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Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Hamlet | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1, when Ophelia tells Polonius that Hamlet has visited her behaving as if in a fit of madness, to what does Polonius attribute Hamlet's "madness"?

Polonius attributes Hamlet's wild behavior to his love for Ophelia (Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 113–117).

In Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern meet with Claudius and Gertrude. Why does Claudius say they have asked these two to help them with Hamlet?

In Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 10–14, Claudius mentions that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are old friends of Hamlet. He and Gertrude think that with their shared history, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can help in changing Hamlet's mindset. Furthermore, they hope that the young men may be able to do more to discover the cause of Hamlet's unrest than Claudius and Gertrude have been able to.

What do the Danish ambassadors report when they return from their trip to Norway in Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet?

The return of the ambassadors in this scene brings the audience up-to-date on Fortinbras's quest to reclaim Norwegian land lost to King Hamlet. The ambassadors announce that they have had a successful meeting with old Norway, as they call Fortinbras's uncle, the king. The king had been ill and was unacquainted with his nephew's activities. After the ambassadors informed him of young Fortinbras's threats, the king was able to rein in his nephew, securing his promise of no more military movements against Denmark. Although Fortinbras and his military maneuvers don't consume a significant amount of stage time, the subplot does bring Fortinbras into the play, where he serves as both a foil and an inspiration to Hamlet.

In Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, a group of people shows up at Elsinore. Who are these people, and how does Hamlet plan to use them?

Shortly after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern catch up with Hamlet, a group of players comes to Elsinore Castle. Hamlet asks them to perform The Murder of Gonzago, a play that Hamlet obviously knows well and into which he plans to insert a few lines of his own. His addition, he hopes, will cause Claudius to react guiltily—thus, confirming for Hamlet that the ghost spoke truthfully.

Polonius and Claudius orchestrate a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1. Polonius remains convinced that love is causing Hamlet's distraction. What does Claudius believe?

After seeing Hamlet's rather explosive response to Ophelia at their chance meeting, Claudius no longer thinks that Hamlet's love for Ophelia could be the cause. This event is the first inkling for Claudius that something greater is going on beneath the surface. Claudius says, "There's something in his soul/O'er which his melancholy sits on brood" (Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 174–175).

In Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, Claudius decides that Hamlet in his present state might be dangerous—to him, if not to others. What does he determine to do?

Claudius, in seeing Hamlet's fiery mood and wild, unpredictable behavior, decides to send his nephew to England. His motivation is purely for selfish reasons, as he wants to get Hamlet—whom he suspects knows something—as far away from him and Gertrude as possible.

In Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, what does Polonius suggest as a way to find the cause of Hamlet's madness, and what is the outcome of Polonius's plan?

After seeing the interaction between Hamlet and Ophelia and hearing Claudius's idea to send Hamlet to England, Polonius has one more idea: he suggests having Gertrude talk bluntly with Hamlet after the play that evening. In typical Polonius fashion, he makes a plan to hide nearby and listen, just as he and Claudius listened to the meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia. If Claudius had not agreed to Polonius's one last idea, Polonius would still have his life. While Polonius eavesdrops behind a tapestry in Gertrude's chamber (Act 3, Scene 4), Hamlet hears him call out—he thinks the eavesdropper is Claudius, and fatally stabs him through the tapestry.

What keeps Hamlet from killing Claudius in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3?

Hamlet, on his way to visit Gertrude, finds Claudius kneeling in attempted prayer. Hamlet momentarily considers killing the king then and there but realizes—according to beliefs of the time—that if he were to kill Claudius while he is repenting of his sins (which he thinks Claudius is doing), he would inadvertently send him straight to heaven. Reluctantly, he moves on to find his mother.

Hamlet opts not to kill Claudius while he prays in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3, and decides to kill him when the king is involved in what type of activities?

In Act 3, Scene 3, Hamlet chooses not to kill Claudius while in prayer because he fears he may send the villain king straight to heaven. Instead, he says he'll wait to find him when he is drunk, in his "incestuous bed," swearing, or involved in some other very earthly activity—and kill him then.

In Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 1, Gertrude tells Claudius of her encounter with Hamlet, detailing his killing of Polonius. What is one of Claudius's two responses to the news?

Interestingly, with no moment of sorrow for Polonius, Claudius's immediate response is, "It had been so with us had we been there." Considering that Gertrude was there, he is most likely using the royal "we," meaning that he is thinking of himself. His next thought is that because they did not keep Hamlet under tighter control, he (or they) will most likely be blamed for Polonius's death.

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