Hamlet ~ Act I Scene II

The Queen consoles Hamlet (1834)
Act I, Scene II
Eugene Delacroix
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)
source Wikipedia

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)
Mikhail Vrubel
source Wikiart


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
key scenes
source Wikipedia

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?

Hamlet Read-Along Posts
Act I  Scene II
Act I  Scene III

8 thoughts on “Hamlet ~ Act I Scene II

  1. This is one of the best plays of Shakespeare, though there are times I feel all the main characters need help and should be institutionalized! But somehow it always comes together in its weird way! Imagine the power of this play, a Indian film director made a powerful film, without any changes, act to act, only basing it in 1980s Kashmir, at the height of militant terrorism….only this play could fit so well and yet retain its own identity!

  2. I sometimes feel that Shakespeare "massages" his characters in that they act in ways to further the play/story, yet not so out of character as to make them truly unbelievable. He's a master at this technique, if I can call it a technique.

    What is the name of the movie? I wonder if I can get it here. I'm always happy to watch anything Shakespeare-based!

  3. I know what you mean about ….technique or characterization or whatever you want to name it! The name of film is Haider…I believe it is available on You Tube, but I don't know if English subtitles are available in that version!

  4. I definitely think Claudius wants Hamlet to stay to keep an eye on him. I think that was a little dumb of him, as if Hamlet had been back at the university, he would have had things to occupy his mind and not been focused so much on his father's death and mother's hasty remarriage. However, as the old saying goes, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

    I covered Hamlet's recognition of Horatio a little bit, but I'll touch on it again — how I usually see it played out is that Hamlet is not paying much attention when Horatio greets him, but then he does kind of a double take and realizes it's Horatio. He doesn't seem to know that Horatio was coming to Elsinore, since he asks why he's here, so he wasn't at all expecting to see him, and that's why he didn't realize who was talking to him at first. I would imagine that, being a prince living in a castle, pretty much any time anyone walked into a room where you were, they would greet you, and he would reflexively return their hello. (My son's 8th birthday was this week, and every time someone would say, "Happy birthday!" to him, he would instinctively say, "Happy birthday!" back to them — it was hilarious.)

  5. I wonder if there is some significance to Horatio not being from Denmark? Does he have a more objective viewpoint then? Or should I ask, as it might be more obvious as we keep reading.

    So funny about your son! 😀 Happy 8th birthday to him!! Such a cute age!

  6. I think Horatio is kind of our representative in the play — he's Hamlet's perpetual audience, always there to listen and try to understand. So it would make sense if he was "other," since we audience members are too.

    Eight is a great age! I loved seven too 🙂 We gave him a copy of The Hobbit for his birthday, and he read it twice in two days. I think he was really eager and excited to get in on all that Middle-earth stuff his parents talk so much about 🙂

  7. Ah yes, I like that explanation for Horatio. It's not important where he's from, only that he's "other" and gives us a different perspective perhaps, than the other Danes.

    Twice in TWO days?! You've got yourself a reader there! The Lord of the Rings, here he comes! 🙂 (Homeschoolers are awesome, BTW!)

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