The AP English Literature exam is a challenge for everyone. While as a whole it tests your ability to comprehend and analyze pieces of literature, the FRQ portion demands that you have an adequate understanding of a number of books or plays in order to be able to answer any prompt put it front of you. This is particularly true in regards to the third question on the FRQ portion of the AP English Literature exam. This question presents you with a prompt and a list of AP English literature-caliber books you may have picked that are relevant to the prompt. This requires you to have an adequate understanding of at least one of the works listed, You also need to know how it applies to the prompt so that you can give a thesis and enough evidence to explain your point. For this AP English Literature Ultimate Guide, we will be covering how to use Hamlet for the 2016 free response questions.
Hamlet AP English Lit Essay Themes
Hamlet is set in the kingdom of Denmark and tells the story of Hamlet’s revenge on his uncle Claudius, who murdered his brother (and Hamlet’s father) the King of Denmark in order to seize the throne and marry Queen Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother). King Hamlet appears to his son as a ghost to inform him of the murder and calls upon him to avenge his death.
One major theme of the play is that of mortality. After he finds out that his father has died and that his uncle Claudius was the murderer, Hamlet finds himself almost obsessed with mortality. Throughout the play, Hamlet considers the aftermath of dying is preoccupied with the thought of death.
First, many around him die either directly or indirectly because of him. By the end of the play, Hamlet has a hand in the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Claudius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. His actions cause the indirect death of Ophelia (who drowns after her father Polonius’s death), and the accidental poisoning of his mother, Queen Gertrude. Hamlet’s own obsession with death is present in his spoken thoughts throughout the play; even in his first long speech he seems to be on the on the verge of wishing for death, even suicide, and yet it his is own fear of death (and the vengeance he needs to fulfill for his father) that keeps him from it. He also is entranced by the concept of our physical bodies as separate from our souls after death. This is particularly shown in the graveyard scene with Yorrick’s skull; he is caught up on the question of how a dead piece of bone could’ve been connected to a personality at one point.
Revenge is also a central theme to the play. Hamlet’s actions are sparked by his quest to avenge his father’s murder. Much of what happens in the story is due to Hamlet’s drive to determine whether Claudius was involved and to bring justice to him. He first pretends to be mad to avoid suspicion while gathering evidence, and he also tries to deceive his mother in order to gather more evidence. His big plan, however, is to stage the entire play of “The Murder of Gonzago” in order to catch Claudius’s guilty conscience
Another theme of Hamletis madness. Hamlet’s pretense of madness is apparent throughout the play. It is, at first, used in order to make everyone think he is harmless and a little crazy so that he can look into his father’s death and Claudius’s possible involvement without people getting suspicious of him. Polonius even believes that Hamlet’s madness is from his love for Ophelia. However, as the play progresses, it seems that Hamlet’s act slowly causes him to lose his grip on what’s happening and what is real.
Gender and more specifically women are also a major presence in the themes of Hamlet. There are only two main, named characters in the play who are female This speaks to the heavily masculine world that Hamlet lives in. It is also apparent that Hamlet is most agitated by (and when speaking to) both of the female characters, Queen Gertrude and Ophelia. He is suspicious about the true nature of both of the women and seems to feel as though both have let him down throughout the story.
How to use Hamlet for the 2016 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
Again, the third free response question on the AP English Literature exam provides you with an extra challenge; while you are given a general prompt, you are tasked with selecting what book you feel you should use to answer the FRQ. The exam provides you with a list of which to choose from, but it is your ultimate decision on which one to pick. For the purpose of this Ultimate Guide, we will demonstrate how to use Hamlet for the AP English Literature essay.
The 2016 AP English Literature FRQ gives you this prompt:
“Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended either to help or to hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime. Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. You may choose a work from the list below or another work of comparable literary merit. Do not merely summarize the plot.”
