02 09

Study questions for hamlet act 4

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Hamlet Discussion Questions - Washington State University

  • What is "rotten in the state of Denmark," as Marcellus tells us? What do we learn about the situation in Scene I? In Scene II?
  • In what ways is Scene II a contrast to Scene I? What do we learn about Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet in this scene?
  • What is the function of the Polonius-Ophelia-Laertes family in this play? What parallels exist between their situation and that of the ruling family?
  • What does Hamlet learn from the Ghost's speech?

Act II

  • Why does this act open with Polonius and Reynaldo? What does this tell us about Polonius's character, and what theme or motif does it introduce in the play?
  • How does the interaction between Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern help to explain what's wrong with Hamlet? Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Denmark?
  • The First Player's speech is often cut in performances of the play. Explain why it is important and why it should not be cut.
  • Hamlet's "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" is the first of his soliloquies.
Why is this significant?
  • Why is Ophelia mad? Does anything she say make sense? What happens to her at the end of Act IV? What does her madness and death symbolize about the kingdom?
  • Look at the scene with Laertes and Claudius (IV.vii). What plans do they have for Hamlet? How does this scene establish Laertes as a foil for Hamlet?
  • Why is Hamlet less present in this act than in the previous three?
  • Act V

    • Why does this scene begin with two clowns trading jokes? Do their jokes make any sense in the context of the play?
    • Where do Hamlet and Laertes fight in V.ii?
    • Who is Osric, and why is he included in the play?
    • Does Hamlet realize that he might not come out of this fight alive? See V.ii.225-238.
    • What is the outcome of the fight scene at the end?
    • When Gertrude drinks from the cup, Claudius asks her not to drink and she refuses. Has she ever disobeyed Claudius before?
    • Who is alive at the end of the play, and how do the others meet their ends?

     * The material on this site is created by StudyBlue users. StudyBlue is not affiliated with, sponsored by or endorsed by the academic institution or instructor.

    StudyBlue is not sponsored or endorsed by any college, university, or instructor.
    Apple and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc.

    ©2016 StudyBlue Inc. All rights reserved.

    Compare and contrast Hamlet with each of these characters. How are they alike? How are they different? How does each respond to the crises with which he is faced?

    Horatio’s steadfastness and loyalty contrasts with Hamlet’s variability and excitability, though both share a love of learning, reason, and thought. Claudius’s willingness to disregard all moral law and act decisively to fulfill his appetites and lust for power contrasts powerfully with Hamlet’s concern for morality and indecisive inability to act. Fortinbras’s willingness to go to great lengths to avenge his father’s death, even to the point of waging war, contrasts sharply with Hamlet’s inactivity, even though both of them are concerned with avenging their fathers.

    Hamlet’s father killed Fortinbras’s father, and Hamlet killed Laertes’ father, meaning that Hamlet occupies the same role for Laertes as Claudius does for Hamlet.

    2. Many critics take a deterministic view of Hamlet’s plot, arguing that the prince’s inability to act and tendency toward melancholy reflection is a “tragic flaw” that leads inevitably to his demise. Is this an accurate way of understanding the play? Why or why not? Given Hamlet’s character and situation, would another outcome of the play have been possible?

    The idea of the “tragic flaw” is a problematic one in Hamlet.

    Given a scenario and a description of the characters involved, it is highly unlikely that anyone who had not read or seen Hamlet would be able to predict its ending based solely on the character of its hero. In fact, the play’s chaotic train of events suggests that human beings are forced to make choices whose consequences are unforeseeable as well as unavoidable. To argue that the play’s outcome is intended to appear inevitable seems incompatible with the thematic claims made by the play itself.

    3. Throughout the play, Hamlet claims to be feigning madness, but his portrayal of a madman is so intense and so convincing that many readers believe that Hamlet actually slips into insanity at certain moments in the play.

    At any given moment during the play, the most accurate assessment of Hamlet’s state of mind probably lies somewhere between sanity and insanity. Hamlet certainly displays a high degree of mania and instability throughout much of the play, but his “madness” is perhaps too purposeful and pointed for us to conclude that he actually loses his mind. His language is erratic and wild, but beneath his mad-sounding words often lie acute observations that show the sane mind working bitterly beneath the surface. Most likely, Hamlet’s decision to feign madness is a sane one, taken to confuse his enemies and hide his intentions.

    He can no longer believe in religion, which has failed his father and doomed him to life amid miserable experience. He can no longer trust society, which is full of hypocrisy and violence, nor love, which has been poisoned by his mother’s betrayal of his father’s memory. And, finally, he cannot turn to philosophy, which cannot explain ghosts or answer his moral questions and lead him to action.

    With this much discord in his mind, and already under the extraordinary pressure of grief from his father’s death, his mother’s marriage, and the responsibility bequeathed to him by the ghost, Hamlet is understandably distraught.

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