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Mod B - Critical Study - Hamlet

Duration – 10 weeks
This Module requires 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.
Focus Questions
What does it mean to engage with the text and how might I do that?
What is meant by an informed personal understanding of Hamlet?
What does is meant by critical analysis?
How can I best refine my own understanding of Hamlet?
What do we mean by “perspectives”?
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?
Examination – analytical response
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Hamlet, a play – John Marsden (supporting text to aid student understanding)
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
EA11-1 responds to, composes and evaluates complex texts for
understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and
EA11-2 uses and evaluates processes, skills and knowledge required to
effectively respond to and compose texts in different modes, media and
EA11-3 analyses and uses language forms, features and structures of texts
considering appropriateness for specific purposes, audiences and contexts
and evaluates their effects on meaning
EA11-4 strategically uses knowledge, skills and understanding of language
concepts and literary devices in new and different contexts
EA11-8 explains and evaluates cultural assumptions and values in texts and
their effects on meaning
EA11-9 reflects on, evaluates and monitors own learning and adjusts
individual and collaborative processes to develop as an independent learner
analyses and
uses language
forms, features
and structures
of texts
for specific
audiences and
contexts and
evaluates their
effects on
EA11-2 uses
and evaluates
processes, skills
and knowledge
required to
respond to and
compose texts
in different
modes, media
Syllabus Content and Learning and Teaching Strategies and
 Introduction to Module B
 Introductory Activity - Students are given a variety of
representations of parts of the play: sections from cartoon
versions, still shots from film versions, soliloquies from the
play, sections from the prose versions of the play. Students
are to organise the extract they have into a chronological
sequence. Stick them on a strip of butcher’s paper on a wall
 visual representation of the play
 Go through syllabus details and rubric.
 https://www.matrix.edu.au/critical-study-of-literaturethe-new-year-11-module-b/
 Respond to “Refective Questions”.
 Discussion of “Key Areas of Learning”.
 Either as a class or individuals undertake a KWL (what I
Know, what I Want to learn, what I Learned) of the social,
historical and cultural context of Hamlet and
Shakespearean England.
Research task
In groups students research one of the following topics
and create a PowerPoint presentation + information
sheet based on their findings:
Research topics:
- Shakespeare’s biographical details
- Religion/concept of afterlife/attitudes towards revenge
- Humanism – idea of fate vs. free will
- Revenge tragedy – formula, concept of justice and how it
leads to revenge.
- Political nature of the court, Machiavellian approach –
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
responds to,
composes and
complex texts
critical analysis,
expression and
responds to,
composes and
complex texts
critical analysis,
expression and
skills and
of language
concepts and
literary devices
in new and
EA11-8 explains
and evaluates
and values in
texts and their
use and abuse of power.
Role of women in 17th century
Critical responses to the play
Structure of Hamlet
Introduction to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – ‘Tragedy’,
‘Revenge Tragedy’, ‘Things to Note’ and ‘Techniques’.
- Options for reading the play together:
- Watch the film of the play first OR read a prose/cartoon
version of the story (begin with the ‘known’) therefore
providing students with an understanding of the whole
play before deconstructing it/ reading aloud.
From http://www.webenglishteacher.com/hamlet.html
- Listen to audio book version of the play together and
- Compare and contrast some of the openings from
different film versions.
- Have students prepare in advance, a performance of
particular scenes.
 Viewing, Reading and Analysis of each Act including
study guide questions (resource 1).
Continue viewing, Reading and Analysis of each Act
including study guide questions (resource 1).
 Values continuum – Students are to stand on a
continuum based on the degree to which they
agree/disagree with various statements.
 Hamlet is a victim of circumstance
 Hamlet can’t cope with the situation because he is too
 The tragedy of Hamlet could have been avoided
 Polonius gets what he deserves
 Laertes is a more honourable character than Hamlet
 This is a play about the weakness of women
 Hamlet was right to wait until he had proof of Claudius’s
Various students are asked to justify their choice of position on
the continuum in reference to the text
 Discussion of differences between text and film versions.
E.g order of events, additional scenes, Hamlet’s portrayal.
Notice the interpretation of texts according to context.
 Interpretation Task and Discussion Task.
 Key scene analysis - modelled.
 Writing Task One – scene annotations.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
effects on
responds to,
composes and
complex texts
critical analysis,
expression and
skills and
of language
concepts and
literary devices
in new and
EA11-8 explains
and evaluates
and values in
texts and their
effects on
responds to,
composes and
complex texts
critical analysis,
expression and
Writing Task Two – Different perspectives/readings
Group Task – class seminar/readings.
Character studies – mind maps/charts, Hamlet’s
relationships with other characters (resource 3).
Drama activity – props = which character?
