Potential IOC Discussion Questions: Hamlet

What do you consider to be a key theme in the play? Madness/SeemingAfter speaking to the Ghost, Hamlet decides to “put an antic disposition on”, meaning he is going to feign madness.Hamlet hopes that by pretending to be mad, he will be able to study the King’s behaviour without arousing suspicion. Ironically, Claudius declares that “madness in great ones must not unwatched go” and Hamlet ends up being more closely watched than ever (link to surveillance). Ophelia’s madness it real)RevengeRevenge is present throughout the play and is the driving force behind the plot as it moves forward. Not only does Hamlet want revenge but as does Laertes, Claudius and Fortinbras. Revenge is the initial motivation for Hamlet’s transformation into anger and madness.SurveillanceHamlet uses horatio as spy (act 3, scene 2)R&G as spysReynaldo spying on LaertesBetrayalMotherFatherGuildenstern and Rosencrantz Family loyalty/trustIf trust does not exist between relative it can destroy a familyDuplicityPretending/seeming
How do you respond to Hamlet as a character? Hamlet is a fascinating yet infuriating character. Hamlet is an ineffective tragic heroInitially the reader feels sorrow towards Hamlet as he appears to be conflicted, as he mourns the loss of his father but also seems hostile “a little more than kin, and less than kind” Yet as Hamlet follows the ghost, the audience realises that by ignoring his friends advice he may cause his own downfallAfter being directly charged with avenging the death, the reader still feels a sense of melancholy – his father exploits his son’s loveThis sorrow transitions into respect as well as hopeAudience then begins to pity Hamlet as he suffers an existential crisis”To be or not to be that is the question”His internal conflict is confirmed and he is mysenthropic as he sees no good in the world around himHis inability to demonstrate a genuine level of emotion also makes him be pitied by the audienceAct 2, Scene 2 – Hamlet SoliloquyFrustration due to his procrastination Hamlet appears as a coward incapable of revenge, who takes his anger out on defenceless women.Loss of all respect as he is abusive towards his motherLast Scene – giving Claudius the chance to kill himself Hamlet was unable to complete his “quest” leaving the audience dissatisfied and the conflict somewhat unresolvedHamlet’s death is a relief and emotional release
Fatal Flaw – Ghost is representative of the supernaturalFate
Hamartia – Decision to believe the ghost Fate vs free will – other decisions that could have changed the sequence of events Decision to not kill Claudius in chappel
Foil – Introduces Laertes to catalyze events and causes stark juxtaposition between Laertes’ direct revenge and gives voice to situations that Hamlet chooses to keep quiet about. Intensifies portrayal Hamlet’s procrastinationAudience respects Laertes
Can you identify any significant techniques that Shakespeare uses to affect our perception of Hamlet as a character? “Aside” – gives the audience an insight into Hamlet’s characteristics and mental state. Use of “to be or not to be” Soliloquy – allows Hamlet share his emotions, thoughts and opinions, allowing the audience to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of Hamlet’s character as he experiences several different emotions throughout the passage. Highlights his internal conflicts as well as makes the audience confused about his state of mind.Blank verse vs. iambic pentameter to reveal the difference between Hamlet’s mental states, changing when he is sane and when he is mad. Natural imagery “the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory” (Act 2, scene 2)Reflects Hamlet’s increasing depression and misanthropy Rhyming Couplet is used to summarize key points/takeaways from Hamlet’s soliloquy – Aphorism “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”Diction Syntax Dramatic IronyParallelism
4. How does Shakespeare convey Hamlet’s character to us as an audience? Claim: Hamlet is portrayed to the audience as a procrasinist who despite his many chances of avenging his father only ended up killing those he didn’t need to kill.Moment: This can be seen after Claudius stands up and leaves the The Mousetrap, performed by The Players, to go pray at a chapel nearby for forgiveness of his sins, his sins being poisoning Hamlet’s Sr during his sleep. Whilst this provides Hamlet the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius he instead chooses to wait as he wants to ensure that Claudius does not go to heaven. Furthermore Shakespeare’s deliberate intention to make Hamlet kill people who he does not want to kill fatalistically can be seen when he kills Polonius as he hides behind the arras in Gertrude’s closet.Impact: This creates the scenario for the audience that they do not necessarily believe that Hamlet is the tragic hero as his procrastination leads us to question his abilities to pursue his goal, ultimately resulting in the audience never experiencing the cathartic relief often associated with a tragic hero, instead making them almost grateful for his passing.
