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HAMLET by William Shakespeare

Study Guide
HSC ENGLISH (ADVANCED) COURSE

MODULE B: CRITICAL STUDY OF TEXTS

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 1


HSC ADVANCED COURSE LESSON PROGRAM
MODULE B: CRITICAL STUDY OF TEXTS: Shakespearean Drama: Hamlet
Outcomes Syllabus Content and Learning and Teaching Strategies and Resources
Week
1 No School
2  Introduction to Module B
 Introduction to Shakespeare and Revenge Tragedy

3  Viewing of Franco Zefferrelli’s Hamlet to ensure understanding of


the play.
 Discussion of differences between text and film version. E.g edited
dialogoue, order of events, Hamlet’s portrayl. Focus on the
interpretation of texts according to context

4  Rereading and analysis of each Act including study guide questions.


 Themes and techniques introduction
 Writing Task One due

5  Assessment Task Notification Given


 Completion of Critical analysis of play
 Group Task

6  Themes and techniques overview and discussion


 Character studies

7 Assessment Task: Oral


 Research Task – Different perspectives/readings

8 Hamlet, Textual Integrity and Contextual influences.


 How the different contexts influence personal interpretations.
 How Hamlet remains valued in the Modern World
 Essay: modelled and deconstructed in class

9 Revision of Area of Study “Belonging”

10 Mid-Course Exams

11 Mid-Course Exams

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 2


Module B rubric requires students to:

1. Engage with the prescribed text.


2. Develop an informed personal understanding of the text.
3. Critically analyse and evaluate the language, content, construction of the text
4. Develop an appreciation of the textual integrity of the text which is the unity of a text
and how the elements of its form and language produce a coherent and integrated
product (see Syllabus p143)
5. Refine their own understanding and interpretation of the text.
6. Critically consider their own interpretations in the light of the perspectives of others.
7. Explore how context influences their own and others’ responses to the text.
8. Consider how the text has been received and valued.

The Module is therefore requiring students to have a thorough understanding and knowledge of
Hamlet by examining the elements of character, characterisation, structure, language, themes and
setting. They need to understand how Hamlet was received and valued at the time of its writing as
well as through subsequent performances of the play. Students should develop a personal
understanding as to what Hamlet says to them now. They should also consider the ideas and
perspectives of other people to the play and those other people can include academic critics, their
fellow students and their teacher. These perspectives will only be valuable when the students have a
deep knowledge and understanding of Hamlet and have come to terms with what they personally
think about the play and its issues, characters and language. Students will also need to understand
the context in which Hamlet was written and what was valued in that context. Subsequent
performances of Hamlet will also be affected by the contextual elements and by different values and
this is what continues to give Hamlet its longevity and allows it to resonate with a range of audiences
in a range of contexts. The way we receive and respond to Hamlet is a product of our context and
what we value and students should be encouraged to see that a range of responses will lead to
different ways of receiving the play and that these too reflect different values.

In this module there is no substitute for a close and critical analysis and engagement with the whole
play. The nature of the play will lend itself to a range of teaching and learning techniques and these
should be planned and selected according to the nature of the particular class. There is an
overwhelming amount of material on Hamlet and teachers need to be judicious in their selection
and use of material so that the unit does not become so overwhelming that the enjoyment and thrill
of the text is lost. The best source for this unit is a copy of the play, which should be constantly used
as the prime reference source.

The teaching and learning ideas which follow this introduction are planned for a unit of about 7-8
weeks. The unit contains more material than this length of time but it is aimed to provide a selection
of ideas from which teachers can choose what best suits their class.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 3


Reflective questions:

 What does it mean to engage with the text and how might I do that?
 What will be the best way to engage with the text?
 What is meant by an informed personal understanding of Hamlet?
 How can I best develop a personal understanding which is informed?
 What does is meant by critical analysis?
 How can I best refine my own understanding of Hamlet?
 What do we mean by “perspectives”? What are synonyms for “perspectives”?
 Whose perspectives should I seek?
 How can I use those perspectives to confirm and consolidate my own understanding?
 Should I engage in perspectives which challenge and conflict with my own understanding?
 How can I best incorporate those challenging ideas in a response?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 4


What will be covered?
What needs to be covered in a critical study of Hamlet? Answer these questions as you go in order
to compile quality notes. Tick each question as you cover that topic.

 Who was Shakespeare and what type of plays did he write?


 Shakespeare as a chronicler of his times.
 How does the play reflect its context?
 The features of tragedy.
 What features of tragedy appear in Hamlet?
 The features of a revenge tragedy.
 What revenge tragedy features appear in Hamlet?
 Close engagement with the chronology of the play.
 Analysis of the construction, content, setting, characters, language of the play.
 How do these features contribute to the textual integrity of Hamlet?
 Close focus on specific sections eg speeches and soliloquies.
 What issues, ideas and themes are explored by Shakespeare in Hamlet?
 How universal are the themes of the play?
 How was the play read, received and valued by its original audience?
 How have subsequent audiences received and valued the play?
 What values are explored in the play, especially through the soliloquies?
 What is your personal reaction to the play?
 What understanding have you come to about the play?
 What perspectives have other people had on the play?
 How have those perspectives affected or shaped or influenced your own understanding and
interpretation?

 Respond to the play through a range of critical, interpretive and imaginative texts for different
purposes and audiences.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 5


Tragedy

“Tragedy” is the conventional description of a play that portrays human suffering and the
decline and death of a hero or heroine. The essential principles of tragedy were established
by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322BC) in his work The Poetics. Traditionally the
hero was of high status and the fall from grace was immense. The downfall of the hero is
often attributed to a tragic flaw or blemish in his or her character. Another explanation for
the hero’s downfall is that he or she has no real control over their destiny and that their fate
is determined. Aristotle writes that tragedy should succeed in “arousing pity and fear in such
a way as to accomplish a catharsis of such emotions. There should be a serious and
significant struggle and the tragic hero should face his downfall in such a way as to attain
heroic stature.

The protagonist recognises his own flaw in a scene of self-recognition.

This spectacle provides an emotional release, or CATHARSIS, for the audience.

The revenge tragedy was a very popular theatrical form in Shakespearean times and Hamlet
is one of the most acclaimed examples of this form. It is a form of tragedy made popular on
the Elizabethan stage by Thomas Kyd, whose Spanish Tragedy is an early example of the
type. The theme is the revenge of a father for a son or vice versa, the revenge being directed
by the ghost of the murdered man, as in Hamlet. Other traits often found in the revenge
tragedies include the hesitation of the hero, the use of either real or pretended insanity,
suicide, intrigue, an able, scheming villain, philosophic soliloquies, and the sensational use of
horrors (murders on the stage, exhibition of dead bodies, etc.).

