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					English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                              A.1.1.


Act Five

The Plot (delete where appropriate)

Gravediggers are preparing a grave for Hamlet/Ophelia/Polonius. They
speculate about the possibility that the death was suicide and the chief
gravedigger makes two jokes about the power of death to conquer all. The
second gravedigger leaves to fetch some "liquor", leaving his boss singing a
song about death's victory as he continues digging.

Hamlet and Horatio enter. Hamlet is appalled by the rough treatment that the
bones of the grave's former occupants receive from the gravedigger. He
speculates about the identity of a skull/skeleton/coffin thrown up during the
digging, revealing that his bones "ache" to think of this waste of power and
energy. Hamlet attempts to discover the identity of the person who is to be
buried, but is, uncharacteristically, outsmarted.

Hamlet is handed the skull of Yorick, whose death he mourns and then
proceeds to wonder at the way in which even the greatest of men, such as
Caesar/Anthony/Hannibal, are returned to the earth.

Hamlet and Horatio hide as Ophelia's funeral procession enters. Laertes and
the priest/King/Queen quarrel over the brevity of the service. Gertrude throws
flowers/soil/sweets into the grave which are swiftly followed by the distraught
Laertes. Hamlet realises that Ophelia is dead and reveals his presence,
taunting Laertes to outdo his grief/bravery/wit. Laertes attempts to
throttle/stab/punch Hamlet. They are parted and the King counsels Laertes to
follow the plan they decided upon at the end of Act Four.

Back at the castle, Hamlet tells Horatio about the plot to kill him in England
and how he was able to turn Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's treachery
against them. He credits unthinking/planned/careful action and God's will for
his escape. He is now determined to kill the King, but regrets losing his
patience with Laertes. Osric enters with the offer of a fencing match between
Hamlet and Laertes. Hamlet mocks Osric's pretentious speech and accepts
the challenge. A Lord arrives to ask confirmation of Hamlet's acceptance.

Horatio tells Hamlet he will lose, but the Prince is confident. He has decided
to ignore the troubled feelings he has about the match and trust to
providence. He reflects that being ready for death is all/important/difficult.

The court enter to see the match. Hamlet apologises to Laertes, who says
that his feelings are satisfied though his honour is not. They select swords.
Claudius puts a pearl/ring/medal into the poisoned goblet of wine he has
prepared for Hamlet and puts it on a table.

The fencing match begins and Hamlet wins the first two bouts. Accidentally,
the Queen drinks from the poisoned cup. Laertes stabs Hamlet with his
poisoned and sharpened foil between rounds. They fight and exchange


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swords. Hamlet then stabs Laertes with the sword. The Queen faints and
swiftly dies. Realising that he too is dying, Laertes reveals the plot and the
King's complicity. Hamlet stabs the King and as Claudius dies, forces him to
drink from the poisoned cup. Laertes begs Hamlet's pardon and dies. Hamlet
forgives Laertes and prevents Horatio from killing himself with the remains of
the wine. He wants him to be alive


Fortinbras and the English/Norwegian/French ambassadors enter. They are
shocked by the carnage before them. Horatio promises to explain how it all
happened. Fortinbras says he will take over the throne and sends Hamlet's
body off to a soldier's funeral.


What? Why? How?

1. What do you feel are the point of the gravedigger's riddles and song?

2. In what ways do Hamlet's reactions to the skulls in the graveyard seem to
   suggest a change in his outlook?

3. How old is Hamlet?

4. What does the violent argument between Hamlet and Laertes add to the
   play?

5. What developments in Hamlet's character are presented through the
   story of what happened on the boat? (V.ii.1-62)

6. How do Hamlet's motives in killing Claudius seem to have shifted
   according to his speech beginning 'Does it not, think thee...' (V.ii.63)?

7. What concerns of the play are reinforced in the Osric episode? (V.ii.80-
   170)

8. Why does Hamlet 'defy augury'? (V.ii.192)

9. What does Laertes say is his motive in still resenting Hamlet? How has
   he already lost this? How does this contribute to the presentation of
   revenge in the play? (V.ii.216-223)

10. How might the dying lines of Gertrude, Claudius and Laertes be viewed
    as typical of the way their characters have been presented throughout the
    play?



Stagecraft



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1. What means does Shakespeare use to raise suspense during the
   graveyard scene?

2. What means does Shakespeare use to raise suspense during the fencing
   match?


Language and Imagery

1. In V.ii., Hamlet refers to Claudius as "this canker of our nature". What
   makes this so appropriate?


Themes

1. Which characters view the ending as bloody carnage and which as poetic
   justice? Why such confusion?

2. Who "wins" in Hamlet? How?




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Answers:

Act 1. The Plot (Delete as appropriate)

  Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo encounter the silent apparition on the
  battlements, discuss its possible connection with the threat of invasion from
  the disgruntled Fortinbras and decide to tell Hamlet. Claudius explains his
  motives for marrying Gertrude, allows Laertes to go to France and, together
  with Gertrude, counsels Hamlet to stop mourning and to stay in Denmark.
  Hamlet bewails the state of the world and his mother's frailty ('lust' is also
  ok) and is told of the apparition. Laertes and Polonius counsel Ophelia to
  stop seeing Hamlet. Hamlet, Horatio and the guards encounter the
  apparition and Hamlet follows. It persuades Hamlet to revenge its
  'unnatural' murder. After it leaves, Hamlet swears the others to secrecy and
  reveals his plan to put on an 'antic disposition'


2. What? Why? How?

1. What reasons do Laertes and Polonius give for their command to Ophelia
  to stop seeing Hamlet? Are they reasonable?

  Laertes wants her to stop because Hamlet is a prince who 'may not carve for himself':
  (I,iii,20). Ophelia is too far beneath Hamlet, socially, for their relationship to have any hope
  of surviving. Hamlet is bound to end up in a political marriage to the Princess of Poland or
  somewhere. One possible mistake is to believe that Laertes really believes that Hamlet is
  dallying with her affections following his first speech. Laertes wants her to persuade herself
  that this is the case in order to make it easier for her to drop the prince: 'Think it no more'
  (my emphasis).

  Polonius is far more cynical. He believes his daughter is a 'baby' whom Hamlet intends to
  trap into bed (I,3,101 ff.). The prince's words are those of a man whose blood is burning
  with lust, a lust which 'lends the tongue' the sincere promises Hamlet has made.

  Laertes is probably the more reasonable. At least his worries are based on the fact that
  Hamlet is a prince rather than mere suspicion. But even he, in his offensive warning to
  Ophelia to 'fear' the power of her lust, has a low opinion of the affair (and of women). Both
  men are obsessed by family honour, an important theme in the play, and the preservation
  of Ophelia's 'chaste treasure'. The Hamlet we have met in Act 1, scene 2, doesn't look like
  the sort of man to dally with a young girl's affections, especially considering that he is so
  agonised by his mother's infidelity.



2. What country is Horatio from? What makes it difficult to decide?

  Horatio knows Hamlet from Wittenburg where they were 'school-fellows'. He also knows
  the soldiers. This second fact would suggest that he is from Denmark. However, by scene
  four, he has forgotten Danish customs and Hamlet speaks to him (in his 'to the manner
  born' speech) as though he were a foreigner.

  In truth, it seems that Shakespeare didn't much care about the nitty-gritty details of his
  characters' biographies. He is far more interested in the dramatic structures he creates and
  the possibilities of language. (Later on in the play, at the start of IV.v., Horatio turns up as
  the Queen's counsellor: no explanation is given for this promotion and so we must assume


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  that Horatio is simply to be taken a "wise advisor" type, rather than someone with a real
  biography).

3. What similarities are there in the thoughts contained in each of the
  soliloquies in this act?

  Both contain rage against Gertrude and (secondly) Claudius. Throughout the play, Hamlet
  is far more angry with his mother than the King. Both see the world as contemptible and
  dirty.

The big difference, of course, is that the first soliloquy is filled with apathy and despair,
  whereas the second contains direction, excitement and purpose.



4. The first scene could be (and has been) cut without damaging the
  plot. For what reasons would you wish to include it in a performance?

  The Franco Zefferelli version starring Mel Gibson cuts this scene, along with a lot of other
  stuff. The reason it's OK to do this in a film, but less so in a theatrical production is that in a
  film you can create the atmosphere with a few shots of a misty castle and a funeral
  procession. There's no direct equivalent for that in the theatre: though directors can create
  powerful images in their staging, the main scene setting has to be done with words. This
  was especially true in the theatre Shakespeare was writing for, where there was so very
  little in the way of scenery. Scene One is in the play to do the job of setting the scene and
  atmosphere. Within a few lines we get fear, tension, distrust and mystery. These emotions
  are strengthened throughout the scene. Particularly with the arrival of the enigmatic
  apparition.

5. In what ways is the language spoken by the apparition different to the
  normal language of the play?

I would suggest that there are a couple of differences:

(a) It's more archaic. You may well feel that all the language in the play is old-fashioned, but
   no-one else would be able to say something like 'list, list, oh list' without smirking. Equally
   archaic is the analogy between the figures of Virtue, A Radiant Angel and Lust and his own
   relationship with his 'seeming-virtuous' wife. This quality makes the ghost of the old King
   sound a bit more 'majestical' than the other characters in the play. It also establishes him
   as the product of a bygone medieval world compared to the new scientific, artistic,
   unprincipled and political world typified by Claudius and (to a lesser extent) by Hamlet.

(b) Coupled with this is the fact that it's very ornate. It takes the apparition twice as long to say
   anything than anyone else in the play. Even Polonius at the start of II.ii and Osric in V.i. are
   comparatively laconic. This is partially to reinforce the archaic nature of his discourse. It
   also means we can focus on Hamlet's reactions to what it is saying without fear of missing
   much. Lastly, in the case of the lengthy descriptions of the poisoning and of what would
   happen to Hamlet if he were told of Purgatory, it creates an evocative visual image.

6. What signs are we given of a potential for madness on Hamlet's part?

  In his first soliloquy he says he would commit suicide (self-slaughter) were it not for God's
  decree against it (I,ii,131). The remainder of the soliloquy conveys contradictory, but equally
  strong emotions of ennui, melancholy and violent disgust. He follows the spirit because he
  doesn't care if it kills him should it turn out to be a devil. Following his meeting with the
  spirit, he is almost hysterical, torn between his desire to tell Horatio and his (perverse) need
  to keep it a secret: 'wild and whirling words' indeed. Lastly, his plan to pretend to be mad is
  completely unexplained (I,v,170). What is he up to? We must assume that he thinks that if

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  anyone sees him acting suspiciously, hulking a sword to Claudius' chamber, for example,
  people will say: 'oh, don't worry: that's Hamlet: he's mad'. This is a 'mad' plan (the play is
  full of crap plans). My own feeling is that Hamlet pretends to be mad in order to express
  and hopefully contain his violent emotions without being deemed deliberately offensive
  (“antic disposition”, I, v, 170). Remember that at the end of his first soliloquy, Hamlet says
  'But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue' (I, ii,159). Madness allows him to not 'hold
  his tongue', and so avoid the heartbreak.

7. How does Claudius attempt to establish his popularity in the second
  scene?

  Claudius is an oily, clever politician. His opening speech reminds his counsellors that he
  sought their valuable advice before marrying Gertrude and thanks them for this (I,ii,1ff.).

  He then goes on to court Laertes, naming him four times in eight lines and insisting that
  whatever he wants will be his. This is because, supposedly, Claudius needs Laertes' father,
  Polonius, as much as the mouth needs the hand in order to be fed.

  Lastly, and least successfully, he attempts to placate Hamlet, naming him his son and 'the
  most immediate to the throne'. Hamlet is not, however, in a mood to be placated and the
  King's sensitivity to this little act of rebellion makes him insult the prince as irreligious,
  immature and foolish.

8. How can we tell Denmark is a Catholic country? Find TWO references
  which help to suggest this.

  The apparition claims to be in purgatory, rather than heaven or hell. This third option, for
  those who have sinned 'a bit', allows the soul to burn off the 'foul crimes' done when it was
  alive before ascending to heaven (I,v,11).

  A second, related Catholic link is in the apparition's despair at having died without the Last
  Rites, 'Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled / No reckoning made' (I,v,77).

  A last point is that Denmark was, historically, a Catholic country when the play was set.

  I think that this Catholic setting is important to the play. Hamlet, following the Catholic
  doctrine of Original Sin, is convinced that we are all sinful ('treat every man after his desert
  and who shall 'scape whipping?' he asks in Act II, scene ii). This belief may be read as
  compromising his ability to revenge, I think. If no-one has the moral upper-hand, if we're all
  sinful, how can one person be the judge of another? At any rate, Hamlet's Catholic
  background contributes to the stresses on his sanity and fear of damnation.



9. How did Old Hamlet tackle foreign policy, and how does this contrast
  with Claudius?

  (I,1,60ff.) Old Hamlet tackled foreign policy with a big stick. In the opening scene, we learn
  of his single combat to the death with the ex-King of Norway, Old Fortinbras, in a wager in
  which the loser lost both his life and his lands. Secondly, we are told of how he 'smote the
  sledded Polacks on the ice' (killing the Polish is a favourite pastime for warriors in this play).
  The ghost's appearance in armour signifies that he is at war with Claudius, and more
  generally that he remains a warrior-king.

