Study Questions
Critical Essays
Relevant Links


1/1  Elsinore. A platform before the castle. Francisco is at his post; Bernardo enters and relieves him; Horatio and Marcellus enter; Francisco exits.  The men discuss the ghost; the ghost enters; the men speak; the ghost exits; the men discuss the ghost; the ghost enters; Horatio questions the ghost again; the ghost exits; the men decide to tell Hamlet about the ghost.

1/2  A room of state in the castle.  The king and queen, Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, Voltimand, Corenlius, Lords, and attendants enter; the king sends Voltimand and Cornelius to the Norwegian king; Voltimand and Cornelius exit.  The king allows Laertes to return to France.  The king and queen reproach Hamlet for his mournfulness; Hamlet agrees to stay at Elsinore; all exit, except Hamlet.  Hamlet soliloquizes on his desire to die and on the 
ease with which the queen remarried.  Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo enter and report they have seen the ghost; Hamlet arranges to watch with them that night; Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo exit; Hamlet speaks 
and exits.

1/3  A room in Polonius' house.  Laertes advises Ophelia to receive Hamlet prudently; Polonius enters and tells Laertes how he should conduct himself; Laertes exits.  Polonius tells Ophelia to behave circumspectly with Hamlet.

1/4  The platform before the castle.  Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus speak; the ghost enters; Hamlet addresses it; the ghost beckons; Horatio and Marcellus try to restrain Hamlet, who repulses them and exits with the ghost; Horatio and Marcellus follow.

1/5  Another part of the platform.  The ghost tells Hamlet he is the spirit of Hamlet's father, who was murdered by the king; the ghost asks Hamlet to punish the king, but to spare the queen; the ghost exits.  Hamlet soliloquizes; Horatio and Marcellus enter; Hamlet swears them to silence; the ghost, below, demands secrecy.
2/1  Elsinore. A room in Polonius' house.  Polonius sends Reynaldo to Paris to report on Laertes' behaviour;Reynaldo exits.  Ophelia enters and says that Hamlet seems to have gone mad; Polonius exits to tell the king.

2/2  A room in the castle.  The king and queen, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and attendants enter; the king asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to discover what is troubling Hamlet; Rosencrantz, 
Guildenstern, and some attendants exit.  Polonius enters, speaks, and exits. Voltimand and Cornelius enter, report, and exit.  Polonius suggests they secretly observe Hamlet with Ophelia; the king, the queen, and attendants exit.  Hamlet enters and speaks to Polonius; Rosencrntz and Guildenstern enter; Polonius exits; Hamlet says he has lost interest in life.  Rosencrantz  speaks; Polonius enters and announces the arrival of the players.  Some players enter; the first player a speech; Hamlet asks Polonius to look after the players; Polonius exits with all the players, except the first player.  Hamlet and the first player speak; the first player
exits; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit.  Hamlet soliloquizes on his own inaction and determines to confirm the king's guilt.


3/1  Elsinore. A room in the castle. The king and queen, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencratz, and Guildenstern enter; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak; Polonius says Hamlet wants the king to attend the play; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit. The king and Polonius speak about Hamlet; the queen exits; the king and Polonius speak, then exit.  Hamlet enters and wonders whether or not to be.  Ophelia enters; Hamlet tells her to enter a nunnery; 
Hamlet exits; Ophelia regrets the breakdown of Hamlet's noble mind. The king and Polonius enter; the king decides to send Hamlet to England; Polonius suggests the queen question Hamlet.