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 6


Interpretation
We will be viewing a number of versions of Hamlet in order to understand the role of
context in people’s interpretation of the play. Read the following review and respond to the
questions. When and where was this performance staged?

1. How has the context affected the interpretation of the play?


2. In a stage production, who is in control of the interpretation?
3. Considering the effect context has on the production of the play, how do you think it effects
the critical analysis?
4. Write a Letter to the Editor expressing your opinion about the ways Shakespeare has been
interpreted.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 7


Writing Task One: Extended Response
Due: Week 4

Length: 500 words (about two A4 pages)

Question:

“Every important text challenges the audience with complex ideas and appropriate language to
express them.”

How does Shakespeare use the language and conventions of drama to challenge the audience with
complex ideas in Act 1?

OR

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 8


What is established in Act I?

In your response you should consider these dot points:

 What elements of the revenge tragedy are set up?


 Explain the function of Act 1.
 How does the language evoke the tone and mood of Scene i?
 How does the language in Scene 2 contrast and establish new ideas?
 What do we learn about the characters of Hamlet, Horatio, Gertrude, and Claudius?
 How does their language define their characters?
 What values are introduced in this Act and how do those values reflect the context of its
composition?
 What ideas/themes/ issues are explored in this opening Act?
 How would the Elizabethans have reacted to this Act?
 What values of this Act still resonate with us today?
 How effective or successful is this Act as theatre?

In their response students should demonstrate how well they:

- engage with the details of Hamlet


- demonstrate an informed personal understanding
- analyse and evaluate the language and content of Act 1
- demonstrate an understanding of the context and how it influenced the composition of
Hamlet
- demonstrate how the text has been received and valued.

Act III Group task


One task to be allocated per group. Groups to present their findings to the class in the form of a 5-8
minute seminar.

1. Choose five extracts from Act III where Shakespeare uses language in a powerful way.
Analyse the techniques used in each of those examples.

2. Explain the main argument in Hamlet’s forth soliloquy, “To be or not to be”. How is language
used to present this argument? What dramatic function does this soliloquy have at this point
of the play?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 9


3. Renaissance man or Ophelia’s idealisation? With close reference to Ophelia’s “O what a
noble mind is here o’erthrown” speech, present evidence for these two perspectives of
Hamlet. How does her passionate observations compare to the perspective we gain of
Hamlet in his short soliloquy at the end of Scene ii, where he uses language which some
critics say reduces him to a stereotype of the traditional Revenge protagonist?

4. What themes are explored in this Act? Which themes would be most appreciated by the
Elizabethan and which would be more relevant to audiences today? How are these themes
reconciled with the values of both societies?

5. Examine closely the “play within a play” Scene and discuss its contribution to the dramatic
structure, the revenge tragedy format and to the themes of the play. Explain the dramatic
convention of the masque/mime. Why is this regarded as the “turning point “in the play?

6. Explore the tragedy of Ophelia. What is it about her plight which resonates so powerfully
with us today? Suggest three contemporary actresses which your group thinks would suit
the role of Ophelia in a new film or theatre production.

7. Explore the soliloquy of Claudius in Scene iii. Analyse how the forms and features of
language are used to reveal another perspective of Claudius. Explore the concerns of Hamlet
when he comes across the praying Claudius and explain why Hamlet does not act then. What
is the irony of Hamlet’s decision?

8. Closely examine the closet scene in Scene iv. A closet was a private room and in the last 100
years directors have staged this scene in Gertrude’s bedroom. This has resulted in increased
speculation about Hamlet having sexual desires towards his mother. Psychoanalytical
perspectives have fuelled this perspective with discussion about Hamlet and his Oedipal
complex. Closely examine this scene and present two perspectives on its meaning.

Writing task 2: Extended Response


Length: Two A4 pages

Due:

Discuss how the ending of Hamlet reflects the context and values of Elizabethan England. Compare
the representation of these values in the Branagh version with one other film production. Do the
two different productions represent different perspectives on the ending of the play and thus the
play’s meaning? Which version do you personally prefer? Justify your preference.

Writing task 3: Research task

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 10


Length: Two A4 pages

Using a range of resources from the library, including internet sites, read and consider a range of
critical responses to the character of Hamlet. Examine TWO different perspectives/ readings/views
of the character of Hamlet. Give evidence from the text which supports each perspective and discuss
which perspective confirms and consolidates your own personal understanding of Hamlet and which
perspectives challenge and contradict with your personal understanding? See Resource 1 for
examples of different critical perspectives on the character of Hamlet.

Reflection question: How valuable did you find reading this critical analysis in shaping your own
understanding of the play?

Writing task 4: Essay

Essay Question:

Your class has been exploring the question, “What will continue to make Hamlet worthy of critical
study?

Your personal response has been challenged by another student. Defend your response through
critical evaluation of Hamlet, analysing the construction, content and language of the text (HSC
2005). A copy of the criteria can be downloaded on the BOS site.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 11


Note: Students should list the aspects of construction, content and language which they
personally regard as giving Hamlet its longevity as a source for critical study. A second list
should list a challenging point of view which includes a different perspective. This challenge
could be either to the idea of “continue to make Hamlet worthy of critical study” or to the
elements which the first student regarded as giving the play its worth and value and
longevity.

In your answer you will be assessed on how well you:

 demonstrate an informed understanding of the ideas expressed in the text

 evaluate the text’s language, content and construction

 organise, develop and express ideas using language appropriate to audience, purpose

and form

Things to note while Reading Hamlet


Motifs

 Ears – note their use in the play and the relevant mentions of hearing. Who hears what?
 Eyes – remember what they are supposed to represent
 Snakes/serpents – who is the bad guy that offered the apple to Eve?
 Poison/venom – who administers these evils?
 Christian v magic references – Everywhere!! Why is that the case?
 Sickness of the state and King - it is important to note each of the references
 MADNESS!!!!! – Who is mad? Who is playing mad? WHAT is mad? Why are they mad?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 12


 Fate – are we bound by destiny? One of Shakespeare’s favourite questions. Well, are
we?

The Message

Most importantly, in a study of textual integrity YOU need to decide what the message is.
What is Shakespeare trying to say to us? Try to answer this early and develop it. Once you
establish a message (or three) it is easier to be critical of the work and its ability to convey
that message. GO BEYOND THEMES. The message is conveyed through the themes. E.g. IS
Shakespeare saying that there is a need for balance between fate and destiny? If so, does he
convey it well?

