Hamlet Study Guide for Acts I through III

In Act I, what mood does Shakespeare establish in Scene 1? The opening scene creates a dark, suspenseful, and foreboding mood–details such as late night, the severe cold, the guards’ fear and confusion.
In Act I, Scene 2, Claudius urges Hamlet to stay at court instead of returning to Wittenberg; what does Claudius seem concerned about? Claudius wants Hamlet to stay around because he is concerned that Hamlet is acting strangely and Claudius wants to make sure Hamlet is no threat to his plans by monitoring his every move.
In Act I, Scene 2 how do Hamlet’s descriptions of Claudius compare with the impression Claudius is trying to make? Claudius portrays himself as an able statesman, competent ruler and fond husband, but Hamlet suggests Claudius’ outward appearance masks his inward corruption based on what the Ghost implies.
In Act I, Scene 2 Hamlet seems extremely depressed; what indicators reveal this in his soliloquy? Hamlet uses words like “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” as well as “self slaughter.”
In Act I, Scene 3 Laertes says to Ophelia that Hamlet “himself is subject to his birth”; what is the double meaning of this and how is he trying to protect his sister by telling her this? Laertes’ statement means that Hamlet is subject to or must obey the responsibilities and obligations of his rank, so even if Hamlet loves Ophelia now, he might not be in a position to marry her.
In Act I, Scene 5 the Ghost speaks harshly about Gertrude, so why does he insists that Hamlet not take any action against her? The Ghost wants to focus Hamlet’s depression and outrage about what has happened on Claudius primarily because Claudius is the source of the problem.
In Act 1, Scene 5, what does Hamlet tell Horatio and Marcellus? Hamlet plans to act mad, ie. crazy, in order to catch Claudius out; this is an example of dramatic irony because it lets the audience know that he is only pretending to be mad as part of a greater plan. However, at this stage Hamlet keeps Horatio and the others in the dark about his plan.
In Act II, why does Polonius want Reynaldo to check on his son Laertes while he is in France, and in what unusual way does Polonius suggest Reynaldo do this? He wants him to spread falsehoods about Laertes in order to see if the falsehoods are true; such approach demonstrates that Polonius can be ruthless and duplicitous.
In Act II when Ophelia tells her father about her interactions with Hamlet which do not seem to match his previous behavior with her, how does Polonius interpret Hamlet’s behavior? Polonius thinks Hamlet is mad for the love of Ophelia.
In Act II, Scene 2 Hamlet and Polonius have an exchange and at the end of it, Polonius comments that “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” What is the method, or purpose of Hamlet’s behavior in this interaction? Hamlet intends to mislead and deceive Polonius because Hamlet knows Polonius will report back to the King and Queen.
In Act II, Scene 2 Hamlet says to Guildenstern that “Denmark’s a prison.” How does the phrase reflect Hamlet’s perception of what is going on? Hamlet feels penned in by enemies and those who spy on him, Including his two friends.
In Act II, Scene 2 Hamlet compares Claudius to a company of boy actors who have chased the adult actors from the city. What does Claudius have in common with the boy actors? Like the boy actors who have profited by their newfound preeminence and noteriety, Claudius’ stature and image have increased since his older brother died.
What are the parallels between the story of Pyrrhus seeking revenge on Priam to Hamlet’s own quest for revenge? Pyrrhus is unable to complete the act of revenge just as Hamlet has been unable to revenge his father’s death.
At the end of Act II, how does Hamlet plan to test Claudius to see if what the Ghost has revealed to Hamlet is true? Hamlet believes he can determine whether Claudius did the deed by watching his reaction to “The Murder of Gonzago.”
In Act III, Scene 1 when Claudius says in an aside, “How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience…O heavy burden!” What does he reveal about himself? The phrase indicates Claudius did indeed, kill his brother.
In Act III, Scene 1 when Hamlet says to Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery” what two ways could this be taken? He either wants Ophelia to escape the corruption of this world or he thinks she like his mother is already tainted so belongs in a brothel.
In Act III, what does Hamlet admire about Horatio? He is practical, honest, and faithful and the only friend Hamlet can trust.
In Act III, when Hamlet says to Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, “Though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me” he is using an extended metaphor to do what? He is comparing playing on a musical instrument to trying to “play him” or get information out of him that can be shared with Claudius.
In Act III, why does Hamlet refuse to kill Claudius while he is praying? Hamlet is determined that Claudius not go directly to heaven as he would if he died while in prayer.
In Act III, what does Hamlet learn about Gertrude’s role in his father’s murder? She expresses guilt for marrying Claudius so soon which appears to some as inappropriate but she does not act like she knows about a crime against her former husband.