Writing Task Three – preparation for extended response.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
skills and
of language
concepts and
literary devices
in new and
EA11-8 explains
and evaluates
and values in
texts and their
effects on
responds to,
composes and
complex texts
critical analysis,
expression and
skills and
of language
concepts and
literary devices
in new and
EA11-8 explains
and evaluates
and values in
texts and their
effects on
EA11-2 uses
Hamlet, Textual Integrity and Contextual influences.
How the different contexts influence personal
interpretations. How Hamlet remains valued in the
Modern World.
Writing Task 4 – extended response.
Assessment Notification
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
and evaluates
processes, skills
and knowledge
required to
respond to and
compose texts
in different
modes, media
EA11-2 uses
and evaluates
processes, skills
and knowledge
required to
respond to and
compose texts
in different
modes, media
EA11-2 uses
and evaluates
processes, skills
and knowledge
required to
respond to and
compose texts
in different
modes, media
Scaffold a series of paragraphs demonstrating how to
structure a response for Module B in order for students to
develop their understanding of how to respond
effectively to the text.
1) Model ways of synthesising their response with the
response of others.
2) Model ways of integrating dramatic/language techniques
and quotes in essay responses.
* Black book Module B as resource
Assessment Preparation.
Assessment Task.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Module B: Critical Study of Literature
In this module, students develop analytical and critical knowledge, understanding and
appreciation of a literary text. Through increasingly informed personal responses to the text
in its entirety, students develop understanding of the distinctive qualities of the text and
notions of textual integrity.
Students study one text appropriate to their needs and interests. Central to this study is the
exploration of how the author’s ideas are expressed in the text through an analysis of its
construction, content and language. Students develop their own interpretation of the text,
basing their judgements on evidence drawn from their research and reading, enabling the
development of a deeper and richer understanding of the text. In doing so, they consider
notions of contexts with regard to the text’s composition and reception; investigate the
perspectives of others; and explore the ideas in the text, further strengthening their personal
perspective on the text.
Students have opportunities to appreciate and express views about the aesthetic and
imaginative aspects of a text by composing creative and critical texts of their own. Through
reading, viewing or listening they analyse, evaluate and comment on the text’s specific
language features and form. They express increasingly complex ideas, clearly and
cohesively using appropriate register, structure and modality. They draft, appraise and refine
their own texts, applying the conventions of syntax, spelling and grammar appropriately.
Opportunities to engage deeply with the text as a responder and composer further develops
personal and intellectual connections with this text, enabling students to express their
informed personal view of its meaning and value.
Module B rubric requires students to:
1. Engage with the prescribed text.
2. Develop an in-depth and informed personal understanding of the text.
3. Critically analyse and evaluate the language, content, construction of the text (plot,
characters, form, structure, genre, register, techniques).
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 (what makes it significant or important?).
5. Refine their own understanding and interpretation of the text (you’re the literary
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.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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.
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
Key Areas of Learning
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
 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
What I Know
What I Want to learn
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Tragedy and Revenge 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.
A “Revenge Tragedy” can be defined as drama in which the protagonist seeks revenge for
the bloody actions of the antagonist and the revelation of the murder or crime comes to the
protagonist through superficial appearances such as ghosts. In the process of seeking
revenge, the main character might witness insanity, murder, suicide, philosophical debates,
etc. and in the end there will death of the antagonist and the protagonist or a dear one
related to the protagonist.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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. Hamlet differs in the emotional journey
made by the protagonist. There are no frequent bloody incidents, but the characters move
forward automatically with the philosophical debate and manipulation of the main
Things to note while Reading Hamlet
Introduction to the play
So much has been written about Hamlet as it is one of the most ambiguous and complex of
Shakespeare’s plays. Reasons include:
 Multiple versions (Quarto 1 and 2 and the Folio)
 The ambiguity surrounding Hamlet’s character due to his madness
 Multiple interpretations in production
Your role in this study is to draw your own conclusions and support them with evidence
from the text. There are no correct answers, just better arguments.
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
Fate – are we bound by destiny? One of Shakespeare’s favourite questions. Well, are
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 belief in fate and destiny? If
so, does he convey it well?
When you look at a text critically, you need to discuss HOW it represents ideas. Be sure you are
familiar with dramatic techniques as well as literary devices (allegory, allusion, pun, symbolism).
Hamlet is a play, ensure you explore how the form is used to convey the meaning. It is definitely not
a film or novel. Be sure you are familiar with dramatic techniques in order to understand how this
text conveys certain ideas to you.
Asides: When a character temporarily turns away from another character and speaks
directly to the audience. This helps us to understand a character’s real feelings at a
particular moment in a play. It is often used for humour or to help us empathise with a
Entrance and exits: It is important to notice when characters exit and enter a scene. Pay
particular attention to what is being said as they enter or what they say as they leave.
Shakespeare often had characters leaving after a dramatic rhyming couplet (two
lines that rhyme).
