Hamlet Act 1

Is it important that this play begins with a question? Think about the tone that is set here—for this scene, and perhaps for the whole play. Come back to this opening line at various points in the play and after you’ve finished reading, and think about its suggestiveness. What does this question seek? What do questions in general seek? question=Barnardo: “Who’s there?”sets the scene of mystery, creepyall questions seek answersthe mystery of if there is a ghost, who it is, and what it wants
Try to imagine the scene it’s dark, perhaps densely foggy as well, bitterly cold and lonely, and the air seems heavy with eerie expectation as the guards await the arrival of a ghost, whose presence marks a “strange eruption” (80) of the supernatural into the everyday world.
Why, a few lines before Barnardo exits the stage after this brief role, does Shakespeare have him tell us not only that it is “bitter cold” but that he is “sick at heart”? Trace both images throughout the play—the imagery of sickness/disease and the frequent recurrence of the word “heart.” (9) said by Franciscosaid to set the scene of misery/tirednesscold=scene whenever the ghost is about to appearsick at heart=represents the diseased/rotting kingdom and the corruption of royaltyheart=often described as in danger or broken
Consider Horatio’s role as a surrogate for the audience/reader. What qualities do we value in him? (28) Horatio = loyal and helpful to Hamletat first does not believe in the ghostsurrogate=takes on the same sort of role as the reader because he does not suffer with Hamlet but merely learns at the same pace as the reader, and remains loyal to Hamlet
What are the activities that Marcellus wants someone to explain? What is Horatio’s explanation? Who is Fortinbras, and what is he up to? Is he an admirable fellow? Is his cause just? (81-123) Marcellus wants someone to explain why they (and many other Danish subjects) have to stand guard each night; why shipbuilders have been forced into such hard labor that they don’t even get Sundays off; and why the nation in general seems to be preparing for warHoratio explains that he most recent king of Denmark, Hamlet the Elder, was challenged to combat by King Fortinbras of Norway and killed him. His guess is that Fortinbras’s hot-tempered son, also named Fortinbras, is going to try to seize the lands his father lost.Fortinbras= king of Norway, agreed that the winner would get the others land, killed by Old King Hamlet, now his son wants to invade Denmark to get this land backadmirable? = yes because he held up to his agreement, but his son did notjust cause? = no because they had a fair agreement
Horatio discusses the portents and signs that accompanied the death of Julius Caesar in ancient Rome. How did Julius Caesar die? (124-127) Julius Caesar was assassinated by his own senators, similar to how Old King Hamlet was killed by his brother, Claudiuscompares Denmark to Rome before Julius was killed, saying that it has many similar bad omens
Here we meet King Claudius, brother of the late King Hamlet and uncle to young Prince Hamlet. In this speech he covers three main topics: the mourning for the late king; the marriage between himself and the late king’s widow, Queen Gertrude; and the upstart ambitions of young Prince Fortinbras of Norway. What does he say about each of these topics, and how does he handle himself, not only in this speech but throughout the scene? Do you trust him as a king? as a person? Why or why not? (ii.1-39) the mourning for the late king: we should still be mourning the kings death, but also celebrating the marriagethe marriage between himself and the late king’s widow, Queen Gertrude: happythe upstart ambitions of young Prince Fortinbras of Norway: he will attack b/c we are weak w/o a king, but if I am king, we will be safehow does he handle himself: very cautious in phrasing, tries too hard to set himself up as king, wants to appear both mournful over his brothers death, happy over his new marriage, and humble to be the new kingtrust?: definitely not, b/c he seems to try too hard to get Hamlet to like him, and he acts as the foil to the protagonist
Note that the two young men in this scene, Laertes and Hamlet, share similar desires—to leave Denmark and return abroad where they lived before the momentous events that called them home. How does Claudius treat their requests? Is the difference noteworthy? (ii.42-65 vs. 116-30) allowed Laertes to leave for France because he understands that he merely intended to be present for Claudius’ coronationgave a fancy farewell (ll. 64-65)”asks” that Hamlet stay at home in Denmark instead of pursuing studies in Whitenburghspeaks to him using communal pronouns: “our” “we””retrograde” to their desires – they rather Hamlet be at home where they can be togetherperhaps a way to say “I am in charge and, oh, I can manage my family despite the our great loss”
What do Hamlet’s first words tell us about his attitude toward Claudius and his demeanor in general? (ii.67, 69) “a little more than kin and less than kind” = Claudius is both uncle and step father to Hamlet, and is lively unnaturally in an incestuous relationshipangry towards Claudius and untrustingdemeanor of an angsty teenager, grumpy, depressed”not so my lord, i am too much in the sun”