3/2  A hall in the castle.  Hamlet asks the players not to overact; the players exit.  Polonius, Rosencratz, and Guildenstern enter, speak, and exit.  Horatio enters; Hamlet asks Horatio to observe the king for signs of guilt. The king and queen, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, lords and guards enter; they speak to Hamlet. The player king, player queen, and poisoner enter, enact a dumb-show, and exit; Hamlet and Ophelia comment; Prologue enters, speaks, and exits; Hamlet and Ophelia comment; the player king and player queen enter and speak; the player queen exits; the audience comments; a player enters as Lucianus and poisons the player king. The king rises; the play is stopped; all exit, except Hamlet and Horatio, who now are convinced of the king's guilt. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and speak; the players enter with recorders; Hamlet is scornful of Guildenstern's manipulations.  Polonius enters, calls Hamlet to the queen, and exits; Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Horatio, and players exit.  Hamlet soliloquizes.

3/3  A room in the castle. The king commissions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to accompany Hamlet to England; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit.  Polonius enters, and says he will hide in the queen's room; Polonius exits.
The king soliloquizes about his guilt and lack of repentance; Hamlet enters, but refrains from killing the king.

3/4  The queen's closet.  The queen and Polonius enter; Polonius hides.  Hamlet enters; the queen and Hamlet criticize each other; Polonius cries out; Hamlet stabs the arras and kills Polonius.  Hamlet uncovers Polonius; he continues to castigate the queen; the ghost enters; Hamlet and the ghost speak; the ghost exits. The queen thinks Hamlet is mad; they speak; Hamlet removes Polonius.

4/1  A room in the castle. The king and queen, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern enter; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit; the queen says that Hamlet has killed Polonius; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter; the king tells them to seek Hamlet and the corpse; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit; the king 

4/2  Another room in the castle.  Hamlet enters, followed by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; they summon Hamlet to the king.

4/3  Another room in the castle.  The king, and attendants enter; the king says that Hamlet is dangerous. Rosencrantz enters and speaks; Hamlet and Guildenstern enter; the king and Hamlet speak; attendants exit to recover the body.  The king says Hamlet must leave for England; Hamlet exits; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit.  The king soliloquizes on Hamlet's planned execution in England.

4/4  A plain in Denmark.  Fortinbras, a captain, and soldiers enter; Fortinbras speaks; all exit, except the captian.
Hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and others enter; Hamlet and the captain speak; the captain exits; all exit, 
except Hamlet.  Hamlet soliloquizes on honor.

4/5  Elsinore. A room in the castle. The queen and Horatio discuss Ophelia's madness; Horatio exits, and re-enters with Ophelia; Ophelia sings; the king enters; Ophelia sings, and exits; Horatio exits.  The king enumerates the recent sorrows.  A gentleman enters and says that Laertes and a mob are about to break in; Laertes enters, armed, Danes following; the Danes retire.  Laertes demands an explanation of Polonius' death; the king calms him; Ophelia enters, sings, speaks madly, and exits; the king promises Laertes satisfaction.
4/6  Another room in the castle.  Horatio and a servant enter and speak; the servant exits.  Sailors enter; the first sailor gives Horatio a letter from Hamlet which describes Hamlet's return to Denmark.

4/7  Another room in the castle.  The king and Laertes enter and speak; a messenger enters with letters from Hamlet; the messenger exits.  The king and Laertes plot to kill Hamlet.  The queen enters and says that Ophelia has drowned; Laertes exits.

John Everett Millais. Ophelia, (1852):

5/1  Elsinore. A churchyard.  Two clowns enter and discuss the circumstances of Ophelia's death; Hamlet and Horatio enter at a distance; the second clown exits.  Hamlet and the first clown discuss death.  The king and queen, Laertes, lords, and priests enter with Ophelia's corpse; Laertes complains about the unceremonious funeral; Laertes leaps into the grave in despair; Hamlet also leaps into the grave; Laertes attacks Hamlet; attendants part them; Hamlet says he loved Ophelia; Hamlet exits; Horatio exits.

