If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read
Machiavelli’s The Prince (1607-1619).
98 Questions About Hamlet
I, i The ghost pops in.
- What is the situation, militarily speaking, in Denmark
at the opening of the play?
- What does Horatio think the significance of the
ghost’s appearance is? What do his comments about Rome “ere the mightiest
Julius fell” have to do with the ghost?
- Why don’t the guys have a chance to pin the ghost down
and talk to it? And whose ghost is it?
- What is the gist of the first dozen or so lines of
Claudius’s opening speech? And who does he mean by “we”?
- What job does Claudius have for Cornelius and
Voltimand? And who is “Norway”?
- Who is Laertes? What does he want from Claudius?
- What does Hamlet want from Claudius?
- What is Hamlet saying to his mom in lines 75-85?
- What answer does Claudius have for Laertes? What
answer for Hamlet? Why would the answer for Hamlet be different?
- This scene contains Hamlet’s first famous soliloquy
(129—159). What’s eating at Hamlet, and what clinical term would we use for
Hamlet’s emotional state?
- The conversation between Hamlet and Horatio concerns
Hamlet’s father’s funeral and mother’s wedding. What is the point of this
- When Hamlet says, “My father!—methinks I see my
father,” what would Horatio think? Would he be right?
- What is the agreement among the guys at the end of
- Hamlet and Ophelia are apparently a number. What is
Laertes’s advice to Ophelia concerning this relationship? And how does
Ophelia respond to her brother?
- “You’re late!” Polonius says to Laertes. What does he
- What kind of guy does Polonius seem to be?
- What is Polonius’s advice to Ophelia regarding her
relationship with Hamlet? Whose advice seems more reasonable, Laertes’s or
- What custom of the Danes does Hamlet explain to
- What does Marcellus imply that the ghost’s appearance
- What is the ghost’s (Hamlet, Sr.’s) assignment for
- According to the ghost, what happened between Hamlet I
and his brother? And why?
- What does Hamlet want the other guys to do after they
leave the platform? What oath do he and the ghost make them take?
II, i Hamlet acts crazy.
- What is Polonius sending Reynaldo to Paris for? What
does he want to find out? What does the assignment reveal about Polonius?
- What happens in lines 49-50?
- How is Hamlet acting, according to Ophelia? What
could this have to do with the oath Hamlet has made the guys swear in Act I?
- What does Polonius think Hamlet’s problem is?
- What are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern here for?
- What was it Cornelius and Voltimand were going to do?
Did they do it?
- Polonius has announced that he knows why Hamlet is
acting crazy. How long does it take him to say it?
- “More matter with less art,” says Gertrude (95). What
does she mean? What does Polonius think—or pretend that he thinks—she
- What evidence does Polonius produce to support his
- How does Polonius propose to prove his hypothesis?
- Enter Hamlet, reading. Is there a gist to the crazy
remarks he makes, a thesis, as it were?
- When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pop in, is there a
theme to their opening remarks?
- How does Hamlet get out of them what they are there
- Rosencrantz announces the arrival of the players at
Elsinore. How important are the players to the play?
- What does Polonius get out of his dialogue with Hamlet
about the players?
- “I will use them according to their desert,” says
Polonius about putting the players up. What is Hamlet’s response, and what
does it mean?
- What deal does Hamlet make with the players before
- Hamlet’s next famous soliloquy ends this scene
(500-560). What feelings does he express, what doubts, and what resolution
III, i To be, or not to be
- Hamlet’s big soliloquy. What is it, exactly, that
Hamlet is talking to himself about? What action has he been contemplating
since his first soliloquy in I, ii?
- Does sweet Ophelia just happen to show up at the end
of Hamlet’s speech, or is there some ulterior motive? Whose, and what?
- What message does Ophelia have for Hamlet, and how
does he react?
- What is the point of the “get thee to a nunnery”
- Polonius still thinks Hamlet is mad for the love of
Ophelia. Does the king? Why not? What does he plan to do about it?
