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Hamlet – Act One

Discussion Questions
1. How does Shakespeare begin the play with an immediate
sense of suspense?
The opening scene takes place in the middle of the night with a group
of paranoid guards immediately after the death of a king. The
appearance of the ghost is fitting with the scene as it adds a sense of
2. What important exposition is revealed in scene 1?
Scene one exposes the ghost of the late king of Denmark and his
conflict with the Norwegian monarch. This information establishes the
context of the conflict of the play.
3. Why has Horatio been asked to join the soldiers in the night
watch? What has he decided to do?
Horatio is asked to join the soldiers to converse with the ghost as an
educated man. He initially doubts the ghost’s existence, but sees it
with his own eyes. Horatio proposes to tell the prince about the ghost.
4. How does the reader/audience know this ghost is not a
At first, the audience may be inclined to believe Horatio, who thinks
that the uneducated Marcellus and Barnado are just imagining the
ghost. However, when Horatio confirms its existence, the ghost’s
veracity is indisputable.
5. What important exposition is revealed at the beginning of
scene 2?
Claudius admits that the morality of his marriage with Gertrude is
questionable, but places the responsibility on his council: “Your better
wisdom, which have freely gone with this affair along.” Also, he
elucidates the conflict with young Fortinbras, stating that he needs to
be crushed.
6. What evidence of wrongdoing or corruption is evident in
Claudius’ opening speech?
Claudius is aware of the immorality of marrying Gertrude so early, as
he declares that the two married “With an auspicious and a dropping
eye, With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage.” Moreover, he
admits that Fortinbras views the country “in low esteem,” but does
nothing to deny the claims of wrongdoing.
7. Compare Claudius’ treatment of Laertes with his treatment
of Hamlet.

“Take thy fair hour. Claudius’ opinions of Hamlet are more questionable. He feels that the only good way to escape the pain of death is through death itself (“Oh. What aspect of Hamlet’s concept of death/desire for death is revealed in Hamlet’s first soliloquy? Hamlet’s melancholic character traits show through in his soliloquy. Other than the fact of the ghost itself. By consistently using the formal part of speech (“’Tis sweet and commendable in your nature”). too sullied flesh would melt. Laertes and Polonius reason that Hamlet’s duty to Denmark would keep him from committing to Ophelia as the need of the state often requires the king to marry through arrangement. as he feels that the pain of his father’s death is inescapable. 12. What is comical about Polonius? Polonius gives a lot of advice. the formal tone makes the message much less sincere. and his advice is so clichéd that it is absolutely laughable. so the council must have deemed Hamlet unfit to rule currently. But not expressed in fancy”). 11. why is this Ghost thought to be an evil omen? . Although he claims he will “impart to you [Hamlet]” the same love Hamlet received from his father. 9. Laertes. Why did Hamlet not become King when his father died? Denmark is an elective monarchy. Perhaps Claudius manipulated the council to decide this. 8. even using the informal form in lines such as. that this too. with Hamlet. Perhaps Claudius is suspicious of Hamlet and wishes to keep him under a watchful eye. Explain the reasons that Laertes and Polonius give Ophelia to convince her not to trust Hamlet’s love. This paradox torments him. time be thine” However. the king is particularly distant. What is the significance of Claudius’ denying Hamlet permission to return to Wittenberg? This decision is abnormal as he openly gives Laertes permission exit Denmark. Thaw. Although he has much to say. and resolve itself into a dew”). 10. Hamlet is also young. 13. his words carry little value.Claudius is extremely cordial with Laertes. and only worsened by the rapid marriage of his uncle and his mother. and he carries a very maddened perspective on death as a result. but all of it is merely superficial (“Costly thy habit as thy purse can by. so his passions may be only due to a youthful yearning.

Hamlet seeks to bring about stability in society by killing an incestuous man. What possible theme is introduced by the Ghost’s afterlife? The ghost’s need for closure in the affairs of his past life represents the Shakespearian era’s value of stability. 14. Just as people at the time analyzed the humors to diagnose diseases.The ghost is restless because something is amiss in the world. . 15. What does the Ghost warm Hamlet about his mother? Why? The Ghost warns hamlet not to harm Gertrude as her fate must be decided by God’s judgment of her sins. The fact that he must suffer in Purgatory means that the ghost symbolizes the instability of Denmark and the strife that is soon to occur.