Hamlet by John Marsden
About the book:
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but Hamlet can’t be sure what’s causing the stench. It emanates from the royal palace, and his family seems to be the problem, not the solution. Horatio thinks his friend is acting strange, but Hamlet’s uncle has become his stepfather, and the prince’s rage at his mother’s infidelities, together with his greed for the beautiful Ophelia and the all of his dead father to revenge a “murder most foul,” Have his mind in chaos. Hamlet wants to be the size of a king, man enough for anything, but can he believe his own eyes? Was it really his father’s ghost that night on the castle ramparts—or a hell-fiend sent to trick him?
In this dark, sensual, and beautifully crafted novel, John Marsden brings one of Shakespeare’s most famous and intriguing characters to full-blooded life in a narrative of intense psychological complexity.
About the author:
John Marsden grew up in Australia and decided at age nine to become an author. Though it took him another 28 years to achieve it, his books have sold millions of copies in both Australia and across the world.
- How would you describe Hamlet after reading the first two chapters of the novel? Would you want to be his friend or not? Defend your answer.
- Do you think Hamlet is justified in his anger and humiliation toward his mother’s quick remarriage to his Uncle Claudius? Do you think he would be as disturbed if she had waited a more seemly amount of time or would he be as upset regardless? How would you feel in his shoes?
- A spirit claiming to be his father visits Hamlet. Would you believe the message of this spirit or doubt it? Why? Do you believe in ghosts or not? What does Hamlet believe in?
- Horatio is upset that Hamlet does not confide in him what the spirit revealed. Should best friends always reveal everything to each other? Why or why not? Do you believe Horatio is a loyal confidante?
- Despite their obvious intentions to silence Hamlet do Queen Gertrude and King Claudius’ advice for Hamlet to move past is grief have any merit? How do people move on with their lives when they have suffered a great loss? Why are some people better able top pick up the pieces of their lives and go on while others seem to suffer greatly?
- Describe Ophelia. What are her desires? How are they thwarted? Do you think Hamlet should act on his impulses for her or would it cloud his thinking further? Is it possible that a romance with Ophelia could distract Hamlet from his grief? Do you think they are a good match? As a friend, what advice would you give him in this matter?
- Would you consider Polonius and Laertes an example of a good father and good brother or not? What qualities make a good sibling? a good father? Are they protecting Ophelia from herself? What might happen if she were given the opportunity to slake her desires?
- Do you think Hamlet would be considered insane by today’s standards? How does Marsden reveal his fragile state? Hamlet often reveals himself to be a deep and philosophical thinker despite slips with reality. Can you find statements which are more thoughtful and provocative than the other players in the scene realize? Discuss which ones are your favorite.
- What are the “four lines” of Hamlet? What do they reveal to us about his character and his state of mind? What would be your four lines?
- Do you think Hamlet’s feelings match Ophelia’s or are they made of different stuff? Does the sensual portrait of Ophelia surprise you?
- How did Hamlet test the conscience of the king? On whom does he rely to help him with the plan? On whom would you turn to for this? Do you think guilty people always reveal themselves with their actions or not? Are you able to tell when someone is being honest with you?
- Discuss the events that unfold because of the play. How do things become even more complicated for Hamlet and his family? Do you think Gertrude is ultimately to blame for the events or is Claudius the more culpable party? When are you certain of whose treachery caused the events to domino?
- Describe what happened to Polonius. Was he somewhat to blame for his fate by always playing the role of the fox? How does Ophelia take the news of her father’s death? How does Laertes? Should Hamlet have to face the consequences of his actions or was it a mistake due to his ill mind?
- What is the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Is it worth bits of luxury topu t up with the treachery and madness of the situation? How are their fates also sealed by the family? Do you consider them innocent or not?
- Why does Hamlet say that worms are democratic? Do you think Hamlet is out of his senses when he delivers his tirade about Polonius’s body? Do you think Claudius is a serial killer or just had his morality unraveled by his greed and lust for power?
- What happens to the fair Ophelia? Ultimately, who do you think is to blame for her fate? Hamlet regrets his scene at the grave but feels compelled to outdo Laertes in his demonstration. Why do people feel the need to out suffer each other? Who do you think ultimately loved her more? Would you consider Ophelia’s life a waste or not?
- What plan do Laertes and King Claudius concoct to rid themselves of their “problem?” Is either one of them justified? How an one sin unravel an entire life or even a kingdom?
- Hamlet says to Horatio, “ I’m not God…This way I don’t create a new world; I just tweak it a little. As it flows along, I move a rock or take away a dead branch. I’m not in charge of the world. That was a conceit on my part.” (p. 204) Do you think most people have this conceit?
- King Claudius was intent on power while Laertes on revenge. How is their plan foiled? Do they both get what they ultimately deserve or not? Does Hamlet? In the end, who remains innocent? What are we to learn from the tragedy of Hamlet?
- Compare the novel to the original Shakespeare play. What do they have in common? How are they different? How is reading a novel a different experience from a play? Which do you prefer? Why?