Reading a Shakespearean play can be difficult. It is best to take it slow and continuously seek to recap what you have learned from the evidence provided, thus creating a summary of main events in your mind (or on paper). Essentially, you are working on close reading skills. For now, we’re mostly concerned with Plot and Characters. To get you started, I will provide the CONCLUSION, you provide the EVIDENCE and the LOCATION. For each statement, write the quote/quotes that FIRST give you, the reader, this bit of information. Put the act, scene and line(s) and speaker, as well. An example is provided.
BEFORE you begin, carefully read THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY. Note that Prince Hamlet’s father is also named Hamlet!
Conclusion: The play opens with two guards exchanging the watch at midnight.
Evidence: Opening stage directions AND Barnardo “‘Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Fransisco.” I.i.7 (AKA: Act I Scene I line 7)
Conclusion: The watchmen have been seeing a ghost.
- Evidence/Speaker/location: appears three times in the story. in the continuum of Act I, Scenes iv and v; and Act III, Scene iv.
Conclusion: Just when Horatio seems to make progress with the ghost, the sun started coming up and the ghost leaves.
- Evidence/Speaker/location: “If there be any good thing to be done/ That may to thee do ease and grace to me,/ Speak to me.” this shows him challenging the ghost to speak and shows progress
King Claudius has replaced the Dead King Hamlet and has married his Queen (his former sister-in-law)
- Evidence/Speaker/location: Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature. That we with wisest sorrow think on him. Together with the remembrance of ourselves. Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
There are tensions between Denmark and Norway which are remnants of a previous war.
“ Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.” “ My dread lord, Your leave and favour to return to France; From whence though willingly I came to Denmark, To show my duty in your coronation”
Conclusion: Hamlet’s mother Gertrude doesn’t seem overly upset about her first husband’s death.
Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet:
I pray thee, stay with us; go not to Wittenberg.
Conclusion: Hamlet privately reveals how angry and upset he is at his mother for remarrying so quickly.
“ why she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on: and yet, within a month–Let me not think on’t–Frailty, thy name is woman!– A little month or ere those shoes were old With which she followed my poor father’s body, Like Niobe, all tears”
Conclusion: While speaking with his friend Horatio, Hamlet is told Horatio has seen his father adorned in armour, and as a ghost.
My lord, I think I saw him yesternight.
My lord, the king your father.
Conclusion: Hamlet suspects foul play in his father’s death.
If it assume my noble father’s person,
I’ll speak to it, though hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace
Conclusion: Hamlet has a love interest in Ophelia.
For Hamlet and the trifling of his favour,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,
A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting
Conclusion: Laertes’ father is perhaps a “helicopter parent”.
or Lord Hamlet,
Believe so much in him, that he is young
And with a larger tether may he walk
Than may be given you:
Conclusion: Hamlet is eager to hear what his father’s ghost has to say/reveal, but Horatio is cautious.
Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life in a pin’s fee;
And for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?
It waves me forth again: I’ll follow it.
Hortious says What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o’er his base into the sea,
Conclusion: The ghost speaks!
Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Conclusion: King Hamlet had been murdered.
Swift as quicksilver, it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And, with sudden vigor, it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood.
Conclusion: The murderer was Claudius.
hus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
Conclusion: Marcellus and Horatio are sworn to secrecy about seeing the ghost.
Never to speak of this that you have heard,
Swear by my sword.
Conclusion: Hamlet feels he must set right the wrong that has been done, but he isn’t happy about the task.
Conclusion: Act I ends
Nay, come, let’s go together.
Exeunt ( leaving the stage)
- What questions has this act has evoked for you? (Bring them to a class discussion)
- why would Shakespeare choose a ghost?
- What does the ghost say about his presumed death and the actual murder?
- Which relationship most intrigues you so far and why?
Laterus and Polonius
- Perhaps you noticed some of these topics. If so, jot some notes/thoughts:
- Pretending (“seeming”, “Playing a part”, mask wearing)