How does Hamlet dress? What does he look like compared to the king and queen and courtiers? What quality does Hamlet claim to possess when he tells his mother, “I know not seems”? Note the idea of each person playing a role. Look for this theatrical image (and its thematic variations, e.g., appearance vs. reality, truth vs. deception, spying/eavesdropping like an theater audience upon actors) throughout the play. (ii.70-89) Hamlet dresses in a “nighted color” – black/mourningprobably looks like he doesn’t wanna be there (picture young teenage boy being dragged along to social events with his mom)looks less regal/poisedslouching, eyes staring at the ground “do not forever … seek thy noble father in the dust ” (ll. 72-73)Hamlet can change the way people perceive him easily – depending on what he chooses to show externally while keeping his grief held withinhe can play the roles he think can most benefit him
Do you agree with the ideas expressed in Claudius’ speech of consolation? I do not agree with many of the ideas expressed in Claudius’ speech because of the simple fact that grief is not at all logical – it’s an emotion and emotions cannot be told what to do. His argument that “your father lost a father, that father lost, lost his …” does not mean that it is not okay to mourn your father – if Hamlet feels that he should mourn his father for 87 years, then he’s gonna mourn for 87 years because that’s what it may take to come to terms with the loss. Also, I don’t like that Claudius implies that grief is reserved only for women – grief is universal, buddy!!
Hamlet’s first soliloquy! What does Hamlet wish for? Diagnose Hamlet: characterize his emotional / psychological affliction with specific reference to these lines. Note the image of the world as a garden. Why is this image apt? What kind of garden is described? How might this description apply not only to the macrocosm (the world) but to the microcosm (the human person)? How does Hamlet characterize his late father, his mother, his uncle, and himself? (ii.133-64. ) Hamlet wished that, “this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” aka “I wish I could disappear” – maybe suicidal, but perhaps not yet …Hamlet is DEFINITELY hurting, so much so he no longer wants to be a part of the world! The only reason he has not taken his life is because it would be a sin and against the canon lawshe no longer sees the beauty or use of the world around himthe world is polluted by vicious weeds that can take over – the world is a rotten and corrupt place, unnaturala human can become corrupted by strong emotions or traumatic events – seems like Hamlet has potential for being corrupted as he learns more about the truth that was concealed regarding King Hamlet’s deathcannot comprehend how his mother, the queen and wife of the deceased, managed to get over such an awful death in the short span of TWO monthshe glorifies his father to the level of Apollohis parents were “in love” according to his memoryhis father doted on his mother – did not even like the wind to mess with her facehis mother constantly “hung” on the king conflicting, confusing imagesangry towards uncle – distances himself compares uncle to goat (lol)contrasts himself with Hercules
How does Hamlet treat Horatio and Marcellus? What aspects of the prince’s personality do we see in his interaction with them? (ii.166) Hamlet treats both Horatio and Marcellus as friends he is glad to see them well”I’ll change that name with you” – no longer servant/masterHe seems more relaxed, much more like a regular teenagerhe is genuine in his remarks and jokeshas friends – perhaps he has some good points :0expressed his sadness, but not in such a deep way – more humbleremembers his father and says ” He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again” (ll.195-196)
What does Hamlet think that the appearance of the ghost of his father means? (ii.277-80) he immediately suspects that something is wrong (foul play)i guess his father didn’t take up arms oftenHamlet wants to see why the ghost has come – connection with dadrecognizes that foul play/dirty work overwhelms the earth
What is Laertes’ advice to his sister Ophelia regarding Hamlet’s affection? What ideas about human nature and human relationships underlie Laertes’ advice? What does he mean when he says, “best safety lies in fear” (47)? Do you agree? (iii.6) Laertes warns Ophelia regarding Hamlet’s love and that she is too far above him in order for him to be able to love her honorably and in the way that she deserves. He cautions her in saying that not only will Hamlet’s affection be ephemeral, but also that if Hamlet assumes the throne of Denmark, it will be impossible for him to truly love her. Laertes’ voice holds wisdom and truth regarding the fragility of human emotions and the dangers that lie in love. His advice also reinforces the ordinary nature of their sibling relationship and their care for each other. In line 47, best safety lies in fear, Laertes is alluding to the fact that Ophelia’s heart, purity and reputation as a whole will be well guarded if she does not give in to her natural curiosity and men as a whole. Safety, in this particular setting, mean staying away from the unstable prince of Denmark and upkeeping a pristine feminine reputation. I do not agree with the quote, since often character development happens once characters step out of their comfort zone. However, this quote is consistent with the character of Laertes as a whole.
