| 
  • If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!

View
 

Shakespeare Discussion Questions

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 4 years, 1 month ago

 

Below are questions arranged by play and act, and so they're keyed to each day's reading.  Please read each act's questions before you read the act.  After reading, jot down some notes (try to refer yourself to a specific line, phrase, or passage) that will help you to respond.  I do not collect these, but the questions do point you to at least some of the ideas I'll discuss in class.

 

Richard II

 

Act 1

  • It’s hard to tell exactly what Bolingbroke and Mowbray are accusing each other of, but what seems important to each? What do they see as the stakes of their quarrel? 
  • There is a great deal of ritual in Act 1: long titles, fancy forms of address, little gestures expected of each combatant. What is the purpose of all of this? What role does tradition seem to play in these men’s lives and in the political life of the state? 
  • How does the Duchess of Gloucester attempt to persuade Gaunt to avenge his brother’s death (what images and values does she use)? Why does he resist? 
  • How does the king resolve the conflict between his knights? What do you think of both his decision and the way he comes to it? Does the king seem resolute, authoritative, capricious, self-interested, generous, manipulative, etc.? 
  • What seems to be the basis of the king’s authority? That is, what does he think guarantees and secures his position as king? Does he seem at all worried about threats? What does he say or do about them?

 

Act 2 

  • What is Gaunt’s specific claims about what Richard has done to England (also the subject of 1.4)? 
  • What is Richard’s attitude toward Gaunt’s ideas? 
  • How does the play frame Richard’s decision to seize Gaunt’s land and goods? 
  • What do Ross, Willoughby and Northumberland do, and why? In what terms do they describe their loyalty? How does York respond? 
  • What do the actions of Bushy, Bagot and Greene suggest about the depth of support for Richard? 
  • How does York explain his position to Bolingbroke? What does the play seem to think York should do? 
  • By now, there seem to be a lot of people claiming to see supernatural signs boding ill for Richard: what does this suggest about the role of “destiny” in the play?

 

Act 3

  • Compare what we’re seeing of Bolingbroke as a leader and Richard as he returns to England. What values does each invoke? How does each speak? Which seems more appropriate to the circumstances? 
  • How does Richard respond to the bad news about the Welsh troops that were to support him? What does this suggest about his fitness to rule during crisis? 
  • What is the source of Richard’s restored confidence? Does he seem fully committed to his own words? Given the invocation of God, should we be concerned about Bolingbroke’s threats to Richard? 
  • Consider the gardener’s images and metaphors. What does this all seem to say about Richard’s rule in England?

 

Act 4 

  • How is the transfer of power managed? How does Bolingbroke try to frame his rise? How is it interpreted by his enemies? 
  • Much of Richard’s words turn on his identity: he has been told he is one thing, and now he is confronting the prospect of being something else.  How does he respond?

 

Act 5

  • Richard seems resigned to his fate: do you agree with Isabel that he is too defeatist? Does his curse or prophecy about what Henry IV will face seem to point to larger “providential” forces at work?
  • What does York’s decision to turn in Aumerle say about his priorities? What do you think about his decision?
  • How do you feel about Richard in this act: does Shakespeare generate any sympathy for him? Are his soliloquies an honest reckoning with his fall, or just self-indulgent. Does Richard seem to have the ability to use language to understand himself, or does language (as it seems to do earlier) offer ways of avoiding clarity and responsibility?

 

 

HENRY IV, PART ONE 

 

Act 1

  • What problems is Henry IV facing, and what is his proposed solution?
  • How would you characterize the way Falstaff and Hal speak to each other?  How does it differ from speech at court?
  • Hotspur complains about his family's poor treatment by the king, but what is it that most seems to motivate him?  How would you describe his conception of "honor"?  What kind of thins does one do to achieve it?

 

Act 2

  • Consider the structure of the first two acts, alternating between a rebellion against Henry and the "rebellious" doings of Falstaff and company.  What might Shakespeare be suggesting about each group of rebels by comparing it to the other?
  • What is Hal "learning" in his time at the tavern, and how might that be useful later to him?
  • What was the "virtue" of the jest Hal and Poins planned in Act 1?  In Act 2, does it work?  That is, how does Falstaff respond to the revelation that Hal and Poins robbed him?
  • How does "acting," as in the end of Act 2, contribute to Hal's development as a prince?

 

Act 3

  • Where are the rebels at the beginning of Act III, and what kind of values are associated with that setting?
  • What do Glendower and Hotspur fight over?  How is it resolved, and what does their difference suggest about Hotspur's values?
  • What kinds of images does Hal use to explain his conduct to his father?  How do those differ from Henry's approach to kingship? By the end of the "interview," why does Henry accept Hal?
  • How does Falstaff feel about the charge that Hal has gotten him?