Reading Questions for Hamlet

The best beginning procedure is always to familiarise yourself with the cast of characters
and then to read the play (or at least an act or a scene) all the way through so that you know
what's happening. The notes can help if you're stuck, but try to get the big picture of a scene
before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details.
Then you're ready to think about the questions.

The Great Chain of Being

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 13


1. Why was the death of a King a significant thing in ancient times?

2. What is the relationship between The Wheel of Fortune and Fate? How does it link to
Hamlet?

ACT 1

1.1

1. Which Kings die at the outset of Hamlet?

2. “Any act of treason or treachery against the King was considered indirectly to be a
mortal sin against God. The penalty was death.” Is this applicable to the deaths of Hamlet
and Old Fortinbras?

3. What happens when Francisco and Bernardo meet at the beginning of 1.1? Where
are we, and when? Why is there confusion over which one is supposed to challenge the
other by asking "Who's there"? Why is Horatio with Bernardo and Marcellus? Who is he?

4. What is Horatio's initial response to the story of the apparition? What happens
when the ghost appears for the first time (1.1.37.1)? Notice that Horatio addresses it as
"thou." This is the form of address used with friends or inferiors. Shakespeare's audience
would have been much more attuned to the difference than we are. What is the effect of
Horatio's addressing the ghost as "thou"?

5. (a) What does Horatio first assume the appearance of the ghost means (1.1.68)?
(b) Why are there such intense war preparations in Denmark? (Read 1.1.69-106
carefully to get the international background of the play.)
(c) What does Horatio suggest by his discussion of Julius Caesar's death (1.1.106.5-
.18)? Why does he choose the example of Rome?

6. What happens when the ghost appears for the second time (at the SD before
1.1.108.1)? Why does it leave so abruptly? The questions Horatio asks it represent,
according to the thought of the time, the reasons why a ghost could appear.

5. What is the purpose of the two discussions of the crowing of the cock, Horatio's pagan
one (1.1.130-37) and Marcellus' Christian one (1.1.138-45)?

7. What do we know so far about the nature of the ghost? Do we know yet if it is a
"good" ghost (i.e., "really" the spirit of the person it appears to be) or a "damned" ghost (a
devil or evil spirit in the shape of the person it appears to be)?

1.2
1. There are some statements of apposition in the first part of Claudius’ speech (1.2.1-
16). What is he telling the court?

2. What does he say about young Fortinbras and his uncle the king of Norway (ll. 17-
41)? How is Claudius responding to the threat? Who is sent off to Norway to stop
Fortinbras?(You may also want to keep in mind that the name "Claudius" appears only in the

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 14


opening stage direction for 1.2. The name is never spoken in the play. He is simply "the
King.")

3. (a) What does Laertes want from the King?


(b) How does Claudius respond to him?
(c) Based on his first 64 lines in office (1.2.1-64), how would you rate Claudius as a
ruler? In what ways does he already differ from Old Hamlet as king? (Consider how Old
Hamlet would have responded to Young Fortinbras.)

4. What do Claudius and Gertrude want Hamlet to do that he doesn't want to do? (You
probably know three names associated with the University of Wittenberg in Germany:
Martin Luther, Doctor Faustus, and Hamlet. Can you see any connections among the three?)

5. What is an aside? In the aside 1.2.65, what does Hamlet mean? Who is he speaking
to? What pun is used by Hamlet in this line?

6. (a) How seriously do you take Claudius' argument against Hamlet's "prolonged"
mourning (1.2.87-108)?
(b)How long has Hamlet been mourning (1.2.138)? (The normal mourning period of a
noble or gentle woman for a dead husband at this time [ca. 1600] was a year or
more.) (c) Metaphors are used in 1.2.65-85 Choose one and describe its meaning.

7. What is Hamlet's response to the news from Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo?
Notice the way Hamlet questions them. How much do we know about how his mind works
at this point of the play? What does he suspect as the reason for the ghost's appearance
(1.2.254-57)?

8. Hamlet’s first soliloquy (1.2.129-159).


(a) What innermost feelings is Hamlet revealing here?
(b)What does he mean by the metaphor “tis an unweeded garden/That grows to
seed, things rank and gross in nature…”
(c)How does he feel about his mother’s marriage to his uncle? Find a line from the
play that supports your view.

9. “The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” What does
Hamlet mean by this?

1.3
1. What does Laertes warn Ophelia about? What, apparently, has been the relationship
between Hamlet and Ophelia since his return from Wittenberg? What comment does he
make about Hamlet’s position and the country?

2. How seriously do you take Polonius' advice to Laertes?

“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;


Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgement…
Neither a borrower or a lender be,
This, above all, to thine own self be true,

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 15


And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (1.3.58-80)

3. What advice does Polonius give to Ophelia in regard to Hamlet’s advances? Support
this with evidence from the play.

4. Ophelia tells her father she will obey his wishes. What does this say about women of
the Elizabethan period? Do you think Hamlet’s love is fake?

5. What do we know about Laertes, Polonius, and Ophelia by the end of 1.3?
What sort of people are they? What sort of family are they? Who is missing from this
family? How strong-willed in Ophelia?

1.4
1. (a) Why do the trumpets and cannons sound, according to Hamlet?
(b) What does Hamlet think of the custom?
(c) According to Hamlet what is the effect of the King’s behaviour on a country?

2. Hamlet then sees the ghost who ‘beckons Hamlet’ away. Horatio and Marcellus try
to stop Hamlet following the ghost. What does Horatio think the ghost could do? Hamlet is
determined to follow: “Unhand me gentlemen! By Heaven I’ll make a ghost of him that lets
me.”

3. Marcellus: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark


Horatio: Heaven will direct it

What does Marcellus think the problem is? How does Horatio believe it will be remedied?

1.5
1. The Ghost says he is ‘thy father’s spirit.’

(a) What does he ask Hamlet to do?


(b)What metaphor is used to describe the killer of Hamlet?
(c) How does the ghost say Hamlet’s father was murdered?

2. Do father and son have the same opinion of Claudius? (Compare 1.2.139-40, 152-53
and 1.5.47-52.) Would others in the court, not knowing about Claudius' crime, see Claudius
as this much below his dead brother?

3. How did Claudius murder Old Hamlet?

4. What does the Ghost tell Hamlet to do about his mother?

5. Read Hamlet's second soliloquy carefully (1.5.92-113). What does Hamlet say he has
learned? Notice how quickly Hamlet moves from the specific (Claudius) to the
general ("one"). Compare the same movement he makes from the specific person

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 16


Gertrude to "frailty, thy name is woman" (1.2.146). Given this soliloquy, how soon
would you expect Hamlet to go for his revenge?