  This contrasts strongly with Claudius whose approach is entirely political. Upon learning of
  the threat of invasion from Young Fortinbras he secretly stocks up on weapons without
  telling anyone why (I,i,70;80). Then he marries the ex-Queen in order to create an
  impression of national unity and consistency with the previous reign (I,ii,6) (though this


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  marriage was his plan in any case, see III.iii, 54; I,v,11 ff.). Lastly, he sends a letter to the
  King of Norway to complain about his nephew's activities (I,ii,28).

  This contrast helps to characterise the two men as personalities: warlike/honourable vs.
  scheming/clever. It also aligns them to different historical periods: Old Hamlet belongs to
  the medieval age of knights and chivalry; Claudius belongs to the modern age of politics,
  expediency and diplomacy.


10. What does Hamlet believe about his father's death before he meets
  the apparition?

  He's already pretty certain that dad's death was no accident and has strong suspicions as
  to the culprit. At the end of scene two, he is sure that the ghost has come to tell him of the
  true circumstances of his death: 'foul deeds will rise'.

  Then, when he's told that Claudius killed his dad, he says: 'Oh my prophetic soul! My
  uncle!' (I,v,41). If you've got a 'prophetic' soul, it means that it is capable of foreseeing the
  future. He already believed that Claudius murdered his dad.

  The apparition tells Hamlet almost exactly what he wants to hear. This is what, at the end of
  Act Two, makes Hamlet suspicious that it might be a devil trying to trick him into committing
  a murder. It might make us, the audience, suspicious too.



3. Stagecraft

1. How does Shakespeare create tension in the first scene? How does
  he surprise us? How does he mislead us?
  Sets scene and atmosphere: fear, distrust, mystery (Apparition)

  Tension is created through the nervousness of the guards and their ignorance about what
  is going on. It is increased through the enigmatic appearances of the silent ghost and the
  revelations that the country may soon be invaded.

  It is surprising that the Ghost should appear twice. Its first appearance is expected from the
  moment it is mentioned, but no-one would guess that it would appear again only a few
  minutes after leaving the stage.

  This scene misleads us as to what kind of play 'Hamlet' is. On the basis of the first scene,
  most members of the audience would suppose a political play about wars and so forth
  and/or a supernatural play. Though both these elements have their part in 'Hamlet', it is
  hardly its main thrust.



2. How does Shakespeare invite us to compare and contrast Hamlet
  with Laertes and Fortinbras?

  They are introduced in the same way in Act One, scene two. Claudius deals with Young
  Fortinbras, then with Young Laertes and finally with Young Hamlet. All three are going
  abroad or trying to go abroad.

  As the play progresses, these parallels increase: all end up with dead fathers and pursue
  some act of revenge. Hamlet and Fortinbras are both nephews to their country's king and
  are deflected from their plans by being sent to another country. Hamlet and Laertes both
  pursue their revenge to its bitter end and die by the same means.


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  'Hamlet' has a 'three little pigs' moral. If you pursue revenge then you will end up getting
  stabbed with a poisoned sword. If you give it up, you can expect to become King of
  Denmark.

3. How does Shakespeare create tension in the second scene?

  There are two points here. First, Hamlet's continued mourning in the face of the King's
  command to stop and his little rebellions over being called the King's son and being forced
  to stay in Denmark.

  A second source of suspence is the news of the ghost and Hamlet's contagiously eager
  anticipation of its message.

4. Imagery and Symbolism

1. Find TWO references to disease or decay.

  The canker galls the infants of the spring (I,iii,39).
  'Tis an unweeded garden. Things rank and gross in nature consume it merely". (I.ii, 135)

  "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark". (I.iv,90), see also I, ii,256)

  "Leprous distilment ... lazarlike" (I.v,64,72)

  Decay and disease are strong images of corruption and sin in the play. Each of the major
  characters use them as the play progresses. The idea is that Claudius is like a cancer (or
  'canker' (V.i)) who is invisibly destroying Denmark from within. He corrupts others or they
  allow themselves to become corrupted.



5. Themes

1. The ghost comes in 'questionable shape'. Find THREE references to
  the idea that it may not be what it seems.

Bernardo: "In the same shape like the King that's dead". (I.i, 41)

Bernardo: "Looks a not like the King?" (I.i,43)

"Our last king / Whose image even but now appeared to us". (I.i)

"questionable shape". (I.iv,43)

"And there assume some other horrible form". (I.iv,73)

Be though spirit of health, or goblin damned (I,iv,40).

It's only Hamlet who thinks its the ghost of his dead father. Everyone else suspects that it may
    well be a demon in the form of the dead king (I.v.137-139).



2. Find THREE other references to characters not being what they seem.

  "Seems, Madam? Nay I know not seems". (I.ii, 76, 83)


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  "... she would hang upon him / As if increase of appetite had grown / By what it fed on".
  (I.ii.143)

  "Give thy thoughts no tongue..." (I.iii, 60)

  "Think yourself a baby / That you have tane these tenders for true pay / Which are not
  sterling". (I.iii)

  "... my most seeming virtuous queen". (I.v.46)

  "one may smile and smile and be a villain". (I.v.107)

  Hamlet’s “antic disposition” (I.v.170)

  As is often the case in Shakespeare's plays, there is a strong theme of appearances being
  at odds with reality. Denmark is consumed by hidden corruption, spies and trickery. This
  atmosphere intensifies as the play proceeds.

3. The prince must decide whether and how to act according to his dead
  father's wishes. Find THREE references to remembering or forgetting.

  "we must with wisest sorrow think on him / Together with remembrance of ourselves".
  (I.ii.6)

  "Good Hamlet cast thy nighted colour off" (I.ii.68)

  "We pray you throw to earth / This unprevailing woe" (I.ii.106-107)

  "Must I remember?" (I.ii.143)

  "Remember thee? Ay thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat / In this distracted
  globe". (I.v.96-97)

  Roughly, Claudius and Gertrude (with good reason) want everyone to forget. Hamlet wants
  everyone to remember. Both points of view have some validity.

4. The play suggests that our lives may be controlled by a divine power.
  Find THREE references to Fate or Providence.

"all that lives must die" (I.ii.72)

"Foul deeds will rise / Though all the earth o'erwhelm them to men's eyes". (I.ii.257)

"My fate cries out..." (I.iv.81)

"Heaven will direct it". (I.iv.90, 186)




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Act Two Answers

The Plot (Delete as appropriate)
Polonius dispatches Reynaldo to spy on Laertes in Paris by indirect means, using a 'bait of
falsehood' to discover the truth. Ophelia enters in a panic, reports that Hamlet, in a distracted
state, has visited her while she was sewing in her closet. Both are convinced that Hamlet is
'mad for [Ophelia's] love' and decide to tell the king.

Claudius enlists the help of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's friends from Wittenburg
('Denmark' is also acceptable: we are told they are Hamlet's schoolfellows and that he's been
brought up with them since early youth), to discover the cause of Hamlet's madness. Polonius
introduces the ambassadors returned from Norway who have succeeded in alerting the King
of Norway to his nephew's behaviour. Fortinbras is now to prove himself against the Poles.
Polonius then explains his discovery of the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet, his
honourable motives for stopping it and Hamlet's subsequent decline into madness. He reads
a letter he has been given from Hamlet to Ophelia to prove his case.

Hamlet enters reading a book about old men, and the court disappears to allow Polonius to try
to draw out the prince. Hamlet acts as though he is insane and his remarks encourage
Polonius in his beliefs about Hamlet's madness. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a go at
finding out the reasons for Hamlet's madness, suggesting he is ambitious. Hamlet denies this,
tells them he is melancholy but does not know why, and quickly detects his erstwhile friends'
duplicity. The conversation is diverted onto the topic of the Players who are about to arrive in
Elsinore. Polonius re-enters to introduce them and Hamlet calls for a passionate speech. The
sad tale of Priam's death at the hands of Pyrrhus and Hecuba's woe reduces the actor who
recites the speech to tears.

In his third soliloquy Hamlet bemoans his lack of passion in comparison to the player, tries to
stimulate his feelings through passionate speech and berates himself for having done so. He
then decides to put on a play: all that has stopped him, he suggests has been the possibility
that the ghost may be a devil. A play depicting his father's death may move Claudius to
confession, or at least look guilty. With this evidence, Hamlet will 'know [his] course'.

What? Why? How?

1. In what ways is the Pyrrhus character similar to Hamlet? and to Claudius?
(II,ii.415-511).

Pyrrhus resembles Hamlet in that his mission is to kill a king in revenge for his father's death.
(Pyrrhus' father was Achilles who famously died from an arrow wound in the ankle). He also
resembles Claudius in that he is the murderer of the rightful king of Troy.

This double application of the Pyrrhus story to that of 'Hamlet' is intriguing and confusing.

On the one hand, if Pyrrhus' actions are supposed to be a representation of Claudius' crime,
then Hamlet may want the speech in order to stir up his feelings of pity for his father and
hatred for Claudius. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Hamlet bewails his lack of
passion in the soliloquy which immediately follows this section.

On the other hand if we take Pyrrhus to represent Hamlet, then the prince may want the
speech in order to be inspired by it. He may want to become the cold-blooded, conscienceless
killer that Pyrrhus is presented as. This would be for similar reasons as the first interpretation:
he feels he is making no headway in his bid for revenge and that his strong feelings have
ebbed away.

Fans of the idea that Hamlet is a doubter who is troubled by his conscience may read this
section in a third or fourth way. Pyrrhus is presented as 'hellish', a terminator without remorse


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or pity. Hamlet wants the speech because he is dubious about the morality of revenge and the
speeches' portrayal of Pyrrhus helps him to confirm these doubts in his mind. Alternatively, he
may remember the speech well (as indeed he seems to) and have realised that the Pyrrhus
figure resembles both himself and Claudius. He may feel that to take revenge would reduce
him to Claudius' level. His call for this speech helps him confirm his doubts about his task of
revenge.

It is impossible to be sure of a true interpretation here. I personally favour the first because it
is supported both in the way Pyrrhus is portrayed and in the way it tallies with the feelings in
the soliloquy which follows. The second two readings, which suggest that he wants the
speech in order to explore or confirm his doubts about revenge, depend upon an assumption
that Hamlet doubts the morality of revenge. People who favour this reading of the Prince often
want to see the prince as thoroughly noble.

A slightly more sophisticated reading of this section is also possible, which takes account of
the idea that the difficulty in deciding whether Pyrrhus more resembles Hamlet or Claudius.
The play may well br inviting us to see Pyrrhus as similar to both Hamlet and Claudius. This
line of reasoning would suggest that Hamlet and Claudius are both like Pyrrhus. Both would
take the law into their own hands to achieve their aims. The revenger becomes the mirror of
his enemy. It is not unreasonable to combine this sort of reading with any of the above
explanations. The play invites different understandings which can be held simultaneously. The
search for a meaning is usually pretty futile in Shakespeare.

2. How might the answer to (1) above help to explain Hamlet's desire to
be reminded of this speech 'in particular'?

I hope that the previous answer does enough to cover this point. Briefly,
either:
(a) he wants to be worked up to act like Pyrrhus; or
(b) he wants to be worked up to kill the Pyrrhus in his own plot (i.e. Claudius);
or (c) he wants to explore his doubts about revenge.
 I personally prefer the second explanation


3. How might we connect the content of Hamlet's supposedly crazy
remarks to Polonius to what the prince is actually feeling? (II.ii.170-215)

These lines are obviously pretty bizarre and can, again, be interpreted in more than one way. I
think that the thing to watch out for is Hamlet's fear of and fascination with death and his
repulsion from sex. This attitude towards death has been present since the start of the play,
but his mission to kill Claudius, a mission which will quite possibly result in his own death is
likely to have made death far more of a real concern to the prince, less of an academic
interest.

The 'Fishmonger' line at II.ii.172 has got nothing to do with death or sex, though. With this
greeting, Hamlet is telling Polonius he is mad. He no longer speaks the 'proper' decorous
language of the court ('y'are' instead of 'you are') and does not recognise people. The idea of
Polonius as a fishmonger is simply 'wacky'. You may come across the ingenious interpretation
that 'fishmonger' is Elizabethan slang for a pimp. Unfortunately, 'juicy' though this theory is, it
hasn't really been adequately proven.

Then Hamlet talks about the lack of honesty (honour) in the world, simultaneously insulting
Polonius with the suggestion that he is not as honourable as a fishmonger. This quite clearly
follows Hamlet's own opinion, recalling his observation that the world is like an "unweeded
garden" in I.ii.



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The question 'For if the sun ... a daughter?' (179) seems calculated to feed Polonius' fears.
Hamlet knows how wary Polonius is about his daughter's chastity from hard experience. Here
he seems to imply that the 'son' (himself) may breed with Polonius' daughter. The line is also
an image of death, decay and unlicensed breeding which might again recall Hamlet's
impression that the world is an 'unweeded garden' from the first soliloquy (I.ii.135).

Hamlet then tells Polonius not to let his daughter out, since she may become pregnant
(conceive a child) with the 'sun' (son) if she does so. This is another line which seems to be
intended to increase Polonius' fears about his daughter's chastity. It is also another image of
unlicensed "breeding".

Determined to draw Hamlet out, Polonius asks about the book he is reading. This allows
Hamlet to insult Polonius again and to annoy him with his contrary misinterpretations of the
latter's questions.

