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Hamlet Act 1 Scene Summaries

Act 1
Scene 1
- Whos there opening lines establish the tone of watchful suspicion that
characterizes the entire play
- Horatio says tis but our fantasy establishes Horatio as a cynical, skeptical Stoic
- I am sick at heart already motifs of disease, sickness and decay
- tis but our fantasyI have entreated him along with us to watchif again this
apparition comes ghost is recurring at the castle
- in the same figure, like the king thats dead not referred to as the King himself,
but in the figure of the King creates some ontological uncertainty
- fair and warlike form//In which the majesty of buried Denmark dressed in
armour, further emphasising the stoicism and valiance associated with the King
- the very armour he had on//when he thambitious Norway combated//smote the
sledded Polacks King is a great warrior evidencing the martial values and
chivalrous attitudes that Hamlet has to live up to
- the motive of our preparations King slayed King Fortinbras and now Young
Fortinbras wants to reclaim the land lost events of the plot are underscored by this
threat of militarism and violence
- mightiest Julius fell//stars with trains of fire, dews of bloodharbingers preceding
still the fates Horatio stating that Caesars death was marked ghostly and
supernatural occurrences foreshadows appearance of ghost as catalyst for Hamlets
- the cockawake the god of the day the cock signifies God hence scaring away
the ghost who is an instrument of the devil Christian symbolism
- Summary: Ghost appears, reappears, disappears guards all wonder why
introduction of Horatio and manifestation of spiritual/supernatural aspects of
Scene 2
- Our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woethimperial jointress to
the warlike stateone auspicious and one dropping eye Claudius feigns sorrow
over King Hamlets death also wants to quickly move on by encouraging the
people to celebrate the wedding rather than mourn the death
- Brothers death Elizabethan understanding of the Great Chain of Being
- Your leave and favour to return to France Laertes asking permission to go back
to France total loyalty and subservience to the King
- A little more than kin, and less than kind First intro to Hamlet is through aside
already underlying tension between Claudius and Hamlet suspicion of Claudius
- Seems madam?...Nor customary suits of solemn black, nor windy suspiration of
forced breath, no nor the fruitful river in the eye, nor the dejected haviour of the
visage, together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief that can denote me truly
Hamlets exterior appearance of sorrow reflects his genuine mourning, but even these
cannot accurately represent his sadness at his fathers death
- these indeed seem for they are actions that a man might playtrapping and suits of
woe Hamlet adores his father grief-stricken at his death and the only one
mourning compared to all those who are celebrating the wedding
- tis an unweeded gardenrank and gross in nature emergence of
flower/weed/gardening motif Denmark in a state of decay and corruption
symbolic of Hamlets disillusionment at the emergence of Claudius as king
- Hyperion to a satyr King was a titan/sun-god compared to Claudius who is a
- frailty thy name is woman Elizabethan patriarchal attitudes woman expected to
be overly loyal discontent that his mother had so quickly remarried
- wicked speedto incestuous sheets//I must hold my tongue the marriage is
unholy but Hamlet must refrain from expressing displeasure
- Ill change that name with you Horatio is considered of equal standing to Hamlet
- saw him yesternighttwo nights together had these gentlemenbeen thus
- all is not wellsome foul playfoul deeds will rise repetition of foul
foreshadows the circumstances of Hamlets revenge
- Summary: Hamlet prepared to see ghost of the King + foreshadowing of the
corruption and decay that is evident throughout the play
Scene 2 Hamlets Soliloquy
- Emphasises Hamlets disillusionment with life ponders existential questions that are
triggered by his immense grief
- Hamlets almost Nietszchean ambivalence to existence is evident as he ponders that
thissolid flesh would met, thaw and resolve itself into a dew:
o Transcendental view of death as if it is like dew rising up to heaven
- However influenced by Protestant education at Wittenberg resolves that suicide is
not a viable option because it is the most egregious of sins:
o Everlasting had not fixed his canon gainst self-slaughter In
Protestantism, suicide immediately forsakes one from heaven Hamlets
desire for redemption outweighs his ambivalence to existence
- His disillusionment is influenced by:
o Mothers attitude to both Claudius and his father
o The lack of mourning for King Hamlets death
o General sense of isolation
- Quotes:
o Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
possess it merely Hamlet as Adam in the unweeded Garden of Eden his
fathers death affords him an understanding of human morality, suffering and
pain that he was otherwise sheltered from as a prince and an intellectual
also beginning of the decay/corruption motifs
o Hyperion to a satyr Claudius is nothing more than a beast compared to the
King Hamlet who is a god cant understand why Gertrude would forsake
his fathers memory
o frailty, thy name is woman Elizabethan understanding of chastity, Hamlet
is disappointed in his mothers promiscuity
o a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer
Elizabethan understanding of Great Chain of Being, comparing his mother to a
beast emphasises his disdain for her because there is very little mourning for
his death, particularly from his mother
o ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had leftshe married Hamlet
criticizes how quickly his mother has remarried, with the implication of
o break my heart, for I must hold my tongue evidence of Hamlets original
indecisiveness, as well as of his loyalty to his mother
Scene 3
- Hamlettrifling of his favour Laertes encourages Ophelia to ignore Hamlets
romantic advances youthful lust
- violet Beginning of flower motifs to refer to Ophelia juxtaposed to the
corruption and degradation that exists in Elsinore
- his choice depends upon the sanctity and health of this whole statethat body
whereof he is the head Hamlets interests are those of the state rather than
Ophelias Elizabethan Great Chain of Being
- chaste treasure Ophelias virginity women expected to be chaste and virginal
- canker reoccurrence of disease motif
- do not as some ungracious pastors doshow me the steep and thorny way to
heaven exposing the hypocrisy of the Church reflects time of Reformation and
theological uncertainty
- Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice//take each mans censure, but reserve thy
judgement Laertes gets fatherly advice from Polonius Polonius characterized as
a sycophant, hypocrite and arrogant
- Wordplay of tenders dont believe Hamlets emotional (tenders) because you will
(tender) Polonius a fool reveals Polonius truly selfish motivations for his
- Polonius lectures Laertes about honour and integrity later demonstrated how he is
willing to ignore this in his duplicitous machinations
- do not believe his vows for they are brokersfrom this time forthas to give words
or talk with Hamlet//I shall obey Ophelia submissive to Polonius demands that
she ignore Hamlets advances evidence of diminished role of women in
Elizabethan society
- Summary: Ophelia forced by both Laertes and Polonius to ignore Hamlets romantic
advances introduces Polonius as a foolish, self-important, authoritative patriarch
Scene 4
- Hamlet chastises Danish drunkenness creates dichotomy between the cynical,
puritanical sobriety of Hamlet and the alcoholic and somewhat hedonistic indulgences
of Claudius
- nature cannot choose his origin Hamlet states the drunkenness of the Danes is
innate reflects the Elizabethan belief in the primacy of fortune and fate
- his virtuesshalltake corruption from that particular fault metafiction
reference to tragic flaw that undermines an otherwise honourable character (in
Hamlets case it is indecisiveness)
- Hamlet is from Wittenberg University was a centre of Protestant theology at which
Martin Luther himself taught his understanding of Ghosts is informed by
Protestant theology that they are either Angels, or Devils who assume the form of
loved ones to tempt the individual
- be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned Hamlet doesnt care if the ghost is an
agent of the devil or an angel reinforces his loyalty to his father as he wants to see
him regardless of intentions subverts his Protestant understandings
- I dont set my life at a pins fee evidence that Hamlet values his life and suicidal
tendencies only develop later
- Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason, and draw you into madness?
foreshadows Hamlets impending madness
- Something is rotten in the state of Denmark continuation of motif of decay and
foreshadowing of the impending corruption and destruction
- Heaven will direct it pervasiveness of superstition and fate/fortune in Elizabethan
society also a reference to predestination hence reflecting Reformation ideals
- Summary: Hamlet approaches the ghost, and Horatio/Marcellus allow Hamlet to
pursue it because they believe fate will take care of it
Scene 5
- I to sulphrous and tormenting flames the ghost of the King needs to return to
Purgatory idea of ghost has to come exclusively from Catholicism draws further
evidence of Catholic/Protestant split
- fathers spiritconfinedtill the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt
and purged away evidence of purgatory theological uncertainty
- revenge his foul and most unnatural murder//murder most foulthis most foul,
strange and unnatural continuation of motif of foul
- Hamlet has Protestant interpretation of Ghost (that it is the appearance of either angels
or devils) whilst Ghost himself is based on Catholic ideal that it has come from
- incestuous, adulterate beast animal imagery to refer to Claudius animals at the
lowest of the Great Chain of Being
- leperous distilment further disease imagery to refer to the poison that Claudius
used to kill King
- most horribleno reckoning made, but sent to my account with all my imperfections
on my head the worst part of the murder for the Ghost, was that he was deprived of
the chance for confession and Sacraments before death and is hence trapped in
purgatory evidence of pervasiveness of Catholic belief
- thy commandment all alone shall live Hamlet is totally subservient to the
commandment of the King total respect for father and submission to crown/Great
Chain of Being
- most pernicious woman//smiling damned villain Hamlets rage incensed by
thought of Gertrudes marriage and Claudius insincerity
- there are more things in heaven and Earththan are dreamt of in your philosophy
Hamlet critical of Horatios skepticism, stoic nature reflects the increasing
incompatibility of humanistic, secular philosophy and theological dogma
- Summary: Claudius revealed to be murderer of King (undermines the faade of
nobility and statesmanship that he presents) Hamlet now commissioned to avenge
his father in line with the conventions of revenge tragedy also establishes
uncertainty (Hamlets uncertainty of the ghost and general mental uncertainty and