6. Hamlet asks Marcellus and Horatio never to speak about the appearance of the
ghost again.
(a) Why do you think he does this?
(b) Why does Horatio hesitate?
(c) What does ‘the time is out of joint” mean? How can Hamlet set it right?

ACT 2
2.1
1. How much time has passed between Act 1 and Act 2? How do you know? (Keep
watching for evidence.)

2. What is Polonius telling Reynaldo to do? What does this tell up about Polonius and
his way of thinking and acting?

3. (a) Why is Ophelia so upset when she enters at 2.1.74.1?


(b) Why would Hamlet appear in this sort of madness to her?
(c) Is there any possibility he really is a distracted lover responding to Ophelia's
apparent rejection of him? How well has she obeyed her father's orders in 1.3?

4. What is Polonius' response to what Ophelia tells him? Where are they going? Why?

2.2
1. Why have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to court? What is their relation to
Hamlet? What use does Claudius have for them? Does this remind you of Polonius' use for
Reynaldo? Are there any significant differences?

2. We've now had several different explanations of Hamlet's madness: love (2.1.86,
103), his father's death (2.2.8), and that plus "our o'erhasty marriage" (2.2.57note
Gertrude's awareness of impropriety). Are people content with these explanations? Are
you? Explain.

3. What results have come from Cornelius' and Voltemand's trip to Norway? Has
Claudius' use of diplomacy rather than war been justified?

4. (a) What does Polonius suggest madness is? Note the views on madness so far.
Which do you agree with? Why?
(b) How effective is Polonius as a bearer of news? How convinced are Claudius and
Gertrude that Polonius has found the answer? How do they plan to test this answer?
(c) (What do you think of Polonius? Is he a finder and presenter of truth?

5. Immediately following the discussion of the plan, Hamlet appears.


(a) How does Hamlet behave when he enters? Does Polonius think he is mad?
(b) Is this the way we would expect Hamlet to act after Ophelia's description in 2.1?
(c) Why does he call Polonius a fishmonger? (It may help to know that fishmongers'

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 17


wives, and daughters, apparently because of the fish, were assumed to be extremely
fertile and thus able to conceive easily and thus the connection in 2.2.185-86.)

7. (a) How does Hamlet behave initially with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (through
2.2.216-66)? Is it different from the way he just acted with Polonius?
(b) How does Hamlet change when he realises that the two were sent for by Claudius
and Gertrude?

8. How seriously should we take Hamlet's view of the world and of "man" (2.2.287-98).
How do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern react to Hamlet's use of "generic" man (2.2.298-
300)?

9. Why are the players traveling? What has been going on in the city? (Much of
2.2.317-46 refers to contemporary events in London around 1599-1601.)

10. What is the significance of Hamlet's referring to Polonius as Jephthah (2.2.385).


Jephthah's story is interesting in this contextsee Judges 11:30-40.

11. (a) What is unusual about the speech Hamlet begins to recite (2.2.430-44) and the
First Player continues (2.2.448-498)?
(b)How is its style different from that of the surrounding lines of Hamlet? Why is its
subject matter appropriate? Who are Priam, Pyrrhus and Hecuba

12. What play does Hamlet want the players to play? What does he want to do to the play?

13. Read Hamlet's third soliloquy carefully (2.2.526-82).


(a) How does he use the player's response to show how different his own position is?
(b)Is the comparison justified by what we have seen happen in the play?
(c) He complains that he hasn't acted on his vengeance. Why hasn't he? Why does he
need the play? What will he learn from it?
(d) How is his plan like Polonius’?
ACT 3
3.1
1. How much have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern learned from/about Hamlet?

2. Finally the planned meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia is arranged, spies and all.
(a) What does Polonius give Ophelia to read (3.1.46)?
(b) What response does his remark get (in an aside) from Claudius?
(c) Why is this speech of Claudius' important? What do we learn that we have not
learned before?

3. Read Hamlet's fourth soliloquy carefully (3.1.58-90).


How is this soliloquy different from the first two? Think about the way Hamlet's
mind works within the first two--is the same thing happening here? What is the main idea of
this third soliloquy? (For an interesting variant of this speech, you might want to look at the
duke's version in chapter 21 of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn-a great parody/pastiche.)

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 18


4. (a) What happens between Hamlet and Ophelia in the so-called "Nunnery
scene" (3.1.90-160)?
(b) Does Hamlet know that he's being watched? Does he determine that during the
scene? Can you spot a place where he might? (Remember how he changed his way of
talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at 2.2.267.)
(c) Who is the "one" referred to in "all but one" (3.1.147)?

5. (a) How does Claudius respond to what he has seen and heard? Is he convinced
that love is the cause of Hamlet's madness?
(b) What does he plan to do about Hamlet? How does Polonius respond? Is he willing
to give up his "love" answer? What does he propose as an additional way to find out what
Hamlet is thinking? Are you surprised that it includes spying?

3.2

1. What advice does Hamlet have for the actors? Why?

2. Why does Hamlet say he especially likes Horatio (3.2.56-67, esp. 64-67)? Does
Hamlet see Horatio as similar to him or different from him?

3. What function is served by the discussion of Polonius as an actor (3.1.89-96)? Hamlet


was written within a year or two of Julius Caesar; what is added to the scene for the
audience if Richard Burbage, playing Hamlet, also played Brutus? Can you guess what part
the actor playing Polonius might have played in Julius Caesar?

4. Note the suggestive nature of Hamlet’s language when speaking to Gertrude and
Ophelia. Give three examples and explain their meaning. What are his motivations?

5. Based on 3.2.116, how much time elapsed between Act 1 and Act 2 (since the action
has been continuous since the beginning of Act 2)?

6. How does the play-within-the-play (3.1.122.1-242) reflect the issues bothering


Hamlet? Can you identify the lines he has had inserted? (Don't worry, nobody else can
either.) Interestingly, the story of Gonzago as known outside Hamlet turns into a revenge
story, with Gonzago's son revenging his father's death. So what we've seen is only the first
few minutes of a much longer play. What lines would hit the intended audience hardest?
(Consider, certainly, 3.2.159-62.) Although Hamlet is interested in Claudius' response, notice
that so far Gertrude has taken the strongest "hits" (except, perhaps, for the poisoning in the
earone of the new "Italianate" evil inventions, a way to murder someone without it
appearing to be murder). Consider also the Player King's more abstract speech in 3.2.1168-
195. How does this speech reflect issues that appear elsewhere in the play?

