Today we selected discussion questions from Piazza to explore in more depth in small groups. Students picked a question, then began to discuss some preliminary answers to that question. Students then selected a clip from YouTube of a scene in Hamlet that is relevant to answering the question posed.

Act II

Question:

So far, I’ve noticed the predominantly submissive role women play in this play. For example, Queen Gertrude marries Claudius right after her husband of so many years passes away suddenly. Not only does she marry her former brother-in-law, but she also calls Hamlet’s mourning of his late father absurd and useless – she advises him to celebrate the festivities regarding her marriage. Likewise, Ophelia is presented as a follower of all her dad and brother’s commands. Not only does she agree with her father to stop all communication with Hamlet, but she also gives him the intimate letters Hamlet sends her – showing that she doesn’t value her privacy more than her obedience to her father. As these two characters are the main representatives of women, I find it interesting as to why Shakespeare decided to present women this way. Was he trying to send a message to his audience – calling both men and women to act as the way his characters did? Or, was he perhaps, making fun at the gender norms of the time – addressing the domestic behavior he commonly perceived in women?

Clip:

Preliminary Thoughts

Laertes acts as a mansplainer in this video – lecturing his sister, possibly somewhat hypocritical. Ophelia here is playful, more of a bantering tone in this production. Ophelia doesn’t mind being lectured here, exhibits self-confidence. So a possible way to expand this question would be to compare the scene where she is being lectured by Hamlet later on.

Act III

Question:

What is the significance of Hamlet accidentally killing Polonius? Is it symbolic of a larger theme or merely a driver of the plot?

Preliminary Thoughts:

In the Branagh version, this scene begins to cast doubt on how much Hamlet is acting madness, how much he is really losing his grip. Also drives the plot because it begins a killing spree, sets in motion Laertes’ and Ophelia’s problems.

Act IV

Question:

After the scene where Ophelia sings her current crazed state of mind to Gertrude and Claudius, I was left wondering whether she was hinting at having a relationship with Polonius or King Claudius. Her lines, “Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day And early in the morning I’m a girl below your window Waiting to be your Valentine. He let in the girl, and when she left She wasn’t a virgin anymore.” Was she hinting that she had a relationship with Claudius? Or, was she hinting that she and her own father had engaged in incestuous ways, since the other lines she was singing were about her mourning his death?

Clip:

Preliminary Thoughts:

This performance seems to support the reading of Ophelia as having many different lovers, melting down. Lots of physical intimacy with Claudius, then graphic miming of sex. Doesn’t seem like just nonsense, but rather like her inhibitions have been let down and she’s showing what has really happened.

Act IV

Question:

In this scene, the King questions Laertes’ devotion to the plan and Laertes claims he would “cut his throat i’ th’ church” to which Claudius replies “No place indeed should murder sanctuarize; Revenge should have no bounds” (lines 141-146). This is ironic considering Hamlet chose not to kill Claudius while he was praying earlier on in Act III. Does Shakespeare do this on purpose? At this point in the play, both the King and Hamlet are murderers and are plotting the death of the other, encouraging the audience to consider what the difference between the two characters actually is. Shakespeare draws many parallels between the two characters’ actions including this scene? What other parallels are there? Does Shakespeare suggest one’s intentions are purer than the other’s?

Clip:

Preliminary Thoughts

Hamlet seems harsher than Claudius just looking at the language. But, if you add in the body language, facial expressions, it shows regret on Hamlet’s face but not Claudius’s. So might suggest his intentions are purer, we should be on his side.

 

Act V

Question:

As I was reading the scene where Hamlet and Laertes fight in Ophelia’s grave, I couldn’t stop wondering what made Hamlet thought he had the right to say anything or even fight her brother. First he denies her and insults her and then kills her father, which then caused Ophelia to go mad and drown- Hamlet was basically the cause of her death, and he probably knows (or should know) that. Why then did he fight Laertes in the grave?

Clips:

Preliminary Thoughts:

These productions depict Hamlet as out of control, overwhelmed with emotion. Makes him more sympathetic, leans more into the explanation that Hamlet is actually kinda crazy.

Act V

Question:

This act is probably the strangest of all the acts, it’s first act especially bizarre. The scene begins with two ‘gravediggers’ who are very comedic, trading riddles and playing around as they dig a grave for Ophelia. This scene ends in a fight between Laertes and Hamlet over love for Ophelia. My question is, does this scene lighten the mood of the tragedy, or rather increase the darkness? The blatant disrespect shown at Ophelia’s funeral could be symbolic of the triviality of death, or it could be viewed as trying to lighten the mood.

Clip 1:

This performance seems to do both – the gravedigger laughing at his own jokes, juxtaposed with bones being dug up. Not binary light/dark – lightens to mood because it’s funny…

Clip 2:

In the Branagh version, the gravedigger is proud of knowing the skull. Holds it close, kind of gross intimacy. Why does Hamlet trust him? Maybe works overall to lighten the mood, but Hamlet brings the mood down again.

Act V

Question:

I feel like this ending made a lot of sense with how the characters had been developed. It’s also interesting that Hamlet is winning the fencing match – it makes it seem like he might be a bit more strategic than he lets on, as well as his immediately running at Claudius after being told that he will die. Most of Hamlet’s allusions in the previous scene are to very good generals. It seems like Hamlet knew most of what he was doing. This makes me want to know why he would have stabbed at the curtain without knowing whether the king was behind it or not. Why would he have done that? What does the doubling of revenge for patricide say about the similarities between Hamlet and Laertes?

Clip:

Preliminary Thoughts

Mirror images in this production – irrational, furious, passionate. Played for similarity.