Now it’s Polonius’ turn to give advice. Is his advice to Laertes moral or practical? (The same question could have been asked about Laertes’ advice to Ophelia.) Does Polonius seem to have a similar or different view of human nature and human relationships as his son? Explain with specific references to his speech. (iii.60) Polonius’ advice to Laertes is both moral and practical (but I personally think a little more practical) since it includes things like:”be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar” (I.iii.67)”give every man thy ear, but few thy voice” (I.iii.74)”neither a borrower nor lender ” (I.iii.81) act with integrity and be true to himself (“to thine own self be true” (I.iii.84)Polonius seems to have a similar view of human relationships than his son, since they both caution their loved ones against the harms of the world and to protect themselves. Also, Polonius echoes Laertes’s advice once he takes off, echoing their shared beliefs on the dangers that Hamlet could bring to Ophelia. Polonius warns Laertes’s of the importance of keeping a good, moral character and he emphasizes the importance of BALANCE in one’s character, like being familiar and not vulgar, knowing when to listen and when to speak, being neither a borrower or a lender, and acting with integrity.
Trace the family relationships of these characters as we have so far seen or heard about them:Hamlet Laertes Fortinbras Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, heir to the throne. Son of queen gertrude and the late king Hamlet and nephew of the new king Claudius. Laertes: Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France. Passionate and quick to action, Laertes is clearly a foil for the reflective Hamlet. Fortinbras: the young prince in Norway whose father was killed by Hamlet’s father. Fortinbras now wants to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor. Son of the king (also named fortinbras)
How does Polonius treat his daughter? Does she do a good job of defending herself and her relationship with Hamlet? Read again Hamlet’s speech to his mother about “seeming” and then compare them to what Polonius argues about Hamlet’s apparent affection for her (135-40). What goes through your mind as you sort this out? What does Polonius command Ophelia to do? What is her response? How do you want her to respond? (iii.95) Polonius treats Ophelia like any men in that time period would treat his daughter- he strongly cautions her against his affection and encourages her to hold herself to a higher standard. She does attempt to speak up for her relationship with Hamlet, but does not insist and says that she will obey her father. She could stand up to her dad, but she seems like the kind of character to simply take advice instead of rejecting it.
What, according to Hamlet, is the “custom / More honored in the breach than the observance”? What does this custom tell us about the Denmark of Claudius? (iv.9-25) The king stays up all night drinking and carousing, and celebrating, since that is a Danish custom. Disgusted, Hamlet says that this a custom better broken than kept, because it is making Denmark a laughingstock among other nations and undermining all the other great achievements of the danes.