Dramatic Irony: a literary device by which the audience’s or reader’s understanding of
events or individuals in a work surpasses that of its characters. Dramatic irony is a form
of irony that is expressed through a work’s structure: an audience’s awareness of the
situation in which a work’s characters exist differs substantially from that of the characters’,
and the words and actions of the characters therefore take on a different—often
contradictory—meaning for the audience than they have for the work’s characters.
Dramatic tension: Dramatic tension is how you keep an audience hooked to the story of
your play. It is about creating and maintaining an audience’s involvement in the “journey” of
your play.
Language that invites action: A character can say something that requires others to act or
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
react. Look out for what this tells us about the character, e.g. a sudden order might suggest
Language and length: Look out for how much or little is said by characters. Playwrights will
often change the pace (slowing down or speeding up) by how the characters speak.
Off-stage: Noises off-stage may indicate the coming of conflict, of something bad likely to
Play-within-a-play: A story within a story is a device in which one character within a
narrative narrates. Mise en abyme is the French term.
Prose or verse: it is possible to tell the status of a character or the mood of the scene by
whether it is written as poetry or in everyday speech, e.g. characters of low
status do not speak in verse and comic scenes are often written in prose.
Recurring imagery (motifs): Look out for repeated words, phrases and images. Together,
these create a sense of mood or a key theme, e.g. references to chains may suggest the
feeling of imprisonment.
Scenes and Acts: It is important to pay attention to when a playwright chooses to end a
scene and an Act (a number of scenes). It is usually significant in building audience
expectations of what is to come. This is sometimes a cliff hanger.
Soliloquy: When a character is alone on stage and speaks out his or her thoughts aloud.
Speech directions: Words in brackets that tell the actor how to say the lines. This helps us
to understand the feelings of the character easily.
Stage Directions: Read these carefully. They tell us what should be happening on stage
and will often include clues, e.g. the darkening of the stage may suggest something bad
Symbolism: When an object is used to represent something else, e.g. a broken vase may
symbolise a broken relationship.
TASK: Select ONE dramatic technique and produce a concept map of how that
technique creates meaning in the text.
Research your technique in the context of the play:
a) Find examples/quotes
b) Explore the significance of this technique for the audience
c) Explain how this technique develops the plot and themes of the play.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Cartoon Summary
. Hamlet
1. The play begins with guards and a young courtier nervously
assembled on the castle battlements. The reason for their vigil
appears - a ghost. In fact, it is the ghost of the dead king, Hamlet, but
will not speak to them.
2. Prince Hamlet, the ghost's son, is in the court below, ostentatiously
wearing mourning black amid everyone else's bright colours. (The
court is celebrating the marriage of his mother, Gertrude, to his
uncle, Claudius, barely a month after King Hamlet's death.)
3. Hamlet is angry, humiliated, and physically revolted by the though
of the marriage. He makes unkind comments and speaks
unconvincingly of suicide: he is feeling very sorry for himself.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
4. The young man on the battlements, Hamlet's good friend Horatio,
tells the Prince what he and the men have seen. Since unquiet ghosts
often foretell disasters, they decide that they had better find out
what the ghost means.
5. Laertes, a contemporary of Hamlet's, is going back to university. He
says farewell to his sister Ophelia and warns her of her fondness for
Hamlet. The Prince, he says, cannot marry for love; even if he loves
Ophelia, she had better be careful.
6. Laertes is sent off by his father, Polonius, with an earful of advice.
Polonius talks to Ophelia about Hamlet, but his interpretation is that
Hamlet will say anything to seduce a girl. (Polonius would.) He forbids
Ophelia to see Hamlet and tells her to send back all the gifts.
7. Hamlet, Horatio, and the guards wait on the windy walls of
Elsinore. All are nervous - especially Hamlet. The ghost appears and
beckons Hamlet to the most dangerous part of the walls. Though the
others try to prevent him (the ghost may be a demon), Hamlet
8. The ghost tells Hamlet the news that he didn't want to hear: Uncle
Claudius murdered Hamlet's father, King Hamlet, and seduced
Gertrude into marrying him. Hamlet must now avenge for his father's
murder, but leave his mother to heaven. The ghost vanishes.
9. Hamlet realizes the news puts him and his friends in danger. He
swears them to secrecy (with the help of the ghost) but he really
doesn't want to be the avenger of his father. He doesn't know what
to do.
10. Ophelia reports to her father, Polonius: she is very disturbed by
Hamlet's strange behaviour (as are Gertrude and Claudius). Hamlet,
his clothing all messy, has come into her room and just stared at her.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
11. Claudius has summoned two of Hamlet's university friends.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on Hamlet. They agree to this
quite willingly (although they don't have much of a choice: Claudius is
the king).
12. Polonius bustles in, saying he's found the cause of Hamlet's
madness - love. He whips out one of Ophelia's letters from Hamlet
and reads it before the entire court (sensitive, isn't he??). He
criticizes its style and says he'll set up a meeting others can watch.
