Maynard Mack tells us that Hamlet is the most popular play ever written in English. Certainly it
is both the most produced and the most written about play in our language. One aspect of its
popularity lies in the many facets of universal concern in the play.
1. Disillusionment: Have you ever had someone, a family member or a good friend, betray
you or let you down on something important to you? How did you feel? What did you
2. Male-Female Characteristics: Are there such things as “male behavior characteristics” or
“female behavior characteristics”?
3. Suicide: Do you believe that anyone who tries to commit suicide is insane at the moment
of the attempt? Do you believe that it is morally wrong for a person to take his own life?
Are there any times when suicide might be “justified”?
4. Duty: Do you believe that everyone, including young children, should have
responsibilities that are entirely theirs? Do you believe that children owe any special
duties to their parents? Do parents hold and of the same duties to their children?
5. Tragedy: You recall that Aristotle believed only people of high position were important
enough to be used as tragic figures. What is your reaction to this belief? Do you believe
that even ordinary people have lives or suffer losses which might be considered tragic?
What elements make one occasion tragic and another simply very sad?
6. Fate: Do you believe that your own life has been planned by a power or force more
important than yourself? Hamlet says, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends.” Do you
believe him? Do you believe that events in the history of human kind were pre-planned
by a force or a power? Is humankind indeed the “master of its fate”?
7. Foils: Foils are minor characters who are either very much alike or very much different
from major characters; the personality of the major character becomes more apparent.
Are there any characters in your own life that help you, through their behavior, to define
yourself more accurately?
8. Poison: On both the literal and figurative level, poison is used in Hamlet; consider one
aspect of “poison,” dishonesty, in some area of government. Are there times in real life
when an entire administration of a society can be corrupt?
9. Madness: How do you define insanity or sanity in real life?
10. Without necessarily revealing the event which led you to feel this way, have you ever
been badly depressed because of a deep personal loss of some kind? Describe how you
felt: how people seemed, how the world looked, what you did with your days, what
metaphors you would use to describe people, the world, yourself. How did you get
through this period?
11. How would you define what it means to be a person, man or woman, as distinguished
from a merely surviving human animal?
12. Has a loved one of yours—friend, parent, boy/girlfriend—ever seemed to betray you by
becoming close friends with (in the case of a parent, marrying) someone whom you
despised and perhaps who disliked you in the bargain? What did it feel like? What did
you do? How was the issue resolved?
13. Which of your faculties do you trust the most to give you reliable information about
whatever is most important to you in your life: your five senses, your reason/intellect,
your feelings, or your imagination? Develop with real personal examples.
14. What is “goodness”? Do you know someone who is good? Describe that person.
15. What is “evil”? How has evil shown itself to your in your own experience—perhaps
including readings that have been very important to you.
16. We usually don’t think about death very often. When you do—when you realize that it
only takes a split second mistake on the freeway to die—what happens in your mind?