Hamlet Act 3

Hamlet Act 3
The Climax
The Point of No Return
The Height of Suspense and Tension
Scene 1: King, R, G, Queen, Pol, Ophelia, Hamlet
The king and queen question R & G, and Claudius is
becoming impatient: he has started a new refrain in
labelling Hamlet as "dangerous." The rest of the scene
becomes a test of Hamlet's madness: is Hamlet insane?
What are they interested in knowing?
What does R & G tell them?
After Polonius joins the royals, the King’s aside reveals
something about what’s going on inside his dastardly
little head: it should change our perceptions of him, the
Ghost, and Hamlet for the rest of the play.
What do we learn from this?
Group 1
Hamlet’s famous speech
Hamlet's speech is not technically a soliloquy because he is overheard by Ophelia: it is, however, an
honest indicator of his mood and thoughts.
Read for both content and style, then consider:
Tone: Hamlet is objective, meditative, and calm
o How does this tone add to our understanding of his "madness" and his
Repetition: In both phrases and structure
o Track how he uses the phrase "To die, to sleep" in considering death.
How do these two considerations lead us to the "respect/ That makes
calamity of so long life"?
o Track the use of questions: when he asks about "who would" bear whips,
scorns, and fardels, is he speaking about his particular situation or about
mankind in general? Is this about the Danish court or all people? How
would you know?
Conclusion: Hamlet employs an alliterative phrase to link conscience and
cowardice. Consider Hamlet's incapability to act. According to this, why won't
he? Do you blame him?
Group 1
In Sum...
• What is Hamlet afraid of?
o Is this fear specific or
How does this speech fit with what
we know of Hamlet already?
How does it add to our ideas about
his sanity?
Group 1
Hamlet and Ophelia
Group 1
Remember that Polonius and Claudius are watching this conversation from
behind a tapestry.
Hamlet greets Ophelia nicely, then abruptly attacks her.
o How does Hamlet play with Ophelia’s emotions? Why would he be cruel?
o Cite some examples that show Hamlet doing this.
Hamlet’s “get thee to a nunnery” speech is important.
o What can the word "nunnery" mean? What could Hamlet literally and
figuratively mean?
o In what ways could he have good intentions in employing this phrase?
o In what ways could he have cruel intentions in employing this phrase?
Hamlet attacks Ophelia through accusations against her honor, specifically
through her chastity.
o Why is Hamlet so angry? Do you think this is an “antic disposition” or
do you think real emotions are rising up here?
What does Hamlet mean when he says “I have heard of your paintings…”?
Who is he REALLY angry at here?
Is it possible that Hamlet knows he is being watched? Why or why not?
Ophelia as Target
What is Ophelia’s reaction to all of this?
o Does she focus on herself or on Hamlet?
o What language does she use when discussing Hamlet?
o In what way does this speech reveal her loyalties and character?
Is Ophelia capable of being more than a pawn in this scenario?
o She obeys her father, but she seems to love (or have loved)
o In her culture, would we expect that she could disobey her father
or trick him?
 Do other Shakespearean ladies defy their parents?
 What do you think this comparison/contrast indicates about
Ophelia's character?
Group 2
The King’s reaction
Claudius seems now settled in his opinion against Hamlet.
Claudius opens his response by questioning the theory that
Hamlet's madness is caused by madness; he then questions that
Hamlet is mad at all. If Claudius thinks that "what he spake...Was
not like madness", what might we assume he suspects about
Hamlet, Hamlet's motives, etc.?
Claudius ties Hamlet's name to "danger" again: how does the King
decide to address this danger, and why?
Polonius appears both as a counselor to the King and a father to Ophelia.
How does Polonius counsel the King in his plans? Is this a positive
or negative portrayal of Polonius? Why?
How does Polonius address Ophelia in the midst of his speech? Is
this a dismissal or a comfort to her? Why?