 

Act 4

  • What's happening to the rebel cause?  How does Hotspur interpret that turn of events?
  • In 4.2, what does Falstaff confess too?  What seems to be his attitude toward a country at war?
  • What explanation does Hotspur offer for the rebellion?  What seems to be at the heart of his descriptions (that is, what seems most to annoy him)?

 

Act 5

  • Is Hal's offer of single combat serious?
  • Why doesn't Worcester want to deliver the King's offer?
  • Read carefully the exchange between Hal and Hotspur after the fight: why does Hal complete Hotspur's thought?  What use does all this suggest that Hal makes of Hotspur?
  • What does Falstaff think of honor?  In what ways is he "no counterfeit"?

 

MERCHANT OF VENICE

 

Act 1

  • How would you characterize Bassanio’s initial interest in Portia?  How does it reflect the ideas and values that Antonio’s other friends discuss in their attempts to cheer him up?
  • **Debate Question: Given Bassanio's plan, including the images and figures he uses to describe it, should Antonio loan Bassanio the money?
  • Why is Portia dissatisfied?  How does she regard the terms under which she can marry?
  • What values seem opposed in the discussion between the Jewish Shylock and the Christian Antonio?  How does each stand for a group of larger attitudes and beliefs in the play?
  • Find some specific passages or phrases that suggest to you what Shakespeare’s attitude is toward his character Shylock.  That is, what (if anything) makes Shylock sympathetic?  What makes him suspicious?

 

Act 2

  • Consider 2.1 and 2.7 together: Is Portia’s dislike of Morocco justified?  He asks to be judged on something beyond his “complexion”: what does the play give us with which to evaluate him?
  • Jessica and Launcelot share some similarities in that both want to leave Shylock: what is each's attitude toward the risk of escape? How do the outcomes compare?
  • How is Jessica different from Shylock?  How do you think Shakespeare wants us to see her plan to sneak off with Lorenzo?  Does Lorenzo seem like a “good” character?
  • What does Shylock think about festivity, and what might motivate his feelings?

 

Act 3

  • How does Shylock respond to Jessica’s elopement?  What does this say about how Shylock “measures” the value of people and his relationships with them?
  • What does the play suggest is the reason Bassanio figures out the casket challenge?  Are there any “cultural” reasons to explain why he succeeds where the foreigners fail?
  • Why can’t the Duke step in and void the Antonio/Shylock bond?  What does this suggest about the necessity of Shylock’s economic activities?

 

Act 4

  • How does the courtroom set up a contrast between Portia’s view of the law and Shylock’s?  How are these connected to Christian and Jewish values as they are presented elsewhere in the play?
  • Is Shylock ultimately shown mercy?  Can we be confident by the end of the scene that “mercy” means the same thing to everyone?
  • Why does Bassanio give away the ring?

 

Act 5

  • What does the discussion of music have to do with the ideas presented in the play so far?
  • What jokes does Portia make about the lost ring?  How does the confusion over rings and loyalty reflect the different ways the characters throughout the play have been “bound” to one another?
  • What role does Antonio play in the strife between Portia and Bassanio?
  • What creates resolution?

 

 

HAMLET  

 

Act 1 

  • When first we meet Hamlet, what's his state?  Why does he resist his mother's sense that grief is "common" (universal) and Claudius' encouragement to embrace his new role as "son"?
  • How is the appearance of the ghost related to the political situation in Denmark?
  • What kind of character is Polonius?  How would you characterize his “wisdom”?
  • What advice does Laertes have for Ophelia?  Do his suspicions seem sensible based on what we see of Hamlet over the course of the act?
  • After speaking with the ghost, what does Hamlet resolve to do?  What metaphors does he use, and why?

 

Act 2

  • What does Polonius’ remarks to Reynaldo say about deception?  Is it always unacceptable?  How does it reflect on the charge Hamlet has been given by the ghost?  What other attempts do you see throughout the play to set up situations to gain knowledge?  Are they ever successful?
  • Why does Polonius think Hamlet is mad?  Is he (consider all of 2.2)?
  • What speech does Hamlet ask to hear from the first player, and why?  How is it relevant to Hamlet’s character or the plot so far?
  • How does Hamlet’s excitement about the players affect your sense of his character?  How does it distinguish him from the other significant people at court?
  • What are some of the effects that Hamlet imagines theater can have on audiences (especially "guilty" ones)? 
  • What is the significance of Hamlet’s soliloquy at the end of Act 2?  What does it say about the role of drama in Hamlet’s consciousness or in the culture at large?