13. The rest of the court clears out as Hamlet approaches. Polonius
tries to get him to commit himself about Ophelia, but Hamlet weaves
a web of half-mad words that confounds the old man.
14. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to pump Hamlet for
information, the result is much the same. Hamlet finds out they are
working for Claudius and warns them they're playing a dangerous
15. Hamlet is diverted by the arrival of travelling players. He begins a
speech he liked, and the players' leader finishes it for him, speaking
so passionately that he changes colour and cries. Hamlet engages the
group to play "The Mouse-trap" before the court tomorrow night.
16. Alone, Hamlet berates himself. If the player can work up that
much emotion about a literary character, why can't Hamlet do
something about his father's murder? The play will test Claudius: if
he reacts, he's guilty (the play is similar to the murder); if he doesn't,
the ghost is an evil spirit.
17. Remember Polonius's plan for Ophelia? He plants her in the hall
to meet Hamlet while he and Claudius eavesdrop from behind
tapestries. Hamlet realizes this is a setup. He tells Ophelia to get to a
nunnery (i.e. to a safe place) before the court corrupts her, and
threatens Claudius.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
18. Angered at Hamlet's implied threat. Claudius decides to send
Hamlet away to England. Polonius suggest that Gertrude might be
able to reach where Ophelia failed.
19. Hamlet tells the players how to act, then, as the court assembles
to hear the play, he is very rude to Ophelia. Since she hasn't left, he
assumes she is being used willingly. Poor Ophelia is even more
distressed and confused by his behaviour.
20. The play begins and the players act out a king being murdered
(just he way King Hamlet was) by a trusted advisor, who then woos
and wins the widowed queen. Gertrude watches calmly.
21. But not Claudius! He gets up and storms out before the play is
finished. Now he knows that Hamlet knows that his father's death
was murder, how it was done, and "who done it." Suddenly Hamlet is
a very real danger to Claudius.
22. Hamlet is delighted at how his plan worked. He now knows that
Claudius is guilty and the ghost was real. Again he warns Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern that they can't manipulate him. Although he sees
through Polonius fawning, he agrees to visit Gertrude.
23. Now that he knows he's in danger, Claudius tries to pray. He
won't give up his ill-gotten prizes, so he just kneels and recites
formulas of prayer. Hamlet sees him, alone and unguarded, but
believes that to kill Claudius while he's praying would send him to
heaven. Hamlet tiptoes on by.
24. Polonius has hidden behind the big tapestry in Gertrude's
bedroom. When Hamlet begins to get angry at Gertrude, Polonius
calls for help. Think the voice comes from Claudius; Hamlet stabs
right through the tapestry and kills Polonius. Gertrude is horrified.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
25. As Hamlet tries to convince Gertrude to leave Claudius (without
telling her that her present husband murdered her former husband).
King Hamlet's ghost appears to protect Gertrude. She cannot see it,
and as Hamlet talks to "nothing", she becomes convinced he really is
26. Hamlet's murder of Polonius is discovered, and Hamlet is
arrested. Hamlet is rude to Claudius, but Claudius won't react. (He
doesn't want to put Hamlet on trial: Hamlet knows too much.)
Instead, Claudius breaks his own land's laws by sending Hamlet away
to England.
27. On his way, Hamlet meets a captain in Fortinbras's army.
Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, is held up as the ideal, but Hamlet
wonders about the war he's waging for a scrap of land that can't bury
the bodies of the men who will die fighting for it. If that's honour,
why, Hamlet wonders, does he worry about killing one man?
28. Back at the castle, Ophelia has gone mad. The man she loves has
rejected her privately and publicly and killed her father. She wanders
about the castle, singing songs about dead men and faithless lovers.
29. Laertes bursts into the castle at the head of a mob. Claudius,
playing the king, dares them to touch his sacred person. Laertes
dismisses his followers and demands to know what happened to his
father and why Hamlet has not been punished.
30. As Claudius says he's not responsible, Ophelia comes back in.
Laertes is horrified at what has happened to his beloved sister and
vows vengeance. Like Hamlet, he is now a young man with a mission.
31. Sailors have brought Horatio a letter. In it he finds that Hamlet
was captured by pirates when he led the attack on them. (To die in
battle would be the easy way out for Hamlet, the reluctant avenger.)
Hamlet is on his way home to Denmark.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
32. Claudius is working on Laertes, turning Laertes's genuine
vengeance into a tool of a corrupt king. Laertes agrees to Claudius's
scheme of a duel with trick swords and poisoned wine, and suggests
poisoning the tip of his sword as well. Claudius has corrupted him.
33. Laertes and Claudius have received Hamlet's letter saying he's
returning and vow to act quickly. Gertrude brings news of Ophelia's
death - suicide by drowning. She is upset, Laertes is devastated, but
Claudius is only annoyed at the inconvenience.
