Hamlet — Lesson 8

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Students read and analyze Act 2.2, containing a soliloquy in which Hamlet criticizes himself in contrast to an actor who has just recited a passionate speech. Discuss the meaning of the soliloquy and analyze Shakespeare’s figurative language, considering how it contributes to the development of central ideas such as action versus inaction and revenge.


Copy vocabulary words along with definitions provided in class into your online vocabulary journal.

  1. rogue (n.)
  2. cue (n.)
  3. cleave (v.)
  4. pigeon-livered (adj.)
  5. gall (n.)
  6. offal (n.)
  7. aspect (n.)

Listen / Read-along

Read Act 2.2, lines 445–634 (from “You are welcome masters; welcome all—I am glad to see thee well” to “Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King”). Note what Hamlet requests of the player and the content of the player’s speech. These lines include the visit of a company of traveling actors who have recently arrived at Elsinore.

Answer Questions

  1. How does Polonius describe the player’s performance (lines 545–546)? What does this suggest about the player’s emotions?
  2. What two requests does Hamlet make of the player (lines 563–569)?
  3. How does Hamlet describe himself in line 577? What image of Hamlet does this description create?
  4. Hamlet compares himself to the player who recited a speech earlier in the scene. How does Hamlet describe the player in lines 578–584?
  5. Summarize the two questions Hamlet asks about the player in lines 586–589 (from “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba” to “the cue for passion / That I have”).
  6. What figurative language does Hamlet use in line 589 to describe how the player would act if he had Hamlet’s passion? What does this language imply about the player?
  7. Why does Hamlet say he is “[l]ike John-a-dreams, unpregnant of [his] cause” in line 595? How does this contrast with Hamlet’s description of the player?
  8. How do Hamlet’s descriptions of himself and the player develop a central idea in the play? Cite evidence from the text.
    Following is an answer to this question, a gift to those paying attention.  The contrast between Hamlet and the player develops a central idea of action vs. inaction in the play. Hamlet criticizes himself for having a motive but lacking the courage to act: “the motive and the cue for passion” (line 588). In contrast, he praises the player who has less motivation but more passion, so he acts in a powerful way: “his visage waned, / Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect, / a broken voice … / and all for nothing” (lines 581–584).
  9. What images does Hamlet use in lines 598–602 (from “Am I a coward? / Who calls me ‘villain’?” to “As deep as to the lungs. Who does me this?”) to illustrate that he is a coward?
  10. How does Hamlet say in lines 603–604 that he should respond to the treatment described in lines 599–602? Why does Hamlet say he should respond this way?

Central Ideas and Figurative Language

Annotate your text (provided in hard copy) for the development of central ideas (CI) and the use of figurative language (FL). As you annotate, you are beginning to identify evidence to be used in the assessments for this lesson and future lessons.

Quick Write

Respond briefly in writing to the following prompt:

  • How do two central ideas develop and interact in this soliloquy? How does the use of figurative language support the development of one of these ideas?

Look at your texts and notes to find evidence and to use proper grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Use this lesson’s vocabulary wherever possible and use the Short Response Rubric and Checklist to guide your written responses.


Discuss the following prompt:

  • Choose one of the images Hamlet uses to describe himself in the “Now I am alone” soliloquy. How is this image related to the development of a central idea from another soliloquy?