Hamlet Act I

Review Guided Questions Review Vocabulary
Act I Summary The Act opens at the Castle of Elsinore in Denmark. King Hamlet is dead and Prince Hamlet has now returned from school in Wittenberg. Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and King Hamlet’s widowed wife, has now married Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius making him King Claudius. Hamlet has been informed by some of the guards (Horatio and Marcellus) that a ghost has appeared that resembles his father very closely (the ghost also appears armed). Hamlet learns from talking to the ghost that Claudius killed King Hamlet and Hamlet then vows to get revenge. Denmark, Norway, and Poland serve as a backdrop for the action in the Danish Court. Prince Fortinbras, whose father was killed by King Hamlet, is a man of action, and his character serves as a foil to the contemplative Prince Hamlet (character foil shows a character in contrast with the qualities of another character in order to highlight the characteristics of one of the characters. Polonius and Laertes both give lectures to Ophelia about her romantic involvement with Prince Hamlet and caution her against such a relationship. Polonius also gives Laertes a lecture before he leaves for Paris.
Shakespearean Tragedy(Refer to Venn Diagram as well) Differs from Greek/Elizabethan Tragedy because there is more in depth characterization, more flexibility, there is plot structure, and there is the element of comic relief.
Hamlet’s Tragedy It is Shakespearean Tragedy. Hamlet’s situation is tragic but it differs from the relatively simple plots found in the earlier Greek Tragedies. Hamlet is a nobleman revered by his countrymen. He strives to alter the world around him. Ultimately he will forfeit his own life in order to achieve justice for his father’s death. The plot includes: politics, murder, and domestic strife. It evokes pity and terror in the audience just as Greek Tragedies would.
Shakespeare’s Language William Shakespeare has made an enormous contribution to the English language because he includes many direct and indirect allusions in his contemporary language and culture such as “all is not well”, “in my mind’s eye”, and “so much for him”.
Theme: Revenge Hamlet wants answers. He constantly questions himself as to whether or not he should avenge his father’s death. He is concerned with right and wrong in religious, moral, and political terms which cause him inner turmoil.
Theme: Appearance vs. Reality/Uncertainty The play contains many situations in which the surface appearance of things does not always match reality. Hamlet struggles to find his true friends. The players in the play assume new identities: Claudius appears to be a true and virtuous king and Gertrude his virtuous wife.
Theme: Sanity vs. Insanity Hamlet’s sanity or insanity has baffled critics for years. Even the character’s in the play discuss Hamlet’s inconsistencies in behavior, sometimes assuming he really is insane, and at other times amazed by his clarity of thought.
Theme: Decay and Corruption One of the most powerful scenes in the play are the ones that reveal disintegrating situations, both in personal terms for Prince Hamlet and in political terms for Denmark.
Theme: Death Hamlet is obsessed with death. He is obsessed with avenging his fathers death and many other examples of him being obsessed with death will appear later in the book.
The Ghost Having a ghost appear at the beginning of a play and call on someone to avenge it’s murder was an ancient dramatic convention. In scene V” “I am thy father’s spirit, doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, and for the day confined to fast in fires, till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away.” This reveals that the ghost is clearly in purgatory “for a certain term” until his crimes are “burnt and purged away.”
Hamlet The protagonist who is not happy with the state of Denmark. He is disappointed with his mother for marrying his uncle so soon after his father’s death. He is melancholy and discontented and continuously contemplates death. He is obsessed with avenging his father’s death.
Claudius The antagonist who is shrewd, lustful, conniving, self-centered, and pompous. He is obsessed with maintaining power.
Gertrude Hamlet’s mother and the wife of the late King Hamlet. She was possibly involved in the death of the king. She is now married to the king’s brother. She is a woman that is defined by her desire for station (statue) and affection as well as self-preservation and she is morally frail.
Motifs: The Garden-Serpent In Act I Scene V, we learn first of all, that the belief is that King Hamlet died from getting bit by a snake in a garden while taking his afternoon nap. The serpent in the garden is an allusion to the story of the garden of Eden in Genesis in which the serpent tempts the woman who then tempts the man to sin. The death of Hamlet’s father and the hasty remarriage of his mother, for Hamlet, is something of a loss of innocence. In Act I Scene II, Hamlet says the the world is “An unweeded garden that grows to see.” This is an even further allusion to the Garden of Eden because of Adam and Eve’s sin, the very ground is cursed, “Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”
Motifs: Images of Disease and Decay Act I Scene II: “Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed; things rand and gross in nature possess it merely.” Act I Scene IV: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Both statements means something bad or corrupt has happened in Denmark.
Dramatic Devices: Soliloquy It is a monologue meaning the character is alone on stage. It is a device that the playwright uses to give the audience insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions. Shakespeare uses soliloquies to allow the reader to learn the true cause of Hamlet’s melancholy and to witness Hamlet’s understanding of death and his desire to die…
Dramatic Devices: Aside Gives the audience insight into the character and the character is speaking either to himself or directly to the audience. There are other characters onstage who, by convention, do not hear the aside.
Dramatic Devices: Allusion References to the past. I.e. The srpent that supposedly bit King Hamlet and the Garden of Eden.
Dramatic Devices: Madness Is it real or pretend? I.e. is Hamlet mad or not?
Dramatic Devices: Conflict (Review the conflict powerpoint online) There cannot be any drama without conflict. The primary conflict in Hamlet is internal conflict caused by the sense of duty in Hamlet to avenge his father’s murder and his inability to take action.
Dramatic Devices: Tragic Hero (Review the Venn Diagram and the Presentation online) Less of a pawn than in Greek Tragedy (fate controlled destiny). In control of their own destiny, so they are therefore more responsible for their own downfall.

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