Discussion questions for Hamlet

Dear Friends,

I thought I would publish the discussion questions for our May 18 discussion of Hamlet so you can refer back to them someday…

Rich

*****

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. THE MOUSE-TRAP. If Hamlet were a college student, he would probably have been active in the college theater community. He is a bit of a actor, and the role he plays is madman; he is overjoyed to hear of the players’ arrival; and of course the players’ production of The Mouse-trap is “the thing” he uses to “catch the conscience of the king.” Why does Shakespeare highlight theater, theatricality, acting, play, etc. so extensively within his own play?

2. HAMLET AND HIS MOTHER. Last time, we talked about the relationship between Hamlet and his father. What about the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude? In our last discussion, some of you presented different views about how “old” or “mature” Hamlet is, and about the extent to which he “grows up” or “matures” over the course of the play. When I was in college, my professor argued that a son’s discomfort with his mother’s sexuality is a major source of Hamlet’s anxiety, perhaps even more so than his father’s murder. Do you find any merit to this argument?

3. TRAGEDY AND COMEDY. For me one of the most poignant and powerful moments in the play is the gravediggers’ scene in the churchyard, when they comment on the job they are doing, and then when Hamlet and Horatio join the two fellows and engage in an exchange of wits. The scene deals with timeless themes of life, mutability, and death, and yet has a comic edge that could easily be “dialed up” in production. How would you direct this scene? As you imagine your production of Hamlet, think about the relationship between comedy and tragedy. Is life closer to one than the other? Is one the ground for the other? This is something I’d like to come back to with King Lear and especially with Twelfth Night.

4. LEARNING FROM HAMLET. Hamlet is more than a play to be studied in a classroom. It is a powerful story to be experienced, lived through as it were, and learned from. To put it simply, what does Hamlet mean to you? What’s it been like living with Hamlet these past few weeks?

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