The work of Hamlet is filled with examples of deception. The story begins after Claudius kills his brother in order to succeed the throne and be with Queen Gertrude, which in of itself is deception. And as a character, Queen Gertrude and her relationship with her son is deceiving. However, there are specific discussions that would be most effective to answering the free response question.
One possible thesis you could put forward is the deception Hamlet uses to avenge his father’s murder. Hamlet feigns insanity, tricks both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and even puts on a play in order to get Claudius to confess.
Although you will not be required to recite or memorize specific lines from the book, any scene specificity that you can remember is a great addition to your supporting evidence. For example, in an aside to the audience, Hamlet says “though this be madness, yet there is method in it” (11.ii.207). This is clear evidence to the fact that Hamlet is deceiving the other characters in the play by feigning madness, in order to figure out what is going on.
He deceives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by ordering their death in a false letter written by himself. After the accidental murder of Polonius by Hamlet, Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England under the guise of protecting him while the scandal dies down. However, Claudius was actually attempting to send Hamlet to his death. Claudius’s plan was to send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Hamlet to England, while they were really carrying Hamlet’s death warrant. When Hamlet realized his Uncle’s plan, he changed the original letter to read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s names rather than his own. This way, he was sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to hand-deliver their own deaths.
In the play that Hamlet helps to put on, he makes sure to add lines in order to force a type of confession of murder out of the king. He says “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (11.ii.633). Hamlet believes that by adding these lines, he can deceive the king into reacting in a way that reveals if he has a guilty conscience.
Another thesis that could be used to answer this free response question is the reverse of the previous thesis; instead of writing about how Hamlet deceives the rest of the characters, you can use examples of how the other characters deceived Hamlet throughout the course of the play.
First, Claudius lies to both Hamlet and the state of Denmark by killing Hamlet’s father, the King. This is an act of deception because Claudius professes that king Hamlet died from a snake bite, rather than murder. Claudius also deceives Gertrude and Hamlet when he orders Hamlet’s death; both Hamlet and Gertrude believed that Claudius was sending Hamlet away to England to protect him after he killed Polonius, but the truth was that Claudius was trying to get Hamlet killed.
Polonius uses his daughter Ophelia in order to deceive Hamlet into revealing the cause of his madness. Polonius believes that Hamlet may be acting mad because of his love for Ophelia. He tells Ophelia to talk with Hamlet so that he and Claudius can determine if his analysis of Hamlet’s madness is correct.
When you’re considering Hamlet for the AP English Literature essay on the FRQs, it’s important to remember the major themes. Just because you may know a book or play well doesn’t necessarily mean you should attempt to use it on the third FRQ. Unless you feel like you can adequately relate a book to the prompt given, you should first consider choosing a book that matches the theme needed, rather than a book you know a lot about. For the third FRQ on the 2016 exam, Hamlet and the theme of deception work hand-in-hand, and you have the flexibility of more than one angle to work with for your thesis.
If you’re concerned about the AP English Literature essay on the FRQ portion of your upcoming exam, then this Ultimate Guide to Hamlet for the 2016 AP English Literature FRQ should help you feel more prepared. If you want a more general overview of the AP English Literature FRQs or writing advice for the FRQs, check out our Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and our Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs! Albert.io’s AP English Literature section also has practice free response questions with sample responses and rubrics to help you feel calm and prepared when heading into your AP English literature exam!
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AP English Literature and Composition , #8 1/10/11 Hamlet William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is widely considered an “open” work of art; it raises questions and is very open to interpretation . Throughout the play , Prince Hamlet’s character is most prone to examination . His character is puzzling , showing rapid changes from sane to mad , determined to undecided. Hamlet is continually uncertain , constantly pondering philosophical ideas and questioning himself . As William Alice said , “Hamlet’s self-questionings are mere pretexts to hide his lack of resolve . He believes neither in himself nor anything else , and so loses himself in introspection .” Hamlet hides his hesitant nature through continuous stalling and self-examination . Hamlet’s uncertain nature is evident when he wonders , To be or not to be—that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune , Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And , by opposing, end them. (III, i, 64-68)