34. Two gravediggers work on Ophelia's grave and discuss the case.
Suicides weren't buried in churchyards, and both these men know
that if Ophelia hadn't been who she was, she wouldn't be buried
here. (Claudius is now bending church law.) Hamlet and Horatio
35. Hamlet plays with the idea of death, which is never far from his
mind. He speculates on death in general, but then the gravedigger
makes it personal by handing him the skull of a childhood friend,
Yorick the jester. Hamlet has scarcely recovered himself when a
funeral approaches.
36. Hamlet does not know Ophelia is dead, but as he spies on the
funeral the awful truth dawns on him. Laertes, Gertrude, and
Claudius all mourn Ophelia in her shabby little funeral.
37. When Laertes, wild with grief, leaps into Ophelia's grave, Hamlet
can stand being hidden no longer. He comes out and gets into an
unfortunate fight with Laertes about who loved Ophelia most.
38. Later, a much calmer Hamlet tells Horatio what he's done. He has
stolen the letter his escorts (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) were
carrying, which commanded the King of England to execute Hamlet
immediately, and replaced it with a letter that says "execute
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
39. Horatio is aghast that Hamlet would order the death of his
university chums. Hamlet says they were willing tools of Claudius and
he is not concerned. Besides, now he has hard evidence (the letter)
of Claudius's plotting to show the court, the courts, and Gertrude.
40. Osric, a foppish young courtier, delivers a challenge. The king has
bet six Arab horses against six French swords that Hamlet can beat
Laertes in a duel. After playing with Osric a bit, Hamlet accepts the
41. Horatio is worried and fears another plot by Claudius. Hamlet
says the key to life is to live it as though every day would be your last
and that he is ready for what is to come.
42. Before the duel begins, Claudius drops a pearl coated with poison
into a goblet of wine as a toast to Hamlet. Hamlet apologizes to
Laertes for his behaviour, saying they're in similar circumstances.
Laertes begins to have second thoughts.
43. Hamlet wins the first two touches of the sword. Gertrude is so
pleased at his performance and apparent sanity that she takes the
poisoned cup and drinks a toast to him. Claudius doesn't stop her
(because he'd have to explain why).
44. Laertes, shocked that the king would let Gertrude (whom he
loved so much) drink the poisoned wine, continues the duel. He
wounds Hamlet with his poisoned sword, but in the fray the swords
are exchanged and he is wounded with it too.
45. Suddenly Gertrude cries out that the wine was poisoned. Claudius
tries to deny it, but Laertes, seeing him for what he really is, tells the
whole plot - poisoned wine, poisoned swords, and all.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
46. Hamlet turns on Claudius, forces the last of the poisoned wine
down his throat and stabs him with the venomed sword for good
47. Realizing he is dying, Hamlet forgives Laertes (who, because he
has been stabbed closer to the heart, dies first). He gives the
kingdom to Fortinbras. Then he dies in Horatio's arms.
48. Fortinbras returns from his Polish war at that moment and is
horrified by all the dead bodies in the court. He is sorry Hamlet is
dead, for he feels Hamlet would have ruled well. He takes over and
orders the honour of a state funeral for the dead prince.
You should have already viewed/read 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?
How has the context affected the interpretation of the play?
In a stage production, who is in control of the interpretation?
Considering the effect context has on the production of the play, how do you think it effects
the critical analysis?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Discussion Task: Different Representations
Length: 4 paragraphs
Discuss how the ending of Hamlet reflects the context and values of Elizabethan England. Compare
the representation of these values in the Shakespeare and Marsden versions along with one other
film production.
Do the three different productions represent different perspectives on the ending of the play and
thus the play’s meaning? Do the represent the values of the time in which they were created? Which
version do you personally prefer? Justify your preference
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Writing Task One: Scene Annotation
Choose your two favourite scenes in the play and annotate them.
Each scene must be at least 150 lines
One scene must be from Act One
One scene must include characters other than Hamlet
Include all the techniques and their meanings
Write two paragraphs comparing the two scenes. Which contributes more to the overall text?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Writing Task Two: Perspectives
What is your initial impression of Hamlet?
Using Resource 2, Different Perspectives on Hamlet, read and consider the critical responses to
the character of Hamlet. Using the internet, explore one of these readings in greater detail.
Discuss the perspective/reading/view of the character of Hamlet.
Give evidence from the play that supports the perspective.
Discuss whether the perspective confirms and consolidates your own personal understanding of
Hamlet or challenges and contradicts it.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Reflection question: How valuable did you find reading this critical analysis in shaping your own
understanding of the play?
Complete “Developing a Personal Response” handout
Resource 2
Different perspectives on Hamlet.