5/2  A hall in the castle.  Hamlet and Horatio enter; Hamlet describes how he escaped execution.  Osric enters and says that Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel; Osric exits.  A lord enters, speaks, and exits; the king and queen,  Laertes, lords, Osric, and attendants enter; Hamlet apologizes to Laertes; they choose their foils and fence.  Hamlet hits Laertes; Hamlet refuses the king's offer of wine; Hamlet hits Laertes again.  The queen drinks from the poisoned cup.  Laertes wounds Hamlet; they change rapiers, and Hamlet wounds Laertes.  The queen falls, says her drink was poisoned, and dies.   Laertes falls; he tells Hamlet that the foil is poisoned and the king is to blame; Hamlet stabs the king; the king dies.   Laertes and Hamlet forgive each other; Laertes dies.
Hamlet asks Horatio to vindicate him; Hamlet dies.  Fortinbras, English ambassadors, and attendants enter; 
the first ambassador reports that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been executed.  Horatio promises to recount what took place; Fortinbras orders a military funeral for Hamlet.



Study Questions

1. There are a million questions relevant to this play. I have selected my favorites. Don't be fooled into thinking that these represent the only important issues in this play. "If we had world enough and time..." Images to watch: poison, infection, revenge, secrecy, the arras, madness.

2. Consider the ghost. Should Hamlet believe him? Is he really Hamlet's dad? How does your belief in him affect your reading of the play? 

3. Is there really a ghost at all? Even if an actor portrays him (as is usually done), how do you know that he is really therefor Hamlet? Does the ghost ask Hamlet to do anything that has not already occurred to Hamlet? Is Hamlet sane? Are we watching/reading real, historical events or simply a play within Hamlet's mind? 

4. What exactly does the ghost order Hamlet to do? How well does Hamlet follow orders? 

5. Compare the 3 men of action--Hamlet, Laertes, Fortinbras--of this play. How successful is action versus contemplation in this play? 

6. Consider Hamlet's "friends"--Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. 

7. Consider the Claudius-Gertrude relationship. Did Gertrude know of Claudius' murder of her first husband? What (if anything) is Gertrude guilty of in the play? 
8. Watch out for the enormous amount of play-acting within the play. Many characters are forced to put on an act. How does all of this relate to the play-within-a-play in Act III? Why is this mini-play at the center (literally) of Hamlet? 

9. In the performance of the play-within-the-play, Hamlet assumes that a guilty man, seeing his guilt enacted before him in a drama, will be forced to somehow display his guilt. Is this reasonable? This happens to be a belief of many of the Puritan drama critics of Shakespeare's age; they fear that the sight of evil on a stage will force the audience to go out and commit evil. The playwrights responded by saying that the sight of goodness would cause goodness and the sight of evil would shame a person into confessing his crime. What does Shakespeare seem to think? 

10. $1,000,000. Question--What, exactly, is rotten in the state of Denmark? 

11. How does Ophelia relate to Hamlet? What is her purpose in the play? Does he really ever love her? 

John W. Waterhouse. Ophelia, 1894.


Critical Essays
An essay entitled "The Hamlet Paradigm" by John S. Mamoun which introduces various themes in the play:

Loose Ends and Inconsistencies in the First Quarto of Shakespeare's
Hamlet? (Hamlet Studies 18 (1996): 94-104)

Reformatting Hamlet: Creating a Q1 Hamlet for Television

A Romance of Electronic Scholarship; with the True and Lamentable Tragedies of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”:

"The Serpent Now Wears the Crown: A Typological Reading of Hamlet" by Peter J. Leithart:

John Masefield's "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark":

Professor Sir Walter Murdoch's "Hamlets All":

Murdoch's essay "Hamlet Revisited":

Murdoch's "The Policy of Polonius":

"Certain Speculations on Hamlet, the Calendar, and Martin Luther" by Steve Sohmer:

A Hamlet message board:

The following site contains links to other essays about the play:



Review of Kenneth Branagh's movie version of the play

Review of Franco Zeffereli's movie version, with Mel Gibson as Hamlet:

Relevant Links
Site devoted to the study of Hamlet:

A helpful website by Ian Delaney called "A Short Course on Shakespeare's Hamlet"