7. What is Claudius' mood as he stops the play at 3.2.247? How does Hamlet respond?
If Hamlet has learned that Claudius is indeed guilty (if that's why he stopped the play and
not for some other reason), Claudius has also learned something from the presentation of
the play. What has Claudius learned?

8. (a) What message do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have for Hamlet?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 19


(b) Despite the chaos at the end of the play, is this message unexpected after
hearing Polonius' suggestion at the end of the Nunnery scene (3.1)?
(c) What lesson does Hamlet teach with a recorder?
(d) What is the effect of the use of the recorder as an extended metaphor?
9. What is Hamlet displaying about Polonius’ character when discussing the shapes of
the clouds?

10. Read Hamlet's fifth soliloquy carefully (3.2.358-69). How is it different from the other
soliloquies? What is the mood of the soliloquy? How do you react to it? What about line
360? What is happening to Hamlet?

3.3

1. What has Claudius decided to do with Hamlet? Who will go with him? What
"theoretical" message about kingship does Rosencrantz tell to Claudius?

2. Where is Polonius going?

3. What does Claudius admit in his attempt to pray? Has the play actually had an effect on
him? Why can't he ask for forgiveness?

4. Note the pun “wretched state”. Is the Kings emotions and feelings reflected in the state of
his country?

4. What happens when Hamlet enters? Why doesn't Hamlet kill Claudius then? What is
ironic about Hamlet's decision?

3.4

1. How successful is the first part of the interview between Gertrude and Hamlet? What
goes wrong (even before Polonius' death)? Who controls the conversation? Why does
Gertrude call for help?

2. Does Gertrude know that Claudius killed Hamlet's father? (Consider 3.4.27-29, 38-39, 50-
51.)

3. What device does Hamlet use to force Gertrude to consider what she has done?

4. Hamlet seems to be getting through to Gertrude when the Ghost enters. Why does the
Ghost appear at this point? How is his appearance different from his appearances in Act 1?
Who saw him then? Who sees him now? What is his message to Hamlet?

5. After the Ghost leaves, does Hamlet succeed in what he came to do? What is Gertrude's
state when he leaves?

6. What does Hamlet think of his upcoming trip to England? What does he expect to do?

ACT 4

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 20


4.1

1. Does Gertrude tell Claudius the truth about what happened between her and Hamlet
(4.1.6-7)? Is she following Hamlet's advice at the end of 3.4? Explain the metaphor she uses
to describe his madness.

2. How does Claudius respond to the death of Polonius? Does he understand the
implications of what happened? What will he do now?

4.2

1. How is Hamlet’s understanding of the situation (and perhaps, sanity) revealed with
his description of Rosencrantz as a sponge?

4.3

1. Why does Claudius believe he can't simply arrest Hamlet?

2. What is Hamlet’s morbid observation about the mortality of Kings?

3. What is the result of Hamlet's joking about death and worms? What connection do
the worms and their diet have with Wittenberg? (Note 4 to line 31gives most of the answer.
The Diet, headed by the Emperor and meeting at Worms in 1521, pronounced its ban on
Luther after he refused to recant.) Keep the whole "worm" discussion in mind when you get
to 5.1, the graveyard scene. This discussion is a prelude to that one.

3. Is Hamlet going to England as a prisoner or in the guise of a royal representative?

4. What do Claudius' letters tell England (i.e., the king of England) to do with Hamlet?
Why does Claudius expect to be obeyed? (The situation is more or less historical, since
England was ruled by a Danish king from 1016-1042. The original Hamlet story seems to
date from about this time.)

4.4

1. Why is Fortinbras' army passing through Denmark? (Remember 2.2.60-80.)

2. What sort of judgment does the Captain make about the place they are fighting for?
How does Hamlet describe it (4.4.9.15-.19)?

3. Where is Hamlet going when he meets the Captain?

4. Read Hamlet's sixth soliloquy carefully (4.4.9.22-.56). What is unusual about it given
its position in the play? Has Hamlet been delaying, as he says? What example does he
compare himself to? (And what other soliloquy does this one remind you of?) What is
Hamlet’s opinion of Fortinbras?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 21


6. 4.4 ends a long "movement" in the play that began at 2.1 with Polonius taking Ophelia to
the King and Queen, followed by the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and then of
the players. 3.1 begins the day after the players arrive (the day the play is to be performed);
the action of that day runs through the rest of Act 3 and the first scenes of Act 4. In 4.4 we
must assume that it is early morning of the next day and that Hamlet is on his way to
England. In 4.5 Laertes returns, having had enough time to learn in Paris of his father's
death, so some time must pass between 4.4 and 4.5.

4.5

1. What do we learn about the state of Gertrude's soul in her aside (4.5.17-20)? What does
this say about how she has responded to Hamlet's accusations and recommendations in
3.4?

2. The court assumes Ophelia's madness is caused by her father's death. Judging from her
songs, are they correct? Is that the only thing that has made her mad? What else is on her
mind and coming to the surface in her madness? Is she mad? Note the style of her speech.

3. What is Laertes' approach to revenging his father's death? How does it compare to
Hamlet's? How much support does he have? Whom does he initially blame?

4. What is being threatened as Laertes enters (4.5.107.1)? How well does Claudius handle
this emergency?

5. How does Laertes respond to Ophelia? Does he think her mad? Give evdence.What offer
does Claudius make to get his discussion with Laertes back on track?

4.6

1. Who brings Hamlet's letter to Horatio? What has happened to Hamlet? (Happily, we have
been spared seeing Hamlet as Errol Flynnsee Olivier's movie version for that. However, this
letter does show us a Hamlet quite capable of acting when the occasion presents itself.)

4.7

1. Claudius has obviously convinced Laertes of his innocence. What is Claudius’ elements of
Claudius’ rule are evident in this passage? What things of a personal nature do we learn
about Gertrude and Claudius (4.7.11-16)? Laertes wants his revenge, but Claudius tells him
"You shortly shall hear more." What does Claudius expect to be able to tell Laertes soon?

2. What does Hamlet's letter tell Claudius? Why does Hamlet want to see him"alone"? What
seems to be Hamlet's plan?

3. What plan do Claudius and Laertes develop? What happened when Lamord came to
Denmark two months ago? How will Claudius and Laertes use Laertes' reputation to get
revenge? What plan does this remind ou of?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 22


4. What would Laertes do to get revenge (4.7.98)? How does this compare to Hamlet? How
does Claudius respond?

5. How many tricks and poisons does it take (according to Claudius and Laertes) to kill a
Hamlet?

6. What happened to Ophelia? What is the queen’s observation? Did she kill herself, or is
her death accidental (based on this description; her death gets a different spin in 5.1)?