5. Does Shakespeare make any particularly significant decisions about the structure of the play in order to influence our impressions of character or theme? Claim: Shakespeare uses parallelism throughout the play to suggest that people we care for the most are often those we treat the worstMoment: Shakespeare augments the parallelism between Laertes and Hamlet as Laertes immediately returns to Denmark upon hearing that his father was murdered. This proves Laertes’ proactive nature in contrast to that of Hamlet’s who tends to procrastinate in the objectives he has set out for himself. Similarly Ophelia’s role in the play is also structured as parallelism by Shakespeare as she loses her sanity before committing suicide.Impact: These moments reinforce the idea that it is often those we care for the most that we treat the worst. In the case of Ophelia it ended with her taking her own life in the river, throwing doubt on Hamlet as a tragic character once again as he is unable to kill Claudius but does kill those people he does not intend to.
6. Who do you think is most to blame for the play’s tragic events? Claim: Hamlet is himself most responsible for the play’s tragic eventsMoment: Whilst there are many moments within the play that portray this, Hamlet’s continuous procrastination in his objective of seeking revenge for his father, such as when he refused to kill Claudius whilst he was isolated and praying in a church, elucidates the blame he has to bare for the play’s tragic events. If he had killed Claudius at this point it would have saved not only Ophelia’s life, but it would also have saved: Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Gertrude, Polonius and last but not least himself.Impact: This distaste that the audience builds towards Hamlet’s character arguably leaves the audience without any experience of catharsis when his character passes, instead being grateful for his passing.
Is Hamlet a tragic hero? He is a complex tragic hero and he is responsible for his own downfall:He is a noble and brave character loved by many and he has a tragic flaw presented through his tendency to doubt everything and procrastinate in achieving his only task set for him (he broods over the moral idealism which leads to his delay in action)
What is the significance of X as a character? Claudius: Hamlet characterizes Claudius as a drunken, lecherous, and villainous man, calling him the “bloat king” and emphasizing his inferiority to King Hamlet and his cowardly method of murdering him. However, Claudius is shown to be a capable ruler, beloved husband, and at least somewhat remorseful characterHoratio: Horatio’s rationality serves as a means of establishing whether certain elements of the play are reality or illusion. When Hamlet becomes unreliable in his apparent madness, Horatio remains a tether to reality, offering verification for what otherwise may come across as the ramblings of a madman. Unlike Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and even Ophelia, Horatio is the one person who never betrays Hamlet. His loyalty is so strong that he even intends to take his own life so that he does not have to live without Hamlet. Gertrude: Her marriage is a source of bitterness for Hamlet, who views her actions as morally corrupt and sinful since by Elizabethan standards. Gertrude seems to want what is best for her son, encouraging him to cheer up after his father’s death and trying to understand his apparent madness. However, her relationship with Hamlet is compromised by her marriage to Claudius and by her involvement in Claudius and Polonius duplicitous schemes. She is often portrayed as a proxy target and consistently portrayed as a victim to her son’s rage. Polonius: He is concerned with appearances, especially the reputations of his children and foolish presentation of his intellect. His fatherly advice is well-intentioned but also generic and hypocritical, filled with clich├ęd aphorisms and self-serving recommendations. He meddles and manipulates his children’s lives, commanding Ophelia to avoid Hamlet. Sycophant towards Claudius and Gertrude, ingratiates himself, incredibly pompous and verbose. He is obsessed with power and lacks brevity and dispenses wisdom readilyOphelia: Ophelia is described as sweet and chaste, the ideal daughter who obeys her father’s wishes and follows orders. However, after her rejection by Hamlet and the death of her father, Ophelia goes mad, ultimately drowning in what many suspect to be a suicide. Portrays the topic of madness and misogyny within the play, as she is blamed by Polonius for Hamlet going mad. Laertes: Presents a parallelism between Hamlet and King Hamlet with Laertes and PoLonius, as they are both son’s who are seeking revenge for the murder of their fathers. At the final scene, his failed plan to cowardly poison Hamlet is revealed, again portraying parallelism. Contrastingly to Hamlet, Laertes is able to forgive right before he dies.
