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Scene i

1. What does Claudius admit to himself (and to the audience) about his crime?

2. Why is Claudius happy that Hamlet is interested in hearing the players?

3. If Hamlet is, indeed, in love with Ophelia, will Queen Gertrude approve of that love?

4. What is King Claudius’s “heavy burden”?

5. List the personal grievances Hamlet expresses in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy and explain what specific events in Hamlet’s life they refer to.

6. What metaphor does Hamlet use in his “To be or not to be” speech to express his developing understanding of death? How does he further develop this metaphor?

7. What information does Ophelia provide about Hamlet’s character before the beginning of the play?

8. According to Hamlet, what effect does beauty have on a person’s honesty or faithfulness?

9. Explain the ambiguity of the nunnery scene.

10. What are Hamlet’s feelings about marriage? When Hamlet says that one who is already married shall die, to whom is he referring?

11. What is the main thrust of Hamlet’s diatribe against Ophelia?

12. How does Ophelia respond to Hamlet’s harsh rejection?

13. Does Claudius believe that Hamlet is crazy?

14. Why and on what pretext does Claudius decide to send Hamlet to England?

15. What plan does Polonius have for discovering the true cause of Hamlet’s distraction?

Scene ii

1. Why does Shakespeare begin this scene with Hamlet offering acting lessons to the players? How does this advance the plot, develop character, or help to establish theme?

2. According to Hamlet, what is “the purpose of playing”?

3. Why does Hamlet trust and admire Horatio?

4. What does Hamlet admit to Horatio and the audience just before the company arrives to view the play?

5. How does Hamlet’s speech pattern change when the others enter the room to view the play? Why?

6. Why does Hamlet speak to Ophelia in such vulgar terms?

7. To what does the player queen compare remarriage after the death of a spouse?

8. Why doesn’t the player king believe the queen when she says that she will not remarry?

9. What does Gertrude think about the queen in the play?

10. Why does Hamlet call the play “The Mouse-Trap”?

11. Why does the king rise?

12. What did Horatio and Hamlet both perceive?

13. Explain the metaphor of the recorder.

14. What is Gertrude’s reaction to Hamlet’s behavior?

15. What point is Hamlet making to Guildenstern? (lines 360 – 369) In what sense has Guildenstern attempted to “play upon” Hamlet?

16. In what way does Hamlet play upon Polonius?

17. Explain the allusion to Nero in Hamlet’s closing speech. In what way does Hamlet intend to honor his dead father’s wishes?

Scene iii

1. What does Claudius plan to do about Hamlet? Why?

2. How has the play-within-the-play changed Hamlet’s situation and influenced the action of the play?

3. How does Polonius’s spying on the scene between Hamlet and Gertrude indicate a change in Gertrude’s status?

4. Why does Claudius find it impossible to pray?

5. Why can’t Claudius ask for forgiveness?

6. In what paradox of salvation does Claudius feel trapped?

7. Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius when he has the opportunity?

Scene iv

1. Explain the ambiguity and word play Hamlet and his mother exchange at the beginning of this scene.

2 What does Hamlet say that he wishes were not so?

3. What does Hamlet intend to do?

4. Who does Hamlet think might be behind the curtain?

5. What is Hamlet’s reaction to the killing of Polonius? On what does Hamlet blame Polonius’s death?

6. What does this scene reveal about Gertrude’s guilt?

7. What aspect of Gertrude and Claudius’s marriage still clearly bothers Hamlet the most?

8. What does Hamlet see that his mother does not?

9. What is the significance of this second appearance of the ghost?

10. What does Gertrude believe has happened?

11. What proof can Hamlet offer that he is not crazy?

12. What advice does Hamlet give his mother about dealing with her desire to be with Claudius?

13. What does Hamlet believe will be the result of his having killed Polonius?

14. What does Hamlet want to keep Claudius from discovering?

15. How does Hamlet feel toward Rosencrantz and Guildenstern now?

16. According to Hamlet, how is Polonius different in death than he was in life?

End of Act III questions

1. At one point in the play, Hamlet speaks of himself as a scourge, or whip, whose purpose is to bring about justice. How does Hamlet deal with Ophelia? with Polonius? with his mother? How are these dealings related to Hamlet’s ideas about what is just? Why does Hamlet spare Claudius? What justice does he want to visit on the king? What justice does he have in mind for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

2. Are Hamlet’s actions in Act III just? Does he behave in a way that you believe to be morally correct? Why or why not?

Understanding Literature

1. Aside – An aside is a statement made by a character in a play, intended to be heard by the audience, but not by other characters on the stage. What is revealed about Claudius in an aside just before the “To be or not to be” soliloquy? (Act III, scene I, lines 48-54)

2. Irony and Cliché – Irony is a difference between appearance and reality. A cliché is a tired or hackneyed expression. Polonius and Claudius often express moral platitudes, pious clichés that Hamlet refers to, disparagingly, as the “saws of old books.” Find some examples of pious clichés mouthed by Claudius and Polonius. Do these two men live up to their own words? Explain.

3. Motivation – Motivation is a force that moves a character to think, feel, or behave in a certain way. One problem that has troubled critics for centuries is why Hamlet should have chosen to treat Ophelia so cruelly. In what way has Hamlet been unkind to Ophelia? In what way has Ophelia been unkind to Hamlet? Why does Hamlet respond so angrily to Ophelia? Of what does he accuse her? What does he suggest is true of all women? What does he say of all men, including himself? Why might Hamlet feel as he does about women and about marriage? Are his feelings justified?

4. Drama – A drama is a story told through characters played by actors. Hamlet is famous for containing a drama with in drama. Why does Hamlet ask to have the drama within this drama performed? What does Hamlet learn as a result?

5. Theme – A theme is a main idea in a literary work. One of the recurring themes in this play is how one might achieve salvation. Claudius says that one of the virtues of prayer is that it has the force to pardon those who have fallen. Why isn’t Claudius able to ask for forgiveness and so be saved? Ironically, why does Hamlet spare the king’s life when he finds Claudius at prayer? What does Hamlet want to do instead? Why might the seventeenth-century critic Samuel Johnson have thought Hamlet’s intention here too horrible to contemplate?

6. Mimesis – Mimesis, as defined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, is the imitation of life in art. Review Hamlet’s instructions to the players in Act III, scene ii. What theory of acting and of playwriting does Hamlet espouse? What value does drama have, in Hamlet’s view? What makes a performance good or bad?

7. Motivation and Irony of Situation – Motivation is a force that moves a character to think, feel, or behave in a certain way. Irony of situation is when an event occurs in a literary work that violates the expectations of the characters, the reader, or the audience. The force that sets in motion the action of this play is Hamlet’s motivation to take revenge for the killing of his father. Given this fact, what is ironic about the deed that Hamlet performs when he stabs Polonius through the arras? What makes this an example of irony of situation, a violation of Hamlet’s expectations of himself? In what way has he committed the very deed that he has set out to punish?

8. Turning Point – The turning point is the part of a plot in which something decisive happens to determine the future course of events and the eventual working out of the conflict. What turning point in Hamlet’s fortunes occurs during the scene with his mother? What immediate consequence does Hamlet expect this event to have? What do you think might be the long-term consequences of Hamlet’s action?