Finally, Hamlet suggests that Polonius would lead him into his grave and refuses him his life,
two lines which suggest Hamlet's awareness that his mission may be the death of him.


4. Name FIVE different characteristics of Polonius that can be proven on
the basis of this act. (see also II,i.40-165)

There are plenty of possibilities here, most of them negative, including:

•Suspicious: Polonius believes that it is likely that his son is up to no good in Paris, hence his
plan to find out the truth through his agent, Reynaldo (II.i. 4ff.).
•Forgetful: Polonius forgets his plan to trap his son halfway thorough explaining it to
Reynaldo. (II.i.49-50)
•Servile: Polonius is terrified by the King, leading to his longwindedness at the start of II.ii.43
when he tries to explain away the fact that he has (he believes) driven the King's nephew
mad.
•Gullible: Polonius is completely taken in by Hamlet's act of madness when he attempts to
'board' him in the second part of II.ii.130-155; II.2.87 ff.; II.ii,43)
•Arrogant: Polonius believes himself to be a genius. He is extremely proud of his plan to
entrap his son in II.i. and his plan to ensnare Hamlet in II.ii. by spying on a meeting between
the prince and his daughter (II.ii.152-153, 164, 208).
•Callous: Polonius is perfectly happy to expose his daughter to the 'mad' prince in order to
curry favour with the King. He even uses the word 'loose', saying 'I'll loose my daughter to
him'. This expression would only usually be used in an agricultural context, as in loosing a cow
to a bull. Its use here may suggest that he expects Ophelia to be sexually assaulted by
Hamlet (II.ii.162)



5. Why might one suspect that Hamlet's theory that the ghost may be
devil is not what has actually stopped him from taking action?

When Hamlet says that he thinks the ghost that he has seen 'may be a devil' in the last lines
of this act, the audience may be justifiably surprised. Nowhere previously in the act has
Hamlet doubted the ghost's words or identity. In a way, it is convenient for Hamlet to believe
that the ghost is a devil. In the soliloquy at the end of II.ii., Hamlet has been criticising himself
for failing to take action against the King. He is disgusted that the player manages to summon
up more feeling for the fictional sorrow of Hecuba than he himself is able to summon for the
real death of his father. All of a sudden, he suggests that the ghost may be a devil. This gets
him out of his problem. Now, it is sensible not to have killed Claudius, rather than cowardly.
The devil might be trying to get Hamlet to commit a mortal sin in order to win his soul. Isn't it
essential, he suggests, to obtain certain proof of the King's guilt before he proceeds?



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This explanation helps to explain the suddenness of Hamlet's doubt. But it is by no means
flawless. First, these words are spoken in soliloquy. In soliloquies, according to Elizabethan
custom, characters do not lie. They offer immediate access to the character's world view. This
does not mean that characters cannot be attempting to justify themselves to the audience, but
they do not lie about their feelings. Second, this explanation seems to depend on the common
assumption that Hamlet does not want to kill Claudius, which would be very difficult to prove. I
can believe that he doesn't want to die and that he doesn't want to go to hell, and both of
these can be easily proven. But there is no proof that Hamlet doesn't want to kill the king or
that he doesn't accept this as his duty.



6. What reasons for not acting are suggested by Hamlet himself?

Hamlet says to Polonius: 'Use every man after his desert and who shall 'scape whipping'
(II.ii.485). This is a casual remark and is in part an insult to Polonius, suggesting that if he
were treated according to what he deserves then he would be whipped. However, it may
contain more possibilities. It is a remark which brings to mind Hamlet's religious views and the
doctrine of Original Sin. For Hamlet, we've all got it coming. How can you be a revenger with
beliefs like this? To be a successful revenger, you have to believe that you have got the moral
higher ground; you have to believe you are better than your enemy. Hamlet thinks we're all
sinful. How, then, can he be the judge of another? However, this is something of a
"throwaway" comment and though it certainly reflects Hamlet's background and education, it
may not provide an accurate measure of his attitude towards his task.

In his soliloquy at the end of the act, Hamlet accuses himself of lacking the strong feelings
required of a revenger. He also accuses himself of cowardice. The first of these explanations
seems plausible. Hamlet's hatred of Claudius seems to have more to do with the fact that he
married his mother than that he murdered his father. Hamlet feels contempt towards
Claudius, certainly, but does he hate him enough to kill him. Additionally, Hamlet's feelings for
his father are far from simple. Whenever he speaks about him, it is in abstract terms of
respect and awe. When he meets his father's ghost, there is little tenderness in Hamlet's
responses to it. If we compare Hamlet's description of his father in the first soliloquy in which
he compares his attributes to those of Greek gods with his tender-hearted description of
Yorick in V.i., it seems likely that he preferred Yorick to his father.

The idea that Hamlet is a coward is initially appealing because it explains the prince's failure
and fits in with the idea of him being meditative and melancholy, more used to silent
contemplation than action. However, I'm not entirely convinced. In Act One, scene four,
Hamlet says he'll follow the ghost even though it may be a devil and threatens to kill his
friends if they try to stop him. Later in the play, in Act Four, scene six, we learn that Hamlet
boarded a pirate ship single-handed in an attempt to subdue the attackers of his ship to
England. These are not the actions of a coward.



7. What different types of madness do we see in Hamlet during this act?

When he visits Ophelia shortly before II.i.83,101, Hamlet's madness is supposedly that of
melancholy unrequited lover. He is pale, mournful and silent, seemingly driven to distraction
by the loss of Ophelia, according to Polonius.

Then, when meets Polonius in the lobby in II.ii.170 f., Hamlet plays the lunatic clown. Satirical
and irreverent, incapable of ordered speech or understanding the most straightforward
questions, Hamlet's madness has completely changed.

On meeting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet drops the clown act and switches to the
melancholic. He tells them of his misery and jadedness, but says that he is unable to
understand its cause II.ii.220 ff..



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Three different acts of madness within the course of a few hours would suggest that Hamlet is
either very bad at acting or doesn't really care whether anyone believes it. I think that Hamlet's
inability to sustain a performance of madness is very curious. Perhaps he is unable to control
himself, being madder than he imagines. Perhaps he is simply using the appearance of
madness in order to be able to express his contempt for everyone he sees.



8. What do each of the main characters feel to be the cause of Hamlet's
madness?

When the King greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the start of the act, he says he isn't
sure of the reason for the prince's madness. What he is sure of, however, is that there is
something more than his father's death. Typically, he suspects a secret cause and wants to
know what it is as soon as possible.(II.ii.4 ff.)

Gertrude suspects that the cause is 'his father's death and [her] o'erhasty marriage' to
Claudius (II.ii.56 ff.). This is interesting on two counts. First, she is very close to the truth. Of
course, she does not know that Hamlet is acting, but she does recognise the causes of his
melancholy with complete accuracy. Second, it signals some guilt on Gertrude's part at her
quick remarriage. Gertrude is not completely immoral or insensitive, I would suggest, though
she still might be viewed as weak-willed for having married when she knew it was wrong. The
critic A.C. Bradley said Gertrude was "sheep-like".

Polonius, like the King and Queen, has also come up with a theory about Hamlet's madness.
Unlike theirs, however, his theory is miles away from the truth. He has decided that Hamlet is
'mad for [Ophelia's] love' (II.i.). This reflects his jealousy of his daughter's chastity and
intellectual arrogance. Hamlet, divining Polonius' ideas, is happy to play along.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are determined that Hamlet is mad because his ambitions
have been foiled (II.ii.245). In their discussion of dreams with the prince, they continually try to
force Hamlet to admit to ambition, a point he flatly denies. Their theory reflects their own
cutthroat ambition, which has allowed them to sell their schoolfriend for the price of royal
favour.

In each case, the theory of madness suggested by a character tells us more about that
character than it tells us about Hamlet. As the gentleman in Act Four, scene five says, mad
speech is 'nothing'. But in its nothingness, it acts as a kind of mirror, reflecting on the
observers' temperaments and concerns.

9. Why might we agree that Claudius is a good king?

As noted above, Claudius has intuitively divined that there is more to Hamlet's madness than
meets the eye. There is a hidden secret which needs to be 'opened' if Claudius is to rule
safely. He knows that the Prince will not talk to him and so he dispatches Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to spy on the prince. He has overestimated their guile and underestimated
Hamlet's perceptiveness, however. Nonetheless, at this juncture, he comes up with the best
plan possible. Once he is sure that Hamlet is a danger, he will make plans to eliminate him
swiftly and secretly.

It is also worth noting that his deflection of the threat from Young Fortinbras has been entirely
successful and has led to the strengthening of the peace between Denmark and Norway.

10. How does the Polonius and Reynaldo scene in II.i. contribute to the
effect of the play as a whole?




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This is an odd section of the play and one which is very frequently cut from performances.
There is no consequence of this scene: Reynaldo never comes back from France and so
directors need fear no loose ends if they do cut it.

In terms of character, the scene enhances our understanding of Polonius. He is shown to be
suspicious and cynical, even regarding his own son. This reinforces the suspicion and
cynicism suggested by his attitude towards the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia in
I.iii. Thematically, this is a scene about the relationship between sons and fathers, and is like
every scene in the play so far, a scene of instruction, each of them paralleling the central
instructions of the ghost to Hamlet and showing us different ways in which instructions may be
given and received. Finally, the atmosphere of the play is enhanced by the addition of an extra
spying plot which increases our sense of the claustrophobic nature of the Danish court.

Imagery and Symbolism

1. Find TWO references to disease or decay.

maggots in a dead dog (II.ii.179)

the air ... appeareth ... to me ... a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours
(II.ii.285)



Themes

1. Who is acting a part in this act? In what ways?

Appearances being at odds with reality is a major Shakespearean theme appearing in nearly
all of the plays. The answer to the question is, of course, nearly everyone.

Claudius is obviously covering up the fact that he's a murderer and is pretending to be the
concerned uncle. Polonius pretends that he stopped the relationship between Hamlet and
Ophelia out of respect for the King and because Hamlet was out of his daughter's social
class. Then he humours Hamlet, pretending the prince makes sense to him. Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern pretend to be Hamlet's loyal friends anxious for his health (II.ii.272). Finally,
Hamlet is pretending (variously) to be mad II.ii.5. Young Fortinbras pretends he wants to
attack the Polacks but really he wans to attack Denmark (II.ii.65).

Interestingly, the only other major character in Act Two, the player, is a professional
pretender. And he doesn't act at all. His speech is a narrative rather than a dramatic
monologue and his feelings for Hecuba are, as the prince realises, quite genuine. This play
has more to say on the subject of Acting and Truth in Act Three. Suffice to say here, that only
the professional player's performance is truthful. Acting might hide the truth in the hands
of amateurs. But in the hands of professionals, it enlightens and creates truth.

2. 'The time is out of joint'. In what ways does Hamlet discover this to be
the case during Act Two?

Hamlet's friends have turned out to be the King's spies.

The tragedians of the city, actors of genuine skill according to Hamlet, have been banned
from the city. They are, in any case, happy to move on because their place has been taken by
child performers (II.ii.325).



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People who used to make faces at Claudius will now pay a fortune for a miniature of the King
(II.ii.350).

3. Find THREE references to remembering or forgetting our feelings.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been brought up with Hamlet since early youth, but
immediately forget their friendship when offered a king's bounty.

Fortinbras happily gives up his plan to regain his father's lands when he is given a
commission by the king of Norway.

In his letter, Hamlet swears that his love for Ophelia will never waver.

Hamlet reminds Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, rather bitterly, of the 'obligation of our ever
preserved love'.

The players have lost their popularity in the city.

Claudius has become popular with people who used to scorn him.

Hamlet suggests he has lost his passion to avenge his father's death.




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Act Three Answers
1. What do Claudius and Polonius do in scene one, that Hamlet and
Horatio do in scene two, that Hamlet does in scene three and Polonius
does in scene four?

Spy. Claudius and Polonius watch Hamlet meet Ophelia; Hamlet and Horatio keep the King
under surveillance during the play; Hamlet observes Claudius supposedly praying, and
Polonius spies upon Hamlet's meeting with his mother.

This continual spying in the play (earlier examples are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's
attempts to draw out the Prince and Reynaldo's mission in France) are a key component of
the atmosphere of 'Hamlet'. The critic Frank Kermode said that the walls of Elsinore are made
of ears. 'Hamlet' is an extremely claustrophobic play. No actions are private. Take Polonius.
He knows about his daughter's relationship with Hamlet. He also knows of the prince's habit
of walking 'alone' in the lobby. Everything that happens is seen by another character or their
agents. The play contains an enormous number of minor characters, guards and lords, etc.
Extra actors cost money, so why would Shakespeare, who part-owned the theatre he was
writing for, create all these extras who say and do nothing? Because, I would suggest, their
presence increases the sense of being watched all the time.

2. In what respects is the 'Play Scene' (III.ii) a turning point in the play?
How is this turn compounded by Hamlet's actions in the 'Closet Scene'
(III.iv)?
The Play Scene is, of course, Hamlet's attempt to obtain the proof he needs to act on the
Ghost's instructions. If he is able to make the King react guiltily to the play, he will know that
the Ghost is not a devil and that he is justified in killing him.