What does Hamlet mean that men might suffer from a “vicious mole in nature”? Discuss how this speech might fit with the notion of a “tragic flaw.” (iv.26-41) The tragic flaw that all men have is that they like to drink, party excessively. This is the tragic flaw of Denmark as a whole and of the people
What aspect of Hamlet’s character do these lines illustrate? (iv. 44-102, esp. 89 and 94-96. ) In these lines, Hamlet shows bravery and a willingness to engage in dialogue with the Ghost to right the wrongs of Denmark and put everything to rest. He is open and willing to embrace his fate and he draws his sword to instill fear in anyone who might try to hold him back
Where does the Ghost say that it has come from? (v.5-7, 14-28. ) Purgatory – trapped in the fires of purgatory during the day and doomed to haunt the earth at time until death is avenged
What is the official explanation for old Hamlet’s death? Think of the metaphorical implications of this official version. What really happened, according to the Ghost? (v.42) Hamlet says he was sleeping in the garden in the afternoon – and his brother Cornelius poured poison in his ear
How does the Ghost characterize Gertrude, and his marriage to Gertrude? (v.49) they had a legitimate marriage – King Hamlet loved her and was devoted to her and she was seemingly virtuous however Cornelius seduced her with his words and giftsGertrude – so driven by lust that she went to him even though he was not nearly as “good” as Hamlet
Explain these difficult lines on the nature of virtue and of lust. How do they relate to Gertrude? (v.60-64 ) Gertrude – so driven by lust that she went to him even though he was not nearly as “good” as Hamlet
Here we have some very specific images of disease, and also a very detailed portrait of the body infected. (Recall that Laertes (I.iii.24-27) had mentioned these topics as well, introducing the metaphor of the body politic.) Does it matter how the disease entered old Hamlet? (v.69) disease entered Hamlet through his earthen quickly traveled through his veins and infected his body and killed himtheme/symbol of ear throughout previous scenes – foreshadowingoverall theme of body – mentions of specific parts
What does the Ghost want Hamlet to do? To what aspect of Hamlet does he appeal? What is his final command, the one that Hamlet responds to most intensely? Why is this command significant? How does it change Hamlet? When Horatio and Marcellus return, how does Hamlet’s demeanor altered? What does he mean by “antic disposition” (192), and what promises does Hamlet make them swear? (v.88) Ghost – wants Hamlet to kill Cornelius and avenge his death appeals to his humanityHamlet’s last command – “Remember me.” – son promises to do thismakes him slightly insane – he is so distracted by everything else happening Changes Hamlet – makes him crazy (or is he pretending?) He is on edge, secretive – makes friends swear (many times) never to talk about ghost
How does Hamlet interpret the Ghost’s command? (v.210-11) Tells his father he can rest now – he will kill uncleinterprets his command to be this
Hamlet Prince of Denmarkprotagonistson of Queen Gertrude and the late King Hamlet, and the nephew of the present king, Claudius
Claudius King of DenmarkHamlet’s uncle
Gertrude Queen of DenmarkHamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius
Polonius The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s courtfather of Laertes and Ophelia
Horatio Hamlet’s close friendfrom Hamlets university
Where did Hamlet go to college? university in Wittenberg
Ophelia Polonius’s daughterHamlets love interest
Laertes Polonius’s son Ophelia’s brother
Fortinbras The young Prince of Norwaywhose father the king (also named Fortinbras) was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). Now Fortinbras wishes to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor, making him another foil for Prince Hamlet.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
Marcellus and Bernardo The officers who first see the ghost walking the ramparts of Elsinore and who summon Horatio to witness it. Marcellus is present when Hamlet first encounters the ghost.
Setting Denmarklate medieval period
Hamlet Historical Context Hamlet was written around the year 1600 in the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who had been the monarch of England for more than forty years and was then in her late sixties. The prospect of Elizabeth’s death and the question of who would succeed her was a subject of grave anxiety at the time, since Elizabeth had no children, and the only person with a legitimate royal claim, James of Scotland, was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and therefore represented a political faction to which Elizabeth was opposed.
What does it mean to have a fortified heart (100)? A “fortified heart” is one that has no room for the grief or pain Hamlet is experiencing. Claudius argues that Hamlet should stop mourning his recently dead father so that he may regain his composure. A “fortified heart” would be able to accept the death and move on calmly (with a patient mind) so as to not “take it to heart” – Claudius considers Hamlet’s inability to stop mourning as ” an understanding simple and unschooled”
What role does reason or common sense play in our emotional life, particularly an intense feeling like grief? I don’t think common sense gets much time in the brain once grief takes over and absorbs all the functions of life. As I mentioned earlier, emotions and intellect do not mix well when it comes to the heavy-duty emotions like grief
Is mourning a “fault to heaven” (105), that is, a questioning of divine Providence? What is the most natural and most sensible human attitude toward death? Perhaps mourning may seem to question divine providence, but I think it’s just the human way to cope with such a loss. Even though mourning is often relating with horrible crying and shouting, “WHY GODS WHY?!!?!” I think most people do recognize that it is the cycle of life and move on as soon as they feel they’ve made peace with their loss – Hamlet is just taking a bit longer to reach that peace ….
What is stoicism? Stoicism is the refusal to show deep emotions such as pain or grief. Perhaps both Claudius and Gertrude are being stoic because they are nobility and must make up for Hamlet’s lack of composure in front of their kingdom’s people so as to prevent a panic or further chaos.
Whose was the “first corse [corpse]” The first corpse was Abel, from Genesis, who was murdered by his brother, Cain. (LIKE KING HAMLET AND CLAUDIUS :OOOO)

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