- Hamlet and the players; Hamlet and Horatio. How is
Hamlet setting up the play-within-a-play? What does he hope to accomplish
with this play, and how?
- How long has Hamlet I been dead?
- What play are the players performing here at the court
of Denmark? What action does the action of the play imitate?
- The audience seems to talk during the play, like the
audiences at some movie theatres. What is the upshot of the repartee
between Hamlet and his mom during the play? Between Hamlet and Ophelia?
- Does Hamlet get what he wants from the play? What?
- What effect does Rosencrantz say Hamlet’s behavior has
had on his mom, Gertrude? And what does she want Hamlet to do?
- Check the dialogue between Polonius and Hamlet at the
end of this scene. What kind of guy does Polonius reveal himself to be?
- Check Hamlet’s speech (soliloquette?) at the end of
this scene. Are the sentiments that Hamlet expresses Christian sentiments?
- What does the king know about Hamlet that he didn’t
know before the play-within-a-play?
- Hamlet finds Claudius kneeling and whips out his sword
to dispatch the murderer. Why doesn’t he?
III, iv The Queen’s closet
- Polonius is hiding behind the arras (tapestry) where
he can hear but cannot see. What is it that alarms him so that he cries
out? And what happens when he cries out?
- Who does Hamlet think it is behind the arras?
- Hamlet reads his mom the riot act. How does she
- The ghost pops in. Why?
- What does the Queen think is going on with Hamlet?
- How does the king react when he gets the news of
- What are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern supposed to get
from Hamlet? Do they get it?
- Does Claudius act like a villain in this scene? How
would you describe his demeanor?
- What is Hamlet saying in the worm-king-and-beggar
discussion with Claudius?
- What point is Hamlet making with his directions about
where to seek Polonius?
- So what does Claudius propose to do about the
situation with Hamlet?
- No, really, what is he going to do?
- Hamlet’s soliloquy on meeting Fortinbras’s captain in
the field. What, in summary, is he saying?
- My thoughts bloody be. What do we know at this point
in the play that Hamlet doesn’t know?
IV, v Enter Ophelia, mad. Really.
- Why would Ophelia have gone off the deep end?
- How is Laertes reacting to the situation? Why?
- How does the king talk Laertes down?
- Hamlet was on his way to England. What happened?
- How does the king feel about Hamlet’s unexpected
return to Denmark?
- What does he plan to do about it?
- How does Laertes enter into his plans, and why would
- What has happened to poor Ophelia?
- What is the point of the first question in the first
line of this scene? Seeks her own salvation?
- What theological issue are the grave-diggers debating?
- Whose grave are they digging?
- What is the joke about England that the grave-diggers
make with and about Hamlet?
- Alas, poor Yorick! What is the point of this famous
speech of Hamlet?
- When the funeral procession enters, what theological
point is the priest discussing with Laertes?
- What does Hamlet do when he realizes that this is
Ophelia’s funeral? And how does this scene end?
- What really happened on the trip to England?
- “Why, what king is this!” says Horatio in
admiration. Could his sentiment reflect anything in, say, Machiavelli?
- What kind of a guy is Osric, and what it his mission
- What’s the deal with Hamlet and Laertes? They were
just grappling in Ophelia’s grave, you remember.
- How good is Laertes supposed to be at sword-play?
- How have Laertes and the king set it up to make sure
Laertes wins the contest?
- How is it that Laertes comes to be “hoist with his own
petard” (III, iv, 207)?
- How does the king get his?
- The queen?
- There were bodies all over the stage and no curtain in
Shakespeare’s theatre. How would they get the bodies off the stage?
- What has happened to the guilty parties in this play?
Does anyone “get away with it”?
- How much is Hamlet in charge of his own destiny in
this play, and how much is he the victim of circumstances? Could you ask
the same question about Oedipus, in that other tragedy we read?
- At the end of his play, Oedipus has sacrificed himself
for the people of Thebes. He was the cause of the plague that afflicted the
city, and his action has helped end that plague. Does Hamlet’s death have
any such significance? Why or why not?