Group 2
Scene 2: Hamlet, Player, Horatio, Polonius,
Ophelia, Queen, King, Player Queen, Player King
"The play's the thing" in this scene: Hamlet has pinned his revenge on
catching the King's conscience by confronting him with the murder (just
play-acted instead of in a direct accusation). If this fails, it is implied that
Hamlet will not be able to continue in his revenge.
Hamlet gives the players instructions on how to read the play he’s inserted
into their play.
What is Hamlet's tone and manner in the instructions? What does this
reveal about his state of mind?
What are some of his instructions?
How do these instructions reveal Shakespeare's attitude towards the
art theater as well as Hamlet's attitude towards his antic disposition?
Group 2
Trust and Testing
Group 2
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are posed in contrast with Horatio in a short
interlude before the play.
How does Hamlet's praise of Horatio reflect his feelings of betrayal?
Do you believe that Hamlet has no one besides Horatio? Why or why not?
What does Hamlet tell Horatio to do that implies Horatio is "in" on Hamlet's
suspicions and plans?
Hamlet's attitude abruptly shifts when "the court" arrives:
• How does Hamlet act with his family and friends once the play is about to
• What lines do you think show Hamlet acting a bit crazy? How is he once again
playing with Ophelia’s emotions?
What happens in the “dumb show” to signal Hamlet's intentions in
destabilizing the King's "performance" of innocence?
Do you see how Shakespeare is pitting an act against an act against an
act? Claudius acts innocent, Hamlet acts insane, the Players act out the
murder... which act will fall apart first?
The Play’s the Thing
The Player King and Player Queen discuss loyalty and marriage, especially second
What do the player king and player queen say to one another about
remarriage and loyalty to the first marriage?
How is it like what happened to Hamlet’s family?
In a brief interlude, Hamlet discusses the play with the Queen and King.
How does Gertrude's comment that "the lady doth protest too much" reflect
her innocence or guilt?
How does Hamlet attempt to prick the King's conscience even more?
Once the play continues to the murder scene, everything stops because of
What, precisely, is the King’s reaction to the murder?
What does Hamlet think now? How do you know?
Group 2
Hamlet and the Pipe…and Mom
Again, a contrast between Horatio and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: this
time Horatio assures Hamlet that he "did very well note" the King's
reaction while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get into a fight with Hamlet.
Guildenstern attempts to summon Hamlet to his mother, and Rosencrantz
continues to question Hamlet about his madness. Instead of plainly telling
them that he distrusts them, Hamlet discusses a pipe with R & G.
What literary device does Shakespeare use here?
How is it working to further Hamlet's characterization and his conflict
against those he distrusts?
Hamlet is left on stage at the end of the scene.
What does he say in his soliloquy? In discussing his feelings and
intents, what is his tone? Is this "normal" for him?
How will he act towards his mother?
Group 3
Insanity charts
Draw a t-chart with insane and sane columns. List all the
items that pertain to Hamlet’s behavior on both sides—
sane and insane—based on the scenes that we’ve just read
and studied.
At this point, what do you think about Hamlet’s state of
• We now know that Claudius is guilty of something: does
this change your attitude towards Hamlet?
All Students
Scene 3: King, Rosencrantz,
Guildenstern, Polonius
This scene is the most explicit in characterizing the King since we first met him.
Now that we know he has something to feel guilty about, everything he has done
becomes suspect.
In the opening lines, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reveal themselves to
be complete toadies, of which fact Claudius takes full advantage.
What does the King tell R & G about his intentions towards Hamlet?
o Remember: the King gives everyone a reason for sending off Hamlet—what
is it? But what could be the REAL reason?
o Both R&G validate Claudius' reasoning by making a valid (if misapplied
here) argument about the Great Chain of Being: given what happened to
Hamlet Sr, in what way is it ironic for the two men to believe that the
people suffer if the king suffers?
What does Polonius tell the King he’s about to do?
Group 3
The King’s Soliloquy
And there you have it:
The King stands alone on stage and reveals "the truth."
So what do you think? What’s he saying here, and what is he conflicted
THEN HAMLET WALKS IN!!!!! Here is his big chance!
