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Hamlet Act One

Discussion Questions
1. How does Shakespeare begin the play with an immediate
sense of suspense?
The opening scene takes place in the middle of the night with a group
of paranoid guards immediately after the death of a king. The
appearance of the ghost is fitting with the scene as it adds a sense of
2. What important exposition is revealed in scene 1?
Scene one exposes the ghost of the late king of Denmark and his
conflict with the Norwegian monarch. This information establishes the
context of the conflict of the play.
3. Why has Horatio been asked to join the soldiers in the night
watch? What has he decided to do?
Horatio is asked to join the soldiers to converse with the ghost as an
educated man. He initially doubts the ghosts existence, but sees it
with his own eyes. Horatio proposes to tell the prince about the ghost.
4. How does the reader/audience know this ghost is not a
At first, the audience may be inclined to believe Horatio, who thinks
that the uneducated Marcellus and Barnado are just imagining the
ghost. However, when Horatio confirms its existence, the ghosts
veracity is indisputable.
5. What important exposition is revealed at the beginning of
scene 2?
Claudius admits that the morality of his marriage with Gertrude is
questionable, but places the responsibility on his council: Your better
wisdom, which have freely gone with this affair along. Also, he
elucidates the conflict with young Fortinbras, stating that he needs to
be crushed.
6. What evidence of wrongdoing or corruption is evident in
Claudius opening speech?
Claudius is aware of the immorality of marrying Gertrude so early, as
he declares that the two married With an auspicious and a dropping
eye, With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage. Moreover, he
admits that Fortinbras views the country in low esteem, but does
nothing to deny the claims of wrongdoing.
7. Compare Claudius treatment of Laertes with his treatment
of Hamlet.

Claudius is extremely cordial with Laertes, even using the informal

form in lines such as, Take thy fair hour, Laertes, time be thine
However, with Hamlet, the king is particularly distant. By consistently
using the formal part of speech (Tis sweet and commendable in your
nature), Claudius opinions of Hamlet are more questionable. Although
he claims he will impart to you [Hamlet] the same love Hamlet
received from his father, the formal tone makes the message much
less sincere.
8. Why did Hamlet not become King when his father died?
Denmark is an elective monarchy, so the council must have deemed
Hamlet unfit to rule currently. Perhaps Claudius manipulated the
council to decide this.
9. What is the significance of Claudius denying Hamlet
permission to return to Wittenberg?
This decision is abnormal as he openly gives Laertes permission exit
Denmark. Perhaps Claudius is suspicious of Hamlet and wishes to keep
him under a watchful eye.
10. What aspect of Hamlets concept of death/desire for
death is revealed in Hamlets first soliloquy?
Hamlets melancholic character traits show through in his soliloquy,
and he carries a very maddened perspective on death as a result. He
feels that the only good way to escape the pain of death is through
death itself (Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and
resolve itself into a dew). This paradox torments him, as he feels that
the pain of his fathers death is inescapable, and only worsened by the
rapid marriage of his uncle and his mother.
11. Explain the reasons that Laertes and Polonius give
Ophelia to convince her not to trust Hamlets love.
Laertes and Polonius reason that Hamlets duty to Denmark would
keep him from committing to Ophelia as the need of the state often
requires the king to marry through arrangement. Hamlet is also young,
so his passions may be only due to a youthful yearning.
12. What is comical about Polonius?
Polonius gives a lot of advice, but all of it is merely superficial (Costly
thy habit as thy purse can by, But not expressed in fancy). Although
he has much to say, his words carry little value, and his advice is so
clichd that it is absolutely laughable.
13. Other than the fact of the ghost itself, why is this Ghost
thought to be an evil omen?

The ghost is restless because something is amiss in the world. The fact
that he must suffer in Purgatory means that the ghost symbolizes the
instability of Denmark and the strife that is soon to occur.
14. What possible theme is introduced by the Ghosts
The ghosts need for closure in the affairs of his past life represents the
Shakespearian eras value of stability. Just as people at the time
analyzed the humors to diagnose diseases, Hamlet seeks to bring
about stability in society by killing an incestuous man.
15. What does the Ghost warm Hamlet about his mother?
The Ghost warns hamlet not to harm Gertrude as her fate must be
decided by Gods judgment of her sins.