7. Consider the short timeframe in which the past events have occurred. How does the
structure of the play emphasise this feeling?

8.What is Laertes' response to Ophelia’s death? What does Claudius fear will happen?

ACT 5

5.1

1. What are the two clowns doing while they talk? Who is the "she" of 5.1.1? Why,
according to the second clown, is she really being given a Christian burial?

2. What happens in the discussion between Hamlet and the Gravedigger? What does
Hamlet learn from his confrontation with Yorick's skull? What does he learn from his
meditation on Alexander and Caesar? How does the mood here differ from that in 4.3.17-
38? What do you think Hamlet is saying about life on Earth? How does this speech relate to
the Elizabethan concept of the Wheel of Fortune?

3. How old is Hamlet?

4. What do we learn from Gertrude's farewell to Ophelia (5.1.227-30)? Would Polonius have
been surprised if he had heard this?

5. What happens when Hamlet appears to the others? What is significant about him calling
himself "Hamlet the Dane" (5.1.242see the footnote)? Why is he so angry?

5.2

1. What new sort of attitude to life do you see in the Hamlet of the first 81 lines of 5.2 ?
What is his attitude to fate? Give examples.

2. What would have happened to him in England? How did he find out? What did he do
about it? What has happened to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? How does Hamlet feel
about them? What does he mean by ‘baser nature’?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 23


3. What sort of person is Osric? Who is he similar to? (Consider 3.2.380-385) What message
does he have for Hamlet? What seems to be the problem with his hat? What is the wager
(5.2.122-25)?

4. What is Hamlet's reaction to the idea of the match (5.2.148-61)? (The Folio text has an
additional sentence at the end: "Let be.")? How well does Hamlet expect to do? Why does
he go ahead with it? How does this reflect the new attitude we saw in Hamlet in 5.1?
Consider closely 5.5.219-225

5. Hamlet clearly apologizes to Laertes (5.2.163-81). How does Laertes respond? Given what
we know about the plans of Laertes and Claudius, how do you take Laertes' promise
(5.2.187-89)? Can we say he has any honor at all? Has he followed his father's precept in
1.3.78-80?

6. What is Laertes doing at line 262?

7. What is the "union" Claudius promises to put in the cup at line 210 and perhaps does not
put into the cup until after line 225? What problem is created by Hamlet's response in line
227? What happens at line 232? (And what is the score by now?)

8. Look carefully at lines 245-55, noting who wounds whom and with what sword, and what
happens to Gertrude (including Claudius' lie at line 251). Note the mention of the poison as
venom. Who is being compared to a snake again?

9. What is the significance of Laertes and Hamlet’s exchange of forgiveness?

10. Why is Hamlet so concerned that Horatio stay alive to tell his story? How much do the
other people at court know at this point?

11. Do you believe Horatio in his assumption that Hamlet is saved and not damned? Why or
why not?

12. Does the Hamlet Fortinbras describes (5.2.339-44) sound like the Hamlet we have
known? What will happen to the kingdom under Fortinbras?

Resource 1

Different perspectives on Hamlet.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 24


He is:

Melancholic, witty, heroic, hypocritical, rational, regressive, noble, inert, vengeful, compassionate,
cruel, amiable, diseased, determined, undecided, corrupt, vacillating, contemplative, misogynous,
reflective, mad, wise.

Read the following perspectives on Hamlet and decide which are similar and group them together
in terms of the points that they make or the positions they appear to be made from. Which
perspectives are closest to your own understanding of the play and the character of Hamlet?

1. “A man who at any other time and in any other circumstances…would have been perfectly equal
to his task….For the cause (of his delay) was not directly or mainly an habitual excess of
reflectiveness. The direct cause was a state of mind quite abnormal and induced by special
circumstances, - a state of profound melancholy”. A.C. Bradley, 1904.

2. “…..all that is amiable and excellent in nature is combined in Hamlet, with the exception of one
quality…..the great object of his life is defeated by continually resolving to do, yet doing nothing
but resolve.” S.T. Coleridge 1817

3. “He is the epical hero fighting overwhelming odds with his back against the wall….” John Dover
Wilson 1935.

4. “Hamlet, although corrupted by the evil with which he is asked to deal, does at last resign
himself to becoming the agent of Christian providence.” Kenneth Muir. 1963.

5. “His greatness is that of the spirit: “nobility” the obvious word, a fineness and delicacy of being.
But most of what we see of him in the action is not controlled by his fineness and nobility, but by
accidental circumstance: by his mother’s remarriage, the ghost’s revelation of foul treachery, a
stupid, loving girl’s conventional behaviour when slighted…….Against the fineness of being,
there is constantly clumsiness and sometimes the ignobility of doing. Hamlet is, as we recognise,
so much too good for his fate.” A.P. Rossiter 1961.

6. “Hamlet’s nature is philosophical, reflective, prone to questioning and therefore aware of the
larger moral implications of any act.” Mary Salter 1988.

7. “Hamlet is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as


they appear….Hamlet is up against the difficulty that his disgust is occasioned by his mother, but
that his mother is not an adequate equivalent for it; his disgust envelops and exceeds her. It is a
feeling which he cannot understand; he cannot objectivity it and it therefore remains to poison
life and obstruct action.” T.S. Eliot 1932.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 25


8. Hamlet’s self-questionings are mere pretexts to hide his lack of resolve. He believes neither in
himself nor anything else, and so loses himself in caverns of introspection.” William Alice 1890.

9. Hamlet when we first meet him, has lost all sense of life's significance. To a man bereft of the
sense of purpose there is no possibility of creative action. No act but suicide is rational. Yet to
Hamlet comes the command of a great act-revenge: therein lies the unique quality of the play- a
sick soul is commanded to heal, to cleanse, and to create harmony. But good cannot come of
evil: it is seen that the sickness of his soul only further infects the state-his disintegration spreads
out, disintegrating.” George Wilson Knight. 1930.

10. “Hamlet is full of weakness and melancholy, but there is no harshness in his nature. He is the
most amiable of misanthropes.” William Hazlitt, 1817.

11. “Hamlet gives dignity to the human race by showing what feats it is capable: he extends the
bounds of experience for others and enhances their appreciation of life by the example of his
abundant vitality.” C.M. Bowra 1952.

12. “Hamlet is a man of painful sensitivity, tortured the crassness of the world he sees and b the
crudities of the action demanded of him.” F. Richmond 1981.

