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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS : HAMLET--- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

ACT I:
Scene one:
1. As the play begins, why is it appropriate that scene one opens on a platform
suspended between the earth and the sky? How would you characterize the
exchange between Bernardo and Francisco? Why is Francisco sick at heart
(l. 9), if the guard has been a quiet one, and what does this phrase imply?
Why is everyones presence challenged by the guard, including Horatios?
What is Horatios mood? Why is everyone either on edge or depressed? What
is the state of the kingdom? Why? What is this thing (l. 27) that has been
twice seen (l. 30) previously? Why has Horatio been invited to see it? What
is Horatios view on this dreaded sight (l. 30)? When the ghost appears,
how is it dressed? What does this suggest about the state of Denmark? Why
are brazen [bronze] cannon (l. 84) being cast daily and implements of
war (l. 86) being sought abroad? Who is threatening Denmark? What is
revealed about King Hamlet in Horatios monologue (ll. 91-119)? What folk
superstition surrounds the appearance of a ghost? How was this belief
substantiated on the eve of Caesars death? At the second appearance of the
ghost, what three reasons for a ghost appearing before mortals does Horatio
give? What causes the ghost to leave? Why? How does Shakespeare artfully
announce daybreak in Horatios descriptive speech? What do the ghost
watchers agree to do at the end of this scene?
Scene two:
2. Note that the royal procession is out of order. Where is Prince Hamlet in the
line? Where should he be? Why? What does this reveal about Claudius
relationship with his step-son/nephew? Analyze Claudius opening speech.
Point out the qualifying clauses and conjunctive adverbs. What do they
suggest? Note that the long sentence beginning at line 8 and ending at line
14 is a periodic sentence that ends with the predicate taken to wife. What is
Claudius trying to justify in this address to his court? Why? Why is he forced
to use oxymorons (ll. 10 & 12) to describe his brothers funeral and his
subsequent marriage to his sister-in-law? Upon what diplomatic mission does
he send Voltemand and Cornelius? After concluding his state business, whom
should he address next, according to propriety and protocol? Who does he
address next? Why? What does this reveal about his relationship with Hamlet?
What does Laertes request from the King? Is it granted? Why is Laertes at
Elsinore? When Claudius finally gets around to addressing Hamlet and calls
him my son (l. 66), how does the prince respond? Explain the puns, I am
too much I the sun (l. 69) and A little more than kin, and less than kind
(l. 67). How is Hamlet dressed? Why does Hamlets appearance bother both
-2Gertrude and Claudius? When Hamlet tells his mother, Ay, madam, it is
common (l. 76) to what is he referring? How does he defend his attire?
What request has Hamlet made of Claudius? Is it granted? Why not? How are

Laertes and Hamlet foils? When Hamlet agrees to remain in Denmark and
obey the royal couples wishes, to whom does he answer? Why?
3. In Hamlets first soliloquy, what does he wish that he could do? Why cant
he? What does this reveal about his character? What metaphor does he use
to describe Denmark? What are the three reasons he gives for being opposed
to his mothers marriage to his uncle? To whom does he compare his father?
What does he conclude about women? Why is it unfair for Hamlet to
generalize in this way? How does Hamlet characterize himself in this speech?
Why? What can he do about the marriage? Why?
4. When Hamlet encounters Horatio, why is the Prince so interested in Horatios
purpose in being at Elsinore? Note that he asks him this question three times.
What is Horatios answer? Does it please Hamlet? Why? What social pasttime, practiced in excess in Denmark, embarrasses Hamlet? What joke does
Hamlet make about the royal wedding? What does this reveal? How does
Hamlet react to the news of his fathers ghost? In what is Hamlet particularly
interested with respect to the ghost? Why? What does the Prince plan to do
about the ghosts appearance? What time will Hamlet visit the platform?
Why? What does Hamlet ask of Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus? Why?
How does he feel about the ghost, in general? What does foul deeds
suggest in line 279?
Scene three:
5. What advice is Laertes giving Ophelia before he departs for France? How
does Laertes describe Hamlets character? Why cant Hamlet Carve for
himself (l. 23)? What is Laertes worried about when he warns Ophelia that
she may lose her chaste treasure (l. 35)? Is this concern fair to either
Hamlet or to Ophelia? Explain. How does Ophelia answer her brother? What
is she insinuating about Laertes character? Name some of the more
memorable of Polonius precepts. When he tells Laertes, This above all: to
thine own self be true (l. 84), how does this precept apply to Hamlet and
his tragic burden of revenge? What does Polonius ask his daughter after
Laertes leaves? What does this reveal about Polonius character? What does
Polonius say about Hamlets intentions with his daughter? What is he also
worried about when he says youll tender me a fool (l. 118)? What does he
forbid his daughter to do? Does she obey? Is she happy about it? Why is the
timing of Polonius directive to his daughter particularly bad for Hamlet?
Scene four:
6. Why is it important for Shakespeare to establish in the dialogue of scene
four that the time is past midnight? What criticism of Claudius reign does
level at his uncle? What does this reveal about Hamlets character? Why does
Claudius spend so much time feasting? Examine the famous dram of eil
speech (ll. 26-41). How does this speech support the tragic flaw interpretation
of the play? When the ghost appears, why does Hamlet address it as a spirit
of health or goblin damned (l. 44)? Explain the minister/ scourge theory of
ghosts. Why is Hamlet being so cautious with the ghost? Why does Horatio
warn Hamlet not to go alone with the ghost? What does Horatio say could

happen if it is an evil ghost? What is Hamlets reason for going? When


Horatio and Marcellus attempt to physically restrain Hamlet, how does the
prince react? What does this reveal about his true nature in contrast to his
self-deprecation?
Scene five:
7. What is the reason for the ghosts temporary stay on earth? How does
Hamlet react to this explanation? What theme does the ghost introduce?
What was the popular theory on King Hamlets mysterious death? What
really happened in the garden while the king was taking his nap?
What specifically does the ghost ask Hamlet to do? When the ghost reveals
the name of his murderer, how does Hamlet react? What does this suggest
about Hamlets previous suspicions of Claudius? When the ghost calls
Claudius that incestuous, that adulterate beast (l. 49), what is he suggesting
about his Gertrudes part in the affair? What is the worst thing about the
way the former king was killed? What does the ghost ask Hamlet to do about
the damned incest (l. 90)? What does he warn his son not to do? After
the ghost departs, what does Hamlet suggest about himself when he refers
to this distracted globe (l. 104)? How does Hamlet act when Horatio and
Marcellus catch up with him? What does he say about the validity of the
ghost? To what does he make Horatio and Marcellus swear? What does he tell
them about his future behavior so that they will not break down and tell others
about the ghost? Why is this a clever plan? What does Hamlet mean by The
time is out of joint (l. 210)? Why is the ghosts revelation ill-timed? When
could he have profited from the news? Does Hamlet seem happy to accept the
burden of revenge? Explain.
ACT II:
Scene one:
8. As Act II opens, what despicable deed does Polonius ask Reynaldo to
perform? How does Reynaldo respond? How does this reflect an upset in the
Chain of Being? What is Ophelias emotional state when she enters? What
has upset her? Is Hamlet truly acting distraught in this depiction or is this
an example of his antic disposition (I v 192). How does Polonius interpret
the princes behavior? What will the old adviser do with this information?
Why? What does this reveal about Polonius? Why would Claudius be
interested in the cause of Hamlets madness? What does Ophelia reveal about
her relationship with Hamlet over the past two months?
Scene two:
9. With what is Claudius preoccupied? Why? For whom has he sent? Why?
When Claudius tells Polonius he would like to hear The very cause of
Hamlets lunacy (l. 52), how does Polonius respond? Who seems to have
his priorities straight? Why is Claudius willing to delay the report from the
ambassadors to Norway? What does this suggest about the real threat to
Denmark from its neighbor? Why has Claudius over-exaggerated the threat

