|The Queen consoles Hamlet (1834)
Act I, Scene II
source Wikimedia Commons
Hamlet ~~ Act I, Scene II
The new King, Hamlet’s brother Claudius, laments the old king’s passing and claims that he wed the Queen in both mirth and sadness. He hints that Fortinbras thinks the kingdom weak because of King Hamlet’s death and says he has contacted the King of Norway, Fortinbras’ uncle, who is debilitated and bedridden, to stop his nephew’s plotting. He sends Cornelius and Voltemand to deliver another letter to Norway.
|John Barrymore as Hamlet (1922)
Laertes, son of Polonius, asks leave to return to France since he has done his duty by attending Claudius’ coronation. After securing Polonius’ opinion, Claudius allows him to go, and then turns to Hamlet, asking why “clouds still hang on (him)”. Gertrude, the Queen, urges her son to accept her new husband and no longer mourn his father’s death. Hamlet claims his grief surpasses what can be viewed on the surface, yet Claudius pleads with him to stave off his melancholy, as it is not manly and goes against God and nature. He is Hamlet’s new father and wishes him to remain near him instead of going to Wittenberg, as Hamlet plans. Hamlet agrees.
Hamlet then laments his father’s death and agonizes over the alacrity with which his mother remarried after her apparent devotedness to her first husband. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo appear and Hamlet questions why they aren’t in Wittenberg, whereupon they reply that they came for his father’s funeral. Hamlet mentions his mother’s marriage and then claims to see his father in his imagination. It’s the perfect opening for the sentinels, who tell him of the ghost of his father. He asks of its appearance and if his friends are armed, then promises to meet them that night between eleven and twelve o’clock.
“My father’s spirit in arms. All is not well.
I doubt some foul play. Would the night were come!
Till then sit still, my soul. Foul deeds will rise,
Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.”
|Hamlet and Ophelia (1883)
Right away the reader can tell Claudius has taken over kingship of Denmark by his royal diction, using “we” and “ourselves” to describe his person. He highlights the danger to the kingdom by Fortinbras, seeks assistance from a weak old man, and claims that he has followed Polonius’ advice, these points deliberately made both to cement his power by placing fear in the hearts of Denmark’s people, and also to deflect complete blame of any of his actions from himself, as he makes Polonius an accomplice by his words. Quite clever machinations from this new monarch. His devious manipulation of the situation, and the apparent trust of all but Hamlet, create a setting for future troubles.
|A post for a production of Hamlet
ca. 1884, showing several of the
The question begs, why did the kingship pass to Claudius? It makes sense that Hamlet would have been in line for the crown after his father. Did Claudius step in and take possession of the country without protest from Hamlet? Was there some sort of unique hereditary procedure in this case?
Does Claudius want Hamlet to remain with him instead of going to Wittenberg, so he can keep a watchful eye on him? The fact that King Hamlet’s father has only been dead two months makes Claudius’ words to Hamet about his suffering appear manipulative and only intended to further is own agenda. That Gertrude supports him makes her suspect as well. With her marrying Claudius so soon after her husband’s death, it is no wonder Hamlet is tormented and conflicted. Hamlet sees his father as an exemplary figure, nearly a saint, and his treatment at the hands of those closest to him, tears him apart. He blames his mother more for the speed of her re-marriage although he does mention “incestuous sheets,” indicating her marriage to her brother-in-law is, at least in Hamlet’s eyes, criminal.
With regard to Horatio, why does Hamlet say, “I am glad to see you well. —- Horatio? Or do I forget myself?” If Horatio is truly his friend, why is Hamlet uncertain of his name or his recognition of him? Is this evidence that he is not thinking clearly given the tragedy that he has experienced?
Act I Scene III