Hamlet Study Questions

Where does this play take place? Denmark (Castle Elsinore)
As the play opens, Horatio joins Marcellus and Bernardo at their night watch. Why has Horatio joined them? To see the apparition.
How does Horatio interpret the appearance of the ghost? He looks like the late King Hamlet
What three questions does Marcellus raise? 1)Why the guards are extra active. 2) Why so many cannons are being manufactured and so many weapons being imported and 3) if something is about to happen.
In a long speech, Horatio answers Marcellus. Summarize as briefly as you can the events that have led to preparations for war. The late King Hamlet was dared to do battle by the Norwegian King Fortinbras with the stake of life and territory. Hamlet triumphed, but now Fortinbras’ son is assembling a thug group to pillage and reclaim the lost territory.
What three reasons does Horatio list for the superstition of a ghost’s returning from the grave? 1) Precursors of feared events, 2) Harbingers preceding fated events and 3) As prologue to the coming omens
Why do Horatio and Marcellus decide to tell Hamlet? They feel obligated to do so out of honor, duty and love.
What news does King Claudius announce at the opening of scene two? He has married Queen Gertrude, his late brother’s wife.
Why does Claudius send Cornelius and Voltimand to Norway? To deliver the letter he’s written to Fortinbras’ uncle to stop his nephew’s siege.
What bothers Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet’s dress? They’re black, indicating he’s still mourning his father; they feel he should have moved on by now due to the commonality in cycle of a patriarchal death.
Why does Claudius want Hamlet to remain in at court? He’s closest to the throne, thus he wants to keep him close due to his status as competition therefore.
About how long has Hamlet’s father been dead? Less than two months.
Explain why Hamlet says, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” He’s remarking upon the weakness in character of women, based of of how quickly his mother remarried after the death of his father, whom he idolized, and to his own brother no less.
At the end of scene two, what is Hamlet’s plan? He plans to stand guard with Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo in hopes of seeing his father’s ghost.
Why does Laertes warn his sister Ophelia not to place too much hope in Hamlet’s attentions to her? Laertes claims that she’s too young and that their love is nothing more an a youthful infatuation which will fade over time. Laertes maintains that Hamlet only wants to sleep with her.
What does Laertes say must govern Hamlet’s marriage choice? Laertes notes that due to the nobility of his birthright, he cannot make selfish or personal decisions and instead must act for the betterment of the kingdom.
What advice does Ophelia in turn give to Laertes? She advises him to not be a hypocrite.
Polonius gives a great deal of advice to his son Laertes. In your own words, explain what “Give thy thoughts no tongue, /Nor any unproportioned thought this act.” mean? Keep your thoughts private and don’t act impulsively.
Polonius gives a great deal of advice to his son Laertes. In your own words, explain what “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” mean? Listen to the opinions of others but keep your own to yourself.
What are Polonius’ instructions to Ophelia about Hamlet? He advises that she not heed his declarations of love as he just wants to have sex with her. Therefore, she shouldn’t waste her time.
Polonius gives a great deal of advice to his son Laertes. In your own words, explain what, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; /For loan oft loses both itself and friend…” mean? Never borrow from nor lend to a friend as the loan usually ends up unpaid and the friendship is ruined.
What is happening at the court while Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are on the platform? King Claudius is having a celebration in honor of his marriage to Queen Gertrude.
Why does Hamlet denounce the custom of drunken celebration? He feels it besmirches the kingdom, giving the Danish the reputation of drunkenness and also distracting from their achievements.
What happens at the end of scene four? The Ghost appears and beckons Hamlet to follow him as he departs, to which Hamlet concedes. This prompts Marcellus and Horatio to join him.
What does the Ghost reveal about the manner of his death? The King Hamlet was in fact murdered by his brother Claudius for the crown by pouring poison in his ear as he slept, the act blamed on the poisonous bite of a snake.
What does the Ghost tell Hamlet about his mother? That she lustfully pursued Claudius, who seduced her.
