Questions for study and ideas for answers.
Q: Shakespeare does not always make it easy for actors to portray his
characters. He deliberately makes some characters ambiguous, and the actor has to decide how to play the role. There are a number of such characters in Hamlet. List these characters and state what
the actor should bear in mind when performing the role.
Ideas: Gertrude – In playing this role, the actress must decide
whether Gertrude is completely innocent regarding the death of King Hamlet. To make the portrayal believable, she must stick to whatever decision she makes, as it is critical to the rest of the play.
Even at the end, there is doubt regarding her innocence, and this is one of the factors why the play Hamlet, can be projected in different formats.
Ophelia – The actress playing Ophelia must have it clear in her mind exactly
how she feels towards Hamlet. Shakespeare does not make it clear whether or not the two are intimate.
It can be argued that she committed suicide over the death of her father, or that she loved Hamlet and could not bear his rejection, especially if she was carrying his child.
Hamlet – One of the main reasons why there have been so many interpretations
of the play revolves around the character of Hamlet, and he can be played in three different ways. Firstly, he is mad right at the start with the realization that his father was murdered, and that his mother
(with whom he possibly had an incestuous relationship) is now bedded with his uncle, who poisoned his father while asleep.
Secondly, his madness was a mask which he could put on and off at will, thus portraying a very volatile character. Thirdly, he became mad as the play progressed.
Polonius – Shakespeare gives a clear message to any actor playing this part,
and that is look at Julius Caesar.
Q: Ghosts are found in many of Shakespeare’s works.
Sometimes they only have a minor influence on the play and sometimes a major influence, as is the case with ‘Hamlet’. It is important to be able to understand what ghosts represented, and that they came in
many types. Give some examples.
Ideas: A ghost could be a hallucination which is an emissary of the devil;
a tormented spirit that has returned to the real world because there is work left undone; a gift from God – a spirit allowed to return from beyond the grave; a foretelling of what is to happen in the real world (see Macbeth); or a devil disguised as a dead person.
Q: Shakespeare had strong religious views, and often voiced
these through his work. There are some in this play. Give examples.
Ideas: Incest – Recent laws in Elizabethan England had relaxed the rules on
incest, and it was no longer a sin for a woman to marry her brother-in-law (Gertrude and Claudius).
Suicide – If there is any indication that someone has taken their own life,
they should not be buried in hallowed ground, or receive a Requiem Mass (Ophelia).
Divine Right – The monarchs of England at this time were considered to have
a divine right, being the voice of God on earth. It was, therefore, unthinkable that a monarch should be murdered (King Hamlet).
Q: ‘Hamlet’ could have become a romance instead of a tragedy, with the
changing of one scene in the play. Do you have any suggestions?
Ideas: It is clear that Hamlet mistrusted women and whether
this was due in part to the relationship he had with his mother, one can only speculate.
However, her betrayal of him meant that he mistrusted all women and, therefore, he could not confide in Ophelia regarding his suspicions over the death of his father. It raises the question whether he really loved Ophelia or if he was capable of loving any woman. This is summed up by the quotation ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’ and the fact that he believes Ophelia to be dishonest like all her kind, seals her fate along with his own.