Hamlet, Act II

Act II of Hamlet is a relatively short one. As always, try your best to decipher the language on your own. There are plenty of websites that provide summaries and offer one-to-one, plain English translations. Those are fine to use if you’re stuck, but do try to understand as much as you can without them.
The main things to take from Act II are the following:

  • Hamlet starts to act crazy, leaving everybody worried about the reason.
  • Polonius assumes Hamlet is madly in love with his daughter, Ophelia, and that this is the reason for Hamlet’s strange behavior. He plans to spy on the two together, with Claudius, to prove his point.
  • Hamlet’s college friends, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, come to visit and are employed by Claudius and Gertrude to spy on him as well.
  • Hamlet’s friends have invited a group of players to entertain him. After watching them, Hamlet gets the idea to have the players stage a show that will reenact his father’s murder. Since he’s having doubts as to whether he can trust the ghost, he wants more evidence that Claudius is actually guilty of murder. He believes that if Claudius sees this show, and he is really guilty, seeing the murder reenacted will drive him to confession. Thus, “the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (556-557).

For your blog I want you to respond to the following:

1. Read the exchange between Polonius and Gertrude in lines 85-108 (stop when he reads the letter). Then, read Polonius’s exchange with Hamlet in lines 170-210. How does Shakespeare characterize Polonius as a comical figure in these passages? Again, try not to recruit outside help unless you’re absolutely stuck.

2. Read the exchange between Hamlet and Rozencrantz and Guildenstern from line 215-250. Note the sexual pun in lines 220-225. Shakespeare’s plays are famous for this sort of bawdy word play, which were enjoyed by all levels of society. Then, I want you to respond specifically to the exchange in lines 230-240. Summarize this exchange. Why does Hamlet say “Denmark’s a prison”? What does Rozencrantz mean about “ambition”? How might this exchange still be relevant for a young person’s concerns today?


Act I, Scene II: Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet (David Tennant version)

Act I, Scene II: Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh version)

Act I, Scene III: Polonius (Mel Gibson version)

Act I, Scene III: Polonius (Ethan Hawke version)

And, for something completely different:

Monty Python’s Hamlet

For the rest of the semester, we’ll be focusing on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As an introduction, take some time to read through the Study of William Shakespeare section on pages 1516-1528 in the BL.

Note the illustration of the Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed, on page 1522. The Globe was set up so that people from all different classes of society could enjoy the plays. The more money a person could pay, the better the seating; standing on the ground were the poorest members of society.

Also pay particular attention to the Note on Reading Shakespeare on page 1526. As they say, people never really spoke the way the characters do in Shakespeare’s plays. Hamlet is poetry and the characters are speaking in poetic verse. Therefore, it can be difficult to understand what the characters are saying sometimes. Follow the numbered list of tips provided to help you in understanding the play.

For your blog, I just want you to write a paragraph describing your previous experiences with Shakespeare’s plays. Have you read any in other classes? If so, which ones? Have you seen any performed? If so, which ones? If you’ve read and/or seen any of the plays, what did you think of them? Did you enjoy them? How well were you able to follow them?

Oftentimes when we write, we want to start at the beginning, write through to the end, and then say we’re finished and submit it. However, more than often we don’t really know what our argument will be until we’ve started writing the body. When I write, I’m constantly going back and changing the introduction to fit to what I’m writing in the body. Resist the feeling that your paper is finished just because you’ve already written something down.

When writing your papers, try this method:

  1. Pick a theme that you find in each of the three poems. Refer to the “Key to Themes” box on page 2161 of the BL for suggestions on themes that you can use. These include things like Love and Longing, Nature, Animals, Childhood, Fear, Religion, Work, Gender, etc.
  2. Quickly write a very rough introduction and then set it aside. Don’t worry about how good it is, as you will be rewriting it.
  3. Write one paragraph for each of the poems you want to study, and write about how you think that poem addresses your theme.
  4. Once you’ve written three paragraphs, think about how the poems compare with each other. How are the themes treated differently? How are they treated the same?
  5. Go back and revise your introduction in a way that lets the reader know what all to expect in the rest of the paper. Summarize in a few sentences what you’ve written in the body. Create a thesis statement that makes an argument for how the three poems compare and contrast with each other. Be as specific as possible.
  6. Connect all of the paragraphs together using transitional phrases that help guide the reader through your argument.
  7. Write a conclusion that briefly restates what you’ve written in the body and provides something further for the reader to consider.
  8. Proofread.

Remember, just because something makes sense to you when you’re writing it, it may not make sense to somebody who doesn’t have access to your own thoughts. The reader only has what’s on the page to guide him or her, so make sure that you make your points clear.

For this assignment, you will write a sonnet, either Italian or English, and post it to your blog. The sonnet will be worth up to 5 points added on to your final grade. It is due by August 13th at midnight. The number of points you earn will be based on the following:

  • Ability to keep the correct rhyme scheme
  • Ability to keep to iambic pentameter
  • Correct spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • For Italian sonnets, ability to use the sestet to respond to the octave
  • For English sonnets, ability to use the final, rhyming couplet to sum up the poem

Refer back to the presentation on sonnets for a refresher on these terms and concepts and for examples of Italian and English sonnets.

Genius in a catch 22?.

My Last Duchess.