ii:

1. What important exposition is revealed at the beginning of this scene?

2. In Scene ii, you meet Claudius, the new king of Denmark. What two actions does he take that show he is an able administrator?

3. What evidence of wrongdoing or corruption is evident in Claudius’s opening speech?

4. How does King Claudius feel toward Laertes’s father?

5. What does Laertes want?

6. What two terms does Claudius use to describe young? How does Hamlet feel about Claudius?

7. Hamlet’s use of the word sun is a pun on what word used by Claudius? What does this pun indicate about Hamlet’s feelings toward Claudius?

8. What does Claudius think of the fact that Hamlet continues to grieve for his dead father? What does Claudius want Hamlet to do?

9. What do Claudius and Gertrude keep bothering Hamlet about? Explain whether or not this is fair of them.

10. Why is Claudius so pleased when he believes that Hamlet intends to stay at court rather than return to the university?

11. Compare Claudius’s treatment of Laertes with his treatment of Hamlet.

12. Why did Hamlet not become King when his father died?

13. What is a soliloquy? What is the root of Hamlet’s problem as he delivers his first soliloquy?

14. When Hamlet is alone, Scene ii, line 129, he begins his first soliloquy, “O that this too solid flesh would melt.” Describe briefly his state of mind.

15. What aspect of Hamlet’s concept of death/desire for death is revealed in Hamlet’s first soliloquy?

16. What aspect of Hamlet’s problem seems to bother him the most?

17. What important metaphor is introduced in Hamlet’s soliloquy that will be developed later in the play?

18. What conclusions can you draw from the exchange between Hamlet and Horatio?

19. Contrast Laertes’s and Horatio’s reasons for being in Denmark.

20. How does Hamlet react to the information about his father? What does he vow to do?

Scene iii:

1. What warning does Laertes give Ophelia before leaving? Why is station an issue for Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship?

2. Where is Laertes going? How does Ophelia react to her brother’s warnings?

3. What is the most important piece of advice given by Polonius to Laertes?

4. What does Ophelia reveal to her father?

5. What is Polonius’s take on Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet? What is she forced to do?

6. In Scene iii, both Polonius and Laertes are suspicious of Hamlet’s intentions toward Ophelia. Since they have nothing on which to base their suspicions, what conclusions might you draw about their own attitudes toward women? (Clue: See Ophelia’s reply to Laertes’s advice, lines 45-51.)

7. What is comical about Polonius?

Scene iv:

1. What has the behavior of King Claudius done to Denmark’s reputation? Why?

2. What might the ghost actually be? What dangers come from Hamlet’s going with the ghost?

3. What does Hamlet first ask the ghost? What troubles him about the ghost?

4. All things considered, why does Hamlet go with the ghost?

5. What reasons does Hamlet give for being unafraid to follow the ghost? (lines 64-68) How does this speech reinforce the statement he made in the soliloquy in scene 2?

6. What does Horatio fear?

7. Marcellus states, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” What does he mean?

Scene v:

1. In what region of the universe does the Ghost reside?

2. What possible theme is introduced by the Ghost’s afterlife?

3. Why must Hamlet’s father’s spirit walk the night and spend his days in flames?

4. What was the reported cause of death for King Hamlet? What was the real cause? What makes it a 3-fold sin?

5. How does King Hamlet want his ex-wife dealt with? What does action signify?

6. How does Hamlet seem to feel about the situation given his verbal reactions?

7. What does Hamlet force Horatio and the guards to swear to keep secret?

8. What pretense does Hamlet say that he will make? Why might he do this?

9. What does Hamlet mean when he says, “The time is out of joint”?

Understanding Literature

1. Central Conflict and Inciting Incident. A central conflict is the primary struggle dealt with in the plot of a story or drama. The inciting incident is the event that introduces the central conflict. What central conflict is introduced in Act I of Hamlet? What incident introduces this conflict?

2. Mood. Mood, or atmosphere, is the emotion created in the reader by part of all of a literary work. What is the predominant mood of the opening of Hamlet? What descriptions, events, and pieces of dialogue create this mood?

3. Irony. Irony is a difference between appearance and reality. How would you describe Claudius’s manner in scene ii? What is ironic about the way in which Claudius presents himself?

4. Foil. A foil is a character whose attributes, or characteristics, contrast with, and therefore throw into relief, the attributes of another character. Throughout this play, Fortinbras will be presented as a foil to Hamlet. In Act I, however, we learn of several similarities between the two young men. What are the similarities between Hamlet and Fortinbras?

5. Theme. A theme is a main idea in a literary work. One theme that recurs throughout Hamlet is that of salvation and the means by which it is either achieved or lost. Why is the ghost of Hamlet’s father doomed to walk the earth during the night and to spend its days in flames? Another theme of the play is revenge. On whom is Hamlet asked to take revenge, and why? Is it right for Hamlet to undertake this revenge? Do you believe that he can do so and still behave morally? Why or why not?

Notes are from EMC Masterpiece Series Access Edition