As it turns out, the Play Scene has other, unintended consequences. In presenting a depiction
of the murder of his father, Hamlet tells Claudius that he knows about his crime. From now
on, Claudius is the hunter, Hamlet the prey. The next time we see Claudius, in the following
scene, he is planning the prince's death by sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with
Hamlet to ensure that he goes to the English King. We must presume that he has already
devised his scheme to prevent Hamlet from coming back.

Claudius' realisation that Hamlet is a real threat rather than a minor irritation is compounded in
III.iv., the closet scene. Hamlet kills Polonius by accident, hoping it is the king. The
significance of this is not lost on the King, who tells Gertrude, "It had been so with us had we
been there" in IV.i.

Some critics, notably Terence Hawkes, have pointed out that the Play Scene doesn't actually
prove as much as Hamlet imagines it does. 'The Murder of Gonzago' presents the murder of
a King in his garden while he is sleeping. But the murderer, Lucianus, is the King's nephew,
not his brother. The scene might have been read by the King as a threat of murder from
Hamlet, rather than the depiction of his own crime. This additional uncertainty helps keep alive
doubts about the Ghost's origins and integrity.

3. What does the fact that Hamlet's soliloquy in the 'Prayer Scene' (III.iii)
was cut from performances of the play for nearly 200 years tell us about
Shakespeare's likely intentions in writing this speech for the prince?
Samuel Johnson said this scene was "too terrible to be read or uttered". Elizabethan
audiences and their descendants for the next two centuries would have found Hamlet
unspeakably cruel and blasphemous in this scene.

The Prince's intention to send the King to hell rather than 'merely' kill him would have more
impact in age when hell was such a real and terrifying proposition. To plan to commit a man to

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eternal damnation would have been viewed as a despicable thought. In any case, for Hamlet
to attempt to second-guess God, to view himself as the judge of Claudius' fate, was wholly
blasphemous, not to mention arrogant.

It seems clear that Shakespeare intended us to see Hamlet becoming evil at this point in the
play, capable of 'drinking hot blood' as he tells us at the end of the play scene. This is central
to what the play has to say about revenge. When a person is put above the law, above the
normal moral codes that we use to keep society running smoothly, anything can happen.
Hamlet is freed from any sense of sinfulness in the murder of Claudius and becomes capable
of cold-blooded murder on the slightest pretext. The fates of Polonius, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern are examples of this.

Some Nineteenth and early-Twentieth century critics have attempted to rehabilitate Hamlet,
and this is still a view you may hear today. According to these Romantic critics, Hamlet is not
capable of murder and says what he does in the prayer scene in order to put off the fatal
moment for as long as possible. Frankly, this view is laughable. It depends upon a
preconceived notion that Hamlet is a pale, romantic, melancholy poet who wouldn't hurt a fly.
This is directly contradicted by the facts of the play. There is no reason not to take Hamlet at
his word here and elsewhere when he speaks in soliloquy.

4. Does Claudius' soliloquy revise or compound your opinion of this
character?

It probably does a little of both. In terms of revising one's opinion, there has been little
evidence thus far in the play that Claudius feels very much about anything. In this scene we
find him on his knees and begging for forgiveness. Certainly, we must conclude that he is a
man with strong feelings and a heavy conscience.

However, looking carefully at the speech allows us to see the King's more villainous side. He
knows he has sinned. He knows that his sins are so terrible that he is very likely to be damned
for them. But what is his response? "May one be pardoned and retain th'offence". When
Claudius says "th'offence", he means the things he has gained through killing his brother: the
crown and Gertrude. The King wants God to pardon him for his crimes without giving up
anything. He is not at all penitent: he simply wants to get out of being punished.

That said, Claudius knows that this desirable state of affairs will not come to pass. This is why
he finishes the soliloquy attempting to pray for the strength to repent properly. The final lines
of the scene where Claudius tells us that he has been unable to pray are not simply an ironic
joke about Hamlet's haplessness. Rather, they show us that the King's love for his ill-gotten
gains outweighs his fear of damnation

5. Hamlet is often thought to have a lot of soliloquies, though in actual
fact, he has fewer than Macbeth and around the same number as
Othello, who are thought to be men of action rather than meditation.
How does the placing and subject of Hamlet's soliloquies in this act
encourage the idea of a meditative prince?
With regard to the placing of Hamlet's soliloquies, their positions within the third act, help to
create the idea of Hamlet as a thinker. His soliloquy at the end of Act Two ("O what a rogue
and peasant slave am I") is immediately followed the next time we see him by his soliloquy in
Act Three, scene one ("To be or not to be, that is the question"). Thus we are given the idea
that Hamlet has been thinking continuously in the interim. The same thing happens at the end
of Act Three, scene two. Hamlet delivers his "Now is the very witching time of night" soliloquy
and then the next time we see the Prince, he delivers his "Now might I do it pat" soliloquy in
Act Three, scene three. Shakespeare creates the impression that Hamlet is always thinking
by having him soliloquise in adjacent scenes.




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Regarding their subject matter, Hamlet's soliloquies are different to those given by other
Shakespearian heroes in that they present thought rather than state positions or decisions.
The "O what a rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy at the close of Act Two, scene two, shows
us Hamlet wanting to feel more strongly, wishing he had killed the King already and then
deciding not to. The 'To be or not to be" soliloquy in Act Three, scene one, debates the
advantages of committing suicide and the reasons that we don't. The "Now is the very
witching time of night" soliloquy in Act Three, scene two, presents Hamlet reminding himself
not to kill his mother and the "Now might I do it pat" soliloquy shows us Hamlet deciding not to
kill Claudius for the time being. Each of the soliloquies is negative: it retards the fulfillment of
Hamlet's mission rather than advancing it. The only soliloquy which results in any action is the
one at the end of Act Two, scene two, which results in Hamlet putting on 'The Murder of
Gonzago'. But this is in preference to acting directly and has, in fact, been arranged already,
immediately before the soliloquy.

The 'To be or not to be' soliloquy is often felt to be central to Hamlet's personality. It provides
an excellent example of Hamlet not doing anything. He says that it would be far better for us
all to commit suicide, but that we don't because we are scared of what might happen to us in
the afterlife. Furthermore, we very often put things off because of our understanding that we
might be being sinful. We look too closely at our plans and find reasons for not carrying them
out.

In this context, one of the first things to note is that the soliloquy leads to nothing, except
perhaps his barbarity to Ophelia. The second thing to note is that it has very little to do with
what Hamlet is supposed to be doing. He has just planned to put on a play in order to discover
whether the King is guilty as charged. The very next time we see him, he doesn't even
mention it. Of course, the speech is relevant to Hamlet's own wish to be dead and to his
failure to kill Claudius. But it has nothing to do with his immediate plans. Lastly, it is worth
noting that Hamlet is not talking about himself, he is talking about humanity in general and
and how unbearable all our lives are. The speech is more like an essay than a confession.

This treatment of Hamlet's soliloquies is obviously very one-sided. There is much, much more
to be said about them. But not here.

6. 'I essentially am not in madness' says Hamlet (III.iv.188). Name four
lines spoken by Hamlet in this act which might make you doubt this.
"Get thee to a nunnery" (III.i.119) and "It hath made me mad" (III.i.140-1).

What is Hamlet talking about? He has just insinuated that Ophelia has lost her virtue and now
he is telling her to go to a convent. Why? To avoid becoming a "breeder of sinners". Hamlet
says that all humanity is sinful and suffering: any addition to the race would be an increase of
this wickedness. This relates, of course, to the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. He says there
that life is unlivable, but that the alternatives are too terrifying to contemplate. The solution he
comes up with seems to be "no more marriages", and consequently, no more children. Call
me judgmental, but this seems like insanity.

In the second line, Hamlet tells Ophelia that the wicked, deceitful ways of women have driven
him insane. One might well respond that Hamlet is pretending to be mad because he knows
that Polonius and Claudius can hear this conversation. Indeed, it has become a theatrical
commonplace for the actor playing Polonius to cough or otherwise reveal his presence.
However, there is no information whatsoever in the text to suggest that anything of the sort
happens. When characters hide in Elizabethan plays they stay hidden unless they directly
reveal their whereabouts, as Polonius does in III.iv. Similarly, if someone puts on a disguise,
they are never detected. So we must assume that Hamlet does not know that Claudius and
Polonius are present.

He might detect that Ophelia is behaving suspiciously and consequently start talking gibberish
and attack her morals. But he doesn't say that she is. When he suspected that Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern were deceiving him in II.ii., he immediately told them of his doubts. If he is


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suspicious of Ophelia, one would therefore expect him to mention it. I believe that Hamlet is
speaking directly and passionately to Ophelia in this scene and is saying what he thinks.
Indeed, the extent of his passion, the forcefulness of his attacks on Ophelia are a good
argument for seeing these speeches as genuine rather than feigned madness

"Nay but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed" (III.iv.94)

The Queen has just told Hamlet that she has seen how sinful she is. Hamlet does not
encourage her penitence, rather he continues ranting about her sin. Three lines later, the
Queen pleads for him to stop because she feels so guilt-stricken. Hamlet cannot stop himself
and continues with a list of Claudius' vices. It seems very likely that he is out of control at this
point.

"What would your gracious figure?" (III.iv.104)

Hamlet sees the Ghost; the Queen can't. In Act One, the Ghost could be seen by everyone.
The Ghost in Act One wore armour; the Ghost in this scene wears his normal clothes. The
Ghost in Act One disappears into thin air; this Ghost uses the door. The Ghost in Act III,
scene iv is more than a little fishy and might well be an hallucination.

"heaven hath please it so ... That I must be their scourge and minister" (III.iv.174-6)

Hamlet says he's working for God. We know he's working for his father. Where has he got
this idea of his importance?

7. Is Hamlet at his worst in scene three or scene four of this act?

It doesn't really matter which you decided. Take your pick.

In scene three, Hamlet is blasphemously arrogant and cruel, as discussed above in the
answer to question 3.

In scene four, he murders Polonius in cold blood and then says that he deserved to die for
being so nosey. He then berates his mother, arrogantly claiming to be God's messenger.

8. How do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to have become more
immoral since their first appearance in II.ii.?

In Act Two, scene two, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fail abjectly in their mission. They look
too guilty to fool Hamlet for a minute and when he questions them, they admit that they are
working for the King.

By Act Three they have become considerably more corrupt. They begin the act by lying to the
King about their encounter with Hamlet. The next time we see them, after the play in Act
Three, scene two, they are the King's messengers, telling Hamlet off for annoying Claudius
and ordering him to go to his mother. At the beginning of Act Three, scene three, they are
again the King's willing agents, happy to ensure that Hamlet gets to England as planned.
Despite not living in Elsinore, they then see fit to deliver an obsequious speech proclaiming
their loyalty to the King as the foundation of the nation's well-being.

Everyone becomes worse as the play progresses. The disease of Claudius' crime, the play
seems to suggest, spreads from character to character.

9. For what reasons might you think that the Ghost in III.iv is an
hallucination, and for what reasons might you think it is real?

The reasons one might think it is an hallucination are covered in question six, above.



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On the other hand, how much do we know about what ghosts can and cannot do? There is no
rule that says that ghosts have to be consistent in their appearance and behaviour.
Furthermore, the Ghost in III.iv. is reminding Hamlet of its message which the prince seems to
have forgotten. He tells Hamlet (again) to expend his anger on Claudius and not on his
mother, the opposite of what the Prince seems to want to do.

There is again, no true reading of the Ghost. Shakespeare does not give us enough
information to be absolutely sure whether it is Hamlet's father, a devil, or (in part) an
hallucination. I believe this element of doubt is useful. It makes us wonder about the morality
of the Ghost's message, about the morality of revenge, which I would contend is the play's
main theme.

10. After III.ii., the next time we see Ophelia she is mad. How are the
seeds for this planted in this act?

We see Ophelia in the first two scenes of Act Three. She doesn't say a great deal in either
scene. Readings of her frame of mind are therefore very conjectural.

In her encounter with Hamlet in the Nunnery Scene, Ophelia seems a little unwilling to play
her part and reject the Prince wholeheartedly in order to display his reactions to the onlookers.
Instead, she muddles up her lines and implies that Hamlet is rejecting her (III.i.101). Then she
shows her disappointment when Hamlet says he never loved her. When he begins to rant
about nunneries and the wickedness of women, she drops all pretence, exclaiming "Oh help
him you sweet heavens!" When Hamlet leaves, she seems to seems to break down in her
speech ending "Oh woe is me / T'have seen what I have seen, see what I see" (III.i.154-5).
Ophelia's world is beginning to collapse. So far in her life, she has been under the continual
direction of three men: her father, her brother and her lover. Her brother has gone. Her lover
is insane. When her father dies at the hands of the man she loves, there is no-one to direct
her. Back in I.iii., Polonius says to Ophelia "think yourself a baby", and tells her to stop
believing what Hamlet has said and believe what he says instead. Ophelia has never had to
make her own mind up and has been dissuaded from doing so. It might be fair to say that she
does not have a mind of her own. What happens when that infant mind is left to fend with the
loss of everyone who is important to her?

This impression of Ophelia is strengthened, I think, in the Play Scene. Hamlet embarasses
and confuses her publicly. She is almost completely incapable of responding. She has never
been spoken to like this before and does not have the resources to cope.