from Norway? How is Prince Fortinbras a foil to Hamlet? What is similar and
different in their situations and characters? What permission does Prince
Fortinbras request of Claudius? If Norway is such a threat, why does Claudius
grant this request?
10. What proof of Hamlets love for his daughter does Polonius present? Does the
the diction sound like Hamlets speech? Is the document real? Does Claudius
believe its authenticity? What does Gertrude say is the cause of her sons
lunacy? Notice that Claudius remains unconvinced. It is at this point in the
play that critic J. Dover Wilson believes that Hamlets entrance on stage at
line 183 was misplaced, possibly by a typesetter or printer, and that he actually
is supposed to enter earlier at line 173 so that he overhears Polonius plotting
with Claudius to loose my daughter to him (l. 176). This conjecture is known
as the Lost Entrance Theory. If J. Dover Wilson is correct, how does this
earlier entrance by Hamlet change the play, particularly with regard to
Hamlets treatment of Ophelia and his attitude toward women, in general?
Notice how Hamlet first addresses Polonius as a fishmonger (l. 192). What
does he mean by this expression? Does this support The Lost Entrance Theory
or is this another example of Hamlets madness? Explain the analogy of the
dead dog (l. 198). How does this support the theory? Note that even Polonius
senses that there is method (l. 223 & 224) in Hamlets mad replies? Of what
does Hamlet warn Polonius as the old man takes his leave?
11. What do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reveal about their careers since they left
Denmark? Why would this make Hamlet suspicious? What does Hamlet mean
When he calls Denmark a prison (l. 260)? How do his former schoolmates
respond to this charge? On what do they blame Hamlets negative attitude
toward Denmark? Is their assessment true? How does Hamlet answer? As with
Horatio, what question does the prince ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Does
Hamlet believe their answer? Of what does he warn them? What is their real
reason for being at court? Analyze Hamlets famous speech on What a piece of
work is a man? (l. 327). What two opposing aspects of man does Hamlet point
out?
12. What is Hamlets emotional reaction when the players arrive at Elsinore? What
is the newest rage in theater companies? What piece of information does he tell
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to tell his uncle-father and aunt-mother
(l. 399)? How does Hamlets reference to Polonius as Jephthah
(l. 427) support The Lost Entrance Theory? What speech does Hamlet ask the
players to recite? Why? Point out the analogy between Aeneas and Hamlet.
Based on this speech, to whom would Hamlet wish to discuss his fathers death
and what the ghost told him? Why cant he do this? Why is Polonius impressed
with the players performance? What play does Hamlet ask the players to
perform before the King? Why? What change will Hamlet make in the plays
text? Why?
13. In his second soliloquy why is Hamlet upset? What provoked this response?
How does he view himself? Why? When he asks the question, Am I a coward
(l. 598), how close is he to the truth? To what does he suddenly shift his
introspection so that he is no longer absorbed in himself? What excuse does he
suggest is the reason for his delay in killing Claudius? Is this explanation

reasonable? Why is he suddenly questioning the validity of the ghost, when he


previously told Horatio and Marcellus, It is an honest ghost (I v 154). What
is Hamlets real problem? Is he being true to himself?
ACT III:
Scene one:
14. How does Guildenstern describe Hamlets madness? Is this consistent with
others description of his lunacy? As Polonius and Claudius prepare to
hide behind the arras, what does Claudius reveal in his aside? Is the King
enjoying his reign? As Hamlet enters, he delivers his famous third soliloquy.
What is he contemplating doing? How has he regressed from his first
soliloquy in which he revealed a death wish but was unwilling to consider
suicide because it is against Gods canon (I ii 136)? What is his chief concern
should he take his own life? How does he characterize his intelligence or
conscience as he calls it?
15. When he finally encounters Ophelia in the lobby, what does he tell her about
her remembrances (l. 102)? What does honest (l. 113) and fair (l. 115)
mean in Elizabethan diction? What is he saying about Ophelias beauty? How
is she misusing it as a bawd (l. 122)? What is a nunnery (l. 131) in
Elizabethan slang? What is Hamlet really suggesting about Ophelias
character? Does this support The Lost Entrance Theory? When Hamlet asks
Ophelia, Wheres your father? (l. 141) does he seem to know that Polonius
is spying on him? Who is the one married person that shall not live, according
to Hamlet? How does Ophelia interpret Hamlets ranting? How will it affect
her own future? What does Claudius decide after hearing Hamlets threats?
What fatal plan does Polonius then suggest? Why is this act of spying even
more despicable than the lobby scene? Does Claudius feel threatened by
Hamlet? Explain.
Scene two:
16. What advice does Hamlet give the players? Could this be Shakespeare
coaching his contemporaries? Why does Hamlet value Horatios friendship?
What personal characteristic does he admire in Horatio? What secret has he
revealed to his trusted friend? When Hamlet tells Horatio, I must be idle
(l. 96), what does he mean? Analyze the exchange between Hamlet and
Ophelia? Why is speaking in a vulgar manner to her? How does this support
The Lost Entrance Theory? How long has it been since his fathers death,
according to Ophelia? Why does Hamlet reduce the time to two hours (ll.
134 & 135)? What is Ophelias reaction to Hamlets continuing use of sexual
innuendos? As the play within the play begins, how does Hamlet also insult
his mother? What new name does Hamlet give this play? Why does Claudius
suddenly stand up, shout for lights, and rush out of the hall? What does
Hamlet then tell Horatio about the ghost, for the second time in the play?
What is the condition of the King following the play, according toRosencrantz
and Guildenstern? Explain the pipe metaphor that Hamlet uses to describe
his relationship with his former schoolmates. Of what does he warn them?
As Hamlet heads to his mothers bedchamber of what does he remind

