William Shakespeare

Reading Shakespeare proves daunting and challenging, but when you pick up the challenge, you will be very glad you did.  The following study questions are to aid your understanding of the action and to help you “pluck out” the meaning of the plot.  You are, with the assistance of your teacher, to respond to each question.  Your tests will be based on this resource, class discussions, and memorized quotes.  The play’s the thing!!

Name __________________________________

            Provide quotes when reasonable to support your answers.

Act  I

Scene i

1.      Who is the guard on duty?  Where?


2.      How many times has the ghost previously appeared?


3.      After failing to get information from the ghost, what action does Horatio propose?


4.      Why has Horatio been asked to keep watch with the guards?


5.      What is the political situation in Denmark and Norway that has caused the present state of national unrest?



6.      What superstitions about ghosts are revealed in the behavior and conversation of Horatio and the guards?



Scene ii

1.      What three matters of business does Claudius take up at his first council session? 



2.      After Horatio and the guards tell Hamlet they have seen his father’s ghost, what further action does Hamlet propose?


3.      How does Claudius word his speech to the court so as to win approval for his hasty marriage and takeover of the throne?


4.      Why is Laertes, but not Hamlet, permitted to leave Denmark?


     5.      Why are Claudius and Gertrude critical of Hamlet’s dress and behavior?  What is

            Hamlet's response?               



6.      How does Hamlet show contempt for Claudius?


7.      What does Hamlet’s first soliloquy (you should know this term) reveal about his state of mind and the real reason for it?




8.      What is Hamlet’s reaction to the news brought to him by Horatio and the guards?


Scene iii

1.      What event brings the family of Polonius together in this scene?


2.      What command does Polonius issue concerning Hamlet?

3.      The main action of this scene is the giving of advice.  What is Laertes’ advice to Ophelia? What is Ophelia’s advice to Laertes?




4.      Judging by his words and actions in this scene, what kind of person does Polonius reveal himself to be?



5.      Paraphrase Polonius’ advice to Laertes (bit by bit).  Is the advice sound?  Why or why not?




Scene iv

1.      What is going on inside the castle while Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus await the ghost?



2.      What do Horatio and Marcellus fear will happen to Hamlet if he follows the ghost?



3.      Explain Hamlet’s comparison between the state and the individual (the “dram of evil” speech).  What motivates him to make these remarks?



4.      How does Hamlet manage to break away from his companions in order to be alone with the ghost?  What is his emotional state?




Scene v

1.      What does the ghost reveal to be the true circumstances of his death?



2.      What is Hamlet told about Gertrude’s past behavior with Claudius?



3.      What does Hamlet make Horatio and Marcellus promise?



4.      How does Shakespeare establish a supernatural aura around the figure of the ghost?



5.      List the three specific commands of the ghost to Hamlet.  Can they be accomplished?




6.      Overall, how does Hamlet regard the ghost and the tasks he’s been assigned?



7.      What reasons might there be for Hamlet’s humorous treatment of the ghost once he has been rejoined by his companions?



8.      What change in behavior does Hamlet prepare us to expect?


9.      What is the actual time span of Act I?



Act II

Define:  arras

              comic relief



“ . . .  by indirection find direction out.”


Scene i

1.      What is Polonius up to in the opening of this act?



2.      How does the mood of his antics differ from the mood at the end of Act I?



3.      What is unique about  Polonius’s method for spying on his son Laertes?



4.      What has “affrighted” Ophelia?



5.      To what does Polonius attribute Hamlet’s changed behavior?

6.      Has Ophelia obeyed her father’s command that she not see Hamlet?  Explain.



7.      Though Polonius intends to tell King Claudius about the “cause” of Hamlet’s madness, why does he dislike doing it?




Scene ii

1.      Whom has Claudius invited to Elsinore and why?



2.      How were these two already acquainted with Hamlet?

3.      How will the two be rewarded for their help?



4.      What does Polonius tell Claudius that he has learned about Hamlet?



5.      What message do the ambassadors bring from the king of Norway?  Why might Fortinbras be mentioned again?




6.      If you had to use one adjective to describe Polonius’s speeches in this scene, what would it be?  Why?



7.      To prove to the Court that he, Polonius, knows the cause of Hamlet’s madness, what does he read as proof?



8.      Even though Claudius trusts Polonius’s judgement, how does he intend to double check?



9.      During Polonius’s next encounter with Hamlet, is he still convinced of Hamlet’s madness?  Why?



10. Why is Hamlet so insistent on learning whether Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are at Elsinore of their own free will?



11. What information do the two give Hamlet about the players?  What do we learn about the players from their exchange with Hamlet?