Stagecraft

1. Name three dramatic surprises in this act.
The Nunnery Scene

There is no reason to imagine that Hamlet would act in such a deranged way with Ophelia.
Indeed, we would have every expectation that he would behave tenderly towards her.

The Dumb Show

The Dumb Show represents the King's murder of his brother in an entirely unambiguous
manner. We expect Claudius to react, otherwise there wouldn't be a play scene. But he
doesn't. This mystery has been solved by some directors and critics by having Claudius
looking away or chatting with Gertrude while the mime takes place. A more plausible
explanation is that Claudius is looking, but manages to contain himself.

Polonius' Murder



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Polonius is frequently played as a bumbling old fool. Certainly, he is a failure as a secret
agent, consistently misinterpreting the Prince, much to the latter's amusement. When Hamlet
kills him, I think the audience might be genuinely shocked. Funny, harmless characters rarely
get killed off.

The Ghost

The Ghost's reappearance is very surprising. We don't really expect to see it again after Act
One, unless to deliver some sort of moral summary at the end. The Ghost's return is the more
surprising as it interrrupts the climax of Hamlet's rage against Claudius and Gertrude.


2. Name two sections which successfully create tension.

The Play

As discussed above, we fully expect the King to react suitably to the play, otherwise it wouldn't
be shown to us. The audience's eyes, like Hamlet's, are trained on him from the beginning of
the Dumb Show until the point at which he finally breaks.

The Prayer Scene

Claudius is kneeling and vulnerable. Hamlet has a sword. The few seconds between the
Prince's entrance and the point at which he talks himself out of killing the King are filled with
tension.

"Thou mixture rank ... thrice infected" (III.ii.233-4)

"my wit's diseased" (III.ii.291)

"hell itself breathes out / Contagion to this world" (III.ii.350-1)

"Oh my offence is rank" (III.iii.36)

"This physic but prolongs thy sickly days" (III.iii.96)

"a blister" (III.iv.44)

"like a mildewed ear / Blasting his wholesome brother" (III.iv.64-5)

"the rank sweat of an enseamed bed" (III.iv.92)

"It will but skin and film the ulcerous place, / Whiles rank corruption mining all within, / Infects
unseen" (III.iv.147-9)




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Act Four Answers

What? Why? How?

1. Claudius begins and ends the act by lying to Gertrude. Name FOUR
other aspects of his character that are provable on the basis of what he
says and does in this act. Is he still wracked with guilt, do you think?
Just a brief note on how Claudius lies to begin. In Act Four, scene one, he tells Gertrude that
he refrained from taking action against Hamlet because of his love for the Prince. In actual
fact, we know from the King's speeches at the end of III.i. and the opening of III.iii. that the
King has been planning to send Hamlet away to England for some time. It seems likely that at
this point, he decides that he wants the prince dead. In any case, the general tone of
Claudius' attitude towards Hamlet has been one of suspicion and dislike, certainly not love.

At the end of the Act, in scene seven, he tells Gertrude "How much I had to do to calm his
rage". This is deceitful rather than an out and out lie, because what Claudius has done is to
direct and control Laertes' rage rather than calm it.

Other things one might say about Claudius in this act are how callous and selfish he is in his
reaction to Polonius' death. The King shows no pity or sorrow at the death of his counsellor.
Rather, his reaction is: "It had been so with us had we been there" (IV.i.). That is to say, he
realises that Hamlet poses a direct physical threat to himself and must be disposed of
immediately.

A second, very obvious thing to say, is that Claudius' treatment of Laertes shows what a
brilliant manipulator he is. He expresses no anger towards the rebel; he gives him everything
he wants ("Let him demand his fill" IV.v.) Once he has thus deflated Laertes' rage, he begins
to provoke it again in order to persuade him to take part in his plot to kill Hamlet through
treachery in the fencing match. Before explaining the plan, he asks "Laertes, was your father
dear to you?".

Thirdly, we may notice that Claudius doesn't mention his conscience once in this act. In Act
Three, he desperately attempts to pray for the strength to repent his crimes. In Act Four, all of
Claudius' actions are villainous, suggesting that he has come to peace with the idea of being
unrepentant.

Lastly, one might note Claudius' apparent love of horseriding which is communicated in his
unnecessarily lengthy speech about the virtues of Lamord in IV.vii. Alternatively, his lengthy
speech to Gertrude in IV.i. shows his genuine worry about his kingdom. Or, Claudius
professes deeply-felt love for Gertrude when he explains his failure to punish Hamlet in IV.vii.
It may be, however, that he is using this as an excuse and the (alleged) popularity of the
prince is a more genuine reason.

2. Has Gertrude reformed after her confrontation with Hamlet in III.iv.?

In Act Three, scene four, Gertrude promises Hamlet she will stop sleeping with Claudius.
There are two things to look at here in order to try to assess whether she has done this:
Gertrude's aside at the opening of Act Four, scene five and her behaviour around Claudius.

What she says at the start of Act Four, scene five is that every event seems like an omen that
something dreadful is about to happen to her "sick soul", which she defines as a sinful soul.
This seems to suggest that, like her new husband, she knows she is sinful, but is persisting in
that sin. If she had reformed by this point, four scenes after having made her promise to
Hamlet, she would presumably not be feeling so sinful.
It is fairly difficult to draw any particular conclusions from the Queen's behaviour around
Claudius. We see them alone together in Act Four, scene one and briefly in Act Four, scene
five. In the first scene, she lies to Claudius in order to protect her son. She tells the King that

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Hamlet killed Polonius in a "mad fit". The Queen is apparently convinced of Hamlet's sanity by
the end of Act Three, scene four and so we might assume that by blaming Hamlet's madness
for his actions, she is trying to make her son seem less responsible for the murder.

Similarly, she goes on to tell Claudius that Hamlet is now weeping over the body of Polonius.
This is a very unlikely turn of affairs given the Prince's attitude at the end of the closet scene
("I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room"). Again, she seems to be trying to make her son's
actions less reprehensible.

What she doesn't do in this scene is say anything to Claudius about their relationship, nor
does she anywhere else in this act. When they are alone together in scene five, between
Ophelia's exit and Laertes' arrival, only the King speaks. When Laertes threatens to kill
Claudius, Gertrude apparently holds him back bodily. (The King says "Let him go,
Gertrude..."). This does not seem to me to be the actions of a woman who has told her
husband that their relationship has to finish forever and should never have started.

Gertrude's tragedy is that she loves both Claudius and Hamlet, who obviously hate each
other. She feels guilty about her second marriage, but loves Claudius too much to end it.

3. In what ways does Hamlet appear to change during this act?

Hamlet appears physically in three scenes in Act Four (ii, iii and iv) and appears to us through
letters in scenes six and seven.

Hamlet's appearances in scenes one and two show the Prince behaving much as he did in
Acts Two and Three. He is maintaining his act of madness and insulting everyone he meets. I
would suggest that he is quite a bit more insulting to the King than on any previous occasion.
In scene three, he tells the King to send a messenger to see if Polonius is in heaven. If he
isn't there, Hamlet tells Claudius, "seek him i'th'other place yourself", effectively telling the
King to "go to hell". By this point, after the play-within-the-play, the King knows that Hamlet
knows about the murder. Hamlet knows that the King knows he knows about the murder.
Neither of them can see much point in even pretending to be amicable any more.

In scene four, Hamlet reflects upon Fortinbras and his army. They are going to war over a
tiny, worthless patch of land. Hamlet knows he has much better reasons to go to war. He
wonders about what it is that has been holding him back and resolves that from this point
forward his thoughts must be "bloody". This is Hamlet's last soliloquy in the play, and these
final words tell us why. Hamlet has resolved to give up reflection, feeling it has only led to
cowardly conclusions.

In Hamlet's letters, we see some proof that he has become more decisive and even rash. He
writes to Horatio to tell him that he has boarded a pirate ship single-handed, been captured
and has made a deal for them to deliver him back to Denmark.

This miraculous escape from Claudius' plot to have Hamlet killed by the King of England
stretches the audience's credulity a bit. It is hard to see Hamlet doing this. It is a bit of a
disappointment that we don't see it on stage. We know that Shakespeare had to get Hamlet
back to Denmark somehow in order for the plot to be resolved. He also wanted to show this
new daredevil side to Hamlet. Nonetheless, it isn't a very wonderful piece of plotting.

Hamlet's final appearance in the Act is in scene seven through the device of a letter to the
King. I read the tone of this letter as taunting and sarcastic. Expressions like "High and
mighty" and "your kingly eyes" seem overly-respectful, leading me to view them as jibes. This
letter may therefore be read as reinforcing Hamlet's brand-new rash and openly rebellious
character.

4. When Laertes speaks in this act, he often uses hyperbolic (over-
exaggerated) expressions. What might this imply about him?


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A few examples of this trait are:

That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard... (IV.v.118)

He means "any part of me that can calm down following my father's murder makes me a
completely unfeeling and unnatural son". Laertes is quite a contrast to Hamlet in his pursuit of
revenge. The Prince knows he is very calm with regard to his revenge. This is the subject of
his third soliloquy ("O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" II.ii.501). I think this is part of
Shakespeare's reason for having Laertes in the play. He shows us the damaging, immoral
consequences of the single-minded pursuit of revenge. Such is Laertes' thirst for Hamlet's
blood that he is more than happy to resort to dishonourable means to achieve his aim.

[I will] Repaste [my father's friends] with my blood. (IV.v.147)

He means that like a pelican (according to Elizabethans), he will open up his chest in order to
nourish his father's friends with his own blood. If I was a friend of Polonius, I don't think I
would particularly welcome this gesture. Of course, Laertes doesn't mean this literally. He
means that he feels very warmly towards the friends of his father. It is this that makes Laertes
seem insincere. He says things in the most grotesque and exaggerated way, and we know he
doesn't really mean them. He is behaving in the way that he thinks a revenging son ought to
act.

O heat dry up my brains, tears seven times salt / Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!
(IV.v.156)

This is very similar to the previous example. On seeing Ophelia's madness, he says that he
wishes his anger would cause his brain to dry up and kill him. Then he says that he wants his
tears to increase in saltiness to such an extent that it burns out his eyes. We know he doesn't
really want this to happen because he is also saying that he's desperate for revenge. What
he's doing is trying to communicate to the others the strength of his anger and sorrow. He
may well feel angry and sorrowful, but he is putting on an act to make sure everyone else
knows about it.

5. Why has Ophelia gone mad? How might this be proven?

We don't see or hear about Ophelia between Act Three, scene two and Act Four, scene five.
In the interim, she has become insane. As I suggested in my sample answers about Act
Three, there are signs there that Ophelia is not unlikely to lose her mind. (Go here for that
answer).

I will confine myself here to what Ophelia's songs can tell us about her state of mind and to
what Ophelia's madness adds to our understanding of madness in the play.

We are told that Ophelia is mad by the unnamed gentleman at the opening of scene five. He
says she speaks much of her father and then:

          Her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshapèd use of it doth move
The hearers to collection. They yawn at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts... (IV.v.7-10)

This means "Ophelia's speech is meaningless, but this chaotic state makes those who hear it
try to make sense of it. They are amazed by her speech and make the words fit their own
interpretation". This statement seems to be crucial to understanding how madness is
presented in this play. When Hamlet and Ophelia are thought to be insane, their observers try
to interpret the reasons for their insanity. The reasons they come up with always reflect the
preoccupations of the observers. In the case of Hamlet, Claudius thinks he has a hidden
secret (III.i.158) since he himself has a hidden secret. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern think
that Hamlet's ambition is the cause of his madness since they themselves are ambitious.


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Similarly with Ophelia, Laertes thinks she is trying to tell him to take revenge for her father
(IV.v.168), a course he has already decided on. In "Hamlet", madness is a mirror.

Our interpretations of Ophelia's madness are therefore put under question by the play. Are we
seeing what is really there or are we projecting our own expectations onto her? Nonetheless, I
set the question, so I ought to attempt to answer it. I am only going to deal with her songs as
they are probably the most striking and interpretable aspect of her madness.

Ophelia sings three songs to the Queen in IV.v., and two more later in the scene after her
brother's arrival. The first ("How should I your true love know...") is about an absent lover. The
second (which might be a continuation of the first) begins "He is dead and gone lady". The
third "Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day" is the story of how a young girl is duped into
sleeping with a man who promises to marry her and doesn't. Applying the first two songs to
Ophelia's history doesn't take much ingenuity. She has an absent lover and a dead dad. The
third, more bawdy, song is a little trickier. Hamlet has not been unfaithful to Ophelia, in fact the
opposite is more true. Yes, he's unpleasant to her, but she's the one who participates in a plot
to trick the other. It is possible that Ophelia's madness transposes the sexes of the characters
and that the song is about her infidelity. It is also possible that Ophelia is mourning her own
virginity. Or that her delirium releases the sexuality which has till this point been pent up by the
demands of propriety and decorum. We don't know enough to make a definite choice. The
next song, after Ophelia hands out the flowers, is apparently part of a popular series of
"Bonny Robin" songs which were about lovers and unfaithfulness. The final song ("And will a
not come again") is about the death of an older man. It is not implausible, on the basis of
these five songs, to assume that Ophelia's madness was caused by the death of her father,
her loss of Hamlet and her guilt about her infidelity to him.

