HAMLET- Act 1, Scene 2

Summarise the events in the scene. The next morning, King Claudius, the brother of the dead king, holds court. He uses pretty language to make his recent marriage to Gertrude, his brother’s widow, sound perfectly normal. He says it is possible to balance “woe” and “joy.”Claudius then says he has received a message from Fortinbras demanding Denmark give up the lands Old Hamlet won from Old Fortinbras. He sends Cornelius and Voltemand with a message to Fortinbras’ elderly uncle, the King of Norway.Claudius turns to Laertes, the son of the Lord Chamberlain, Polonius. Laertes asks to be allowed to return to his studies in France. Claudius agrees.Next, Claudius turns to Hamlet, and asks why he is still dressed in mourning clothes. Gertrude wonders why he “seems” so upset. Hamlet says he “is” upset, and that his clothes can’t capture his true mourning.Claudius chides that it’s natural for fathers to die and for sons to mourn, but that mourning for too long is unnatural and unmanly. He asks Hamlet to see him as a father, since Hamlet is first in line to the throne. He asks Hamlet not to return to Wittenberg, Germany to study. Gertrude seconds the request. Hamlet promises to obey his mother.All exit but Hamlet. In a soliloquy, Hamlet wishes he could die and that God had not made suicide a sin. He condemns the marriage between his mother and uncle. He says Claudius is far inferior to Old Hamlet, and, in anguish, describes Gertrude as a lustful beast.Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo enter. Hamlet, who studied with Horatio at Wittenberg, is happy to see his friend, and pleased when Horatio agrees that Gertrude and Claudius’s marriage was hasty. Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost. Hamlet, troubled, decides to watch with the men that night.
How is the scene change significant? The scene moves from outside to inside Elsinore, reflecting the focus is now more political rather than spiritual. The theme of conflict however transcends this change as the conflict is now over Claudius’s legitimacy rather than the reality surrounding the Ghost.
Why is Claudius addressing Laertes first significant? It suggests that he is concerned primarily about the politics of the realm, not about family. This could be seen as responsible, or possibly cold- hearted.
How does Claudius use language in his speech? Claudius uses language as a tool to smooth over actions that are immoral. He uses language to create the appearance of propriety. Appearance vs. Reality/ Women and sexuality.
How does Claudius’s use of language suggest his own insecurity or fear? He constantly uses the Royal “we”, “us” and “our” to attempt to desperately assert his legitimacy, which he himself knows is limited. This is an early indication of his conscience at play.
How does Claudius attempt to cement his own legitimacy? The ceasura “Taken to wife” give a sense of finality and authority which Claudius hopes to command as new King. “Taken” also suggests possible possession or ‘robbery’ which again may be another early indication of Claudius’ subconscious guilt.
Give examples of Claudius’s use of contradictions within his speech and why they are significant. “our dear brother’s death The memory be green”- contrast between semantic field of mourning “grief”, “woe”, “sorrow” and of an image of hopeful nature and rejuvenation- Claudius hopes to be an ‘every man’, compassionate yet with a firm grasp of responsibility and duty.
How is Hamlet’s first speech significant (not soliloquy)? “Seems madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems’.” By emphasizing that how he “is” is more important than how he “seems,” Hamlet implies that his interior reality is more powerful than any appearance. Appearance vs reality.
What device does Hamlet use in his first exchanges with Claudius and what does this suggest? Hamlet uses word play consistently, which is first evident in his responses to Claudius’s diplomatic advances. For example, his pun of “son” to produce “I am too much i’th’sun” suggests that it is his new closeness to Claudius as his son (sun) which is causing his grief. He seeks to distance himself from Claudius.
How is Claudius’s lecture to Hamlet ironic? Claudius lectures Hamlet on what’s natural, but Claudius murdered his own brother. Appearance vs reality.
How is Claudius’s insecurity further seen within his speech to Hamlet? He uses three distinct tones- rebuke, assurance and direct refusal. His repetition of words for each part of this speech (“father”, “fault”) suggests again desperation and an almost hopeless desire to be accepted by Hamlet in order to promote or augment his own fragile legitimacy.
How is Wittenberg significant? It is where the Protestant reformation began, causing a schism within the Church- this reflects Hamlet’s internal divisions and his division with Claudius. Appearance vs reality/ religion, honour and Revenge.
How is Hamlet’s acceptance of Gertrude’s demand “I shall in all my best obey you madam” significant? He chooses not to express this to Claudius, indicating the natural hatred that he has for him, or simply appealing to his mother’s sensibilities. Women/ Religion, honour and revenge.
How is Hamlet’s first soliloquy “O that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew” particularly significant in relation to Claudius? Hamlet’s death wish exists even before he learns of his father’s murder. Fury at his mother’s marriage to Claudius is enough to make him contemplate suicide. Hamlet = perpetually unstable? Women and Sexuality/ Religion, honour and revenge/ poison, corruption and death.
What does Hamlet’s use of “dew” indicate? This represents that Hamlet seeks almost natural purity and a relief from his internal conflict, evident throughout the play.
How does Hamlet’s use of the “unweeded garden” link to Claudius? The natural imagery employed here contrasts Claudius’s earlier use of “green” imagery- demonstrates their contrasting sentiments and possibly Hamlet’s grasp on reality as the garden could reflect the true nature of Denmark. Alternatively, this difference could represent Hamlet’s removal from reality and thus his outright madness.It could also continue the allusion to Eden- these “things rank and gross in nature” have caused a spoiling of what was once ‘holy’ or divine ground- presumably his father’s marriage to Gertrude.
How does Hamlet develop the comparative “Hyperion to a Satyr”? Satyrs were monstrous creatures renowned for sexual appetite. By stating that Gertrude’s “appetite had grown”, Hamlet could be indicating that Gertrude had become more like Claudius and there partly, if not equally responsible, for Old Hamlet’s death.
How does Hamlet seem to blame Gertrude solely for his internal state by the end of the soliloquy? “Frailty, thy name is woman” suggests that Gertrude’s frailty, and her’s alone, has caused his own internal frailty.
How is Horatio’s character exposed within the line “Indeed my Lord, it followed hard upon”? Horatio proves he is willing to speak honestly about reality by noting the speed of the wedding. In this way, he is contrasted with many of the other characters in the play, obsessed with appearance, including Hamlet arguably. Appearance vs reality.
How do Hamlet’s feelings connect broadly with the spiritual feelings in Denmark? “Foul deeds will rise Though all the earth o’erwhelm them to men’s eyes.” Hamlet’s unease reflects the spiritual unease within Denmark, signified by the Ghost of Old Hamlet. Religion, honour and revenge/ Poison, corruption and death.

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