Keep the following questions in mind as you read Hamlet, Act 2 The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.
Why do Claudius and Gertrude think that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will be able to discover the cause of Hamlet’s madness when no one else has been able to figure Hamlet out so far? Is the King and Queen’s faith in the pair misguided, why/why not?
What sort of deal does Voletemand (2.2.60-79) bring back from Norway for Claudius? Is the deal a good one? How does Claudius respond?
Polonius thinks that Hamlet is “mad, ‘tis true, ‘tis true ‘tis pity/And pity ‘tis ‘tis true: a foolish figure!” (2.2.996-7). What does he think has caused Hamlet’s madness? Do you agree?
What’s your assessment of Hamlet’s letters to Ophelia (2.2.107-124)?
Can you think of an example of a time when Polonius “said ‘tis so/When it proved otherwise” (2.2.151-2)?
What plan do Polonius, Claudius, and Gertrude hatch to discovery the cause of Hamlet’s madness? Is their plan successful, why/why not? (Visor Effect)
At such time I’ll loose my daughter to him.
Be you and I behind an arras then,
Mark the encounter: if he love her not
And be not from his reason fallen theron
Let me be no assistant for a state
But keep a farm and carters. (2.2.159-63)
What does Hamlet read (2.2170-201)?
Is Hamlet telling the truth to Rozencrantz and Guildenstern when he describes his “symptoms” at 2.2.261-276? Why/Why not?
Why are the Players, the company of actors, who Hamlet knew while he was a school, traveling throughout the country? (2.2.295-6)
How does Hamlet react to the arrival of the Players?
What does Hamlet mean when he says, “I am mad but north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw” (2.2.315-6)?
Summarize the speech that Hamlet begins, and the First Player completes 2.2.388-456. Why does Polonius interrupt the speech and is his interruption justified? Does the speech (re)tell the story of Hamlet and his family?
Is it weird that Hamlet wants to tell the story of the recent past and present with very old stories?
How does Hamlet “read this speech”? What’s Hamlet’s assessment of the Player’s speech and how does he “read” the Player’s speech as indictment of his own failure to respond to his father’s murder correctly? Is Hamlet a coward? What’s your assessment of his progress so far? Do you agree with him, why/why not?
What does Hamlet plan to do to “catch the conscience of the King” (2.2.540)?