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Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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1 Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Act II Discussion

2 Act II, scene ii (summary)
Lines 1-39: Claudius sets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet. Lines 40-85: The ambassadors report on their successful mission to Norway. Lines 86 – 165: Polonius claims Hamlet loves Ophelia, and proposes to use her in a plot to spy on Hamlet. Lines 166 – 212: Hamlet insults Polonius. Lines 213 – 94: Hamlet discovers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent to spy on him. Lines : R. and G. report that the players are coming. Lines 339 – 489: Hamlet welcomes the players and listens to a speech. Lines 490 – 500: Hamlet asks the First Player to speak new lines at tomorrow night’s performance. Lines 501 – 58: In soliloquy, Hamlet wonders at the contrast between the Player’s faked emotion for Hecuba and his own inability to revenge. He plans to use tomorrow’s play to find if Claudius really is a murderer.

3 1. What is ironic about Polonius’ attempt to learn about Laertes’ life in Paris?
If Reynaldo follows Polonius’ instructions, he will essentially ruin Laertes’ reputation while trying to gather information. Polonius doesn’t trust his own son.

4 2. Why would Polonius immediately jump to the conclusion that Hamlet is mad for Ophelia’s love?
Ophelia’s description of Hamlet in unfastened and rumpled clothing is the Renaissaince convention of the “man suffering from unrequited love.” As Ophelia has broken off all contact with Hamlet—at Polonius’ command—he readily interprets his appearance and actions, as described by Ophelia, to be signs of unrequited love.

5 3. Consider how the episode of Hamlet in Ophelia’s closet promises to contribute to the overall calamity of the tragic plot? Ophelia has now—intentionally or unintentionally—allied herself with those who (at least in Hamlet’s mind) oppose Hamlet. If Hamlet does indeed love Ophelia, then her breaking up with him is just another betrayal—like his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle and (perhaps) her role in his father’s murder. If he does not really love her, then he is using her to advance madness ruse. In either event, she is now involved in the intrigue and corruption of the court and will probably not escape being destroyed in the calamity. In either case, Hamlet is exploiting Ophelia as is Polonius. Subordination of women

6 4. Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern willing spies for Claudius and Gertrude?
Probably not. Gertrude flatters them by telling them that Hamlet often speaks of them as his favorite childhood friends and still feels a good bit of affection for them. Claudius frames his “request” in terms of two friends finding out what is wrong with their third friend so that they can help his family find the remedy. Use deception and flattery Acting again Constantly reminded that Hamlet is a play.

7 Also reflection of Hamlet’s disdain for Polonius
5. What effect is created by the scenes between Hamlet and Polonius being in prose? Hamlet’s part of the dialogue relies on slang and puns. Shakespeare wants to emphasize these and not allow the audience/reader to lose them in the metrical pattern of blank verse. Polonius’ prose responses also highlight his own foolishness and lack of wit. Also reflection of Hamlet’s disdain for Polonius

8 6. What are some of the slang expressions and puns Hamlet uses in his first exchange with Polonius? Why are they significant? First, Hamlet calls Polonius a “fishmonger,” literally a lower-class hawker (vendor of merchandise) of common fish from a wagon. “Fishmonger” has also been generally regarded to mean some form of “pimp”, given the fact that Polonius first ordered his daughter to sever her relationship with Hamlet and then later ran to the king excitedly to report that Hamlet was truly in love with her. He has already arranged to spy on his own daughter and Hamlet in order to maintain or increase his political influence with the king and queen. When Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading, Hamlet replies, “Words.” When Polonius follows up with “What is the matter?” meaning what is the subject matter of the words Hamlet is reading, Hamlet responds to another understanding of the question (what is the problem): “Between who?” Later, Polonius says he will “take” his leave, and Hamlet responds there is nothing he would give more willingly; thus, Polonius does not need to “take” it since Hamlet will gladly “give” it. Polonius’ invitation to walk inside “out of the air,” is met with the retort that to walk out of the air is to walk into one’s grave. Hamlet is a saucy fellow.

9 7. What is Hamlet’s initial reaction to the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
He comments to himself and the audience that they are “tedious old fools,” suggesting that they are not as dear to him as Claudius and Gertrude had presumed and that he is already on to them.

10 8. Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hesitant to admit that they are in Elsinore because the king and queen sent for them? On the one hand, to admit that they were sent for might be to admit that they are spies. However, since they probably do not know that they are spies and honestly believe that they are on an errand of mercy, to admit that they were sent for could hurt their friend’s feelings; they did not think to come on their own but came when they were summoned. Note that they confess to being summoned only when Hamlet demands that, if they love him, they will tell him.

11 9. How does Hamlet’s famous “What a piece of work is a man
9.How does Hamlet’s famous “What a piece of work is a man!” passage depart from typical Renaissance humanism? . The beginning of the passage reflects the popular Renaissance belief that humankind was at the top of the hierarchy of creation: “the paragon of animals.” But Hamlet ends, not celebrating humanity’s godlike status, but lamenting the mortality of flesh; “this quintessence of dust.”

12 10. Why does Shakespeare introduce a troupe of traveling players into the action of the play?
The players will be the vehicle by which Shakespeare can evaluate various characters’ reactions to events and characters in the play. Hamlet can assess his own inaction in terms of the actor’s pretended grief. Hamlet (and the audience) can assess Gertrude’s lack of grief for her first husband’s death with the actor’s pretended grief. Hamlet can also use the scene portraying his father’s murder to observe Claudius’ and Gertrude’s reactions.

13 11. What does Hamlet’s expression of concern about the child actors used in the city contribute to the plot or to the development of his character? This is a puzzling scene in that it does not seem to do either. Shakespeare, the playwright, head of a troupe of players, and owner of a theater, seems to be criticizing a current fashion, using his play and his stage simply to advance his own thoughts about the acting/theater profession.

14 Antithesis of conventional portrayal from Greek perspective
12. What is unusual about the player’s monologue about the Fall of Troy? This monologue is written and told from the Trojan point of view. Thus, the son of Achilles (a Greek hero and the son of a Greek hero) is portrayed as the heartless villain. Antithesis of conventional portrayal from Greek perspective

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