What is the significance of the ghost in the play? Catalyzes Hamlet’s pursuit for revenge and foregrounds the tragedy and corruption to comeTo contrast the rational thought of Horatio with that of other characters, thereby revealing to audiences how Horatio reflects their view of the occurences of the play
What is the significance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the play? They aid the theme of betrayal and exemplify how in the face of power, people will betray those close to them for personal gain, like in this case respect from King Claudius The characters also are used to show the extremity of killing friends that Hamlet will go to at the end of the play, to stay alive and try to avenge his father.
Which of Shakespeare’s themes resonated most with you? Surveillance. I felt like I would best relate to this idea that Polonius in particular tries to exemplify, which is that surveillance and awareness of people’s actions and intentions will result in peace. This idea is still present in the real world today and relates to my some of my previous friendships, but also topics as big as politics.
Which moment in the play do you think is most significant and why? The ending is most significant as we are able to recognise the constellation of the characters and how their goals from the start of the play have influenced them in this final scene. Also we are able to tell how some characters have remained the same and how some have developed. I.e. Gertrude is willing to sacrifice herself to save her son, whereas previously it appeared as if she did not care for him at all. When hamlet procrastinates and does not kill ClaudiusBy being proactive all of the following drama and tragedy would not have taken place, and the audience would have been saved of the moment of catharsisMeeting of ghostCatalyses the entirety of the play
What do you feel is the central conflict within the play? Hamlet’s obsession with revenge – fueled by the ghost which is Hamlet’s subconscious
How important is the play’s setting to the development of its themes and characters? Religion – Hamlet not killing Claudius – suicide being frowned upon and considered sinfulCharacter who is preoccupied with religion (contrast between religious beliefs and strong belief in the afterlife)Castle of Elsinore “Something rotten in the state of Denmark” USE THIS IN IOCCastle is a microcosm for country as a whole as a failing stateBattlements of castle to create tension at beginningGertrude’s closet and chapel are both significantChapel
Apart from the main protagonist, which other character or characters did you connect with during the play? Ophelia, I felt bad for Ophelia. Ultimately she is one that suffers the greatest tragedy, as a result of people’s flaws. Moment: Her father manipulates her feelings for Hamlet to reach his own personal goals. As a result she is given false and contradictory She is used as a pawn in Polonius’ game of espionage and pursuit of surveillance She falls victim to the machiavellian ways of Hamlet and PoloniusShe is collateral damage – unintended victims – falls victim to machiavellian ways of Hamlet and father When Hamlet decides to put on an antic disposition Ophelia is disadvantaged as she is alienated by his actions. Naive and genuine character: her love for Hamlet is genuineHamlet’s treatment of Ophelia:Those who love us the most will hurt usUses her as pawn – more likely to believe Hamlet’s madness if he acts this way to herOphelia and Hamlet’s love is undermined by Hamlet’s attempt to appear insane and gain revenge (he is acting provocative)
How do you feel about Shakespeare’s presentation of the play’s ending? As a member of the audience you feel a sense of emotional release as the tense scene is resolved. It allows closure and a chance to escape the previous emotional rollercoaster. Claim: The ending of the play is used to catalyse doubt towards Hamlet’s role as the tragic hero Moment: After duelling Laertes and Hamlet are both poisoned, after this
How do feel about the way that Shakespeare presents the opening of the play? Stichomythic diction / short syntax creates a tense and unsettling atmosphere through the presentation of stock characters to excite the audience. Horatio is rational and skeptical about the Ghost, attempting to calm the audience and represents a more critical perspective, foreshadowing the dramatic foil of contrasting characters with HamletParallelism: Fortinbras is seeking revenge, so the audience is introduced to conflict early and foregrounds revengeGhost foregrounds tragedy and corruption to come

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