What tasks does the Ghost tell Hamlet to undertake? To take his revenge for his mother and put an end to Claudius and Gertrude’s incestuous relationship without hurting his mother or becoming corrupt.
What does Hamlet imply he may decide to do? Kill King Claudius
At the opening of Act 2, Scene I, to where is Polonius sending Reynaldo? Paris
Why does Polonius send Reynaldo on his journey? First to inquire the Danish population therein and their identities and affiliations, but also whether or not they know Laertes. If so, Reynaldo must find out how much they do know.
By what trick is Reynaldo supposed to get information about Laertes? If anyone knows Laertes, Reynaldo is to feign vague acquaintance with him to find out more.
What does Polonius’ covert inspection into his son’s life reveal about his character? Polonius is very manipulative and doesn’t trust his son nor his actions. He’s very deceptive, and his rationale indicates a detachment from reality.
How would you describe the effect of Polonius’s rambling speech to Reynaldo? It sets up a secondary plotline and shows the unhinged mental state of Polonius, which will cause him to become an obstacle to our protagonists.
How does Ophelia describe Hamlet’s appearance to her? He wore no hat, his shirt was unbuttoned to reveal his pale flesh, his stockings were ruined, undone and at his ankles. He looked distraught.
What is Polonius’ conclusion about Hamlet? He concludes that Hamlet must be in love with her and his behavior was induced by the ignorance of his letters to Ophelia.
At the beginning of Act 2, Scene II, for whom has Claudius sent? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Why has Claudius sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? He sent for them to stay in the castle, figuring that since they are Hamlet’s age and they know how to relate, they will distract him and get him to enjoy himself.
What news do Voltimand and Cornelius bring back from Norway? They disclose that while the King believed Fortinbras to be plotting against Poland, it was instead against Claudius and has since order his quick arrest. Fortinbras swore to never attack Denmark again.
What request does Norway make of Claudius? He asks that Claudius grant Fortinbras passage through Denmark to infiltrate Poland.
What is humorously ironic about Polonius saying, “Brevity is the soul of with”? He is saying that the essence of wisdom is to speak little, however Polonius tends to give long, superfluous speeches.
What plan is formed to test Polonius’ hypothesis that Hamlet is mad from rejected love? He plans to intercept their love letters and write new, more vulgar ones to defile their relationship.
Hamlet calls Polonius a “fishmonger”. Why? He feels that fishmongers symbolize good men and that good men are thus out of a thousand, the most common.
What does Polonius say about the contrast between madness and sanity? There’s a method to madness.
Why does Hamlet tell Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that “Denmark’s a prison”? Hamlet feels oppressed and burdened in the court of Denmark.
What reason does Hamlet give to his friends for his current condition? He has bad dreams.
According to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, why are the players traveling? They have come to entertain Hamlet after being forced out of the city by the children’s troupe.
Hamlet realizes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern cannot be trusted. What does he let them know? He’s only “crazy” sometimes, to deceive the Royals.
Why does Hamlet call Polonius “Jephthah”? Jephthah is a biblical character who sacrifices his daughter, similar to how Polonius is willing to sacrifice his daughter’s happiness for his own agenda.
Hamlet and the First Player recite lines from a play. This play tells how Pyrrhus slays the Trojan King Priam to avenge his father’s murder. How is Hamlet like Pyrrhus? How is he unlike Pyrrhus? While both Hamlet and Pyrrhus hold rage and murder in their hearts and are intent on patricide, Pyrrhus is depicted as more savage and brutish. In addition, Pyrrhus is a warrior while Hamlet is a student and prince.
What two questions does Hamlet ask the First Player? He asks if the troupe could perform “The Murder of Gonzago” the following night, and asks if they could learn an extra speech to put in the show.
What causes Hamlet to exclaim, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”? The nature of his plot makes him feel cruel and debase.
