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Act Five Questions

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The Plot (Delete as appropriate)

Gravediggers are preparing a grave for Hamlet/Ophelia/Polonius. They speculate about the possibility that the death was suicide and the chief gravedigger makes two jokes about the power of death to conquer all. The second gravedigger leaves to fetch some "liquor", leaving his boss singing a song about death's victory as he continues digging.

Hamlet and Horatio enter. Hamlet is appalled by the rough treatment that the bones of the grave's former occupants receive from the gravedigger. He speculates about the identity of a skull/skeleton/coffin thrown up during the digging, revealing that his bones "ache" to think of this waste of power and energy. Hamlet attempts to discover the identity of the person who is to be buried, but is, uncharacteristically, outsmarted.

Hamlet is handed the skull of Yorick, whose death he mourns and then proceeds to wonder at the way in which even the greatest of men, such as Caesar/Anthony/Hannibal, are returned to the earth.

Hamlet and Horatio hide as Ophelia's funeral procession enters. Laertes and the priest/King/Queen quarrel over the brevity of the service. Gertrude throws flowers/soil/sweets into the grave which are swiftly followed by the distraught Laertes. Hamlet realises that Ophelia is dead and reveals his presence, taunting Laertes to outdo his grief/bravery/wit. Laertes attempts to throttle/stab/punch Hamlet. They are parted and the King counsels Laertes to follow the plan they decided upon at the end of Act Four.

Back at the castle, Hamlet tells Horatio about the plot to kill him in England and how he was able to turn Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's treachery against them. He credits unthinking/planned/careful action and God's will for his escape. He is now determined to kill the King, but regrets losing his patience with Laertes. Osric enters with the offer of a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. Hamlet mocks Osric's pretentious speech and accepts the challenge. A Lord arrives to ask confirmation of Hamlet's acceptance.

Horatio tells Hamlet he will lose, but the Prince is confident. He has decided to ignore the troubled feelings he has about the match and trust to providence. He reflects that being ready for death is all/important/difficult.

The court enter to see the match. Hamlet apologises to Laertes, who says that his feelings are satisfied though his honour is not. They select swords. Claudius puts a pearl/ring/medal into the poisoned goblet of wine he has prepared for Hamlet and puts it on a table.

The fencing match begins and Hamlet wins the first two bouts. Accidentally, the Queen drinks from the poisoned cup. Laertes stabs Hamlet with his poisoned and sharpened foil between rounds. They fight and exchange swords. Hamlet then stabs Laertes with the sword. The Queen faints and swiftly dies. Realising that he too is dying, Laertes reveals the plot and the King's complicity. Hamlet stabs the King and as Claudius dies, forces him to drink from the poisoned cup. Laertes begs Hamlet's pardon and dies. Hamlet forgives Laertes and prevents Horatio from killing himself with the remains of the wine. He wants him to be alive to tell the story to world. Hamlet dies.

Fortinbras and the English/Norwegian/French ambassadors enter. They are shocked by the carnage before them. Horatio promises to explain how it all happened. Fortinbras says he will take over the throne and sends Hamlet's body off to a soldier's funeral.

What? Why? How?

1. What do you feel is the point of the gravedigger's riddles and song?

2. In what ways do Hamlet's reactions to the skulls in the graveyard seem to suggest a change in his outlook?

3. How old is Hamlet?

4. What does the violent argument between Hamlet and Laertes add to the play?

5. What developments in Hamlet's character are presented through the story of what happened on the boat? (V.ii.1-62)

6. How do Hamlet's motives in killing Claudius seem to have shifted according to his speech beginning 'Does it not, think thee...' (V.ii.63)?

7. What concerns of the play are reinforced in the Osric episode? (V.ii.80-170)

8. Why does Hamlet 'defy augury'? (V.ii.192)

9. What does Laertes say is his motive in still resenting Hamlet? How has he already lost this? How does this contribute to the presentation of revenge in the play? (V.ii.216-223)

10. How might the dying lines of Gertrude, Claudius and Laertes be viewed as typical of the way their characters have been presented throughout the play?


1. What means does Shakespeare use to raise suspense during the graveyard scene?

2. What means does Shakespeare use to raise suspense during the fencing match?

Language and Imagery

1. In V.ii., Hamlet refers to Claudius as "this canker of our nature". What makes this so appropriate?


1. Which characters view the ending as bloody carnage and which as poetic justice? Why such confusion?

2. Who "wins" in Hamlet? How?

Ian Delaney.
Copyright © 1997-99
Shakespearean Education
Last Modified: March 16th 1999
email: ian@hamlet.hypermart.net