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Introduction to Hamlet, with exercises on Act One Scenes One and Two

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Introduction to Hamlet, with exercises on Act One Scenes One and Two

  1. 1. “The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
  2. 2. entertainment – for everyone from peasants to royalty  Performed at a globe theatre or at court  Minimal staging and props  Young men playing women  Aristotle’s conventions of drama and tragedy  Common themes and ideas  References to contemporary issues, ideas and politics  Popular
  3. 3. This is the longest and most famous of all of Shakespeare’s plays… It was written between 1599 and 1601. Shakespeare adapted sources of the original story to create a new version – in fact, later histories about ‘the real Hamlet’ often used Shakespeare’s text.
  4. 4. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. His late father was the King of Denmark. The King’s brother, Claudius, has taken his place on the throne – and married the former Queen, Gertrude. Denmark, Norway and Sweden were under the same rule in Shakespeare’s time, and this is reflected in the alliances of the play. Fortinbras, a Norwegian prince, is a parallel for Hamlet – but he is a much more focused on action.
  5. 5. ‘Hamlet’s Castle’ is a visitor attraction in Helsingør, Denmark. We know that some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and colleagues visited Helsingør to put on plays for the Danish royal family. It is thought (by the people that run the visitor attraction!) that either they talked about the castle with Shakespeare, or that Shakespeare toured with them, as there are specific references to Danish traditions and Helsingør customs in the play.
  6. 6. Themes to look out for:  Disease, decay, ‘rankness’ and disgust  ‘Seeming’ – pretending, acting  Madness  Spying  Paranoia  Brotherhood and friendship  Damnation and eternal punishment  The supernatural
  7. 7. Critics have debated the actions and motivations of Hamlet for centuries – especially:  His relationship with his mother and father  His relationship with Ophelia  His delay – is he a coward? – especially in juxtaposition with his ruthless moments  His ‘madness’  His frustrated ambition  His philosophy
  8. 8. He was the King’s son – surely he should have inherited? In Denmark, the king was elected by a council of nobles. As the King’s son, Hamlet should have been a decent contender, despite being at Wittenberg at the time of his father’s death. The fact that Claudius was selected instead must tell us important information about both of the characters and how they were perceived…
  9. 9. 1. 2. Pay careful attention to Horatio’s speeches. With a highlighter pen, highlight all of the words in the photocopied speeches which evoke thoughts of corruption and threat. What is Horatio suggesting about the state of Denmark?
  10. 10. 4. 5. 6. How does Shakespeare create a compelling exposition? Why is Hamlet absent from this scene? Look at the King’s speeches – how does he use language to show the paradoxes apparent in his situation?
  11. 11. 7. 8. ‘A little more than kin and less than kind’. These are Hamlet’s first words – what does he mean? Explore Hamlet’s use of language using the 10 themes of Shakespeare as a starting point. What are your initial thoughts on the character?

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