What plan does Hamlet devise? He plans to have the troupe act out a scene similar to his father’s murder in hopes that Claudius, taken by guilt, will confess.
Why does Hamlet feel he must have evidence of Claudius’s guilt? The Ghost could’ve been an evil or trickster spirit, intent on chaos and deception.
In thinking about Act 2, list examples of one or more characters spying on another character. Polonius spies on Laertes via Reynaldo, Claudius spies on Hamlet via Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Make a list of character traits Hamlet possesses, as seen in Acts 1 and 2. Deceptive, rash, emotional, aggressive, desperate, creative, grudging, noble, smart, whiney, humorous, tenacious, respectful, observant and irritating.
What do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report to Polonius? They report that he says he’s confused but doesn’t say why he’s acting so bizarrely. He, furthermore, was duplicitously elusive when met with questions and seemed aloof and odd.
How does Claudius react when Polonius says, “…with devotion’s visage, And pious action we do sugar o’er/ The Devil himself'”? Claudius begins feeling guilty about his own vile deeds.
What plan do Polonius, Claudius and Ophelia now put into action? They’ve arranged for Hamlet to encounter Ophelia, during which they will watch in secret to see if love is the source of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
What is the nature of Hamlet’s soliloquy? He’s contemplating the concept of suicide.
What is Hamlet’s main argument against suicide? Fear of the unknown
Why does Hamlet treat Ophelia as cruelly as he does? What has changed him? He’s projecting his rage for his mother onto Ophelia, and he knows she’s lying to him and spying for her father.
What thinly veiled threat to Claudius does Hamlet voice, after he becomes aware of his presence? He alludes to an intent to kill Claudius and/or his mother.
At the end of Act 3, Scene I, what does the King decide to do with Hamlet? Claudius plans to send him away to England to collect their debt and to refresh Hamlet’s mind and outlook.
What qualities in Horatio cause Hamlet to enlist his assistance? Hamlet ascribes Horatio with the qualities of charm and the ability to humble accept all things in life, rationality and passion and in control of his own life.
What does Hamlet ask Horatio to do? To watch Claudius closely during the play for some reaction of guilt or fear.
Summarize what happen in the play-within-a-play. The Queen seduces the king, who woos her until he falls asleep. She departs and another man appears and pours poison into the King’s ear and takes his crown. He then woos the Queen who, though renascent, relents to his advances.
Why does Hamlet refer to the play-within-a-play as “The Mouse Trap”? Its his intent to use the play to elicit proof of Claudius’ guilt.
What is the King’s reaction to the play? Claudius panics, orders the play to stop and exists quickly.
To what object does Hamlet compare himself? Why? A recorder, claiming that to play it is as easy as lying and therefore Guildenstern should play it as easily as he “played” Hamlet.
As Hamlet goes to his mother at the end of Act 3, Scene II, what does he admonish himself to do? To be cruel but not inhuman: to accost his mother by mouth but do her no bodily harm.
What does Claudius ask Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to do? He bids them prepare for their journey as he’s sending them and Hamlet to England on diplomatic business.
What do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern say in support of Claudius? They state it is their sacred duty to serve his will.
What does Claudius find nearly impossible to do? Pray.
Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius when he discovers him in an attitude of prayer? He concedes that to kill him when he is confessing and absolving his sins would only be to do him a favor by sending him to Heaven. He resolves to wait until the King is wrought with sin.
What does Polonius urge the Queen to do? He urges her to yell at Hamlet and make it clear his behavior is a nuisance, and to be blunt.
Under what misapprehension does Hamlet slay Polonius? Hamlet hears Polonius from behind the tapestry and attacks thinking him to be Claudius.
Why does the Ghost appear to Hamlet again? The Ghost seeks to catalyze Hamlet’s desire for revenge by urging him to talk to his mother.
What does Hamlet ask of his mother? Hamlet urges his mother to keep the secret of his sanity.