12. What is the name of the play to be performed the next day at the castle?



13. How does Hamlet want the play changed?  What is he up to?




14. What emotion dominates the soliloquy that follows when Hamlet is alone?



15. Why can’t Hamlet believe wholeheartedly in what he has learned from the ghost?



16. List all the “spyings” that occur in the act.




Scene i

1.      Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern able to ascertain the cause of Hamlet’s madness?  Explain



2.      What was the only thing in their conversation that “delighted” Hamlet?



3.      What invitation did Hamlet send through Polonius to the king and queen?



4.      What will Claudius and Polonius do when Ophelia meets Hamlet?



5.      What famous soliloquy is in this scene?  Write a brief paraphrase of the soliloquy.


6.      What does Hamlet intend to return to Ophelia? 



7.      What does Ophelia intend to return to Hamlet?  Why?



8.      Where does Hamlet tell Ophelia to go?  Why?



9.      Of what is Ophelia convinced after this encounter with Hamlet?

10. What is Claudius’s conclusion after the encounter?




11. What is Polonius’ conclusion after the encounter?



12. What condition does Polonius offer before giving his consent to have Hamlet sent to England?



Scene ii

1.      What request concerning the players does Hamlet make of Horatio?



2.      By whom does Hamlet choose to sit during the play?



3.      How long has Hamlet’s father been dead?



4.      What is a dumb show?


5.      What does Hamlet call the play and why?




6.      At what point does Claudius react?  How?




7.      What two being the message that the queen wants Hamlet to come to her?



8.      What does Hamlet say about daggers in the last soliloquy in this scene?  Quote, please.




Scene iii

1.      Who will accompany Hamlet to England?  What is going to happen to Hamlet there?




2.      In Claudius’ soliloquy, what does he say he murdered for?



3.      Why doesn’t Hamlet just kill Claudius then to get his revenge?



4.      How does hesitation or putting off his revenge constitute one of Hamlet’s tragic flaws?



5.      What is ironic about this scene?



Scene iv

1.      What do we call the beginning of this scene in the queen’s bedroom?



2.      What frightens the queen?



3.      What does the queen yell that causes Polonius to react?




4.      Who is killed?  How?  Why?  By whom?




5.      When Hamlet compares the two brothers, how does he describe each?




6.      Who enters the room and why?




7.      What is the queen’s reaction to this visit?



8.      What request does Hamlet make of his mother concerning Claudius?



9.      At the end of this scene, what is the implication in Hamlet’s comparing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to “adders fanged”?




Act IV

Scene i

1.      What specifically does Gertrude tell Claudius about Hamlet’s visit to her bedroom?




2.      When Claudius says, “this vile deed / We must with all our majesty and skill / both countenance and excuse,” to what deed is he referring, and, more importantly, why will he excuse it?



3.      On what errand are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sent?




Scene ii

1.      What name does Hamlet call Rosencrantz and why?



2.      Do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern learn where Polonius’ body is?



Scene iii

1.      When Claudius questions Hamlet about where he has hidden the body, what is Hamlet’s reply?



2.      How does Hamlet politely tell Claudius to go to Hell?



3.      Where exactly is the body?



4.      What is Claudius’ plan for Hamlet when Hamlet arrives in England?



Scene iv

1.      Why is Fortinbras on Danish soil?



2.      There is a statement about the futility of war (gaining a little patch of worthless ground) in this scene.  What inspiration does Hamlet find in viewing this army on its way to fortune, danger and possible death?





Scene v

1.      What has happened to the lovely Ophelia?


2.      When Ophelia sings, to what do her songs refer?



3.      What is unusual about the song dealing with St. Valentine’s Day?



4.      What two people (or incidents) have contributed to Ophelia’s madness?



5.      Who has returned secretly from France?  How is he welcomed by the people?  What does this indicate about Claudius’ popularity?



6.      Whom does Laertes blame for the death of his father?



7.      What does Laertes realize about his sister’s condition?



8.      What does Claudius urge Laertes to do to prove that he (Claudius) is not to blame for the death of Polonius?



9.      What will Claudius give Laertes if Laertes finds Claudius guilty of the death?



Scene vi

1.      From whom does Horatio receive a letter.  Describe its contents of the incident at sea.




2.      Where is Hamlet now? 


3.      What is the content of Hamlet’s letter to Claudius?



4.      What reputation has Laertes gained for himself in France?



5.      What is the plan concerning Hamlet that Claudius unveils to Laertes?



6.      What is Claudius’ backup plan?



7.      What has happened to Ophelia?  Describe how it happened.




8.      Just as Hamlet seeks revenge for the death of his father, who will now be seeking revenge for the death of his father?




Act V

Scene i

1.      What is the implication of the clowns’ opening conversation?




2.      Why does the manner of Ophelia’s burial cause so much comment?



3.      What is the reason for giving her a Christian burial?



4.      What is foreshadowed in the scene in the graveyard?



5.      What is ironic about Hamlet’s joking with the gravedigger?



6.      What general comment about time is made in the grave-digging scene?  How old is Hamlet?



7.      What does Laertes do that angers Hamlet?



8.      What is Hamlet’s response to the actions of Laertes?



Scene ii

1.      What did Hamlet do with the commission letters that Claudius sent with him?




2.      What change does Horatio notice has taken place in Hamlet?




3.      How does Hamlet feel about the fencing match?



4.      What is the nature of Hamlet’s speech to Laertes before they fence?



5.      Who accidentally drinks the poisoned wine?



6.      How is Hamlet mortally wounded?



7.      What long-anticipated act does Hamlet finally complete?



8.      What does Horatio attempt to do?  Why?



9.      Why does Hamlet remain Horatio to remain alive?



10. What is Hamlet’s final act as King of Denmark?




Final questions:

What is Hamlet’s tragic flaw?


Does Hamlet “get” what he deserves?


What do you think prevented Hamlet from “taking care of business” early on?