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HAMLET ACTIVITY: CHEW ON THIS (HOMEWORK)

You probably know this already, but English class is not math class. In your math classes, you get to
circle the answer at the end of the problem. And it feels so good, right? Well, unfortunately, in literary works you
don’t get a definitive answer to circle. You get a bunch of conflicting arguments. Welcome to the world of
literature.
Now that you've read and studied your literary work, it's time to develop your own opinion. Pick a theme
from Hamlet themes section, and read the Chew on This statements for that theme. Notice how each statement is
an opinion and not necessarily a fact? That's the beauty of building an argument – you can start a debate and argue
either for or against it.

So, now it's your turn to contribute to the literary discussion.


1. Pick TWO themes from the list below.
2. Answer the questions for each theme.
3. Pick ONE theme from the two you’ve already answered questions for. Write your own Chew on This
statement for the theme that you've chosen.
4. Support your statement with three quotations from the text.
5. To make sure that you could really get a good debate going on your Chew on This statement, also play the
"devil's advocate" position
6. Find three more quotations from the text that could be used to argue against your statement.
7. As we are on the eve of a Socratic Seminar, you should come to class prepared to argue for either side of
your statement.

HAMLET THEMES

Madness

Madness – both real and feigned – is at the heart of the play. Hamlet's "antic disposition" has famously sparked a
scholarly debate: Does Hamlet truly go "mad" or is it all an act? An impossible mystery, it's one of many
unanswered questions raised by the play. Nevertheless, the complexity and sheer ambiguity of Hamlet's mental
state and erratic behavior is compelling and seems to speak to the play's overall atmosphere of uncertainty and
doubt. Ophelia's clear descent into madness (and subsequent drowning) is somewhat of a different issue. Critics
tend to agree that Ophelia seemingly cracks under the strain of Hamlet's abuse and the weight of patriarchal
forces, which has important implications for the play's portrayal of "Gender" and "Sex."

Questions About Madness

1. What's does Hamlet mean when he says he's going to put on an "antic disposition" (1.3.28)? Why does
Hamlet play the role of an "antic"? What's purpose does it serve?
2. We know that Hamlet says he's going to pretend to be insane. Is there textual evidence in the play that
Hamlet actually does descend into madness?
3. What is the difference between Hamlet's madness and Ophelia's? Is there a marked difference in their
behavior and speech?
4. What causes Ophelia to go mad? What purpose does her madness serve in the play? What textual
evidence would you use to support your claim?

Revenge

Hamlet gears up to be a traditional bloody revenge play – and then it stops. The bulk of the play deals not with
Hamlet's ultimately successful vengeance on his father's murderer, but with Hamlet's inner struggle to take action.
The play concludes with a bloodbath that's typical of revenge tragedy, but Hamlet's infamous delay sets it apart

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from anything that's come before it. Hamlet is also notable for the way it weaves together three revenge plots, all
of which involve sons seeking vengeance for their fathers' murders. Ultimately, the play calls into question the
validity and usefulness of revenge.
Questions About Revenge

1. How does Hamlet's attitude toward revenge change throughout the play? When does he talk about
revenge? How does what he says about revenge match what he actually does?
2. How does Hamlet's attitude towards revenge contrast with Fortinbras's or Laertes's approach?
3. Why is there such a delay when it comes to Hamlet avenging his father's murder?

Mortality

Hamlet's musings on suicide, especially the "to be or not to be" speech, are legendary and continue to direct
discussions of the value of life and the mystery of death. But Hamlet himself never commits suicide. It is Ophelia,
who never mentions the possibility of taking her own life, who drowns, seemingly as a result of some
combination of madness and despair. Death threads its way through the entirety of Hamlet, from the opening
scene's confrontation with a dead man's ghost to the bloodbath of the final scene, which leaves almost every main
character dead. Hamlet constantly contemplates death from many angles. He is both seduced and repelled by the
idea of suicide, but, in the famous gravedigger scene, he is also fascinated by the physical reality of death. In a
way, Hamlet can be viewed as extended dialogue between Hamlet and death.

Questions About Mortality

1. Why does Hamlet wish his "too, too solid flesh would melt"? What's the cause of his suicidal tendencies?
2. Under what circumstances, and at which moments of the play, does Hamlet dwell on the possibility of
ending his own life?
3. What counterarguments for suicide does Hamlet provide throughout the play? Do the arguments change
or evolve in any way?
4. How does Ophelia's suicide parallel or contrast with Hamlet's discussions of suicide? In what forms does
Hamlet encounter death in the play?
5. In what ways do people in Hamlet die? Would it be fair to call Hamlet a catalogue of murders?
6. What fascinates Hamlet about death? In what ways does he explain or evaluate death? What kinds of
language does he use?
7. Do other characters put forth perspectives on death? The premise of Hamlet is that the King has just died.
What different attitudes or ways of dealing with death does the play include? Does the play suggest than
any particular response to this death is more or less appropriate than others?

Religion

Hamlet is not necessarily a play about "religion" but it does register many of religious ideologies and spiritual
anxieties of the 16th century. Here we're talking about the effects of the Protestant Reformation, and Christian
ideas about "Mortality" and the afterlife, all of which have major implications for the play's portrayal of the ghost.
Hamlet is also interesting for the way it weaves together Christian attitudes toward murder, suicide, and revenge,
which don't necessarily square with the basic tenets we typically find in the "Genre" of Revenge Tragedy.