He is:
Melancholic, witty, heroic, hypocritical, rational, regressive, noble, inert, vengeful, compassionate,
cruel, amiable, diseased, determined, undecided, corrupt, vacillating, contemplative, misogynous,
reflective, mad, wise.
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.
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.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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
he finds nothing in the whole universe to which he can cling with all his heart.” Ivan Turgenev
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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.
Act Analysis Group Task
In pairs, choose one of the following activities. Complete the task and present your findings to the
class in the form of a 3-5 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.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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?
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.
Hamlet’s interaction with others
Another way of gaining insight into Hamlet’s character is to examine his interactions with others, e.g.
what others say about him and what he says about them.
Read the extracts below.
What does each interaction reveal about Hamlet’s character?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Record your findings in your book.
Hamlet and Gertrude
Hamlet and Ophelia
I:ii, lines 68 – 120
III:i, lines 90 – 155
III:iv, lines 8 – 22
III:ii, lines 99 – 135
III:iv, lines 38 – 53
II:i, lines 75 – 118
III: iv, lines 88 – 107
V:i, lines 209 – 260
III: iv, lines 130 – 182
III: iv, lines 182 – 202
Hamlet and Claudius
Hamlet and Horatio
II:ii, lines 1 – 18
I:ii, lines 169 – 254
III:i, lines 1 – 28
I:iv, lines 62 – 81
III:i, lines 156 – 169
I:iv, lines 121 – 180
III:iii, lines 1 – 26
III:ii, lines 43 – 79
IV:iii, lines 16 – 65
III:ii, lines 246 – 264
IV:vii, lines 127 – 161
V:ii, lines 62 – 79
V:ii, lines 291 – 306
V:ii, lines 311 – 340
Hamlet and Polonius
Hamlet and Laertes
I:iii, lines 101 – 135
I:iii, lines 5 – 44
II:ii, lines 129 – 149
IV:v, lines 206 – 212
II:ii, lines 170 – 211
IV:vii, lines 127 – 147
III:i, lines 170 – 181
V:i, lines 213 – 230
III:iv, lines 31 – 33
V:ii, lines 198 – 31
Writing Task Three: Preparing for an Extended Response
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
“Every important text challenges the audience with complex ideas and appropriate language to
express them.”
Discuss how Shakespeare uses language and the conventions of drama to challenge the
audience with the complex ideas in Hamlet.
In your response you should consider these dot points:
What elements of the revenge tragedy are set up?
Explain the function of Hamlet.
How does the language evoke the tone and mood of the play?
How does the language contrast and establish new ideas?
What do we learn about the characters?
How does their language define their characters?
What values are introduced and how do those values reflect the context of its
What ideas/themes/ issues are explored?
How would the Elizabethans have reacted to the play?
What values of the play still resonate with us today?
How effective or successful is the play 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 Hamlet
demonstrate an understanding of the context and how it influenced the composition of
demonstrate how the text has been received and valued
Writing Task 4: In – class Essay
Essay Question:
Your class has been exploring the question, “What continues to make Hamlet worthy of critical
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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.
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
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
Resource 1
Reading Activities 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
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details.
Then you're ready to think about the questions.
Which Kings die at the outset of Hamlet?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
“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?
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?
What is Horatio's initial response to the story of the apparition? What happens
when the ghost appears for the first time ( 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"?
(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 (1.1.112..125? Why does he choose the example of Rome?
What happens when the ghost appears for the second time (at the SD before
1.1.126)? 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 (1.1.147-56) and Marcellus' Christian one (1.1.157-64)?
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)?
There are some statements of apposition in the first part of Claudius’ speech (1.2.116). What is he telling the court?
What does he say about young Fortinbras and his uncle the king of Norway (ll. 1741)? 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
opening stage direction for 1.2. The name is never spoken in the play. He is simply "the
(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.)
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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?)
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?
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.
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
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.
“The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” What does
Hamlet mean by this?
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,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (1.3.58-80)
What advice does Polonius give to Ophelia in regard to Hamlet’s advances? Support
this with evidence from the play.
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?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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?
(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?
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
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?
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?
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?
How did Claudius murder Old Hamlet?
4. What does the Ghost tell Hamlet to do about his mother?
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
Gertrude to "frailty, thy name is woman" (1.2.146). Given this soliloquy, how soon
would you expect Hamlet to go for his revenge?
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?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
How much time has passed between Act 1 and Act 2? How do you know? (Keep
watching for evidence.)
What is Polonius telling Reynaldo to do? What does this tell up about Polonius and
his way of thinking and acting?
(a) Why is Ophelia so upset when she enters at
(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?
What is Polonius' response to what Ophelia tells him? Where are they going? Why?
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?
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.
What results have come from Cornelius' and Voltemand's trip to Norway? Has
Claudius' use of diplomacy rather than war been justified?
(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?
Immediately following the discussion of the plan, Hamlet appears.
(a) How does Hamlet behave when he enters? Is this an accident? 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'
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.)