himself?
Scene three:
17. How does Claudius now view his nephew? What does he plan to do about
him? What new plan has Polonius devised? Why is this a dangerous one?
What does Claudius reveal in his soliloquy? Why cant he atone for his
sins? What opportunity does this moment afford Hamlet? What reason does
Hamlet give for not killing Claudius? Is this reason convincing? Why
is his simple declaration No (l. 92) the thematic climax of the play?
18. As Hamlet enters his mothers bedchamber what is his mood? What are
his intentions? How does she interpret his motives? Whom does Hamlet think
he has slain? Of what does he then accuse his mother? Of what do the
miniature portraits of her two husbands remind Gertrude? Does she feel
ashamed? When Hamlet refuses to stop his tirade against his mother, what
finally causes him to pity her? Why doesnt Gertrude see the ghost? Is it a
figment of Hamlets mind or is she unworthy? What does Hamlet tell her not
to do as a wife? Why? Is he sorry for Polonius death? What does he ask
Gertrude to tell the king about his, Hamlets, insanity? Why? Who will
Hamlet watch carefully as he sails to England? Why?
ACT IV:
Scenes one and two:
19. Is Hamlets libertyfull of threats to all (l. 15) as Claudius states?
What worries Claudius most about Polonius unfortunate death?
What has Hamlet done with body? Why is the timing of this murder
untimely (l. 41)? How does Hamlet address Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
as scene two opens? Is his analogy of a sponge (l. 12) justified? Why? Is
this another kind of warning to his old schoolmates?
Scene three:
20. Why doesnt Claudius arrest Hamlet for the death of Polonius?
Analyze the conversation between Claudius and Hamlet over the
whereabouts of Polonius body. What insults does Hamlet level at the king?
Why does Hamlet say goodbye to Claudius by addressing him as my
mother (l. 61)? What is Claudius plan for Hamlet after the prince reaches
England?
Scene four:
21. Why is Fortinbras army marching through Denmark? For what are
they going to risk their lives? Why is Hamlet impressed by such initiative?
In his fourth soliloquy to what does Hamlet attribute his self-professed
cowardliness? As he is leaving Denmark, what does he vow? Why is this
speech unconvincing?

