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Kristina Tomas

Explain why Act 1 is important to an understanding of Hamlet.


Act 1 of Hamlet is crucial to create an understanding of the conventions of Hamlet. It is an expository act which clarifies the background of the play and its characters and their relationships. The first Act also raises key themes such as appearance versus reality, revenge and disease and introduces the many dramatic techniques that Shakespeare uses throughout Hamlet, giving the reader an insight into how the play is structured. The significance of Act 1 lies in its ability to create the setting for characters and relationships in Hamlet. Act 1 introduces all main characters and their role in the play. For example, the Act highlights the contrast between Old Hamlet and Claudius. Old Hamlet is portrayed as a warrior and effective ruler, who smote the sledded Polacks on the ice, defeating the Polish on their own grounds. He was valiant and esteemed, and the use of hendiadys further points out he abided by law and heraldry, making him a noble fighter too. On the other hand, Claudius is a verbose politician who is cowardly. He murdered Old Hamlet while he was Sleeping within my orchard, proving he is not a worthy soldier, but a cunning manipulator. It is important that the reader understands the difference between the two Kings, so that Hamlets loyalty to Old Hamlet is justified. As the play progresses, Hamlet becomes more and more confusing. Therefore the protagonists introduction in the First Act is crucial as it showcases Hamlet before he becomes obsessed by his antic disposition. Claudius describes his nature as sweet and commendable and Horatio and Marcellus constantly address Hamlet as my Lord. Act 1 identifies Hamlet as a young man who attends university and is revered by his peers and this is important for the responder to note, because in the following Acts, the responder is able to evaluate his dramatic character transformation. Therefore, Act 1is significant as allows the responder to compare Hamlets temperament before and after he becomes obsessed with avenging his fathers murderer. Women are briefly introduced in Act 1, to create the setting for Hamlets disgust at Gertrude and his courtship with Ophelia. Women are supposed to be submissive, and this is evident in Ophelias dialogue with her brother and father, when they tell her she must stay away from Hamlet and she obligingly replies; I shall obey, my lord. The introduction to women and their submissive nature, in particular Ophelia, foreshadows the rest of the play, where the only option Ophelia has is to wait for Hamlet to come to his senses. Consequently, Act 1 is important as it creates the boundaries for acceptable social behaviour, which are continued into the following acts. The theme of appearance vs. reality is immediately introduced in the opening scene of Hamlet. The first line, Whos there? instantly creates ambiguity and suspense. By beginning the play with a question, it successfully foreshadows the uncertainty in the rest of the play. Furthermore, in Act 1 Scene III, Polonius exclaims For the apparel oft proclaims the man. This reinforces the idea of

Kristina Tomas appearance and deception, and ensures the responder realises that appearance vs. reality is an important theme which runs throughout the entire play. Act 1 is essential for establishing the theme of revenge in the play. Revenge is perhaps the focal point of Hamlet and Shakespeare uses the character of the Ghost as a vehicle to convey this. In Scene V, the Ghost instructs Hamlet to Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. Hamlet promises that I have swornt and therefore, it is evident that Hamlet seeking revenge will be pursued throughout the play. The third key theme in Act 1 is disease, which is used widely by Shakespeare to reinforce images of sickness and decay. The corruption of the state is alluded to by using disease imagery; something is rotten in the state of Denmark. This is one of the most important lines in Act 1, as it foreshadows Claudius wrongdoings, as well as the impending war between Denmark and Norway. Polonius also uses disease imagery to warn Ophelia about Hamlet; the canker galls the infants of the spring. Therefore, Act 1 is important as it contains the start of the recurring disease imagery which Shakespeare uses to convey corruption, sickness and deception. Act 1 is important for introducing the dramatic techniques utilised by Shakespeare. Hamlets first soliloquy starting with O that this too too solid flesh would melt is important as it gives the responder an insight into Hamlets thought process. Hamlet questions suicide, his mothers actions disgust him and a comparison between Old Hamlet and Claudius is made using classical allusion; Hyperion to a satyr. Everything discussed in the soliloquy is of major importance to Hamlet and is raised further in proceeding acts. Consequently the soliloquy forges intimacy between the protagonist and responder and allows for further connection in Hamlets later soliloquies. Doubling is a dramatic technique used by Shakespeare to enhance the main plot. Laertes and Fortinbraz are both considered doubles to Hamlet, and their situations are used to further solidify Hamlets own struggles. Fortinbraz is introduced as a Prince who has lost his own father and Laertes similarly is a student wishing to study abroad. Doubling is effectively used in Act 1 to show the preferential treatment that Claudius gives to Laertes instead of Hamlet. Claudius instructs Laertes to Take thy fair hour Laertes but he begs Hamlet to stay Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye, where Claudius is able to keep a close eye on him. Doubling is effectively used in Act 1 to introduce the responder to dramatic techniques which will be developed on further in the play, but also to help convey characters and their agendas, in this case, Claudius desire to keep close watch on Hamlet. It is evident that understanding Act 1 is crucial in comprehending the rest of the play. Gaining insight into key themes, characterisation and dramatic techniques early in the play give the responder an adequate knowledge of Hamlet and enable them to continue reading the remainder of the play successfully.