 

Act 3

  • What is Hamlet contemplating in his “to be or not to be speech”?  How is it related to his task of revenge?  Why is he thinking about death at all?
  • Did (does?) Hamlet love Ophelia?  What is he angry about in 3.1?  Is he displacing other sources of anger on to Ophelia?
  • What are the attitudes of characters in the play within the play toward remarriage?  How do these reflect or refract Hamlet's thinking on the issue?
  • What is the effect of “The Murder of Gonzago” on Claudius?  What does Hamlet think it means, and is there any reason to doubt his explanation?
  • How does Hamlet regard Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and what does that say about Hamlet’s mindset?  Is Hamlet’s attitude justified?
  • What do we learn from Claudius in 3.3?  Why doesn’t Hamlet kill him?  Does Hamlet’s decision seem reasonable?
  • What is Hamlet’s attitude to Gertrude in 3.4?  Is he fair?  Do his standards of right and wrong accord with the events and experience of the play so far?
 

Act 4 

  • What does Claudius think of Hamlet now?  Is he in any way justified?
  • What is the purpose of Hamlet’s remarks to Claudius in 4.3?  Why does he speak like this?
  • What role does Fortinbras play?  What does Hamlet think of him, and do you believe Hamlet’s praise of him?
  • What happens to Ophelia?  How does her madness compare to Hamlet’s?
  • Laertes is shaping up as a revenger himself: what light do his convictions and determination shed on Hamlet?
  • Consider together all the children in the play who have lost fathers: can you conclude anything about the "right" or "most productive" way to respond to such a loss?

 

Act 5

  • What is the purpose of the graveyard scene?
  • Does Hamlet return transformed by his adventures?  What does he conclude about Providence?
  • Explain the “theatrics” of Ophelia’s burial: why is she buried like this?  Who is upset?  Why does Hamlet regard the whole thing as a performance?
  • From Hamlet’s remarks to Horatio and Osric, is it fair to say he’s changed from the beginning of the play?  Why or why not?
  • Does Hamlet get his revenge?  Did he mean to?
  • What does Fortinbras’ entrance signify?  He asks for Hamlet’s story, and Horatio is supposed to tell it: is it likely that Fortinbras will get the same story that we did?

 

TWELFTH NIGHT 

 

General

 

  • Consider the title of the play and what role festivity plays overall: is it a diversion from “real” life, or does it play a more significant role in directing a society? 
  • What does Viola’s disguise, and its resulting love complications, say about the stability of our gender identifications? 
  • How does the subplot reflect the action of the main plot?

 

Act 1

 

  • To judge from his opening speech, how would you characterize Orsino? What does his language have to say about his love for Olivia?  What kind of love is it?

  • Watch for water imagery: what is water—whether in the form of the sea, tears, or drink—associated with?  Is it harmful or healing?
  • Why does Viola choose to go in disguise? How does her response to a lost brother compare to Olivia's (similar, sure, but what are the important differences?)?

  • Who else is annoyed at Olivia’s mourning?  Why?  What’s the fool’s advice to Olivia?

 

Act 2

 

  • Who is Sebastian?  How does he describe his grief, and in what way is he supported by Antonio?
  • What is the meaning of Feste’s song in 2.3?  How do Toby and Andrew react?
  • 2.3 carries on a debate about time (see the beginning and end of the scene, the song, and Malvolio’s interruption): in what ways are the fools wasting time?  Is there a sense in which they aren’t?
  • What is Viola suggesting in the tale she tells Orsino?  How does it contrast his own remarks about male love?
  • What’s the trick played on Malvolio?  Why is Malvolio especially susceptible to the letter?

 

Act 3

 

  • How would you characterize Antonio’s feelings for Sebastian?  How are they like or unlike other relationships developing in the play?
  • Why does Olivia compare herself to Malvolio?
  • Feste describes himself as Olivia’s “corrupter of words”:  thus far, who seems capable of using words well?  Who seems particularly poor at wielding words?
  • What has Viola realized by the end of the act? 

 

Act 4

 

  • Given all that he has lost, how does Sebastian respond?  What does he consistently do, in traveling to Illyria and interacting with its people?
  • In what ways can Malvolio be said to be “mad”?
  • In what ways does the joke on Malvolio go too far?  Who is worried?
  • Sebastian makes a distinction between wonder and madness: what’s the difference?

 

Act 5

 

  • Finally, everyone comes together: in what ways is this significant?
  • Consider each of the following: Viola, Olivia, Sebastian, Toby, Sir Andrew, Malvolio, Feste.  Who changes over the course of the play?  What does each learn (or fail to learn)?  Who is “punished” and who is “rewarded” for participating in the action?
  • What’s the significance of Viola’s clothes?
  • Olivia has married a man she essentially has never met: does it matter?  Why or why not?
  • The play concludes with Feste: why is that appropriate, and how is his song linked to the themes of the play?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.