(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?
How seriously should we take Hamlet's view of the world and of "man" (2.2.286-92).
How do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern react to Hamlet's use of "generic" man (2.2.293300)?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Why are the players travelling? 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 (2.2.368-372).
Jephthah's story is interesting in this context. See Judges 11:30-40.
(a) What is unusual about the speech Hamlet begins to recite (2.2.410-22) and the
First Player continues (2.2.426-455?
(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 (2.2.501-58).
(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’?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
How much have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern learned from/about Hamlet?
Finally the planned meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia is arranged, spies and all.
(a) What does Polonius give Ophelia to read (3.1.44)?
(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?
Read Hamlet's fourth soliloquy carefully (3.1.55-89).
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.)
(a) What happens between Hamlet and Ophelia in the so-called "Nunnery
scene" (3.1.90-155)?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(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" (3.1.142)?
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?
What advice does Hamlet have for the actors? Why?
Why does Hamlet say he especially likes Horatio (3.2.55-67)? Does Hamlet see
Horatio as similar to him or different from him?
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?
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?
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)?
How does the play-within-the-play (3.1.122) 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, 3.2.159-65.) 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 3.2.168-195. How does this
speech reflect issues that appear elsewhere in the play?
What is Claudius' mood as he stops the play at 3.2.244? 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?
(a) What message do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have for Hamlet?
(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?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(d) What is the effect of the use of the recorder as an extended metaphor?
What is Hamlet displaying about Polonius’ character when discussing the shapes of
the clouds?
Read Hamlet's fifth soliloquy carefully (3.2.349-60). 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?
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?
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, 5051.)
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?
1. Does Gertrude tell Claudius the truth about what happened between her and Hamlet
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(4.1.6-12)? Is she following Hamlet's advice at the end of 3.4? Explain the metaphor she
uses to describe his madness.
How does Claudius respond to the death of Polonius? Does he understand the
implications of what happened? What will he do now?
How is Hamlet’s understanding of the situation (and perhaps, sanity) revealed with
his extended metaphor comparing Rosencrantz to a sponge?
Why does Claudius believe he can't simply arrest Hamlet?
What is Hamlet’s morbid observation about the mortality of Kings?
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.
Is Hamlet going to England as a prisoner or in the guise of a royal representative?
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.)
Why is Fortinbras' army passing through Denmark? (Remember 2.2.60-80.)
What sort of judgment does the Captain make about the place they are fighting for?
How does Hamlet describe it (4.4.25-.28)? Is his attitude to war similar to anyone elses in
the play?
Where is Hamlet going when he meets the Captain?
Read Hamlet's sixth soliloquy carefully (4.4.32-.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?
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
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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.
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
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 ( 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?
1. Who brings Hamlet's letter to Horatio? What has happened to Hamlet? (this letter shows
us a Hamlet quite capable of acting when the occasion presents itself.)
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 (4.7.9-16)? 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?
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
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s 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?
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 4.3.1936? 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" (5.1.2424see the footnote)? Why is he so angry?
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’?
3. What sort of person is Osric? Who is he similar to? (Consider 3.2.339-346) What message
does he have for Hamlet? What seems to be the problem with his hat? What is the wager
4. What is Hamlet's reaction to the idea of the match (5.2.141-196)? (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 5.1.191-196
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
5. Hamlet clearly apologises to Laertes (5.2.198-216). How does Laertes respond? Given
what we know about the plans of Laertes and Claudius, how do you take Laertes' promise
(5.2.217-223)? Can we say he has any honour at all? Has he followed his father's precept in
6. What is Laertes doing at line 236?
7. What is the "union" Claudius promises to put in the cup at line 244 and perhaps does not
put into the cup until after line 251? What problem is created by Hamlet's response in line
271? What happens at line 280? (And what is the score by now?)
8. Look carefully at lines 279-290, noting who wounds whom and with what sword, and
what happens to Gertrude (including Claudius' lie at line 288). 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 (5.2.375-382) sound like the Hamlet we have
known? What will happen to the kingdom under Fortinbras?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Study Questions
Hamlet faces a moral dilemma. On the one hand, the ghost of his father urges him to gain
revenge by killing Claudius. On the other hand, Hamlet's conscience tells him that killing is
wrong. After all, he is a college boy who has been exposed to the teachings of theologians,
philosophers and other thinkers who condemn revenge. What was the attitude of people in
Hamlet's day—as many as a thousand years ago—toward law and order and revenge?
Another dilemma Hamlet faces is whether the ghost is trustworthy. Is it really the ghost of his
father? Is it a demon? Is there really a ghost at all? What was the attitude of people in
Shakespeare's time—he was born in 1564 and died in 1616—toward the supernatural:
ghosts, witches, etc.? See Essay Topic 2 below for additional information.