Scene five:
22. What has happened to Ophelia? Why? Consider her songs. Who is the
pilgrim with his cockle hat and staff/ And his sandal shoon (ll. 30 &
31)? Who is dead and gone (l. 35)? What has she done in her mind
with these two distinct persons? Why? What does this reveal about
Ophelia as a foil to Hamlet? What does Claudius seem to be worried about
as a consequence of Polonius death? When Claudius hears a noise, for
whom does he call? Why has he hired these men? Who is creating the
disturbance? Why? What is the reaction of the rabble? Why? What does
Laertes want? What does he dare? As a foil how does he differ from Hamlet?
What new sorrow does Laertes discover? What specifically does he desire to
hear from Claudius? With what does he appear to be most concerned?
Scenes six and seven:
23. What does Hamlet reveal about his own character in his letter to Horatio? Is
he brave and capable of heroic deeds as well as of manly fighting? What
excuse does Claudius give Laertes for not punishing Hamlet for Polonius
death? If Hamlet is so loved by the citizenry, why hasnt he gone before
them with his case against Claudius? After Claudius learns by letter that
Hamlet is alive and in Denmark, what plan for the Princes demise does
he reveal to Laertes? What role does Laertes wish to play in this plot?
How does Claudius give Laertes further reason to kill Hamlet? Is this
story of Lamord, the Norman, true in your estimation? How far would
Laertes go in pursuing his revenge? Would Hamlet go so far? Explain.
How does Laertes plan to kill Hamlet? What is Claudius backup plan? If
-9
Laertes is such a skilled swordsman, why does Claudius need a backup plan?
Whose side will Claudius pretend to support in the friendly duel? What
tragic news does Gertrude deliver? According to the Queen, how did Ophelia
die? What is Laertes reaction to his sisters death? Why is this an untimely
event for Claudius and his plan?
ACT V:
Scene one:
24. Why are the gravediggers referred to as Clowns (See note on p. 238.)? What
do the common people, such as the two gravediggers, believe happened to
Ophelia? According to the gravediggers, why is she being given a church
burial in consecrated ground? Who ordered it? Why? What characteristic do
the gravediggers possess that Hamlet admires? Why are the gravediggers
digging up other graves to make room for new ones? Why would graveyard
space have been at a premium in Shakespeares time? Why is it necessary for
Hamlet to encounter this scene of death? What does the prince wonder about
the previously deceased whose bones are being flung from the grave? What
does he attempt to find out about the recent death? What pun does he and the
gravedigger trade off? How old is Hamlet? Explain how the gravedigger

reveals this fact. What momentous event occurred on the day of Hamlets
birth? What does this reveal about his relationship with his father? What is the
common gossip regarding Hamlets trip to England? Whose skull does he
recognize? What was his relationship with this man? When he takes up the
skull and peruses it, what is he literally doing? Why must he do this before the
end of Act V? As chief mourner, who follows the King and the Queen in the
funeral procession? Why is this an important honor for Laertes? What does
the priest refuse to do? Why? What melodramatic gesture does Laertes
perform? How does Hamlet react to this? When Hamlet announces himself
with, This is I,/ Hamlet the Dane (ll. 270 & 271), what is he asserting for the
first time in the play? Does Hamlet somehow seem different at this grave
scene? Explain. Why is Claudius quick to separate Laertes and Hamlet as they
grapple in the grave? What is he afraid might happen? What does Hamlet
publicly acknowledge concerning his relationship with Ophelia? What does
Hamlet mean when he says and dog will have his day (l. 311). What advice
does Claudius give Laertes?
Scene two:
25. What does Hamlet reveal to Horatio about his internal conflict as this
scene opens? What did he discover on the persons of Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern while on board the boat for England? What did he do about it?
What does Hamlet mean when he tells Horatio, Theres a divinity the
shapes our ends,/ Rough-hew them how we will (ll. 11 & 12)? What new
philosophy has Hamlet embraced? Why is this redemptive? Why doesnt
Hamlet feel guilty over the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
Of what is he regretful? What message does Osric deliver? How does
Hamlet treat this court fop, this waterfly (l. 95)? What answer does
Hamlet give Osric with respect to the duel? About what is Horatio
worried? Does he think Hamlet can win? What does Hamlet mean when
he tells Horatio, the readiness is all (ll. 236 & 237)?
26. Before the duel begins , what does Hamlet attempt to do? What does
Claudius pretend to drop in the cup of wine as a tribute to his nephew?
What is he really doing? Who wins the first round? Why does Gertrude
drink from the cup? When she disobeys the Kings direct order, Gertrude,
do not drink (l. 317), what is she showing Claudius? Why is this gesture
necessary before her death? How is Hamlet cut? How is Laertes cut? What
does Laertes then reveal as he is dying? Why? What does he ask of Hamlet?
What does the dying Hamlet ask of Horatio? What does Horatio wish to do?
Who stops him? Why does Hamlet need Horatio alive? On whom does
Hamlet prophesy th election lights (l. 392)? What does Hamlet mean
when he says, The rest is silence (l. 395)? Is this a fitting way for him to
die? When he finally kills Claudius, is it an act of personal revenge or an act
of public justice? What compliment does Fortinbras give Hamlet at the
plays end? Is this a fitting tribute to the Prince of Denmark? Why?