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Act II

Scene i

1. Where is Reynaldo going? What are his instructions from Polonius?

2. Why does Polonius send Reynaldo with such orders? Why is “indirection” (Polonius’ plan) a better way to find information?

3. What is ironic about Polonius’s attempt to learn about Laertes’s life in Paris?

4. What has Hamlet done to upset Ophelia so greatly? What is a possible cause for his behavior (in your mind)?

5. How does Polonius interpret Hamlet’s actions? What does he intend to do with the information?

6. What mistake in judgment does Polonius think that he has made? How has Polonius’s opinion of Hamlet changed?

7. Consider how the episode of Hamlet in Ophelia’s closet promises to contribute to the overall calamity of the tragic plot.

Scene ii

1. Why have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to Elsinore?

2. What do Claudius and Gertrude want from these two men? Why?

3. Guess at some other reasons for Claudius/Gertrude to charge Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with their orders.

4. Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern willing spies for Claudius and Gertrude?

5. What does Polonius believe that he has discovered?

6. What does the queen fear to be the cause of Hamlet’s madness?

7. Has Claudius’s diplomatic mission to Norway been successful? In what way?

8. What does the king of Norway request of Claudius?

9. What does Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia seem to reveal?

10. What does Polonius propose to do to find out whether Hamlet has, indeed, been driven crazy by his unrequited love for Ophelia? Given his plans (both here and before) – what conclusions can we make about Polonius as a character?

11. How does Hamlet use language against Polonius?

12. What effect is created by the scenes between Hamlet and Polonius being in prose?

13. How does Hamlet go about insulting Polonius? May there be some hint from Hamlet in reference to Ophelia considering his chosen example?

14. Is Hamlet toying with Polonius or trying to sincerely insult him? Explain your opinion. 15. What are some of the slang expressions and puns Hamlet uses in his first exchange with Polonius? Why are they significant?

16. What “method” is there in Hamlet’s “madness” in the lines between Hamlet and Polonius? Of whom is Hamlet making fun? What does Polonius mean by his question “Will you walk out of the air, my lord?” In what way does Hamlet willfully misinterpret Polonius?

17. Polonius recognizes that Hamlet’s “madness” contains some sense, but does he therefore conclude that Hamlet is sane and rational? Explain.

18. What is Hamlet’s initial reaction to the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

19. To what does Hamlet compare Denmark and the world as a whole?

20. According to Hamlet, what makes something good or bad?

21. Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hesitant to admit that they are in Elsinore because the king and queen sent for them?

22. Why do Rosencranz and Guildenstern believe Hamlet sees Denmark as a prison? What do you think is the real reason?

23. Hamlet’s discussion with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern shows his real emotions. What is he feeling and how does this compare with how he should be feeling. lines 292-309 (“What a piece of work is a man”) Do you believe they understand him?

24. Who has arrived at Elsinore? Why are the actors no longer popular in the city?

25. What does Hamlet think of public opinion?

26. What does Hamlet say about his so-called madness?

27. For what does Hamlet ask the players?

28. What emotion does the actor express when he tells about Hecuba watching the murder of her husband?

29. What does Hamlet want the players to perform? In what way does he intend to modify the play?

30. What makes Hamlet’s comment about not mocking Polonius funny?

31. Hamlet’s soliloquy – To whom does Hamlet compare himself? Why is Hamlet upset with himself? What does he feel that he should be doing? What question about his own character does Hamlet consider? What conclusion does Hamlet come to about himself? To what does he compare himself and why? What action has Hamlet decided to take? Why does he think that he needs to take this action? What might be true of the ghost, according to Hamlet?

End of Act II questions

1. What do you believe to be Hamlet’s state of mind in act II? Give evidence from the text to support your opinion.

2. Why does Hamlet think it necessary to pretend madness? Why does he think it necessary to stage a play to test Claudius? Why does Hamlet delay taking his revenge?

Understanding Literature

1. Soliloquy – A soliloquy is a speech given by a character who is, or believes himself to be, alone. In this speech the character reveals his or her thoughts to the audience. What opinions does Hamlet express about himself in the soliloquy that ends Act II? Why does he think about himself in this manner? Do you agree with Hamlet’s assessment of himself? Why or why not? What does Hamlet resolve to do?

2. Psychodrama – A psychodrama is a play that deals with the state of mind of its central character. The term is generally used to describe twentieth-century plays and films that deal with madness or other extreme psychological states. Nonetheless, one can legitimately call Hamlet a psychodrama. The Elizabethans believed in an ancient Greek medical theory, called the theory of humors, that describes human personality as being determined by the combination of four humors, or fluids produced by the body. These humors were blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. An excess of blood was believed to create a sanguine, or cheerful and lusty personality. An excess of phlegm was said to create a phlegmatic, or sluggish, dull personality. An excess of yellow bile, or choler, was said to create a choleric, or angry, irritable personality. An excess of black bile was said to create a melancholic or depressive personality. Using the theory of humors, analyze Hamlet’s personality. Which humor does Hamlet display in abundance? What evidence can you give from Acts I and II to support the theory that Hamlet is meant to typify this type of personality?

3. Protagonist and Antagonist - The protagonist, or main character, is the central figure in a literary work. An antagonist is a character who is working against a protagonist. Who is the protagonist of this play? Who is the major antagonist? In what respects does Hamlet sometimes act as his own antagonist?

Notes are from EMC Masterpiece Series Access Edition