6. What does the Queen's speech about Ophelia's drowning suggest
about her madness and the reasons for her death?

One aspect of this speech may seem a little bizarre. If the Queen knows all this, how come
she was unable to save Ophelia?

There are at least three possible explanations. First, the Queen doesn't know all this. She
knows that Ophelia has drowned but wants to make it sound nice in order to break the news
gently to Laertes. Second, the Queen knows that Ophelia didn't drown like this, but rather
committed suicide, as the gravediggers and the priest are to suggest in Act Five. She doesn't
want to tell Laertes this and also wants Ophelia to receive a Christian burial rather than be
treated as a suicide. Or, third, Shakespeare intended that the Queen to be acting as a
storyteller here rather than as herself. She steps out of role for a minute to relate things that
couldn't be shown on the Elizabethan stage. Any of these are acceptable answers to this
puzzle. I tend to think the third explanation is best.

Ophelia is (sort of) killed by a willow tree, also known as a "weeping willow". Therefore, the
line suggests that Ophelia died of grief. Note that the brook is described as a "weeping brook".
As she floats downstream, Ophelia is described as "like a creature native and indued / Unto
that element". That is, like a creature that belongs in the water. I would say that this is not only
about her passivity in the water, but also because of her excessive grief. When Laertes says
that she has had "too much of water", he probably means that she has had too much grief,
rather than that her lungs are full of water.

Another thing to note are the plants. Ophelia is associated with flowers throughout the play.
She's an "infant of the spring" in I.ii. Laertes calls her a "rose of May" in IV.v. where she also
hands out flowers to the court. At her funeral, Laertes imagines violets springing from her
grave. Ophelia may be viewed as "flower-like" because of her innocence, beauty, youth and
fragility. Here, though, the flowers are weeds: crow-flowers, nettles, long-purples and daisies.
Perhaps a symbol of Ophelia's decline or of her corruption by the Danish court.

Structure


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1. A past exam question reads: 'The action of the play begins to break
down after act three'. Discuss. Why might you agree on the basis of act
four?

Points one might include in this answer are:

•Short Scenes: Most of the play is made up of long, set-piece scenes, centred around a
particular character. In Act Four, we get seven brief scenes. This is likely to make the
audience uneasy and feel that the action is moving around very swiftly. •Hamlet's Absence:
Obviously Hamlet is the main character in the play, but for the second half of the Act, he's
gone away. We have lost the main focus of the action. •Subplots: Again, most of the action so
far has been directly related to Hamlet's quest. In this act, that quest is postponed and new
plot lines centred around Laertes and Ophelia are introduced. •Minor Characters: Similarly, six
new characters suddenly appear: the Captain and Fortinbras, the gentleman, the messenger,
the attendant and the sailor. Characters such as Horatio, Ophelia and Laertes, who have had
relatively minor roles until now, are suddenly given scenes in which they are "centre stage".

Shakespeare seems to want to increase the pace of the play, to give an indication that the
danger to the central characters has increased. He also wants to reintroduce Fortinbras and
let us see him in person so that we are not too surprised by his arrival at the end. He also
wants to begin to explore revenge more widely through the introduction of Laertes' mission
and to begin preparation for the final catastrophe.

Themes and Imagery

1. Where is disease imagery used in this act? Find FOUR examples.
How is the meaning of this imagery made explicit?

There are quite a number of disease images in this act. Perhaps this reflects the "spread" of
corruption and the intensification of the action. They include:

Diseases desperate grown / By desperate appliance are relieved, / Or not at all. (Claudius,
IV.iii)

...like the hectic in my blood he rages, / And thou must cure me. (Claudius, IV.iii)

This is th'impostume of much wealth and peace. (Hamlet, IV.iv)

To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is... (Gertrude, IV.v)

...wants not buzzers to infect his ear / With pestilent speeches... (Claudius, IV.v)

It warms the very sickness in my heart... (Laertes, IV.vii)

But to the quick of th'ulcer... (Claudius, IV.vii)

I'll touch my point / With this contagion... (Laertes, IV.vii)

The Queen's line, "To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is" makes it very clear that the
disease imagery in the play is an image of sinfulness. Often, it particularly refers to treachery,
and here, Laertes' line, "It warms the very sickness in my heart", is very useful.

2. What do scenes five and seven suggest about what commitment to
taking revenge does to people?



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Laertes used to be a "noble youth" (V.i.). On his return from France, he has turned into a
maniac. He is willing to "dare damnation" and he will cast aside all sense of tradition and
loyalty to the king. He is happy to kill Claudius in cold blood on the basis of rumours. Lastly,
Laertes is very willing to use treacherous means to kill Hamlet. Revenge is presented very
ironically in the play. Prompted by the demands of honour and loyalty, revengers become
treacherous and dishonourable. It is Laertes' single-minded devotion to his task that leads him
to abandon all sense of morality and to his destruction.

3. Nonetheless, in what ways might Hamlet appear to be (morally) better
than (a) Fortinbras and (b) Laertes?

(a) Act Four, scene four reintroduces Fortinbras to the audience. He is on his way to the
borders of Poland to fight over a "little patch of ground" that has no economic worth. This is
likely to lead to the deaths of two thousand men. In his soliloquy which follows, Hamlet reflects
(rightly) that he has got considerably better reasons to go to war and is only risking his own
life. He envies Fortinbras' daring, but despises his callous sacrifice of the soldiers for a "trick
of fame".

(b) Hamlet, unlike Laertes, is not willing to "dare damnation" in the pursuit of his revenge.
Hamlet is terrified of damnation and only manages to kill Claudius when he is satisfied that it
is "perfect conscience" (V.ii). He also commits his revenge publicly in full view of the court,
rather than trying to arrange an "accident" for his enemy.




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Act Five Answers

The Plot

Gravediggers are preparing a grave for Ophelia. They speculate about the
possibility that the death was suicide and the chief gravedigger makes two
jokes about the power of death to conquer all. The second gravedigger
leaves to fetch some "liquor", leaving his boss singing a song about death's
victory as he continues digging.

Hamlet and Horatio enter. Hamlet is appalled by the rough treatment that the
bones of the grave's former occupants receive from the gravedigger. He
speculates about the identity of a skull thrown up during the digging, revealing
that his bones "ache" to think of this waste of power and energy. Hamlet
attempts to discover the identity of the person who is to be buried, but is,
uncharacteristically, outsmarted.

Hamlet is handed the skull of Yorick, whose death he mourns and then
proceeds to wonder at the way in which even the greatest of men, such as
Caesar, are returned to the earth.

Hamlet and Horatio hide as Ophelia's funeral procession enters. Laertes and
the priest quarrel over the brevity of the service. Gertrude throws flowers into
the grave which are swiftly followed by the distraught Laertes. Hamlet realises
that Ophelia is dead and reveals his presence, taunting Laertes to outdo his
grief. Laertes attempts to throttle Hamlet. They are parted and the King
counsels Laertes to follow the plan they decided upon at the end of Act Four.

Back at the castle, Hamlet tells Horatio about the plot to kill him in England
and how he was able to turn Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's treachery
against them. He credits unthinking action and God's will for his escape. He is
now determined to kill the King, but regrets losing his patience with Laertes.
Osric enters with the offer of a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes.
Hamlet mocks Osric's pretentious speech and accepts the challenge. A Lord
arrives to ask confirmation of Hamlet's acceptance.

Horatio tells Hamlet he will lose, but the Prince is confident. He has decided
to ignore the troubled feelings he has about the match and trust to
providence. He reflects that being ready for death is all.

The court enter to see the match. Hamlet apologises to Laertes, who says
that his feelings are satisfied though his honour is not. They select swords.
Claudius puts a pearl into the poisoned goblet of wine he has prepared for
Hamlet and puts it on a table.

The fencing match begins and Hamlet wins the first two bouts. Accidentally,
the Queen drinks from the poisoned cup. Laertes stabs Hamlet with his
poisoned and sharpened foil between rounds. They fight and exchange
swords. Hamlet then stabs Laertes with the sword. The Queen faints and


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swiftly dies. Realising that he too is dying, Laertes reveals the plot and the
King's complicity. Hamlet stabs the King and as Claudius dies, forces him to
drink from the poisoned cup. Laertes begs Hamlet's pardon and dies. Hamlet
forgives Laertes and prevents Horatio from killing himself with the remains of
the wine. He wants him to be alive to tell the story to world. Hamlet dies.

Fortinbras and the English ambassadors enter. They are shocked by the
carnage before them. Horatio promises to explain how it all happened.
Fortinbras says he will take over the throne and sends Hamlet's body off to a
soldier's funeral.

What? Why? How?

1. What do you feel are the point of the gravedigger's riddles and song?

The gravedigger tells two riddles: one concerns the claim that digging is the oldest trade in the
world; the second asserts that gravediggers build more securely than "a mason, a shipwright,
or a carpenter". The song seems to begin as a love song but rapidly turns into a reflection
upon life's brevity, supposedly sung by a corpse.

What they have in common, of course, is their insistence upon death's power and inevitability.
The gravedigger is not simply blowing his own trumpet, but rather, assists in altering the mood
of the play. Things have been getting more serious since the death of Polonius, who may be
viewed as the main comic character in the play. Throughout Act Four, the sense of increasing
danger is heightened with the plots of Claudius and Laertes, and Ophelia's madness and
death.

Paradoxically, though, at the same time as darkening the mood, this section is also funny. I
believe it is a mistake to view the gravediggers' prattle as "mere" comic relief. Why would
Shakespeare want to decrease the tension at this point? Nonetheless, one interesting aspect
of this section of the play is that it is funny and gloomy. This is a distinguishing and frequently
mystifying feature of the play. Among the murders and madness, there is almost constant
wordplay, together with examples of irony, riddles, witty repartee, bawdy and clowning. You
may find humour in Polonius' murder, and even the fencing match, with its farcical switching
of swords and drinks, has a comic element. The purposes and effects of humour in 'Hamlet'
are varied and, frankly, not always explicable. In the graveyard scene, though, Shakespeare
seems intent to distance the audience from the emotional implications of Ophelia's death and
Hamlet's impending doom. Perhaps this is with the intention of saving emotional release until
the final catastrophe.

Furthermore, humour in the graveyard scene does not solely come from the gravediggers.
Hamlet jests about the owner of the skull that is thrown up at the same time that his bones are
aching at the waste. I think this is the real point of the humour in this section of the play. The
mixture of wit and skulls helps to emphasise the differences in Hamlet's reactions. He is
coming to terms with his mortality and his morbidity. Previous reflections about death, such as
the "To be or not to be" soliloquy (III.i.56-89), have focused upon its terrors, finality and
perverse desirability. Here, Hamlet regrets death and is also able to use humour to distance
himself from "consider[ing] too curiously" its attractions.




2. In what ways do Hamlet's reactions to the skulls in the graveyard
seem to suggest a change in his outlook?


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This has been partially answered above. I would suggest that Hamlet is here displaying a
more mature and human attitude to death than he has done previously in the play. He now
regrets death rather than viewing it as desirable. Additionally, though he speaks in prose in
this scene, he has otherwise dropped his "antic disposition". As I suggested in the discussion
of Acts Two and Three, there appears to be more to Hamlet's mad act than pretending. We
cannot be absolutely sure about Hamlet's sanity at some points in the play. Now, however,
there is none of the hysteria or despondency that marks his character earlier in the play.

Another proof of this suggestion that Hamlet is more mature and level-headed is in his
reaction to Yorick's skull. Hamlet is disgusted by the decay he is witnessing, genuinely
distressed by Yorick's death and shows more affection to him than he has done to any other
character in the play, certainly more than he displays to either his father or Ophelia: "He hath
bore me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My
gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft".

This is, of course, an extremely famous speech, or at least its first line is. Hamlet staring into
Yorick's sockets is an image of man confronting his own mortality that can be understood
without reference to the rest of the play. This is why, when artists produce pictures or statues
of Hamlet, they choose this moment. It is a visual image that is recognisably Hamlet and no
other Shakespearean character, and it is an image with universal meaning.

3. How old is Hamlet?

The gravedigger says that he took the job on the day that "young" Hamlet was born and then
says he's been doing it for thirty years (V.i.122, 140). Then he says that Yorick has been dead
for "three and twenty years" and Hamlet recalls playing with him as a child (V.i.150-168). So
Shakespeare tells us twice that Hamlet is thirty.

This comes as a surprise to many readers of the play. Earlier in the play, there are many
indications that Hamlet is a lot younger: people refer to him as "young" (e.g. Polonius: "he is
young" (I.iii.124)), he is a student, he is courting Ophelia who is almost definitely young, he
writes embarrassing love letters to her, he refers to his friends as "lads" and talks about going
out drinking with them, he has a sexually active mother and uncle. Furthermore, Hamlet's
violent emotions, his insistence on continuing to mourn his father, his outrage at his mother's
remarriage and self-righteousness all suggest an adolescent rather than an adult.

It's a clever trick. Shakespeare wants us to see Hamlet as more mature in Act Five and so he
changes his age. It is not impossible for Hamlet to be thirty despite all the things listed above,
but the audience is drawn to view Hamlet as juvenile in the first part of the play and then as
adult in Act Five. Obviously, in the theatre, these things are partially decided for us through the
casting of the play. But then, we are used to older actors playing younger parts and so we feel
free to decide that Hamlet may be younger than he physically appears. Then Shakespeare
tells us "No, he is that old".

