Act I sc. 1
-The opening scene in a Shakespearian play is of the greatest
dramatic importance. It must provide enough information to enable
the audience to understand the situation.
-The opening scene must also create interest; interest may be
created by means of atmosphere.
1. How is interest created in this opening scene?
2. What information are we given to help us understand the
3. What happens at the end of the scene to create suspense and
keep up the reader's interest?
4a. Describe the prevailing atmosphere in this scene.
4b. Explain how this atmosphere is created?
5. What reasons are suggested by Horatio for the appearance of
the late King's ghost?
-This scene provides us with more information and creates further
-The scene is divided into three main sections: the first deals
with Claudius, the second with Hamlet's first soliloquy, the
third with Horatio's report to Hamlet.
1. How does Claudius reveal himself as a capable monarch in this
2. What do you think Hamlet is doing on stage while the King speaks to his subjects? Explain.
3. What qualities of Hamlet's character are brought out by his
first words in the play?
4. What does the Queen's opening speech reveal about her
5. Explain the bitter irony of Hamlet's reply to his mother, "Ay,
madam, it is common."
6. Rewrite Hamlet's soliloquy in modern day English.
7. How is suspense created at the end of this scene?
1. What is the purpose of this scene? What plot information is
-The contrast, on the one hand between Hamlet and his friends
tensely awaiting the appearance of the Ghost and, on the other
hand the roistering of Claudius, is very sharp and dramatic.
1. Show that this scene contains example of contrast, surprise,
2. Marcellus states, "Something is rotten in the state of
Denmark." What is the significance of this quotation?
-This scene is of primary importance in the development of the
plot, for it is here that Hamlet is made aware for the first time
that his Uncle Claudius is the murderer of the late King.
1a. State the substance of the Ghost's revelation to Hamlet.
1b. What reasons would Hamlet have for feigning madness?
-"The time is out of joint; O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!
These lines express Hamlet's whole tragedy. He does not doubt
that revenge is his duty, but there is a premonition of doom and
disaster in the couplet.
Summary of Act I
In five skilfully informative and exciting scenes, Shakespeare
has introduce seven important characters including the Ghost. He
has made us aware of the domestic situation in the royal family,
and through the Ghost's revelation he has caused us to realize
that this is to be a play of revenge. Hamlet's plan to feign
madness also creates suspense. In addition, Shakespeare has
established the Fortinbras plot on the international scene with
the dispatch of the ambassadors to Norway. We have also met
Polonius and his family; Laertes departs for Paris but will
return at a later date to play an important part. Hints are
presented with regard to Ophelia and the romantic plot.
1. By reference to the main characters and various plots and
episodes in it, show that Act I provides a sound introduction to
1. How does Hamlet's soliloquy betray his melancholy?
2. What is the effect of Laertes' talk with Ophelia in Scene 3?
3. What is the significance of Polonius' advice to Laertes?
4. In scene 5, why is the ghost's reminder about his descent to
Act II sc.1
-This scene is divided into two parts: Polonius' instructions to
Reynaldo to spy on Laertes and Ophelia's report of Hamlet's
-This scene develops Polonius' character and creates suspense.
1. Describe and account for Hamlet's behaviour to Ophelia as she
reports it to Polonius.
2. What change of mood occurs with Scene 1?
This scene, the longest in the play, develops with masterly skill
to its climax in Hamlet's second soliloquy. The royal couple have
invited Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find out what is
troubling Hamlet. Polonius is sure he knows what is troubling
Hamlet. In his second soliloquy Hamlet blames himself for his
failure to act, but all his energies are caught up in a plan to
present before the King a play that will reproduce the
circumstances of the elder Hamlet's murder.
1a. How does Polonius proceed to prove his theory about the cause of Hamlet's madness?
1b. What plan does he suggest in order to test it?
2. Show that Hamlet's soliloquy contributes to the plot,
characterization, and atmosphere of the play.
Summary of Act II
As act II ends, the conflict between Hamlet and the King is
becoming more sharply defined. Hamlet's madness has aroused the
suspicion of Claudius, but he does not seem as yet unduly
alarmed. His spies, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius are
active, the last with his eavesdropping scheme. Hamlet, knowing
what he knows about the Ghost and his antic disposition, is in a
more favourable position than Claudius in this act. He too has
his scheme, which he hopes will establish his uncle's guilt.
1. Show that Hamlet's supposed madness dominates Act II.
2. What evidence is there of his sanity?
3. "The attitude of Hamlet towards Ophelia is without doubt the
greatest of all puzzles in the play, greater even than that of
the delay itself." Describe the attitude referred to and state
why it is a puzzle.
Act III sc. 1
-Hamlet's soliloquy suggests that despite his plan, he has lost the initiative.
