Reading Questions for Hamlet

Hamlet Reading Questions
Act I:
1. What is the Ghost wearing when he come on stage? When before, according
to Horatio, had he been seen wearing it?
2. Marcellus asks someone to “tell me…/Why this same strict and most
observant watch/ So nightly toils the subject of the land…” What is the
3. What story from the past does Horatio relate?
4. What makes the ghost disappear?
5. Note all of the different matters of court business that Claudius attends to at
the opening of 1.2. How does he try to comfort Hamlet? Does it work?
6. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy (“O that this too too solid flesh would melt…”),
what does he tell the audience is so upsetting to him?
7. “Foul deeds will rise,/ Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes”
(1.2.256-­‐7) What does Hamlet mean by this?
8. What advice do both Laertes and Polonius give to Ophelia?
9. What is particularly “foul, strange, and unnatural” about King Hamlet I’s
death? (see 1.5.74-­‐79)
10. What does Hamlet write down after seeing the ghost? Where does he write
11. To what oath does Hamlet make Horatio and Marcellus swear?

Act II:
1. What is Polonius employing Reynaldo to do? What instructions does he give
to him?
2. What report of Hamlet’s behavior does Ophelia give to Polonius in 2.1? What
specifically does she tell him about how he was acting? What other words are used to describe Hamlet’s behavior (especially his actions) throughout these acts? When Hamlet appears at 2.2.169, how would you characterize his speech?
3. What news does King Claudius receive from Norway in 2.2? What is the status of the impending invasion from act 1?
4. What speech does Hamlet ask the Player to perform in 2.2? What event in history/literature is being recounted in this speech? Who is Pyrrhus? Here is an image of Pyrrhus performing the deed described in the actor’s speech.
5. In his second soliloquy (“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I”), what is Hamlet’s response to the player’s speech? What aspect of the Player’s speech does he specifically comment on?

Act III:
1. Does Hamlet behave differently toward Ophelia than Polonius and Laertes?
How does he treat her during the “Mousetrap” play that the players
2. What is the point of the play Hamlet calls “The Mousetrap” (The Murder of
Gonzago)? What are the differences between this version of a king’s murder and that which we have been told of in Hamlet?

3. At the end of 3.2, Hamlet “could drink hot blood” (360) as he goes off to visit his mother. On the way, he finds the King in prayer. Why does he not slay him in this moment (3.3.77 ff.)?
4. What is the intended purpose of Hamlet’s visit to his mother’s chamber? How does he turn the tables on her? What instructions does he give to her?
5. What happens to Polonius during the conversation between Hamlet and Gertrude? Who else barges in on their conversation?
6. At the end of act 3, Hamlet reminds his mother that he has been sent on a foreign mission by the King (this resolution comes at 3.1.161 ff.). Where is he going? Why does Hamlet think he is being sent away?

Act IV:
1. What is the real reason, as revealed at the end of 4.3, Claudius has sent
Hamlet away?
2. What has Hamlet done with the body of Polonius? What kind of a funeral did
Polonius receive, according to the King (4.5.79)?
3. On his way out of Denmark, Hamlet encounters a captain from the army of
Fortinbras (4.4). Where are they headed? What are they fighting for?
4. How is Ophelia described in the stage direction that marks her entrance to 4.5? What does she sing about in her songs? What does she hand out to the
5. What news does the Messenger bring of Laertes in 4.5? Has he returned to
Denmark alone? Compare his state to Hamlet’s report at 4.7.41-­‐45.
6. Note how Laertes describes his motivation for revenge at 4.5.114-­‐117. What
is driving him?
7. What turn of events does Hamlet report to Horatio in his letter in 4.6?
8. Claudius comes up with a very complicated plan for Laertes to execute his
revenge in 4.7. What is it? Notice what Laertes wants to do (4.7.98)!
9. How do we learn of Ophelia’s death? What are its odd circumstances?

Act V:
1. At the opening of act five, one of the two Clowns (rustics, or men of lower class, not clowns as we understand the word) is puzzled that Ophelia will receive a proper burial. Why? How does the Second Clown explain this treatment (5.1.22-­‐23)? (Also, note the Priest’s reluctance in the proceedings at 5.1.208 ff.)
2. Whose skull does Hamlet recognize in the graveyard?
3. How long has the “grave-­‐maker” been working at his craft? What events
coincided with his first day on the job?
4. Hamlet imagines that the dirt that the Clown is digging could actually be
who? What happens to these great figures in Hamlet’s imagining?
5. There are two surprising stage directions in 5.1: Laertes, then Hamlet, “leaps
into the grave.” What are they fighting over?!
6. Hamlet did inherit something from his father that proves quite useful in his
stratagem against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. What is it?
7. What causes Hamlet’s death (and is also the cause of death for the entire Danish court (including Hamlet I))?
8. What is Laertes’s dying wish? Is it fulfilled?
9. Just before Hamlet dies, he offers his “dying voice” to Fortinbras. What does
he mean by this? What is going to happen to Denmark after the play?
10. What orders does Fortinbras give at the end of the play? What is the
significance, do you think, of this action?