4. What does the violent argument between Hamlet and Laertes add to
the play?

I think this is a really difficult part of the play to understand. On learning that the grave is
Ophelia's, Hamlet comes out of hiding, taunts Laertes about his over-acted mourning and
announces himself as "Hamlet the Dane". Then Laertes climbs out of the grave (or Hamlet
jumps in) and attempts to strangle the prince. Hamlet insists that he loved Ophelia most and
can outdo his grief.

The problems here are manifold. What does Hamlet mean when he says he's "Hamlet the
Dane"? Why does he lose his temper with Laertes? By what right can he say he loved Ophelia
more than Laertes? Does he jump in the grave or does Laertes climb out? Unfortunately, I
don't have answers to all of these.



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"Hamlet the Dane" might mean Hamlet the Danish person, but this would be a rather silly
thing to say under the circumstances: everyone present knows who he is. Alternatively, then,
it means Hamlet, King of Denmark. Presumably, this would be with the intention of saying
"Here I am, the rightful King of Denmark". This seems quite a reasonable thing for Hamlet to
say. But if this is the case, why doesn't anyone react to this statement? Perhaps events move
too quickly for anyone to have time to react.

Hamlet's loss of temper with Laertes is something the prince later regrets and, having just
called Laertes a "very noble youth" (V.i.194), it comes as something of a surprise. Hamlet
begins by asking "What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?". This means "Who is this
person whose grief is so artfully displayed?". The words "emphasis" and "phrase" in the
following sentence are drawn from the art of rhetoric, or effective speech-making. Hamlet
takes exception to the overwrought manner in which Laertes expresses his grief. He views
Laertes' rather ludicrous speech about being buried alive with his sister as an insult to the
dead in its showiness. It may occur to you that Hamlet is the last person with a right to
complain about the theatricality of someone else's mourning. Act One, scene two, for
example, is dominated by Hamlet's display of his grief. Perhaps this is the point. Hamlet has
grown up. He now knows that the sort of excesses that Laertes is indulging in are selfish and
immature. When he tells Laertes "I'll rant as well as thou", he is admitting his own weakness
for hyperbole. He is outdoing Laertes grief in order to mock him and to mock himself.

This explanation is the best one I can provide, but I am not entirely satisfied with it. If Hamlet
is now more mature, as I have argued, shouldn't he be more able to hold his temper?

Hamlet's protestations of love for Ophelia are a problem because the last time we saw Hamlet
with Ophelia (III.ii), he embarrassed her publicly without any legitimate excuse. The time
before that (III.i) he said that he never loved her. In fact, Hamlet does not act in a loving
manner to Ophelia at any point in the play. Again, I would argue that his declarations of love
here are an indication that he is not the same person anymore. He has lost his melancholy
and misogyny and is more like the person who, before the start of the play, courted Ophelia
"With almost all the holy vows of heaven" (I.iii.114).

On the question of whether or not Hamlet jumps into the grave or Laertes climbs out, we
cannot be entirely sure. Nearly all modern editions have Laertes climbing out, with good
reason. From the lines, it seems clear that Laertes is the aggressor in the fight and so it is
hard to see why Hamlet would jump into the grave. Second, the only authority for Hamlet
jumping in from Shakespeare's text is the generally discredited "Bad Quarto" edition. Third,
would Hamlet and Laertes really trample over Ophelia's body to be able to fight? Fourth, the
sight of two men's heads fighting in a grave looks silly rather than exciting.

However, there is a small case for Hamlet jumping into the grave. The "Bad Quarto" is the
only Elizabethan text with any stage direction at this point. The more reliable Second Quarto
and Folio versions of the play have no stage direction at all. Second, a poem written on the
death of Richard Burbage, Shakespeare's leading actor, includes the line: "Oft have I seen
him leap into the grave". This is generally understood to refer to Hamlet. It might, though, refer
to another role for which Burbage was famous. On balance, it seems more sensible to have
Laertes climbing out of the grave. This certainly makes a lot more sense of the sequence and
is considerably more likely to "work" in the theatre.

To summarise my answer to the main question, the fight sequence adds to our impression
that Hamlet is more self-aware, more mature and more emotionally healthy than previously in
the play. It also adds to the impression of enmity between Hamlet and Laertes, and so
prepares us for the fencing match. Finally, it adds a dash of real violence to the play, again
preparing the mood for the final catastrophe.
5. What developments in Hamlet's character are presented through the
story of what happened on the boat? (V.ii.1-62)




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At the opening of V.i., Hamlet recounts how he got up from troubled sleep aboard the boat,
found the letter ordering Hamlet's execution, exchanged it for one ordering Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern's death and used his father's ring to give it the royal seal.

What strikes Hamlet is how improbable all of this is. He happened to wake up. He happened
to find the letter. He happened to be able to imitate the style of diplomatic writing. He
happened to be carrying his father's ring. How could such a string of coincidences be the
consequence of chance?

Hamlet comes to the conclusion that Providence is guiding him. Providence is the direction of
earthly events by God. Hamlet says: "Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well / When our
deep plots do pall, and that should learn us / There's a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-
hew them how we will". This means, roughly, "Actions we take by accident sometimes work
out better than ones we've planned carefully. This should teach us that there is a higher power
that decides our destinies, however much we mess things up".

Another facet, then, of Hamlet's development is this attitude to destiny. He is going to stop
pushing against the flow of events and simply wait to be given his chance to do the right thing
(viz. kill Claudius). He will devote himself to preparation for this and for his own death: "the
readiness is all". This may not seem a terribly wise decision in the Twentieth Century,
however it was absolutely the correct attitude according to the English church of
Shakespeare's day. The articles of belief included the statement that "We have no power to
do good works" unless God wills it. So Hamlet has moved from the Roman Catholic belief in
having the free will to shape his destiny to a Protestant belief in Providence. More generally,
this new belief makes Hamlet a calmer, happier person: if Claudius isn't dead yet, it's because
God has not willed it, not because Hamlet is a bad son.

6. How do Hamlet's motives in killing Claudius seem to have shifted
according to his speech beginning 'Does it not, think thee...' (V.ii.63)?

Hamlet's motives in pursuing Claudius' death up until this point have been twofold. First,
revenge for his father's death, as a matter of duty and of natural feeling. Second, revenge for
the (supposed) prostitution of his mother. These motives are rehearsed in line 64 of this
speech.

Much of what remains in this catalogue of Claudius' crimes is new, however. The next line
says that Claudius pushed in when Hamlet wanted the crown for himself. Hamlet has
previously called Claudius "A cutpurse of the empire and the rule" in 3.4., at which point we
assume he means that Claudius stole the crown from Hamlet's father. Hamlet firmly resists
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's suggestion that he is ambitious in II.ii., but know he seems to
be acknowledging that he did hope to become the King of Denmark after his father's death.

The next couple of lines introduce the very understandable motive that Hamlet wants to kill
Claudius because Claudius tried to kill him: Claudius "Threw out his angle for my proper life".

The last lines seem to me to introduce another, new dimension to Hamlet's motives. He says:
"And is't not to be damned / To let this canker of our nature come / In further evil?". Hamlet
means: "Wouldn't I deserve to be damned if I allowed this cancer of human nature to continue
to corrupt it?" Here, Hamlet is asserting that he is going to act not on behalf of his father, or
his mother, or himself, but on behalf of the human race. Claudius is depicted as an affliction
that degrades and threatens to destroy us all. I think this shift is highly significant: Hamlet will
no longer be acting as a revenger, but rather as a surgeon for the state. The rights and
wrongs of the Ghost's request and Hamlet's own feelings cease to have relevance and so
Hamlet can kill Claudius with a "perfect conscience".

7. What concerns of the play are reinforced in the Osric episode?
(V.ii.80-170)


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This is a slightly odd sequence which often tends to get cut from performances. There are at
least three problems with it. First, the jokes don't really work very well because they depend
on quite a close knowledge of Elizabethan English. Second, a comic episode at this point,
together with introduction of a new character, between Hamlet's stoic acceptance of his fate
and the final catastrophe may be felt to disrupt the atmosphere and detract from the dramatic
impact of the scene as a whole.

I would suggest, though, that it intensifies several aspects of the play. First, Osric is given as
an example of the corrupted state of Denmark. He is a nouveau riche social climber who,
Hamlet tells us, is typical of the sort of man who has attained high office in the "drossy age" of
Claudius' rule. Second, his arrival gives Hamlet a chance to be wittily sarcastic. This is
perhaps Hamlet's most likeable talent. Consequently, we are given a sense of Hamlet's worth
which reinforces the tragedy of his death. Osric is, in some ways, standing in for Polonius as
Hamlet's comic foil.

Lastly, a little tentatively, I would suggest that there is a theme of "dishonest language" in the
play: people not saying what they mean or wrapping their meaning in obscure expression.
Earlier examples would include Polonius (not) telling the King and Queen about Hamlet's
madness at the opening of II.ii., Hamlet's act of madness in II.ii., Hamlet's explanation of his
melancholy to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, also in II.ii., Hamlet's letter to the King of
England and the gravedigger's refusal to tell Hamlet whose grave it is in V.ii.

8. Why does Hamlet 'defy augury'? (V.ii.192)

Hopefully, the answer to question five, above, has made the answer to this question fairly
clear.

Briefly, then, Hamlet decides to ignore the "ill" feeling in his heart because he refuses to allow
himself to be drawn into planning his future. He has come to believe in Providence, the divine
power which supposedly rules the course of our lives. If he is to die (as he must expect) then
it is because God has decided it. Provided he is spiritually prepared for whatever happens,
that all that is necessary. Since God apparently spared Hamlet's life on the ship to England
and since killing Claudius would be an act of goodness, Hamlet is convinced that he will be
given his opportunity when God decides.

9. What does Laertes say is his motive in still resenting Hamlet? How
has he already lost this? How does this contribute to the presentation of
revenge in the play? (V.ii.216-223)

Laertes says that he is content as far as "nature" (natural feeling) is concerned, but in his
"terms of honour" he still holds a grudge. His resentment of Hamlet is on the grounds of
honour, he says.

This is, of course, nonsense and Laertes realises this as the fencing match proceeds. How
can a person claim to be acting the grounds of honour by plotting stab someone with a
poisoned, sharpened sword during a rigged fencing match? In the knowledge that if you don't
get to stab the person, then a poisoned drink will do the trick? Prepared to stab your opponent
while his guard is down, between rounds? Laertes' honour vapourised as soon as he
committed himself to revenge when he declared "To hell allegiance, vows to the blackest
devil, / Conscience and grace to the profoundest pit!" (IV.v.131).
This is the paradox of the revenge ethic: it is feelings disguised as duty. The revenger, by
definition, moves himself outside society's codes of behaviour. What the revenger desires is
itself a paradox: natural justice, a code of feeling aligned with a code of civilisation. The
revenger's refusal or inability to go to the law puts him outside the social bonds that prompt
the desire for revenge. In the Revenge Tragedy, the revenger is polysemic (has more than
one meaning): a sign of chaos and a sign of the movement towards destruction of that chaos.
This is why revengers, like Hamlet, must die. The restoration of order requires the extinction



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of anti-social elements. How can the rule of law be established while they are still people who
would ignore the law?

10. How might the dying lines of Gertrude, Claudius and Laertes be
viewed as typical of the way their characters have been presented
throughout the play?

Gertrude says: "No, no, the drink, the drink &emdash; o my dear Hamlet &emdash; / The
drink, the drink &emdash; I am poisoned." One way to read this is that Gertrude is killed by
her sensual appetites. She insists on having the drink just as she insists on remarriage.
Another, kinder, way of reading the line is to say that it illustrates her love for Hamlet,
protecting him from danger, and for Claudius, refusing to incriminate him as the source of the
poison.

Claudius says: "Oh yet defend me friends, I am but hurt." So typical of Claudius to rely on
others to do his work, seemingly offering no physical resistance to Hamlet at all. Polonius,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the King of England, the King of Norway, and Laertes have all
acted as the King's agents in the play, with varying degrees of incompetence.

Laertes gets a longer dying speech in which he reflects upon the poetic justice of the King
dying by the poison he himself prepared. he then goes on to offer and ask for Hamlet's
forgiveness, concluding, "Mine and my father's death come not upon thee, / Nor thine on me".
Laertes experiences something of a moral U-turn in his final moments, from the moment just
before he stabs Hamlet when he says it is "almost against [his] conscience". This reversal in
Laertes' attitudes returns him to the status of the "very noble youth" Hamlet remembers him
as in the graveyard scene. His regret at his actions helps to emphasise the anti-revenge
theme of the play and the tragic sense of waste in these deaths.

Stagecraft

1. What means does Shakespeare use to raise suspense during the
graveyard scene?

The most obvious means is a visual cue. There is an open grave on the stage. We know it is
Ophelia's, but Hamlet, despite his best efforts, does not. The tension of the scene on account
of this dramatic irony rises from the point at which Hamlet attempts to discover the identity of
the deceased at line 99, to the point at which he finds out at line 209. The open grave is also a
sign of the death which awaits all the major characters at the end of the play. We have come
from the plotting of Hamlet's death in IV.vii to Hamlet jesting unknowingly beside an open
grave. The jokes themselves, set against the grave and the knowledge that Hamlet will die
shortly might be said to raise the tension. Hamlet's fight with Laertes raises the suspense
because it intensifies the aggression between these characters, an aggression which will of
course reach its climax in the following scene. Lastly, Claudius promises to put the plan for
Hamlet's death into immediate operation at line 262, raising our expectation of catastrophe in
the following scene.