13. “……..the strength of the emotional shock Hamlet has suffered is equaled by the weakness of his
mind in the face of difficult moral and metaphysical issues.” D.G. James 1951

14. “Hamlet is an idealist, unequal to the real world, repelled by it, who grows embittered and sickly,
to the detriment of his noble character.” G.G. Gervinius.

15. “It is a vulgar and barbarous drama which would not be tolerated by the vilest populace of
France or Italy. Hamlet becomes crazy in the second act, his mistress becomes crazy in the
third….Hamlet, his mother and father-in-law carouse on the stage; songs are sung at table; there
is quarrelling, fighting, killing-one would imagine this piece to be the work of a drunken savage.
But among these vulgar irregularities, which to this day make the English drama so absurd and
so barbarous, there are to be found in Hamlet, by a bizarrerie still greater, some sublime
passages, worthy of the greatest genius”. Voltaire. 1752.

16. “It is evident to me that Shakespeare meant to represent the effects of an action laid upon a
soul unfit for the performance of itt….A lovely, pure, noble and highly moral being, with the
strength of mind which forms a hero, sinks beneath a load which it cannot bear and must not
renounce.” Goethe. 1795

17. “Now, what does Hamlet represent? Analysis, first of all, and egotism, and therefore incredulity.
He lives entirely for himslef; he is an egotist. But even an egotist cannot believe in himself. We
can only believe in that which is outside of and above ourselves. But this “I” in which he does not
believe, is dear to Hamlet. This is the point of departure to which he constantly returns because

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 26


he finds nothing in the whole universe to which he can cling with all his heart.” Ivan Turgenev
1860

18. “In this sense the Dionysian man represents Hamlet, both have once looked truly into the
essence of things, they have gained knowledge and nausea inhibits action; for their action could
not change anything in the eternal nature of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating
that they should be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action; action
requires the veils of illusion; that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the
Dreamer who reflects too much, and, as it were from excesses of possibilities, does not get
around to action. Not reflection no-true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs
any motive for action.” Friedrich Nietzsche 1872.

19. “Hamlet is something radically new, even for and in Shakespeare: his theatricality is
dangerously nihilistic because it so paradoxically natural to him. More than his parody Hamm in
Beckett’s Endgame, Hamlet is a walking mousetrap, embodying the anxious expectations that
are incarnating the malaise of Elsinore. Iago may be nothing if not critical: Hamlet is criticism
itself, the theatrical interpreter of his own story.” Harold Bloom 1999.

20. “He is loving, callous, fastidious, coarse, contemptuous, considerate, vindictive, prudish,
indecisive, tough, incapable, philosophic, violent, melancholy, resilient, vulnerable, demotic,
articulate, self-hating and much else, including a sage director and Denmark’s’; premier theatre
citric. He is Dr Jekyll and perhaps he is also My Hyde, in D.H. Lawrence’s words “a repulsive,
creeping. Unclean thing.” He is a success, for he gets his man, and a failure, for he leaves behind
eight bodies, including his own, where there was meant to b one.” Benedict Nightingale. 2008.

Resource 2

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 27


PUBLICATIONS:

Stage 6 Syllabus English. Preliminary and HSC Courses. BOSE 1999.

2009-2012 HSC Prescriptions List. BOSE 2007

ETA Module A teaching notes prepared by Sandy Csenderits, Shirley Warden and Sandra Hurst 2002:
while this was written for Module A there is excellent material on historical, literary and cultural
contexts.

COURSE TEXTS:

Excel HSC Advanced English. B. Spurr and L.Cameron. Pascal Press 2001. P. 161-168.

This chapter was written for Module A (Transformation) but it is useful in background information
on Hamlet, gives a valuable Act-by-act analysis.

Advanced English All Texts Study Guide. B. Fuller, L. Gumley, J. Sinclair. Five Senses Education.
2000.P. 9-18

This chapter was written for Module A (Transformation) but it is useful on social, cultural and
historical context, gives a valuable scene-by-scene analysis and a brief summary of the characters.

Literature a close study. Burns and McNamara. Macmillan. 1983.P. 24: Close study of Hamlet’s
soliloquy in II.ii. with some excellent questions for detailed analysis.

CRITICAL STUDIES:

O Brave New World. Two Centuries of Shakespeare on the Australian Stage. J.Golder and R.
Madelaine (ed) Curency. Sydney. 2001.

An interesting cultural history of Shakespeare productions in Australia with 60 archival photographs.

Shakespearian Tragedy. D.F. Bratchell. Routledge. London. 1990.

A useful overview of critics and Shakespeare including a specific section on Hamlet with 6 critical
perspectives from critics from 1765 to 1935.

How to Read and Why. H. Bloom. Fourth Estate. London. 2001. p. 201-217 : the leading literary critic
of our time explores the play.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 28


Shakespearean Tragedy. A.C. Bradley. Penguin 1991. A selection of lectures from the distinguished
critic Bradley with specific lectures on tragedy and Hamlet.

What Happens in Hamlet. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge University Press. 1993. A close analysis of
the play, background of Elizabethan beliefs and a perspective of the play by T.S. Eliot.

Shakespeare’s Tragic Sequence K. Muir. J. Lawlor (ed) Hutchinson. London. P55-92 Chapter on
Hamlet.

Readings on Hamlet :Literary Companion Series Greenhaven Press, USA, 1999 . A collection of 19
different perspectives on Hamlet which give a wide range of information and opinion about the play
and its author’s style, themes and outlook on the human perspective. The contributors are a
combination of Shakespearean scholars and actors. This is a very readable book and includes some
really interesting contributions on topics like revenge tragedy, the soliloquies and a chapter by
Laurence Olivier as an actor.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Derick Marsh. Sydney University Press. 1970. Includes an excellent chapter
on The Criticism of Hamlet as an “industry”. Marsh includes a range of other perspectives and
opinions on the play.

Hamlet. Cambridge Wizard Student Guide. Cambridge University Press. 2003. A very student-
friendlty and accassable book with hnotes on Shakesapeare, genre, structure, style, a summary of
the play, characters, themns and some criotical responses.

Hamlet Cambridge Student Guide,. Cambridge University Press. 2002. A student-friendly book with a
valuable section on “Critical Approaches” eg Political Criticism and Postmodern Criticism.

Reading Hamlet Bronwyn Mellor. Chalkface Press. 1989. This would be a marvellous text to buy as a
class set. It has informative sections on revenge tragedy, and reading the play and different
characters.

AUDIO-VISUAL RESOURCES.

Videos/DVDs

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 29


Hamlet (UK 1948) Director: Laurence Olivier Hamlet: Laurence Olivier.

