Slow-Read Sunday: Hamlet, Act 5

If you missed the discussion of Acts 1 and 2 you can catch up here. If you missed the discussion of Acts 3 and 4 you can catch up here.

I’ll have some final thoughts next week on Hamlet, but for now here are some questions you could ask as you read Act 5, the play’s conclusion:

1. Is Hamlet a man of action? Is Ophelia a woman of action?

The gravedigger tells us an “act hath three branches.” He goes on to say that those three branches are, “to act, to do, to perform.” Act 5, Sc. 1, lines 10-15. We can certainly see where Ophelia has acted on her grief. She appears to have taken her own life. Has Hamlet acted on his grief at this stage in the play?

2. How did Hamlet become mad?

The question is somewhat unanswered in the play. Hamlet, talking with the gravedigger, asks the same question in Act 5. Sc.1, lines160-165. The gravedigger never gives much of an answer, aside from “strangely.” If you were to have to answer that question how might you try to answer it?

3. Did Hamlet love Ophelia?

Hamlet tells us he loved Ophelia in Act 5. Sc. 1, lines 284-288. Can you trust him? Do you believe he loved Ophelia? Why did he act the way he did to her near the end of her life? Is it enough to say, he was mad, and excuse Hamlet for the way he treated Ophelia?

4. Is Hamlet his madness or is the madness separate from him in some way?

When Hamlet talks to Laertes after Ophelia’s death he takes the position that he is in some way divorced from his madness. Hamlet sets up “madness” as a kind of third-party that influences him. Act 5. Sc. 2, lines 240-258. Do you see Hamlet as separated from his madness? Is the madness acting on Hamlet or has Hamlet become his madness? Do you see madness as a parasite in search of a host?

Next Sunday, I’ll have some closing thoughts on Hamlet and we’ll wrap up our discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Hamlet, whether you find this post today, or at some point in the future you find yourself reading Hamlet.

Looking Ahead to Pride and Prejudice

With our reading of Hamlet concluded we can start to look forward to our next book. We need some balance. Having read two male authors I think now is a good time to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’ll be using the Norton Critical Edition. This is my first time reading Pride and Prejudice, so I’m excited to take it on with any of you that have the time. Even though this is technically our pick for April, I propose we discuss the first chunk on March 31st. That will give us five Sundays to break down the text. Let’s try to read to Volume 1, through page 89 by March 31st.

For a great introduction to Pride and Prejudice I recommend you read Amarie’s post on the book. As she points out, this really is the perfect year to read Pride and Prejudice, whether you’ve read it 10 times or none at all.

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