How does Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia support, complicate or work against an Oedipal interpretation of the play? Certainly Hamlet does visit his mother's bedchamber, and is immensely interested in her sexual relationships with other men, both of which are classic elements of an Oedipal complex.
Freud's reading of the play may have influenced his sexual theories—but it is important to remember the order of events, especially because scholars tend to label Hamlet "Freudian. Explore this speech. What does he mean by this famous question? What events of the play prompt this speech?
Hamlet is musing about death, but whose death, or what kind of death, is frustratingly difficult to pin down. He is perhaps contemplating suicide, perhaps thinking about the risks he must run in order to fulfill the task of revenge. He has an audience of Ophelia, Polonius and Claudius, who are eavesdropping on him; but he most likely does not realize that they are present. The play within a play, the long soliloquies wherein Hamlet faces the audience and speaks to them directly, the vivid discussions of whether or not Hamlet is "acting" mad -- there are many elements of Hamlet that call attention to its status as a play, rather than reality.
By showing the trappings of theater and non-reality, does Shakespeare make Hamlet's suffering seem more acute or more distant? Soliloquies are modern in that they break what is much later termed the "fourth wall" separating audience from stage; the character speaks directly to the audience. Although the whole atmosphere seems patently false and theatrical, this serves to draw Hamlet somehow closer.
Somehow, the effect of such "metatheatrical" gestures is to show not how different acting is from life, but how similar life is to acting. In terms of the usual categorizations, Shakespeare's tragedies end in death, his comedies in marriage. By this measure, Hamlet is a tragedy. But Shakespeare's best plays are a tragicomic mix. Choose and discuss two comical or farcical elements in Hamlet.
The scene with gravediggers is a good example of tragedy mixed with comedy. The work is morbid, but the workers joke and sing as they go about their business. They seem totally unaware of the majestic tragedy unfolding itself in the castle nearby. On a smaller level, Yorick's skull embodies the tragicomic dichotomy; it is a gruesome, deathly object that once belonged to a joker.
There are several other comic scenes, including much of Hamlet's dialogue with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and most of Polonius' scenes before his death. This gruesome mixture of pathos and humor is the essence of Shakespearean theater. Define revenge. Is Hamlet a traditional revenge play? What other forces are at work in Hamlet's psyche? Revenge is traditionally the cold-blooded pursuit to make up for one hurt with a strike against its perpetrator.
Revenge is usually violent. Hamlet is hardly a traditional play of revenge, because the main character is so uncertain and ambivalent about both the original strike and what he should do about it. Melancholy and uncertainty play just as large a role in Hamlet's character as the desire for revenge.
Discuss the setting of Hamlet. What effect does setting the psycho-drama in a bleak northern castle -- similar to that in Macbeth -- have on the characters and audience? From the script, the audience gathers that Elsinore Castle is a remote place in northern Europe.
Not much else is known: there were no sets in Shakespeare's time. But the setting certainly matches Hamlet's melancholy mood, and the isolation of the place helps make the violence and implied incest believable. The play begins with the fantastical appearance of a ghost. Are we meant to believe that this is really Hamlet's father, or is he a figment of Hamlet's imagination?
If he is imagined, is the rest of the play imagined as well? Hamlet struggles with the question of whether the ghost is his father and decides that he must be who he says he is. The audience remains in doubt, however, because of the ghost's claim that he comes from Purgatory blasphemous in Elizabethan England , and the fact that Gertrude is unable to see it when it appears to Hamlet in her chamber. One of the moral questions of the play is resolved, however, when it becomes clear that Claudius is a murderer.
Why does he continue to doubt the "honesty" of the Ghost even after Claudius confesses his guilt? Name the various foils Shakespeare has created for Hamlet. Why is each important to the play? Explain the function of the Gravediggers at the beginning of Act V.
Look through the text and find five questions that drive the theme, characters, or plot of the play. Explain why the questions are important and why Shakespeare poses them as questions and not as answers. Explain the effect Hamlet's ideas of sin and salvation have on the development of his character and the movement of the plot. Identify the three revenge plots in Hamlet, and explain why each is important to the development of the play.
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