Questions About Religion

1. Why are the castle guards afraid of the Ghost? What is it? Where does it claim to come from?
2. How do Hamlet's ideas about religion and spirituality shape the way he sees and reacts to the world? Do
his attitudes shift throughout the play?
3. What kind of burial is Ophelia given? Why?
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4. What does Hamlet mean when he says "we defy augury" at 5.2.37?
5. What kinds of biblical allusions do we find in the play? How do the effect the story?

Art and Culture

Literary critics consider Hamlet to be one of Shakespeare's most "self-reflexive" plays, which is to say that
Hamlet self-consciously refers to the workings of the theater and also draws the audience's attention to the fact
that the play is a theatrical production. In the play, Hamlet frequently takes on various theatrical roles (he
famously plays an "antic," tries on the role of a typical "revenge hero," and so on), which allows the play to
explore ideas about human nature and character. Shakespeare's also interested in contemplating the power of the
theater. When Hamlet organizes a group of traveling players to perform The Murder of Gonzago (a.k.a. The
Mousetrap), a play that mimics Claudius's murder of Old Hamlet, he hopes that such a device will reflect the truth
or, "hold a mirror up to nature."

Questions About Art and Culture

1. What kinds of "roles" does Hamlet try on throughout the play?


2. What does Hamlet hope to accomplish by organizing the play-within-the-play?
3. How does Hamlet interpret theater? What powers or influences does he think theater has?
4. At the play's end, why do Fortinbras and Horatio say the bodies of the tragic victims should be placed up
high on a "stage" while Hamlet's story is told? What purpose will this serve?

Lies and Deceit

Hamlet, more than almost any character in literature, hates deception and craves honesty. It is one of the brilliant
ironies of the play that Hamlet, an absolutist in his quest for truth, is trapped in a seamy political world where
deception is a necessary part of life and political "spin" rules the day. This contrast, fascinating to the audience, is
a torment to Hamlet. Deception is necessary for and used by every character in Hamlet, for every purpose ranging
from love to parenting to regicide.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

1. What is Hamlet's stance towards deception or "seeming?" Does he provide any explanation as to why he
is so disgusted by these things? Are we supposed to share his opinion?
2. How do characters other than Hamlet discuss deception?
3. Who in the play engages in some kind of deception or deceit? Which characters avoid deception
completely?
4. Does Hamlet himself avoid deception? Is he a hypocrite?
5. Polonius says, "To thine own self be true / and it must follow, as the night the day / Thou canst not then
be false to any man." Is this evaluation of truth and deception backed up by the play? Does Polonius
follow his own advice? Does anyone follow it?

Gender

"Frailty, thy name is woman," so says Hamlet in his first scene (1.2.6). Hamlet's attitude toward women is
notoriously sexist and stems from his disgust at his mother's sexuality and seeming unfaithfulness to his dead
father. This outlook eventually spills over to include all women, especially the hapless Ophelia, who has virtually
no power or control, even over her own body. To some extent, the play also considers notions of masculinity (or
lack thereof). Claudius warns Hamlet that his grief is "unmanly" and Hamlet notoriously refers to himself as a
promiscuous woman when he finds himself unable to avenge his father's death, which, again, circles back to
Hamlet's association between women and deception. Yet, the play does not share Hamlet's furious dismissal of
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women. Hamlet's mother's final guilt is left ambiguous, and his lover ultimately inspires pity. Hamlet's attitude
toward women reveals something about him more than it reveals women's true nature.

Questions About Gender

1. What is Hamlet's attitude toward women? Why does he criticize women? Are these criticisms justified
based on what he has seen and experienced?
2. Do other characters in the play share Hamlet's attitude towards women? What kind of advice does Laertes
give Ophelia in Act I, scene iii? What does his advice suggest about his attitude about gender roles? How
does Ophelia respond to her brother's remarks? What does her response say about Ophelia's character?
3. Why does Hamlet call himself a "whore," a "drab," and a "scullion" in Act II, Scene ii?
4. Do you think Ophelia's limited social role (as a powerless young woman) plays any part in why she goes
mad and drowns? What evidence would you use to support your claims?
5. Does the play provide evidence to support Hamlet's criticisms of women? Or, does it challenge his views?

Family

Family is a significant theme in Hamlet. The play is notorious for the way it dwells on the issue of incest –
Gertrude's marriage to her dead husband's brother, Hamlet's fixation on his mother, and even Laertes's obsession
with Ophelia's sexuality. It's also important to note how the play is particularly concerned with the way politics
impact the dynamics of family relationships, especially when domestic harmony is sacrificed for political gain.
Also of importance is the fact that Hamlet involves three revenge plots that all hinge on sons avenging the deaths
of their fathers.

Questions About Family

1. What is the purpose of the Fortinbras plot? Why does Fortinbras keeping popping up in the play?
2. Why is Hamlet so upset about Gertrude's marriage to Claudius?
3. Hamlet often accused Gertrude of being a bad mother – is he right? Why or why not?
4. Why do Laertes and Polonius warn Ophelia about being intimate with Hamlet?
5. Do parents always/ever look out for their children's best interests in the play? What evidence supports
your answer?