The climax is the turning point in a story or play when the action changes course and begins to resolve itself. It is generally agreed that the climax of Hamlet occurs in Act 3. When does this occur? The climax of Hamlet spans from when the King’s guilt consumes him during the play until Polonius’ murder.
Who explains the death of Polonius to the King? Does she give an accurate account? Why or why not? Gertrude explains Polonius’ death to Claudius step by step, omitting only Hamlet’s wrath towards her and the details of his hallucination.
Quote the lines in which Claudius says that Hamlet’s killing of Polonius must be sanctioned and excused. “O Gertrude, come away! The sun no sooner shall the mountains touch but we will ship him hence, and this vile deed we must, with all our majesty and skill, both countenance and excuse.”
At the end of Act 4, Scene I, what does Claudius do? He instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet and bring Polonius’ body to the Chapel. He then takes Gertrude to seek counsel.
What insult does Hamlet have for Rosencrantz and why is this term fitting? He calls him a sponge, fitting as Rosencrantz soaks up the King’s favor and reward and is ready to be wrung out when the King needs him for something again.
What does Claudius say the public thinks of Hamlet? Claudius says that the public adores Hamlet and as such will count the severity of punishment instead of that of the crime.
Where does Hamlet tell Claudius that Polonius is? Hamlet describes the location of Polonius in three ways: at dinner (referencing the feast of maggots upon cadavers), in Heaven and lastly up the stairs and in the lobby.
At the end of Act 4, Scene III, what does the King admit is in store for Hamlet in England? The King has made arrangements with the King of England to have Hamlet killed.
What character do you meet for the first time in Act 4, Scene IV? Fortinbras
What previous knowledge do the events in Act 4, Scene IV point back to? The pact of peace between Fortinbras and Claudius
Where does the Captain tell Hamlet the army is going and for what purpose? The Captain elaborates that the army is being lead by Fortinbras to invade Poland.
In the soliloquy what does Hamlet resolve? Hamlet seeming gives into his darker nature and resolves to stop delaying in his vengeance.
What has happened to Ophelia since we last saw her? She’s gone mad.
Why is Gertrude so concerned with what Ophelia is saying in her mad ravings? Gertrude finds herself so guilty that she worries it may be an omen of disaster to come.
List the items which the King relates as a summary of the unfortunate happenings to date. Claudius lists Polonius’ death, Hamlet’s removal from the court, the outcry of the people, Ophelia’s loss of sanity and Laertes’ return from France in consort with those who mislead him.
How does Ophelia act before the King and Queen? Ophelia speaks nonsense and song, acting in lunacy and disarray.
How does Laertes make his entrance? Laertes bursts the gate with an angry mob and demands his father.
How does the King handle the angry Laertes? He inquires of his rebelliousness calmly and without fear, claiming God protects the King from harm and treachery.
How does Laertes’ reaction to the death of his father compare to that of Hamlet? While Hamlet fell to pieces into madness, Laertes flies into a vengeful fury.
What does the King tell Laertes he will do if Laertes finds the King at fault? In such a case he agrees to give him all things of value, including his kingdom, crown and life.
Why is Laertees upset by the manner of Polonius’ burial? Due to the murder and disposal of his body, Polonius was given no military nor funerary rites, no noble rights nor formal ceremony.
What significant news does Horatio receive? Horatio discovers via letter that Hamlet was taken by pirates.
Why does the King say he has not acted against Hamlet for his crime of killing Polonius? The King did not take action against Hamlet for his crimes not only to spare his mother of heartache but because despite Hamlet’s crimes the public will always adore him.
What significant news does the King receive via messenger while talking to Laertes? The King receives a letter seemingly from Hamlet stating that upon the subsequent day he’d apologize and see the King to tell him of how he came to be back in Denmark.
How does the King begin to use Laertes’ rage to his advantage? He exploits Laertes’ thirst for vengeance, nurturing it and guiding Laertes to kill Hamlet, making his death seem like and accident and keeping his own hands clean.
