Hamlet Essay Questions Act 2

1. Think about Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia. Does he love her? Does he stop loving her? Did he ever love her? What evidence can you find in the play to support your opinion?

2. Consider Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s role in the play. Why might Shakespeare have created characters like this? Are they there for comic relief, or do they serve a more serious purpose? Why does the news of their deaths come only after the deaths of the royal family in Act V, as if this news were not anticlimactic? Is it acceptable for Hamlet to treat them as he does? Why or why not?

3. Analyze the use of descriptions and images in Hamlet. How does Shakespeare use descriptive language to enhance the visual possibilities of a stage production? How does he use imagery to create a mood of tension, suspense, fear, and despair?

4. Analyze the use of comedy in Hamlet, paying particular attention to the gravediggers, Osric, and Polonius. Does comedy serve merely to relieve the tension of the tragedy, or do the comic scenes serve a more serious thematic purpose as well?

5. Suicide is an important theme in Hamlet. Discuss how the play treats the idea of suicide morally, religiously, and aesthetically, with particular attention to Hamlet’s two important statements about suicide: the “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt” soliloquy (I.ii.129–158) and the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (III.i.56–88). Why does Hamlet believe that, although capable of suicide, most human beings choose to live, despite the cruelty, pain, and injustice of the world?

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Hamlet Discussion Questions

Act I

You can use these to start the discussion, or you can ask your own questions or comment on other features of the play.

  • What is "rotten in the state of Denmark," as Marcellus tells us?  What do we learn about the situation in Scene I? In Scene II?
  • In what ways is Scene II a contrast to Scene I?  What do we learn about Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet in this scene?
  • What is the function of the Polonius-Ophelia-Laertes family in this play? What parallels exist between their situation and that of the ruling family?
  • What does Hamlet learn from the Ghost's speech? 

Act II

  • Why does this act open with Polonius and Reynaldo?  What does this tell us about Polonius's character, and what theme or motif does it introduce in the play?
  • How does the interaction between Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern help to explain what's wrong with Hamlet?  Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Denmark?
  • The First Player's speech is often cut in performances of the play.  Explain why it is important and why it should not be cut.
  • Hamlet's "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" is the first of his soliloquies. What is he saying, and how does this set of words help to move him to action?
  • What does he decide to do at the end of this speech?


  • What is the subject of Hamlet's second soliloquy, the famous "To be or not to be" speech?
  • Why is he so cruel to Ophelia immediately thereafter?
  • What happens in the "play-within-a-play"?  How do the speeches and actions reflect on events in the kingdom of Denmark?  How does the king respond?
  • In what way is Hamlet's second major interaction with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (III.ii.375-415) different from his first encounter with them?
  • Why does Hamlet decline to take action against Claudius in III.iii?
  • What happens in III.iv (the closet scene)?  Why is this death so important for the play, or what does the death of this figure represent?
  • Based on what you've seen in III.iv, do you think Gertrude knew about the murder?

Act IV

  • Is Hamlet really mad in this play, or is merely pretending to be mad? (Find lines that support your answer.)
  • A foil is a character who is like the protagonist in some respects but who has contrasting qualities that "reflect" or illuminate the traits of the main character.  Who are Hamlet's foils, and in what ways do their characters shed light on his?
  • Do Hamlet and Fortinbras meet in IV.iv? Why is this significant?
  • Why is Ophelia mad?  Does anything she say make sense?  What happens to her at the end of Act IV? What does her madness and death symbolize about the kingdom?
  • Look at the scene with Laertes and Claudius (IV.vii).  What plans do they have for Hamlet?  How does this scene establish Laertes as a foil for Hamlet?
  • Why is Hamlet less present in this act than in the previous three?

Act V

  • Why does this scene begin with two clowns trading jokes?  Do their jokes make any sense in the context of the play? 
  • Where do Hamlet and Laertes fight in V.ii?
  • Who is Osric, and why is he included in the play?
  • Does Hamlet realize that he might not come out of this fight alive? See V.ii.225-238.
  • What is the outcome of the fight scene at the end?
  • When Gertrude drinks from the cup, Claudius asks her not to drink and she refuses.  Has she ever disobeyed Claudius before?
  • Who is alive at the end of the play, and how do the others meet their ends?
  • Why is Fortinbras's presence important?

D. Campbell

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