-The King plans to send Hamlet to England.
-Polonius plans once again to spy on Hamlet.
1. With regard to Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be" state
the theme and summarize the content.
2a. Of what dramatic importance (to plot, characterization, and
atmosphere) is Hamlet's interview with Ophelia?
2b. Why is it almost essential to assume either that Hamlet had
overheard Polonius' plans, or that he became aware of the
presence of both men?
-Hamlet establishes Claudius' guilt.
-After the play within the play, his excitement reaches a
feverish pitch of intensity, but as yet there is no plan of
1. Why may the establishment of Claudius' guilt be considered the
crisis of the revenge plot?
-Claudius takes steps to send Hamlet out of the country.
-The most absorbing aspect of the scene, however, is Hamlet's
failure to take advantage of his opportunity.
1. Which may be regarded as the more logical crisis of the play:
the King's revelation of his guilt in the preceding scene, or
Hamlet's failure to kill him in this scene?
2a. Explain how Shakespeare creates sympathy for Claudius in this
2b. Of what dramatic importance is this attempt to create
3. How is Polonius' behaviour in this scene consistent with his
4. Analyze Hamlet's reasons for not killing the King as presented
in his speech.
-The murder of Polonius is considered by some critics to be the turning point of the play.
-The appearance of the Ghost emphasizes Hamlet's delay.
-Hamlet's ability to act impulsively is underlined in this scene; his failure to kill the King cannot be blamed merely on his habit of "thinking too precisely on the event".
-Gertrude's affection for her son is brought out here; she
promises to keep his secret and appears much moved by his
1. What effect will the murder of Polonius have on the revenge
2. Why does the ghost appear in this scene?
Summary of Act III
Hamlet's brutal rejection of Ophelia brings out the misogyny that
is poisoning his nature. Hamlet's behaviour, certainly not that
of an irresponsible madman, results in Claudius' decision to send
this dangerous young man to England. Hamlet loses a perfect
opportunity to kill the King. His failure here and his murder of
Polonius give the King the advantage in their conflict. Suspense
is marked at various points in the act, as the tension rises and
falls and rises.
1. Of the three possible crises in Act III, which do you regard
as the turning point of the play?
2. State concisely the importance of each of the following episode:
a)the Nunnery Scene (III i 90-150)
b)the Play Scene (III ii 94-291)
c)the Prayer Scene (III iii 36-98)
d)the Closet Scene (III iv 1-33)
e)the Portrait Scene (III iv 34-217)
Act IV sc. 1
Gertrude reports the murder of Polonius to Claudius, who is mor
than ever determined to get rid of Hamlet at once.
This brief scene shows Hamlet's attitude towards the King's spies
and reveals once more his antic disposition, adopted here to
distract his former schoolfellows
The King is now desperately eager to get rid of Hamlet, whose
life is a threat to Claudius' own. His plan for having Hamlet
murdered on arrival in England is a clever device.
Fortinbras appears once again. This scene provides a dramatic
contrast between a man of action and a man tormented by thought.
One of the insoluble problems of the play is underlined by
Hamlet's anguished cry: "I do not know/Why yet I live to say this
thing's to do,/Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and
1. What points of comparison and contrast are suggested between
Fortinbras and Hamlet?
2. "Some craven scruple/Of thinking too precisely on the event."
Comment on this phrase as providing the reason for Hamlet's
Ophelia is mad. We see a tremendous contrast between Laertes and
Hamlet. Claudius is brave and bold.
The letter from Hamlet to Horatio provides surprise and creates
suspense. The fact that the Prince has returned without the
King's permission will certainly create trouble. Hamlet's account
of his behaviour suggest that when occasion demanded, he could
act with resolution.
Claudius presents a plan to Laertes to get rid of Hamlet. Laertes
finds out that Ophelia is dead and is even more determined to get
revenge. Claudius shows his devious, crafty nature. Ophelia's
untimely end shows how Hamlet's failure to act is responsible for
yet another death.
1. Show that the forces in opposition to Hamlet appear to have
gained the upper hand.
Summary of Act IV
The first five scenes of Act IV present the consequences of the
murder of Polonius: Hamlet's banishment, Ophelia's madness, and
Laertes' return. Hamlet's soliloquy brings out the contrast
between his inaction on the one hand and the energy and
initiative of Fortinbras on the other.
Act V sc. 1
-This is the grave-diggers scene.
1. How does the scene bring out Hamlet's intellectual curiosity
and his speculative powers?
-This scene present the climax and the catastrophe, as well as
the outcome, of the tragedy.
1. How has the moral order prevailed?
2. What does the survival of Fortinbras and Horatio indicate?
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