RQ: Hamlet 1.2-5


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Hamlet 1.2-5 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.



What is the occasion of 1.2? Why have all the courtiers gathered in the Courtroom? Is the occasion official and why?

When does 1.2 take place?

What are some things that are topsy-turvy, preposterous, or dislocated in 1.2?

What does Fortinbras want from King Claudius and how does Claudius respond?

What does Laertes want from Claudius and how does he respond?

Why does Claudius address Hamlet last and what does he want him to do?

What is Hamlet’s first line and what does he mean when he says, “A little more than kin and less than kind” (1.2.65)? What sorts of characteristics does Hamlet establish with this line?

How/why do Hamlet and Gertrude play on the term “common” (1.2.72 & 73); what does the term “common” denote when Claudius uses it later (1.2. 98 & 103)?

According to Hamlet what are some affects or attributes of mourning or grief that a person might perform? Why is grief the opposite of a performance? How can we know for sure that he is telling us the truth?

How does Claudius react to Hamlet’s mourning? How does Claudius try to persuade Hamlet to a different mood? Is he successful? Why/why not?

What’s a soliloquy?

What does Hamlet reveal to the audience in his first soliloquy (1.2.126-58)? For example, what has he lost? What is his reaction to that loss? Is his reaction to loss appropriate, why/why not? What sorts of words does he use to frame his loss, OR what discourse communities does he draw from to depict his suffering?

How does Horatio react when Hamlet says, “My father, methinks I see my father” (1.2.183)?

How does Horatio convince Hamlet to come see the ghost? Is Hamlet a sceptic? Is Horatio?

Why do you think Shakespeare makes the audience sit through a retelling of the scene we just watched?

How faithful is Horatio’s retelling of the events of 1.1? Does he embellish?


What advice does Laertes give to his sister Ophelia? What’s your assessment of Laertes and/or his advice?

What are Ophelia’s first lines?

How does Ophelia respond to her brother’s advice?

Compare Hamlet to Laertes.

What advice does Polonius give to Laertes? Does Polonius give his son good advice? What are some ironies in the advice Polonius gives?

How does Polonius respond to Ophelia’s disclosure that Hamlet has “of late made many tenders/Of his affections” (1.3.98-99)? What work does Polonius make the word “tender” perform?

How does Ophelia respond to her father’s commands?

How/why does Polonius treat Ophelia differently than he treats Laertes? What’s your assessment of Polonius’s relationship with his son and daughter? OR, what’s your assessment of him as a father/Father?

Does Polonius read Hamlet’s affections toward Ophelia correctly, if not, why not?


What is Claudius doing while Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus are out on the wall again, watching for the ghost? What’s Hamlet’s opinion of his uncle/stepfather’s behavior?

What are some questions that Hamlet asks the ghost? What are some names Hamlet uses to address the ghost and why?

Why are Marcellus and Horatio afraid to let Hamlet follow the ghost? What bad things do they imagine the ghost could do to him? What reasons does Hamlet give for his lack of fear (1.4.64-8)?

Do Horatio’s warnings about the ghost come true?

Who says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.90), and what does he mean?


Where does the Ghost go when the sun comes up and why does he have to go there?

What does the Ghost want Hamlet to do?

What’s the official story of Old King Hamlet’s death?

How did the Old King actually die?

Why does the Ghost figure Claudius, his brother, as a snake in the retelling of both the false report and the true report of his murder?

Compare Hamlet’s description of his parent’s marriage (1.2.137-146) to the Ghost’s description of their marriage (1.5.41-56). If you believe their accounts, then how do you read Gertrude?

What does the Ghost want Hamlet to do to Gertrude?

How does Hamlet respond to the Ghost’s request?

To what does Hamlet command Marcellus and Horatio to swear?

How does the following illustrate some of the benefits and drawbacks of preservation?

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