Hamlet Study Guide

Old Hamlet/Ghost Hamlet’s Father, King of Denmark, residing at the Castle of Elsinore. Murdered by his brother, Claudius. Appears as a Ghost in the play.
Hamlet Prince of Denmark, nephew to Claudius. Must decide whether to avenge his Father’s murder. Feigns madness. Studied at the University of Wittenberg, and has a philosophical and existentialist approach to life.
Claudius Brother to the old king Hamlet, but after old Hamlet’s death he married his brother’s wife- Queen Gertrude, and became King of Denmark and Stepfather/Uncle to Hamlet.
Gertrude The Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius. Gertrude loves Hamlet deeply, but she is a shallow, weak woman who seeks affection and status more urgently than moral rectitude or truth.
Fortinbras The young Prince of Norway, whose father the king (also named Fortinbras) was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). Now Fortinbras wishes to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor, making him another foil for Prince Hamlet.
Horatio Hamlet’s close friend, who studied with the prince at the university in Wittenberg. Horatio is loyal and helpful to Hamlet throughout the play. After Hamlet’s death, Horatio remains alive to tell Hamlet’s story.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
Laertes Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France. Passionate and quick to action, Laertes is clearly a foil for the reflective Hamlet.
Polonius The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a pompous, conniving old man. Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia.
Ophelia Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. Ophelia is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father and her brother, Laertes. Dependent on men to tell her how to behave, she gives in to Polonius’s schemes to spy on Hamlet. Even in her lapse into madness and death, she remains maidenly, singing songs about flowers and finally drowning in the river amid the flower garlands she had gathered.
Motifs Snake (serpent, devil, venom)Poison/Disease/Sickness (physical, spiritual, mental)Afterlife references, Biblical AllusionsMirrorsSurveillance
Critical Approaches New CriticismPsychoanalysisFeminist Approach
New Criticism Close Reading of the text
Psychoanalysis Freudian Approach to sexuality; incest, Oedipus complex
Feminist Approach Hamlet’s Action/attitude toward Gertrude and Ophelia and their responses
Illusion vs. Reality Madness/Acting vs. the true character. Illusion of love vs. Reality of lust
Existentialism Does life have meaning? Is it worth living?
Action vs. Inaction Revenge vs. Contemplation/hesitation
Themes Deception, ambition, loyalty, corruption
How does Hamlet begin? Hamlet comes home from college to mourn father’s death.Learns of Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius.Meets Father’s Ghost.
What are Claudius’ and Gertrude’s views of Hamlet’s mourning? He is being melodramatic.They are trying to be patient.They want him to support their marriage.
What do you learn from Hamlet’s first Soliloquy? He is suicidal.He is angry at Gertrude for marrying so quickly after Father’s death.He is frustrated that he feels like he can’t speak.
What does the Ghost reveal and request? That Claudius killed him.That Claudius was corrupt.He asks Hamlet to avenge him and kill Claudius.
What do we learn from Hamlet’s next soliloquy after the ghost- describe Hamlet’s mental state? He believes the ghost.He promises to obey and remember it.He feels like his fears are confirmed.
How does Polonius show his foolishness? Is the King/Queen convinced by his arguments? He talks himself into a corner.Neither the King nor the Queen are fully convinced. He believes that they agree with him, even though they don’t.
What is comic, ironic, sad about the interaction between Polonius and Hamlet? What points are made by Hamlet? Hamlet is making Polonius look like a fool, and Polonius doesn’t even see it. Hamlet makes the point that Polonius is ignorant and then let’s Polonius show that side of himself by letting him talk in circles.Polonius is so focused on himself that he doesn’t see that Hamlet is doing this.
How do you think Hamlet and Ophelia truly feel about each other? What is the importance of this scene? I think that Ophelia actually likes Hamlet and hopes that he will pursue her, and that Hamlet likes her, but does not intend to pursue her.Hamlet is beginning to confuse Ophelia.He entertains her intelligence, then reminds her that her intelligence does not matter.
To Be Soliloquy … What is Hamlet struggling with? Tone of this soliloquy versus the previous ones? Whether or not he should live or kill himself.Hamlet is also debating whether or not death is an unknown that should be feared.This soliloquy is passionate, because it is a heavy question for Hamlet. It is also sadder.
Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern visiting Hamlet? How does Hamlet deal with them/view them? What points does he make around them? Because Claudius told them to.Hamlet sees them as unknowing of real tragedy and pain.He makes points that seem insane in order to fool them.
Important realizations in this soliloquy? Tone compared to the TO BE Speech? He wants to be real with his mother.Serious tone, but one of self-control.He has a complicated relationship with his mother.
What is the purpose of the play within the play? Irony of the name? How does it affect the actual audience? To cause Claudius to feel guilt.To allow Hamlet to watch Claudius’ reaction.The Murder of Gonzago – makes people uncomfortable, but slightly funny. Ironic because it is essentially Hamlet showing that he knows what Claudius did.
What is the analogy Hamlet uses with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? He’s saying he is not as easy to play as a flute. When you play a flute you just press certain buttons in order to create a melody. You can’t just press certain buttons on a human being hoping for the same result.
What does Claudius admit to? Why doesn’t Hamlet kill him then? He admits to killing Claudius and his guilt. Hamlet does not kill him because he believes Claudius is praying.In reality Claudius is not praying, but only appears to be.
Does Hamlet actually give in to Madness with his mother? Does he really see his father? Describe his complex relationship with Gertrude. No, I believe he is very good at convincing them.I do believe he sees his father. He wants to be upset with her, but he doesn’t want to be so harsh, because her husband’s death is still a tragedy.
Explain Hamlet’s answer to what happens to Polonius. Significance? Polonius, behind the arras, also shouts in fear. Hamlet quickly ascertains that someone is hiding behind the arras. With this in mind, Hamlet acts to avenge his father’s death, stabbing through the curtain, killing Polonius instead. Polonius dies while spying on Hamlet, and Old Hamlet’s murder remains unavenged.
What are the obvious and also underlying reasons that Hamlet is sent to England? What is meant to happen there? What actually happens? He is sent to England in order to prevent him from meddling with Claudius’ rule. He is meant to be kidnapped by “pirates” and assassinated. He weasels his way out of it.
Why does Ophelia go crazy and how is this a foil to Hamlet? Ophelia goes crazy because the man who she thought loved her essentially told her to get away from him. She had no power, as her father and brother were speaking and acting for her, and at the same time society was telling her to be perfect and have a family. She actually goes crazy because she can’t do anything, but Hamlet “goes Crazy” because of what he has been told to do.
What kind of things does Ophelia say when she is crazy? Tone? She talks about how everyone deserves flowers.She seems unnervingly happy, scary. She also talks about how nothing matters.
Do you think Ophelia’s death was an accident or suicide? Purpose of her death? It was a suicide. She killed herself because she saw no other choice to make. The men in her life were taking away her agency and dignity. She chose to die because it was the only thing she could do out of her own free will.
What is the purpose of the gravedigger scene? What thoughts on death are expressed? Purpose of fools in the play? To show the men in Ophelia’s life what they have done to her. There is extreme sorrow and shock at the permanence of death. The fools are meant to mock the characters’ and point out their flaws in a lighthearted way.
How does Claudius harness Laertes’ anger/vengeance? Laertes blames Hamlet for Ophelia’s death. Claudius sees this as an opportunity to remove Hamlet from his plate of troubles. He encourages Laertes to go after Hamlet, and allows a duel.
Describe how the play ends. Why must it end this way and what point is it making? Everyone kills each other and themselves.It ends this way in order to deliver justice to every character who is responsible for another’ troubles. It makes the point that nobody escapes death.

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