2. What means does Shakespeare use to raise suspense during the
fencing match?

As with the graveyard scene, there is a strong sense of dramatic irony in the suspense of this
scene. We know that the sword Laertes holds is sharpened and poisoned, and that the drink
is poisoned too, but Hamlet doesn't. Shakespeare heightens the effect of these two pieces of
knowledge. he has Hamlet better at fencing than Laertes. This way, the fencing match is
lengthened, the tension is raised, and Laertes must compound his sin by striking at Hamlet
between bouts. Similarly, Hamlet innocently refuses the poisoned wine, saying he'll drink it


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after the next round. Again, the tension is heightened through the deferment of discovering
the true nature of the item.

Again, too, the tension has a very visible focus. Shakespeare's theatre used few props and so
the ones that are used attain an extra significance. Shakespeare has Claudius set the wine
upon a table, the only piece of furniture in the scene, in order to draw the audience's attention
to it. Similarly, the only other hand-props are the swords, investing them with importance
because of their singularity.

Language and Imagery

1. In V.ii., Hamlet refers to Claudius as "this canker of our nature". What
makes this so appropriate?
The word "canker" here, refers not to an insect infestation of a plant as in modern English and
I.iii.39, but rather a cancer. Claudius is like a cancer in the state of Denmark because (a) his
evil influence is deadly; (b) it spreads as time passes, infecting previously healthy cells; (c) it is
hidden from view; (d) it infects from the centre outwards rather than from the extremities and
(e) radical surgery is required to halt its spread. This line is the climax of the disease imagery
in the play and its most explicit application. The image possesses a gruesome brilliance which
I find almost shocking.

Themes

1. Which characters view the ending as bloody carnage and which as
poetic justice? Why such confusion?

Claudius' court, the lords, guards and attendants in the final scene, certainly seem to view the
ending as a massacre. The court seem to be unable to hear Laertes' incrimination of the King
because, as Hamlet stabs Claudius, they cry out "Treason, treason!". Later, at line 313,
Hamlet addresses the court, who are described as pale and trembling at what they have seen.
Similarly, Fortinbras says that the pile of bodies suggests "havoc" (343).

On the other hand, Laertes gives a clear indication that he views Claudius and his own death
as just. He says he is "justly killed" (287) and that Claudius is "justly served" (306) because
their evil plot has backfired upon its inventors. Horatio appears to be of the same opinion,
telling Fortinbras that the plots to kill Hamlet have "Fallen on th'inventors' heads" (363) and
promising to explain more, as per Hamlet's dying wishes.

This double view, justice and chaos, is absolutely deliberate and quite crucial to
understanding the end of the play. Confusion on this issue forms a commentary upon what
has been achieved by the two revengers, Hamlet and Laertes. They have achieved a kind of
justice and they have achieved a bloody massacre. This is because revenge is and is not
justice. It punishes offenders, but without moral or legal sanction to do so. It is in excess of
justice, always wanting more than fair punishment, yet it is less than justice, driven by
individual desire rather than social necessity. The ending of Hamlet is both poetic justice and
bloody carnage because that is what revenge is like.
I would suggest that Hamlet worries about this as he dies. In each of Hamlet's final three
speeches after Laertes' death, he asks Horatio to report his story "aright" (318). Why such
insistence? Aside from his recommendation that Fortinbras be made the next king, it is all he
says in his final speeches. We are not told the reason, but the evident worry implies that
Hamlet is not sure what he has achieved. The pale, trembling court (and this line is partially
addressed to the pale, trembling audience, too) tell him that there is another way of reading
the climax of the play, one that sees the pile of dead bodies and is sickened by the waste. I do
not believe that Hamlet dies peacefully, but rather in an agony of mistrust. In the Folio edition
of the play, Hamlet's last line is not "The rest is silence", but "O, o, o, o", thought to signify
either a long sigh or a cry. Quite appropriate really.


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In this light, Horatio's account of the play's events takes on a rich ambiguity:

            So shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgements, casual slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause...
(360-2)

As Hamlet's friend, Horatio presumably means Claudius' "carnal, bloody and unnatural acts"
(his murder of his brother and marriage to his sister-in-law), Laertes' "accidental judgement"
of Hamlet, and Claudius, Laertes and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's "cunning" plots to kill
Hamlet. The audience, however, may be more critical and sceptical of Hamlet's actions and
wonder about Hamlet's judgement and casual slaughter of Polonius, Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern. The speech promises certainty but unwinds itself to expose questions about
what has been done and what has been achieved.

2. Who "wins" in Hamlet? How?

A first, not at all mischievous, suggestion is that Death wins. This is one of the typical features
of tragedy. If the ending did not feature wasteful death, we wouldn't view it as a tragedy.
Fortinbras implies this reading when he asks: "O proud death, / What feast is toward in thine
eternal cell / That thou so many princes at a shot / So bloodily hast struck?" (343-46).
Whatever other answers we may find to this question, it is certainly true that Death has scored
a victory.

Hamlet wins up to a point. He achieves his goal of killing Claudius. Also his dying wishes, his
story being told and Fortinbras becoming King, seem likely to be achieved. Dying somewhat
undermines Hamlet's victory, but he has been prepared for this for some time.

Most certainly, however, Fortinbras wins. The landless orphan gains everything he set out to
achieve at the start of the play and much more. He assumes the throne of Denmark without
challenge on the basis of some rather vague "rights of memory" (367). There are a couple of
things to be said about this. First, of the three fatherless sons in the play, Hamlet, Laertes and
Fortinbras, Fortinbras is the only one who survives and achieves full success. Not
coincidentally, he is also the only one of the three who gives up his revenge. A kind of moral is
suggested by this: if you pursue revenge you will get stabbed with a poisoned sword, if you
give it up you will become King of Denmark. Fortinbras' victory again emphasises an anti-
revenge message to the play. Second, Denmark has been taken over by a foreign power.
Everyone's worst fear at the opening of the play has been made real. What happens in V.ii. is
a disaster for Denmark. However, positive Hamlet and Laertes are about having achieved
their goals, the Danish are likely to be less than positive about their country being taken over
by the Prince of Norway, particularly since that prince has every appearance of being an
egocentric warmonger. Shakespeare's tragedies are about the deaths of Kings, Princes and
Queens because these people are important. The ending of Hamlet isn't tragic just because
of the individual deaths, but rather because of the impact of those deaths upon the entire
country.




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English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                                 A.1.1.


Test: Hamlet Act I

A. Shakespeare's life
The third of eight children, he was the eldest son of John Shakespeare (died
1601), a locally prominent member of the landed (1) ....................... He was
probably educated at the local (2)................ ...................... As the eldest son,
Shakespeare, ordinarily would have been apprenticed to his father's shop so
that he could learn and eventually take over the (3) .................., but according
to one account he was apprenticed to a (4) ............................ because of
reverses in his father's financial situation. According to another account, he
became a (5) ........................... He is supposed to have left Stratford after he
was caught (6) ............................. in the deer park of Sir Thomas Lucy (1532-
1600), a local justice of the peace. Shakespeare apparently arrived in London
about 1588 and by 1592 had attained success as an actor and a (7)
................................... . The publication of Shakespeare's two fashionably
erotic narrative poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece
(1594) and of his Sonnets (pub. 1609) established his reputation as a poet in
the Renaissance manner. The Sonnets describe the devotion of a .character,
often identified as the poet himself to a young .(8) ................ whose beauty
and virtue he praises and to a mysterious and faithless dark (9) ....................
with whom the poet is infatuated. Shakespeare's modern reputation is based
mainly, however, on the 38 plays that he apparently wrote, modified, or
collaborated on. Although generally popular in his day, these plays were
frequently little esteemed by his educated contemporaries, who considered
English plays of their own day to be only vulgar (10) .............................
Shakespeare's professional life in London was marked by a number of
financially advantageous arrangements that permitted him to share in the (11)
......................... of his acting company. He died on April 23, 1616, and was
buried in the Stratford church.


B. Enumerate at least 5 features of the Elisabethan theatre

1. ...........................................

2. ...........................................

3. ............................................

4. ............................................

5. ............................................




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English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                                                            A.1.1.


A. Fill in the blanks:                                                     Name: ……………………

  Horatio, (1) ............................ and (2).............................. encounter the
  silent apparition on the battlements, discuss its possible connection with
  the threat of invasion from the disgruntled (3)................................. and
  decide to tell (4) ............................................. Claudius explains his motives
  for marrying Gertrude, allows (5) ............................. to go to                  (6)
  ................... and, together with Gertrude, counsels Hamlet to stop mourning
  and to stay in (7) ............................ Hamlet bewails the state of the world
  and his mother's (8) .................................... and is told of the apparition. (9)
  ..................... and Polonius counsel Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet. (10)
  ......................, Horatio and the guards encounter the apparition and Hamlet
  follows. It persuades Hamlet to revenge its (11) ......................................
  After it leaves, Hamlet swears the others to secrecy and reveals his plan to
  put on an (12) ................................'

B. Describe in about 100 words (whole sentences!) Hamlet's character
  as suggested by his appearance in the first act? Make use of
  references to passages in the text to substantiate your claims.

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English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                                                            A.1.1.


C. Why can we say that characters in "Hamlet" are seldom what they
  seem? (50 words)? Make use of references to passages in the text to
  substantiate your claims.

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D. The ghost comes in 'questionable shape'. Explain this expression (40
  words):

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English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                              A.1.1.




Institut Montana / 36def453-3633-4a97-9b48-b17065e6731c.doc / by: Ian DelaneyPage - 41
English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                                                             A.1.1.


Act III                                                               Name: .......................................

1. Please complete the following text using the words in the boxes.

kill              retrieving        similar                               confessing               examine
nephew            madness           commit suicide                        frightening              disclose
lie               rejects           suspects                              escort

Scene 1
Claudius and Polonius call Ophelia to investigate the truth of Hamlet's
…………… since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fail to find it. Hamlet, in this
moment, is questioning whether to ……………………… or not. He expresses
his point of view toward life, and considers death is not ………………….., but
its uncertainly does and that is what people afraid

When Ophelia comes with her camouflage, Hamlet gives her a chance to
…………….. herself. However, Ophelia fails. Hamlet is infuriated since all of
his beloved women, Gertrude and Ophelia, try to ……. on him. He
…………… Ophelia's request of …………..their love vehemently and berates
women's frailty and dependency on men. Meanwhile, Claudius
……………….. Hamlet's madness. He prepares to send Hamlet to England
and asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's …………..

Scene 2 and 3
Hamlet is preparing a play that describe how a …………………… of the king
murders the king and gets both the Queen and the crown, this is ………….. to
Claudius's situation. Hamlet uses it to ………………. the truth of his father's
death. In the play, Claudius's reaction to the play confirms Hamlet suspicion
.When Claudius steps out to calm himself down from the excruciating
depression of the play, Hamlet follows him intending to ………..him. However,
Claudius is ……………. his crime and repenting for his brother's death.
Hamlet, doesn't think it is a good moment to kill Claudius, because he doesn't
want to send him to heaven.

2. Answer the following questions:

1. “I essentially am not in madness” says Hamlet (III,iv,188). Can we
    believe him? What is your opinion? (80 words, whole sentences)
  ..................................................................................................................

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English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                                                            A.1.1.




  ..................................................................................................................

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   2. King: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words
         without thoughts never to heaven go.(III,iii,97-98)” Explain the
         King’s dilemma. (50 words, whole sentences).


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   3. After III, ii, the next time we see Ophelia she is mad. How are the
         seeds for this planted in this act? (50 words, whole sentences).
  ..................................................................................................................

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English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                                                            A.1.1.


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Institut Montana / 36def453-3633-4a97-9b48-b17065e6731c.doc / by: Ian DelaneyPage - 44
     English & American Literature: Shakespeare: Hamlet                              A.1.1.


 1 Ham. Now might I do it pat, now ‘a is a-praying And now I‘ll do‘t,
                                                  —


                            (Draws his sword)
                              and so ‘a goes to heaven,
         And so am I revenged ...That would be scanned:
 5       A villain kills my father, and for that
         I, his sole son, do this same villain send
         To heaven...
         Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
         ‘A took my father grossly, full of bread,
10       With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May,
         And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
         But in our circumstance and course of thought,
         ‘Tis heavy with him; and am I then revenged
         To take him in the purging of his soul,
15       When he is fit and seasoned for bis passage? -
         No.
                            (Sheathes his sword.)
         Up, sword, and know thou a more hornd hent:
         When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
20
         Or in th‘ incestuous pleasure of bis bed,
         At garne a-swearing, or about some act
         That has no relish of salvation in‘t,
         Then trip hirn that bis heels may kick at heaven,
         And that his soul may be as damned and black
25
         As hell whereto it goes... My mother stays;
         This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.
                                            Exit.
     King. (Rises.) My words fly up, my thoughts rernain below. Words without
         thoughts never to heaven go.
30                                          Exit.




     Institut Montana / 36def453-3633-4a97-9b48-b17065e6731c.doc / by: Ian DelaneyPage - 45

				
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