In Act I, Scene II, Claudius refers to Gertrude as "our sometime sister." What does he mean
by this phrase?
Does Hamlet himself covet the throne? Why didn't he—the son of old King Hamlet—inherit
the throne? (Look for a clue in these lines: He that hath kill'd my king and whored my mother,
/ Popp'd in between the election and my hopes, (Act V, Scene II, Hamlet speaking to Horatio).
(4) The play is full of deceit. Who attempts to deceive whom?
Before he leaves to study at the University of Paris (Act I, Scene III), Laertes warns his sister,
Ophelia, to be wary of Hamlet's attentions toward her, saying Hamlet regards her as little
more than a "toy." Is it possible that Laertes is right, that Hamlet really is not serious about
Hamlet is angry because his mother married Claudius so soon after the death of old King
Hamlet. Was Gertrude having an affair with Claudius before her husband's death? Was she in
on the murder? Does Hamlet suffer from an Oedipus complex?
Hamlet puts on an "antic disposition"—that is, he pretends to be insane. But is he, in fact,
insane or mentally unstable?
Does Ophelia go insane? Does she commit suicide?
What circumstances do Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras have in common? Do they share
similar character traits?
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Marking guidelines and “notes from the marking centre” on NESA site.
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.
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.
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.
2005 HSC:
Your class has been exploring the question, “What will continue to make Hamlet worthy of critical
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.
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.
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.
2002 HSC:
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Two people who value your prescribed text in different ways and for different reasons are having a
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:
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.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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?
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
Useful Websites:
1) http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/educators/film/lessonplan.html - Comparative analysis lessons
on different film versions of Hamlet
2) http://shea.mit.edu/ramparts - MIT Shakespeare project and Folger Shakespeare library site with
lesson plans, reading room, tutorial and guides etc.
3) http://shea.mit.edu/ramparts/lessonplans/jfpickering/index1.htm link from above website but
this one examines different ways of reading the ghost in Hamlet
4) http://www.webenglishteacher.com/hamlet.html - links to numerous teaching websites - quiz
5) http://www.rsc.org.uk/hamlet/teachers/resources.html - theatre website with useful teaching
6) http://www.tk421.net/hamlet/hamlet.html - Hamlet online - various summaries and an
interesting section called ‘spinoffs’ which looks at various appropriations of the text.
7) http://www.artsvivants.ca/pdf/eth/activities/hamlet_guide.pdf - comprehensive study guide
packed full of information (PDF format)
** There are 2,5000,000 other possible websites for teaching Hamlet available online. The above are
a few of the better ones.
Scholarly essays on Hamlet:
1) http://shakespearean.org.uk/ham1-col.htm - Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare
and Other English Poets - By Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Lecture given in 1818).
2) http://shakespearean.org.uk/ - selection of historical writings on Hamlet and other
Shakespearean plays
3) http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/playcriticism.htm#Hamlet – selection of articles and essays.
Useful resources:
Reading Hamlet - Bronwyn Mellor; Chalkface Press. ISBN 1-875136-12-6
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
Hamlet: Prince of Denmark. P.Edwards (ed) Cambridge University Press. 2007
Excel HSC Advanced English. B. Spurr and L.Cameron. Pascal Press 2001. P. 161-168.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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.
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.
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
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.
Hamlet. Cambridge Wizard Student Guide. Cambridge University Press. 2003. A very studentfriendlty and accassable book with hnotes on Shakesapeare, genre, structure, style, a summary of
the play, characters, themns and some criotical responses.
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
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
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)
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Developing a personal response
Questions to consider:
a. How has your personal context influenced your response to the text?
b. What aspects of your values, beliefs, and experiences have influenced the way you feel
about Hamlet and his actions? (issues: revenge, madness, suicide, friendship, loyalty,
betrayal, family breakdown)
Key Questions
Details of Response
My Response
Am I able to identify
with Hamlet and his
What elements of the text invite
What aspects of my
context influence
How have my
reading practices
influenced this?
Involvement in the reading of
the text?
The pleasure of its ideas,
structure, characterization, use
of dramatic conventions etc?
Need to analyse it for HSC
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Although the Hamlet Unit was extremely successful among the student cohort, as evidenced
by their excellent examination results in the analytical response essay, we discovered during
an AIS PD session with Karen Stapleton that we were not permitted to be teaching Hamlet.
This was due to the fact that ‘Hamlet’ is on the Extension English HSC text list. We were not
aware of this as Moama Anglican Grammar has never offered Extension English and didn’t
think to double check this.
Hamlet, considered one of Shakespeare’s most difficult texts, was enjoyed thoroughly by
myself and the students. We found that reading the text together and bolstering
understanding of the overall play through adaptations and appropriations extremely helpful.
Students also enjoyed the class based and research activities set – variety was key.
Disappointed to see it go.
Module B: Critical Study - Shakespeare’s Hamlet