Hamlet Discussion Questions
You can use these to start the discussion, or you can ask your own questions
or comment on other features of the play.
- What is "rotten in the state of Denmark," as Marcellus tells
us? What do we learn about the situation in Scene I? In
- 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?
- 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
- 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. What is he saying, and how does this set of words help
to move him to action?
- What does he decide to do at the end of this speech?
- What is the subject of Hamlet's second soliloquy, the famous "To
be or not to be" speech?
- Why is he so cruel to Ophelia immediately thereafter?
- What happens in the "play-within-a-play"? How do the speeches
and actions reflect on events in the kingdom of Denmark? How does the
- In what way is Hamlet's second major interaction with Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern (III.ii.375-415) different from his first encounter with them?
- Why does Hamlet decline to take action against Claudius in III.iii?
- What happens in III.iv (the closet scene)? Why
is this death so important for the play, or what does the death of this figure represent?
- Based on what you've seen in III.iv,
do you think Gertrude knew about the murder?
- Is Hamlet really mad in this play, or is merely
pretending to be mad? (Find lines that support your answer.)
- A foil is a character who is like the protagonist in some respects but
who has contrasting qualities that "reflect" or illuminate the
traits of the main character. Who are Hamlet's foils, and in what ways
do their characters shed light on his?
- Do Hamlet and Fortinbras meet in IV.iv? 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?
- 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
- Does Hamlet realize that he might not come out of this fight alive? See
- 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
- Why is Fortinbras's presence important?