What skill does Laertes have that the King knows Hamlet envies? Fencing
How do the King and Laertes plot to use this knowledge against Hamlet? They will use the renown of Laertes’ fencing skill to garner contest, during which they will duel and Laertes will kill Hamlet with the sharpest of blades, dipped in poison.
Quote one line that show the King testing Laertes’ desire/drive for revenge? “Laertes, did you love your father? Or is your grief just an illusion- a mere painting of sorrow?”
How will Laertes and the King insure Hamlet’s death in their plot? They will poison the drink they keep at the ready in case Hamlet tires or thirsts, or if he wins.
What does the Queen report to the King and Laertes at the end of Act 4 Scene VII? Ophelia has drowned herself.
Why is Hamlet unsettled by the Gravedigger’s singing? He’s singing while digging a grave.
What does Hamlet realize while he ponders the skull of Yorick? Hamlet realizes that death itself is inevitable to all men born, even for himself, Horatio and Ophelia.
What is the significance of the Gravedigger scene? While Hamlet banters with the Gravedigger and begins to contemplate death as an enlarged and unavoidable force, it is through this medium that he witnesses the funeral procession and learns of Ophelia’s death, which sets up the final confrontation of the play.
What does Hamlet observe about Ophelia’s funeral procession before he knows the identity of the person to be buried? He notices the funeral procession is fairly small, indicating the person took their own life, and he surmises the wealth of the deceased’s family.
What feelings do Laertes, Gertrude and Hamlet reveal about Ophelia? Laertes is in a sorrowful anger over Ophelia’s denial of a proper burial. Laertes’ idolization of his sister can be here seen, but to an unnervingly incestuous degree. It is revealed that Gertrude truly cared for Ophelia, hoping to have been her mother-in-law one day. Hamlet claims his love and grief is the greatest of all.
How does Hamlet feel about Laertes? There’s obviously a great deal of general loathing and animosity between the two. Hamlet finds Laertes’ boastings of grief to be a pretentious display but most of all they seem to be in war about who loves Ophelia more.
What role does Hamlet assign to heaven in the lives of individuals? Hamlet describes God’s role as guiding us in life towards the right direction.
Why doesn’t Hamlet feel remorse for arranging the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? He views them as collateral damage of the war between himself and Claudius.
What comment does Horatio make about Claudius? He admires/remarks on Claudius’ capacity as a King and for evil (“Why, what a king is this!”).
How does Hamlet summarize all the wrongs that Claudius has done him? Hamlet lists Claudius’ sins, describing his treasonous murder of the King Hamlet, defilement of Gertrude, theft of the crown that rightfully was Hamlet’s and plotted to murder him.
What conclusion does Hamlet reach about the nature of death right before the sword fight scene? The result will occur as predestined by God and that the hour of death shall come sooner or later as preordained. Hamlet further concludes that since someone doesn’t know what they leave behind, it doesn’t matter when they die, young or old.
How is Laertes a foil of Hamlet? Laertes begins by foiling Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, demonstrating his control, doubt and chauvinism how much Hamlet loves Ophelia. After Hamlet slays Polonius, Laertes finds himself in Hamlet’s situation, but unlike Hamlet who wallowed in grief, Laertes immediately jumps to vengeful action. Laertes is very rash, raising an army to storm the castle without asking questions until the deed’s fruition, contrasting Hamlet’s own rational calculations and precaution before taking action.
When does Laertes realize that he has been used by Claudius? How does he assess his own death? Shortly after the collapse of Gertrude, Osiric inquires as to how Laertes feels to which he realizes that he’s been cut by the baneful blade, collapsing. He realizes the King’s hand in everything leading up to this moment and takes responsibility for his own hand in his death.
How does Claudius die? How is his death fitting? Hamlet stabs Claudius with the poisoned blade and forces him to drink the poisoned drink, thus Claudius dies by his own infernal machinations.