Hamlet (USSR 1964) Director: Grigori Kozintszev. Hamlet: Innokenti Smoktunovski.

Hamlet (USA 1964) Directors: Bill Coleran, John Gielgud. Hamlet: Richard Burton.

Hamlet (UK 1969) Director: Tony Richardson. Hamlet: Nicol Williamson.

Hamlet (UK 1990) Director: Franco Zeffirelli. Hamlet: Mel Gibson.

Hamlet (UK 1996) Director: Kenneth Branagh. Hamlet: Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet (USA 2000) Director: Michael Almereyda Hamlet: Ethan Hawke

Understanding Shakespeare: Shakespearean Tragedy. Learning essentials.

Shakespearean Tragedy Commentaries VEA

Shakespeare: A Day at the Globe. VEA.

Shakespeare and His Theatre, Understanding Shakeapeare, His Sources, His Stagecraft.

Audio recordings

BBC Radio Collection. Hamlet

Naxos Hamlet (Hamlet: Anton Lesser)

Arkangel Hamlet (Hamlet: Simon Russell Beale)

HarperCollins Hamlet (Hamlet: Paul Schofield)

Resource 3

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 30


HSC STYLE QUESTIONS ON HAMLET
2009 HSC:

Through its portrayal of human experience, Shakespeare’s Hamlet reinforces the significance of
loyalty. To what extent does your interpretation of Hamlet support this view? In your response,
make detailed reference to the play.

Marking guidelines on BOSE site: 2009 exam and “notes from the marking centre”.

2008 HSC (adapted from King Lear question):

In your view, how have dramatic techniques been used to reveal memorable ideas in
Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Support your view with detailed reference to the text.

2007 HSC:

Ultimately, in this Shakespearean drama, it is the representation of intense human relationships


that captivates audiences.

Explore the representation of at least ONE intense human experience in Hamlet, evaluating its
significance in the play as a whole.

Syllabus outcomes: 1,3.4.5.6.7.8.10.12A.

Marking guidelines on BOSE site: 2007 exam and “notes from the marking centre”.

2006 HSC:

To what extent has your personal response to Hamlet been shaped by the enduring power of
Shakespeare’s characterisation of Hamlet?

Support your evaluation with a close analysis of TWO key extracts from Hamlet.

Syllabus outcomes: 1,3,4,6,8,10,12A

Marking guidelines on BOSE site: 2006 exam and “notes from the marking centre”.

2005 HSC:

Your class has been exploring the question, “What will continue to make Hamlet worthy of critical
study?”

Your personal response has been challenged by another student. Defend your response through a
critical evaluation of Hamlet, analysing the construction, content and language of the text.

Syllabus outcomes: 1,2A,6,8,10,12,12A

Marking guidelines on BOSE site: 2005 exam and Notes from the Marking Centre.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 31


2004 HSC:

“Interpretations of texts can shift and change with time and place.”

Considering your time and place, reflect on the ways in which context has shaped your critical
interpretation of Hamlet.

In your response, refer to TWO extracts from your prescribed text.

Syllabus outcomes: 1,2A,3,6,8,10,12,13.

Marking guidelines on BOSE site:2004 exam and Notes from the Marking Centre.

2003 HSC:

Compose an argument for or against the topic: “That every text has its used-by date.”

Consider your prescribed text’s ideas, language and form, and its reception in different contexts.

Syllabus outcomes: 1.2A.3.4.6.8.10.11.12A.

2002 HSC:

Two people who value your prescribed text in different ways and for different reasons are having a
conversation.

Compose their conversation which should include consideration of the structure, staging, language
and ideas of the text.

ETA Practice Exam Questions:

1. “An admirable text does not define nor exhaust its possibilities.” Discuss this idea with close
reference to at least two scenes from Hamlet.

2. While our reading of a text is always influenced by our own experience, we must never ignore
for whom and by whom it was composed. How does our understanding of context influence
our reading of a text? Refer in detail to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Other HSC style questions:

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 32


1. “Every new reading of Hamlet implies a reconsideration of the ways audiences value the play
and respond to it.” Discuss this view with reference to TWO scenes from the play and how
these scenes impact on the play as a whole.

2. “A text to be considered worthy of study must have a core that is available and understood
by all readers.” Write an article for a weekend magazine where you present your view on this
statement. In your article you must make close reference to Hamlet.

3. Texts are never objective: they convey a sense of what is important in the lives of both the
composer and the responder.” In the text you have studied, what is valued by the composer
and the responder?

4. Imagine you are directing a performance of Hamlet and you have a particular reading of the
play that you want to present to the audience. Explain to the people playing the roles of
Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude in the play how you would like to represent these characters
to reflect the reading you have chosen. Make sure you refer in detail to specific scenes.

5. A leading publisher is preparing a new collection of texts entitled Texts for all Times.
According to the editor of this collection, a text may be considered a classic if it meets the
following requirements. It must be:
 Considered important in the time and context of its composition
 Relevant to more than one generation (past or future)
 Open to interpretation.

6. Argue for the inclusion of Hamlet in the publication, Texts for all Times. You have been asked
to deliver the 2009 speech at the annual dinner of the International Shakespeare Society
focusing on the status of Hamlet as a classic text. In this speech you must:
 Outline what makes the play a classic.
 Discuss different ways of valuing and receiving the play.
 You may also describe any visual aids you would use as part of your presentation.

7. Imagine you are the actor playing Hamlet in a production of Hamlet. You have been asked by
the director to explain how you see your character and how you would present him to best
convey your interpretation. Write the conversation you have with the director. In your
conversation, refer to two scenes in detail.

8. “Hamlet is a play that explores ideas and issues that are particularly relevant for
contemporary society.” Select one idea or issue that you feel is particularly relevant for
contemporary society and discuss how a production of the play for a contemporary audience
might represent this. How would this production challenge, or reflect on, the representation
of this idea or issue in one production with which you are familiar?

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 33


9. Hamlet has been nominated as one of the top ten texts of all time. Write a transcript of a
literary radio program in which two academics argue the relative merits of the text and why
it should or should not be included.

10. You have been invited to give a lecture to an HSC class about Hamlet. You must explain why
Hamlet is significant, taking in consideration different perspectives of the text, including how
the text has been read, received and valued in historical and other contexts.

11. Select a significant scene from Hamlet. Evaluate the impact that your critical study has had
on your response to this scene and how the construction, content and language of this scene
contribute to the textual integrity of the play. Your response must be based on a detailed
examination of Hamlet.

Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 34


Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet 35

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