RQ: Hamlet, Act 3

Featured Image


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Hamlet, Act 3, Scenes 1-2. 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 haven’t Rosencrantz an Guildenstern been able to figure out the cause of Hamlet’s “turbulent and dangerous lunacy” (3.1.4) by the start of Act 3?

Why do you think Claudius asks Gertrude to leave he and Polonius alone to observe Hamlet’s interaction with Ophelia (“seeing unseen” (3.1.32))?

Why does Polonius say to trigger Claudius’s admission of guilt (3.1.50-53)?

Does Hamlet know that Claudius and Polonius can hear him? What do you think of Hamlet delivering this speech to Ophelia?

“To be or not to be” (3.1.55-88)

What, exactly, is the question? “To be, or not to be—that is the question” (3.1.55): “(a) whether life in general is worth living, (b) whether he should take his own life, (c) whether he should act against the king” (314 nn55).

Are there other questions besides, life or not life? Anything else worth asking? Is there anything else, “between all the two’s one likes” (xvii)?

What’s “slings” (3.1.56)?

How does Hamlet define “death”? How does Hamlet define sleep?

What are some of the bad things that a person would escape if the church had not outlawed suicide?

Why words like “bodkin” (3.1.75) and “fardels” (3.1.75)? Compare with words derived from Latin such as “quietus” (3.1.74)?

  • Bodkin of unknown Welsh or Irish derivation
  • Fardel old French and Old English

Ultimately, what stops people from killing themselves, “And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of” (3.1.80-1)?

Beyond Killing ourselves, what does “conscience” (3.1.82) also stop us from doing and/or turn us into?

How does Hamlet react when he first sees Ophelia? How does his reaction compare with the introspective speech that precedes her entrance?

Original Pronunciation, Hamlet 3.1.55-88

RSC 2009, David Tennant, 2.1.1-38

Adrian Lester as Hamlet: ‘To be or not to be’ | Shakespeare Solos


How does Hamlet respond to Ophelia when she attempts to return the letters he gave her, “My lord, I have remembrances of yours/That I have longed to redeliver/I pray you now take them” (3.1.92-4)?

What does “Get thee to a nunnery!” (3.1.120) mean? Why does Hamlet want Ophelia to go there?

Is Hamlet’s response to Ophelia part of his act, his “antic disposition” or is he sincere? Does Hamlet know that Claudius and Polonius are watch their interaction? How does it change the scene if a director decides to stage 3.1 so that Hamlet knows he is being watched?

How does Claudius react to what he sees transpire between Ophelia and Hamlet?


What direction does Hamlet give the players?

Describe the “dumb show” (3.21128-30).

Describe The Mousetrap (3.2.146-223).

How well does The Mousetrap represent the events that occurred prior to the start of Hamlet?

How does Claudius react to the play? How does Gertrude react to the play?

Here’s a link to the David Tennant, Royal Shakespeare, 2008 Hamlet

The Mousetrap sequence is 74-80


George Villiers Duke of Buckingham, Miniature Portrait


What does Claudius plan to do with Hamlet after he watches the play?

How does Guildenstern “figure” the state (3.3.6-7)? How does Rosencrantz (3.3.11-26)? Do the two representations agree or disagree?

Why do you think that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern agree to take Hamlet to England?

Why does Polonius plan to hide behind the “arras” (3.3.28) in Gertrude’s closet?

Why is Caludius incapable of asking for forgiveness (3.3.53-6)? What’s the difference between heaven and earth in Claudius’s estimation (3.3.60-4)?

What stops Hamlet from killing Claudius at the end of 3.3?


How does Hamlet plan to approach Gertrude (3.2375-89), and does he follow through on his plan?

What do the repetitions at the start of the chamber sequence establish about Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship (3.4.4-13)? How does this exchange echo their initial exchange at 1.2.72-5?

Do you think that Hamlet will really kill his own mother at 3.4.20?

How does Hamlet kill Polonius (3.2.21)?

Do you think that Gertrude knows that Claudius killed Old Hamlet? Why/why not?

What visual representations does Hamlet use to compare his father and uncle and chasten his mother for her marriage (3.4.51-70)?

Why do you think Hamlet is so obsessed with his mother and uncle’s sex life (3.4.90-2)?

Do you agree with Gertrude’s diagnosis of her son at (3.4.102)?

Why does the ghost of Old Hamlet appear in this scene?

What does the Ghost ask Hamlet to do?

Do not forget! This isitation

Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.

But look, amazement on thy mother sits!

O step between her and her fighting soul.

Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.

Speak to her Hamlet. (3.4.106-110)

Why can’t Gertrude see the ghost of Old Hamlet (3.4.113-14)?

What does Hamlet command his mother do (3.4.163-69 and 3.4.179-81)?

What does Hamlet plan to do with Polonius’s body?

What complications does the mother pose to father-son relationships?

What does it mean that Hamlet’s identity is defined as between two fathers? How does Hamlet have to choose between two fathers and how does Gertrude complicate this choice?

How does Gertrude obliterate or challenge the memory of the heroic father?

Does Hamlet become more like Claudius, as he forgets and/or becomes less like the father figure he idealizes?

Why should the first mother powerfully present in Shakespeare since the period of his earliest works be portrayed as adulterous?

What is Gertrude’s chief crime?

How does the Gertrude of Hamlet’s imagination differ from the character in her own words?

Does Gertrude “enact every son’s scenario of the good mother, i.e. choosing his interests over her husband’s” (15)?

3.4 Olivier, 1948

3.4 Zeffirelli, 1990

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *