Week 3 notes (Hamlet)
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This 6 page Class Notes was uploaded by Hannah Fretheim on Sunday September 11, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENG 2301 at Baylor University taught by Rachel Lee Webster in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 19 views.
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Date Created: 09/11/16
ENG 2301 Notes #3- Hamlet Act I-III Act I Summary: Scene i- Bernardo and Francisco are guarding the gate. Marcellas enters with Horatio, who is Hamlet’s friend from school. They believe that they have seen a ghost and want to show Horatio so that he will believe them. The ghost appears to them twice, but will not speak to them. They believe that it is the ghost of Old King Hamlet who has recently died. Horatio decides that they need to tell Hamlet about the ghost. - Prior to this story, there has been conflict between Denmark (where Hamlet takes place) and Norway. Hamlet’s father (Old Hamlet) had previously killed the king of Norway (Old Fortinbras). In both Norway and Denmark, the next monarch was chosen out of the potential heirs. This is why Claudius became king of Denmark instead of Hamlet and another relative became king of Norway instead of Fortinbras. Although Fortinbras is not yet the king of Norway, he has threatened to invade Denmark and take back the land they stole. This puts Denmark on high alert. Scene ii- Claudius enters and talks about conflict with Norway and the marriage between him and Gertrude (who is Hamlet’s mother and the former king’s wife). Hamlet is still grieving over the death of his father and is angry about the marriage between his uncle and his mother as it is both incestuous and taking place only two months after his father died. Claudius and Gertrude tell Hamlet to stop grieving because death is part of life and ask him to stay in Denmark instead of going back to school. Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost and Hamlet decides that he wants to see the ghost and speak to it. - The marriage between Gertrude and Claudius benefits both of them in terms of power. Claudius has a more legitimate right to the throne because he is married to the former Queen. For Gertrude, the only way to keep her status and power is to marry the current King. Even if Hamlet became King, she would have less power as the mother of the King than she now has as the wife of the King. Scene iii- Laertes is leaving for France and tells Ophelia to beware of falling for Hamlet because, even though he has expressed feelings for her, his affection for her won’t last. He explains that Hamlet is the prince of Denmark and has no control over who he marries. Their father Polonius comes and gives Laertes a long lecture about life before he leaves. Then Polonius turns to Ophelia and tells her that she is foolish for believing that Hamlet’s affections are real. He also tells her that she is going to make him (as her father) look bad if she fools around with Hamlet. Ophelia agrees to obey her father. Scene iv- Hamlet criticizes the drunk and disorderly Danish court. Even though this celebration is a tradition, Hamlet feels that it makes them look bad to other countries. The ghost appears to Hamlet and his friends, but motions for Hamlet to come over alone. Horatio and Marcellas warn Hamlet not to follow the ghost alone, but Hamlet tells them he is going anyway. His friends let him go but decide to follow him. Scene v- The ghost tells Hamlet that he is indeed his father and that he was murdered by Claudius. He urges Hamlet to get revenge on Claudius. The ghost leaves and Hamlet sees Horatio and Marcellas. He (along with the voice of the ghost) makes them swear to never tell anyone what they have seen. Hamlet also reveals his plan to fake madness. Important Quotes: Scene iv, l. 36 “The dram of evil doth all the noble substance often dout to his own scandal” o This foreshadows Hamlet’s own fate. Scene iv, l. 90 “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” o This line is important to the entire plot. o In this line, “state” has multiple meanings. The word can refer to the country of Denmark, the current condition of Denmark and the King of Denmark. Not only is something wrong with Denmark, but with Claudius. Questions Raised: How does this relate to England at the time? - The quote on line 90 of scene iv could be interpreted as “there is something rotten in the state of England.” - Queen Elizabeth had not yet appointed an heir so that she could hold on to her power. This left a lot of uncertainty as to the future of England. - Shakespeare is criticizing the Queen’s decision, but he is doing so subtly. Why is Hamlet acting crazy? - He may be trying to take Claudius by surprise. - He may also feel that he will get in less trouble if people think he acted out of madness. - It is not entirely clear why Hamlet chooses to act this way which brings up the question of whether or not he is actually mad. Can Hamlet trust the ghost? - It does not entirely make sense that a ghost in purgatory would be concerned with revenge rather than grace. Catholic viewers in particular would have found this suspicious. - Whether or not the ghost is trustworthy changes the way we think about the story. Does Hamlet actually go mad? - This question is dealt with throughout the play. - This question is never clearly answered by Shakespeare, but is left ambiguous. Act II Summary: Scene i- Polonius sends Reynaldo to check on Laertes in France. Reynaldo is to do this by lying to people and saying that Laertes is engaging in irresponsible behaviors so that their reactions will tell him whether Laertes is really doing any of those things. Ophelia tells Polonius that Hamlet is acting crazy. Polonius says that Hamlet’s madness is due to his love for Ophelia and admits that he may have made a mistake by telling Ophelia to reject Hamlet (but blames this mistake on his old age). Scene ii- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are recruited by the King to see what is going on with Hamlet. Polonius tells the King and Queen that he believes Hamlet has gone mad because of his love for Ophelia. Polonius then talks to Hamlet alone. Hamlet, acting crazy, calls him a “fishmonger” and continues to insult both him and Ophelia. Polonius believes that Hamlet is crazy but notices that his words still have meaning. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern then go and see Hamlet, but Hamlet quickly figures out that they were sent to spy on him. A group of actors come to town to perform for Hamlet. Hamlet reflects upon an emotional monologue given by one of the actors and is upset with himself. He feels that if an actor can be so emotional about a made up character, then why is he, Hamlet, not more moved to take revenge for his father’s death? He decides to have the actors put on a play about his father’s murder to try and prove that Claudius is guilty. - Both Claudius and Polonius see the need to spy on their children, but it is shown to not solve anything. - Shakespeare often shows character hiding behind curtains to spy on each other. This is shown to be a bad idea because those who hide behind curtains see things, but what they “see” is never entirely accurate. - The play put on within Hamlet parallels the real characters. Hamlet is shown to be a good actor which connects to his real life faking of madness. The grieving lover is meant to be a contrast to Gertrude whom Hamlet feels got over her husband too quickly. The play Hamlet puts on is also about a murder. Important Quotes: Scene ii, l. 508-567 (Monologue) - Hamlet wonders if he is being a coward. He sees an actor be so passionate about a character that is not even real and wonders why he is not more passionate about avenging his father. - Is it possible that this speech is a sign of insanity? Questions Raised: Is Polonius wise? - His plan to spy on Laertes is certainly thought out, but it may not be as successful as he thinks. - Polonius realizes that Hamlet’s words have meaning, yet still buys his madness. - Polonius tells the king that he is honest even though we know that he has lied before. - He holds onto his idea that Hamlet’s madness must be the result of his love for Ophelia. How much of a choice do the characters have in their own destiny? Are there things that anyone could do differently that could change the course of this play? - Is there a particular point at which Hamlet’s fate is set? - There may be things at the beginning which set later things into motion. - Hamlet is stuck with no good moral choice to make. If he does not kill Claudius, he is a bad son. If he does kill Claudius, he is committing a sin. Act 3: Summary: Scene i- Claudius and Polonius decide to send Ophelia to speak to Hamlet, meanwhile deciding to hide behind the curtain in order to spy on him once again. Hamlet gives a monologue about the difficulties of life and whether death would be better. Ophelia then runs into Hamlet who, acting crazy, gives her a harsh speech about the deceitfulness of women. Ophelia is sad that a mind as great as Hamlet’s has been lost. Polonius and Claudius disagree about whether or not the source of Hamlet’s madness is Ophelia’s unrequited love. They decide that Hamlet should have a meeting alone with Gertrude. Scene ii- The actors are getting ready to perform the play and Hamlet has very specific instructions for them. He also tells Horatio to watch Claudius while the play is being performed so that the King’s reaction will give away what he did. The play begins with a murder and the dead man’s wife moving on which is clearly about Claudius and Gertrude. As the murder unfolds, Claudius gets upset and leaves. Claudius’ reaction convinces Hamlet that the ghost was telling the truth. Scene iii- Claudius tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to take Hamlet to England because his madness is a threat to the King’s safety. Claudius is overcome with guilt over the murder he committed and considers praying for forgiveness. However, he realizes that he cannot repent without losing the things he has gained from the sin he committed. Hamlet sees him and has a chance to kill him, but does not, as he thinks Claudius is praying for forgiveness. Hamlet is afraid that Claudius will go heaven if he is killed while repenting, which is not adequate revenge. - Hamlet has the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius but does not take action. Is this related to his tragic flaw? Scene iv- Hamlet goes to see Gertrude and Polonius is hiding behind the curtain. Hamlet has planned to speak harshly to Gertrude but not to physically harm her. Amidst Hamlet’s insults, Gertrude becomes afraid and calls for help. Polonius reacts from behind the curtain, giving away his position. Hamlet hears him and stabs through the curtain, killing Polonius. Although Hamlet intended to kill Claudius, he says that Polonius deserved to die for being a rat. He continues to criticize Gertrude for marrying a murderer as the ghost enters. Gertrude cannot see the ghost and is convinced that Hamlet has now gone completely mad. Hamlet tells her that he is faking madness but tells her not to let Claudius know. Hamlet then says he is going to England and drags away Polonius’ body. - Shakespeare previously foreshadowed that hiding behind the curtain was not going to end well. This is shown to be true even more through the death of Polonius. - This is the point in the play in which Hamlet makes a choice that he cannot come back from. - At the end, Hamlet reacts to the accidental killing of Polonius by believing that he has been “chosen by God” to clean up all of Denmark, rather than just to get revenge on Claudius. However, there is something so “rotten in the state of Denmark” that it is unlikely that there will be an easy fix. God’s law vs. King’s law vs. Man’s law - God’s law and man’s law both say that murder is wrong. However, the King’s law says that he has been given divine authority and can act as he wishes. Because murder is excused by the King’s law, Hamlet cannot get away with killing the King unless he can prove that Claudius killed the rightful king (which he can’t). - What do you do when the King’s law does not fit with God’s law? - Because of this dilemma there is no morally good decision for Hamlet to make. The Renaissance audience would have understood Hamlet’s dilemma. Important Quotes: Act 3 scene i- l. 57-91 “To be or not to be, that is the question…” - This monologue is one of the most famous pieces of Shakespeare’s writing. - Different film adaptations of Hamlet have shown this scene in different ways depending on how to directors and actors interpreted the character of Hamlet (crazy? Angry? Suicidal?). He has been portrayed by Ethan Hawke, Mel Gibson, David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh. - Hamlet may be suicidal, or may just be really struggling with his situation. Questions Raised: What is Hamlet’s tragic flaw? - The tragic flaw is not entirely clear in this Shakespeare play. - Some people claim it is his inability to take action. - Maybe his emotions control his actions too much. Why does Hamlet treat Ophelia so poorly? - Hamlet may know that she is an instrument of Polonius and Claudius - He also knows he is being watched and may want to keep up his craziness in case. - It is not entirely clear why he chooses to act mad in this particular way. Why can only Hamlet can see the ghost and not Gertrude? - She may be caught up in Claudius’ plan and therefore the ghost refuses to appear to her. - The ghost may choose to only appear to Hamlet and his friends. - It is possible that the ghost is not there. - Is this a sign that Hamlet is crazy?
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