Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Hamlet | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Claudius holds court at Elsinore and thanks everyone for their support through the kingdom's recent events: the death and funeral of his brother, King Hamlet, and Claudius's subsequent marriage to Gertrude. Claudius then turns to the matter of young Fortinbras of Norway, giving everyone the latest information on the warlike young man's actions.

Claudius speculates that Fortinbras thinks Denmark may be in chaos and that this environment may offer him an advantage. Claudius relates that he has written to Fortinbras's uncle, the present king of Norway who is gravely ill. The letter informs the older man of his nephew's actions.

Claudius then turns his attention to Laertes, son of the counselor Polonius. With a show of fatherly affection for Laertes, Claudius presses to know what he has to ask. Laertes, having come from France for Claudius's coronation, now asks permission to return to France. Ascertaining that Laertes has his father's blessing to depart, Claudius agrees that Laertes may go.

Claudius and Gertrude then chide Hamlet about his continued mourning for his father. Claudius tells Hamlet that while it is commendable to honor one's father, to so prolong a display shows a weakness of character. He then invites Hamlet to look upon him as a father and wishes Hamlet to reconsider going back to school in Wittenberg and instead stay in Denmark with them. Gertrude echoes his words. As Hamlet vows to obey, Claudius and Gertrude leave.

Alone, Hamlet reveals the depth of his despair, saying that were it not against God's law, he would contemplate suicide. He speaks of how weary he is of life, and we come to understand that it is not just his father's death that has Hamlet in such sorrow but also the quick marriage of his mother to his uncle.

Hamlet's grief is interrupted by the entrance of Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo, who have come to tell him of the ghost they've seen. Wildly shocked and interested, Hamlet peppers them with questions and makes plans to stand watch with them that night. As the men part, Hamlet asks them to tell no one else what they have seen. The others, swearing their loyalty to him, give their word.

Analysis

Shakespeare again packs a lot of information into a single scene, some of it played out here and some previous action communicated in the dialogue. This scene gives a firsthand look at the new king and queen, as well as some understanding of their strained relationship with Prince Hamlet. Hamlet's emotional disturbance is readily visible. His unease is shown in an aside about the added level to which he and Claudius are now related: they are now both uncle/nephew and stepfather/stepson. His declaration that he and Claudius are not at all alike gives the audience insight into Hamlet's feelings about his uncle—that he is hesitant to trust him. His remarks foreshadow what will become ever clearer: the two men truly are not alike.

This scene also provides the first real view of Claudius's character in the fatherly way he behaves toward Laertes, contrasted with the harsher manner in which he deals with his stepson Hamlet.

Shakespeare provides a brief but instructive view into the relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet. Her plea for Hamlet to stay in Denmark suggests she truly values her only child. And because Hamlet obeys, it shows he is devoted to both his mother and father. In his soliloquy, however, he expresses disappointment in his mother because of her ability to move on so quickly after her husband's death. Hamlet believes his parents' relationship was strong—full of love, affection, and commitment—so he finds it incomprehensible and even disloyal that she could so easily enter into a relationship with Claudius, who Hamlet says is "no more like my father [t]han I to Hercules."

He ends his soliloquy saying that while his heart is breaking, he must hold his tongue. The reason for his resolve is not made clear. Perhaps he does not wish to emotionally wound his mother, or perhaps he feels threatened by Claudius—or perhaps he wants to hide his anger until he is ready to strike at Claudius. At this moment, Shakespeare ushers in Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo with their startling news. It is an intense moment for Hamlet to hear that the ghost of his father walks Elsinore Castle, and such cliff-hanging moments keep both the tension and the sense of tragedy ramped through the course of the play.

Flashcards for Act 1, Scene 2

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Term:

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Definition:

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1 Spoken by Marcellus (and not Hamlet as is commonly believed). CONTEXT Horatio spots the Ghost of Hamlet's father approaching. Hamlet calls out to the Ghost and it beckons Hamlet to leave with it. Despite the pleadings of Horatio and Marcellus, who are afraid that the apparition might be an evil entity in disguise, Hamlet agrees to follow the Ghost and the two figures disappear into the dark. Marcellus, shaken by the many recent disturbing events and no doubt angered (as is Hamlet) by Claudius's mismanagement of the body politic, astutely notes that Denmark is festering with moral and political corruption. Horatio replies "Heaven will direct it" (91), meaning heaven will guide the state of Denmark to health and stability. MEANING - Claudius has usurped throne (politics are rotten) - Christian providential fate is corrupted (fickle fate, not all-seeing God in charge) - Rotten could mean, literally, a dead body

Term:

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on ’t, ah fie! 'Tis an unweeded garden That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. That it should come to this. But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two. So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly.—Heaven and earth, Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on, and yet, within a month— Let me not think on ’t. Frailty, thy name is woman!— A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she followed my poor father’s body, Like Niobe, all tears. Why she, even she— O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules. Within a month, Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes, She married. O most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good, But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

Definition:

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2 Spoken by Hamlet CONTEXT Hamlet is bemoaning his mother's connection his uncle Claudius and saying that Claudius is unworthy of her, for he is no more like his father than Hamlet is to Hercules. MEANING - - -

Term:

Historica Danica

Definition:

- Written by Saxo Grammaticus in the 12th C. - A "history" of Denmark - Idea of history-keeping as accurate did not come into effect until 19th C - Shakespeare definitely used it as a source for Hamlet - Difference 1: Feng (Claudius) is known to have killed the King - Difference 2: There is no ghost, and Amleth's (Hamlet's) madness is confirmed as an antic disposition - Difference 3: Amleth is a buffoon (i.e. riding horse backwards) - The Players are not in Saxo Grammaticus, thus disallowing the meta-theatre commentary in Shakespeare's play

Term:

Revenge Tragedy

Definition:

- Two models: 1. classical (3 act structure, atrocity; revenger created; further atrocity put in place by revenger) 2. Christian (God should enact judgement, not man) Hamlet walks the line between these two

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