What does Hamlet say to himself? What does he decide to do (or not do), and
why? Is this sound reasoning? Reasoning consistent with his character?
How does the scene leave Hamlet and the King—what are their thoughts at the
In what ways is the dramatic irony brutal here (especially given Hamlet's
problem with inaction)?
Take a moment to reflect on your biases and assumptions:
What do you think about the King at this point in the play?
What do you think about Hamlet?
Group 3
Scene 4: Queen and Polonius; Hamlet
Hamlet's conversation with his mother is both honest and absurd: in other
words, they finally seem to be talking to each other without pretense, but
Hamlet continues to fly off the handle (in spite of his attempts, he seems
mad here more than once).
Describe the opening interaction between Hamlet and his mother.
o How would you describe the tone of Hamlet’s words?
o Why do you think questions figure so prominently?
Who does Hamlet kill? Why? Do you hold him responsible for this?
Why or why not?
What is Hamlet’s reaction to this death? In the context of this
scene, is the reaction reasonable or strange? Why?
Group 3
The Queen’s Strange Reaction
The queen says, “What wilt thou do? Thou
wilt not murder me? Help, ho!”
What do you think is happening here?
Imagine: you are seeing it on stage…
What does Shakespeare want you to
think about Hamlet's movement and his
relationship with his mother?
Group 3
Hamlet and his mom: Oedipal much?
Hamlet really gives it to his mom. What does he say to her?
Consider Hamlet's tone and language as well as the content of his
speech: in what ways does his manner of speaking change throughout
his speeches?
How does Hamlet move among Gertrude's personal, sexual, and
political offenses?
Do you think he’s justified in saying what he does? Why or why not?
Is he following his father’s rules to let guilt and heaven deal with his
The Queen doesn't seem to have much of a defense, it seems.
How does this reflect on Gertrude? Her relationship with her son?
Her relationship with Claudius?
is she acting guilty or not? Why?
Group 4
The ghost returns!!!
(And in his nightgown, too!)
While Gertrude can't "snap" Hamlet out of his rage, the image of his father
(in his nightgown, in his mother's bedroom) certainly does.
As Gertrude apparently sees and hears nothing, Hamlet's reaction is
confirmation: "Alas, [Hamlet]'s mad." Would you agree or disagree with
What do we think about the ghost now in terms of Hamlet’s insanity? Is
it really there, or is he just imagining it? Has it ever been there?
The Ghost speaks to Hamlet once, but stays long enough to confirm that
Hamlet alone is affected by him.
What does the Ghost say? What do you think his purpose was in
appearing? How do you think Hamlet interprets his motives?
How does Gertrude treat her son when he is occupied with the Ghost?
How does this reflect on her attitude towards her son?
Group 4
Could this be reconciliation?
Once the Ghost is gone, Hamlet speaks to his mother with an entirely
different tone and with an entirely different purpose.
What does Hamlet tell his mom?
o How is this a more honest and open conversation than his previous
interactions with her?
o In what ways does he retain some of his hurt and anger, and in what
ways does he set some of that aside? Is this sincere?
What does he ask her for?
o Given your understanding of Hamlet, is it possible that--should
Gertrude change--she would be redeemed in her son's eyes?
Gertrude says very little to Hamlet as he reveals everything to her
(including that he "essentially [is] not in madness/But mad in craft").
o From what little she does say, does she seem to trust Hamlet and
honor his requests?
o Given that she must "take sides," is she on Hamlet's or Claudius's
team? Why?
Group 4
Tying Up Loose Ends?
Why do you think that Hamlet concludes the Act with
the plan to send him to England with R&G as well as
the image of his taking Polonius out?
Does this merely address a reality on the stage that
cannot be overlooked (Polonius's body) or is it
important that Gertrude hear his reactions?
Or is Hamlet attempting to remind his mother about
Claudius's spying on (or, worse yet, plotting against)
Support your answers with references to the events of
Act III that develop these characters.
Group 4

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