BM1 - Introduction to Literature - Assignment 2: Hamlet/Model Solution

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The following items give hints at where points could be gathered - they do not state the solution we expected - there was no one solution we were aiming at.

For each aspect we list a key word and the maximum points. How many points you will actually receive on a given aspect will also depend on the quality and completeness of content.


Question 1

Analyse the communicative situation in this dialogue (refer to the version from the first quarto). Concentrate on form, length of individual speeches, interruptions and the domination of one speaker or idea

Hamlet is the dominant speaker in the dialogue (he has 42 lines as opposed to Ophelia’s 13) -- 10 points

There is no single dominant idea. Hamlet jumps through a series of (apparently) heterogeneous ideas (viz. the relationship between ‘honesty’ and ‘beauty’; Ophelia reminding Hamlet of his former expressions of love which Hamlet denies; Hamlet’s self-accusations; Hamlet’s insulting remarks on Polonius; his insulting advice to Ophelia [‘marry a fool’] and near ‘curse’ [lines 37-40]; Hamlet’s misogynist statements). -- [You may of course see a coherent underlying theme in Hamlet’s remarks on women and chastity] -- 10 points

There is no ‘real dialogue’. Ophelia tries to assert herself and suggest viewpoints of her own at the very beginning (lines 12-16). But she is mainly responding to Hamlet’s speeches and behaviour and replying to his questions. In the second part (lines 30, 36, 45, perhaps also in line 41) she increasingly speaks about Hamlet rather than to him. -- 10 points

Question 2

What do you find out about Hamlet's and Ophelia's characters in this passage? Identify different modes of characterisation and analyse their effect. Do the differences between the first and second quarto versions produce differences in the respective characterisations?

Hamlet’s characteristics in the dialogue: 18 points

  • Figural implicit characterisation by verbal and non-verbal behaviour
  • Aggressive, harsh
  • erratic, unpredictable
  • misogynist
  • ...
  • Explicit self characterization (Do we really accept this at face value? How much of it is due to the situation and to Hamlet emotional condition or tactical intentions?)
  • “indifferent honest”, “prowde, ambitious, disdainefull” (ll. 21 and 24)
  • “madde” (l. 52)
  • Explicit characterization by another character (i.e. Ophelia), in praesentia: Hamlet used to behave to her like a lover

Ophelia’s characteristics in the dialogue: 12 points

  • Figural implicit characterisation by verbal and non-verbal behaviour:
  • Initially self-assertive increasingly more confused and intimidated; but still affectionate towards Hamlet and worried about him
  • Explicit:
  • questioning of her beauty and 'honesty'
  • Ophelia's chastity in dialogue
  • lines 46-51: according to Hamlet’s new misogynist views, Ophelia is as bad (wanton, superficial etc.) as all women

Differences between the first and second Quartos: 10 points

  • Ophelia more consistently passive, less self-assertive in Q2 than in Q1; she has only short speeches in Q2.
  • Hamlet in Q2 is not only aggressive (recurrent nunnery insult) but also under more noticeable emotional pressure, torn between staying and going (cf. Q2’s three times “farewell”, ll. 29, 33, 35).

Question 3

Discuss different options of accounting for Hamlet's behaviour in this scene in the light of your knowledge of the entire play


Basic difficulty: 20 points:

Hamlet’s madness:

  • Alternative A: Hamlet is mad (arguments in favour or against)
  • Alternative B: Hamlet is not mad (arguments in favour and against)

Additional aspects: 20 points - e.g.:

  • Ophelia’s passivity and obedience, her role in the play (and in the play of intrigues)
  • Does Hamlet suspect that they are being watched, and does this influence his behaviour?
  • Does Hamlet assume that Ophelia will not keep any secrets from her father (since she already broke off contact with him, when her father told her to), and that therefore he can no longer trust her?
  • Does the behaviour of Hamlet’s mother make him suspect the love and integrity of all women, does he project this on Ophelia?