Hamlet Act I, Scene i: The play begins on the outer ramparts of Elsinore castle. It is late and Bernardo, a guard, is on duty waiting for Francisco to relieve him from his watch. Bernardo is nervous because the previous two nights he and Francisco have seen a figure who appears to be the ghost of the recently deceased king wandering around. Francisco approaches, accompanied by Horatio (Hamlet’s only friend and confident). Even though Horatio dismisses the idea of a ghost, the guards start to retell the previous nights’ encounters.
As the guards begin, the ghost appears before them- much to Horatio’s surprise. The guards urge Horatio to speak with the ghost. Because Horatio is a student, they feel he should be able to communicate with the ghost, and their previous attempts to talk with it have failed. Horatio’s attempts also fail. The scene ends with Horatio stating that he will go and inform his friend Hamlet of these incredible events. Act I, Scene ii: This scene opens in contrast to the first scene. The first scene takes place on the dark, cold isolated ramparts; this scene begins in a brightly lit court, with the new king, Claudius, celebrating his recent wedding to his new wife, Gertrude.
Everyone in the court appears happy and joyful, except one character who is sitting off to the side. He is dressed in black, the colour of mourning, and does not like what he sees. The lone figure is Hamlet, the main character of the play. He is wearing black because it has been only two months since his father, Hamlet senior the ghost on the battlements, died and he still is mourning his father’s death. To further upset Hamlet, Claudius’ new bride is Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Hamlet is upset because his mother married Claudius so soon after becoming a widow. To add to all the injustices Hamlet is feeling at this time, Claudius is also related to Hamlet.
Hamlet’s uncle is now his father-in-law and Gertrude’s brother-in-law is now her husband. Claudius conducts several pieces of business during the beginning of this scene. He first tries to take measures to prevent a war with Norway, then discusses Laertes’ request to leave court and go back to school. Claudius agrees with Polonius, Laertes’ father, that Laertes’ plan of going back to school is a good one. He gives Laertes permission to go.
This familial scene brings Claudius’ mind to Hamlet. He recognizes Hamlet is upset and he tries to make amends and urges Hamlet to stay in Denmark, instead of returning to school. After his mother echoes Claudius’ request, Hamlet agrees to stay. Hamlet is left on stage after everyone else leaves. He speaks a soliloquy expressing his anger at the present circumstances in his life and discusses his depression as a result of these events.
The scene ends with Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo entering and talking with Hamlet about the ghost they have seen. Hamlet agrees to join them this coming night to see the ghost himself. Note: a soliloquy is the thoughts of a character being expressed out loud. These thoughts deal with the true feelings of a character and give insight into what a character is thinking about and how his mind works. This first soliloquy is one several spoken by Hamlet throughout the play. Each one gives us further insight into what Hamlet is feeling at the time. Text: Act I, Scene ii Act I, Scene iii: This scene opens with Laertes saying his goodbyes to his sister Ophelia, before he leaves for school.
We find out from their discussion that Hamlet has been seeing Ophelia and is very serious about their relationship. He has been alone with Ophelia on many occasions and has professed his love for her during these times. He has also given her gifts during these visits. Leartes, who knows about his sister’s suitor, tries to warn Ophelia that because Hamlet is destined to become King, he can never be serious in his relationship with her. Hamlet may seem virtuous and noble at this time, he warns, but he will leave her to fulfill his duties to the kingdom when the time comes. She promises to be careful in this relationship and re-asserts that Hamlet has never taken advantage of her, nor has he ever been anything but a gentleman in their relationship.
The conversation ends with Ophelia lecturing her brother that he should practice what he preaches and not fall into any casual relationships foolishly, and not to worry about her. At this point, Polonius enters and gives his son one more lecture before he leaves on how to conduct himself when he goes back to school. The fatherly advice includes thoughts on not borrowing or lending money, because it can cause more problems than it is worth. He also tells his son not to say things that might make others think he is foolish, to hold his tongue and to be careful of getting into quarrels, but once in one give a good show for yourself. Finally, before Leartes leaves, Polonius tells him to be ‘true to himself.’ In other words, if you do the right things for the right reasons you can never do any wrong to others.
The scene ends with Polonius discussing with Ophelia her relationship with Hamlet. He, like Laertes, does not trust Hamlet’s intentions, because Hamlet is young and young men have no honour; they have only one thing on their minds- sex. Although Ophelia has no reason to distrust Hamlet’s intentions, she obeys her father’s wishes and agrees she will not see Hamlet any more. Text: Act I, Scene iii Act I, Scene iv: It is the night following Horatio’s first encounter with the ghost and it finds him, the guards and Hamlet on the platform waiting for the ghost. There is a celebration going on in the castle and Hamlet explains to Horatio that it is customary for the king to hold a celebration where cannons are shot off in honour of the King’s health.
This celebration is something Hamlet does not agree with; it is too excessive and other countries look upon the Danes as foolish because of it. The ghost appears and Hamlet, realizing that it does look like his father -the old king-, approaches it and asks that it speak to him. At this point, Hamlet doesn’t know whether or not the ghost is there for good or evil purposes. The ghost beckons Hamlet. When Hamlet considers going with the ghost, Horatio and Marcellus try to dissuade him.
They are concerned for his safety. If the ghost is there for evil purposes, it might lead Hamlet to his death. Hamlet forces his way past them and follows the ghost. The scene ends with Horatio and Marcellus following Hamlet to try and protect him. Text: Act I, Scene iv Act I, Scene v: On another part of the platform, the ghost tells Hamlet that he is indeed Hamlet’s father and that he was murdered. The ghost asks Hamlet to revenge his ‘most foul, strange, and unnatural murder’ and Hamlet heartily agrees. Hamlet is shocked when the ghost goes on to tell him that he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius.
Unlike the story Claudius told the court, that a serpent stung and killed the old king, the ghost tells Hamlet that during his afternoon nap in the orchard Claudius crept in and poured poison in the king’s ear. The ghost goes on to tell Hamlet about how Hamlet’s own mother was adulterous with Claudius, before the ghost’s death. He alos has Hamlet promise him that he will leave her deeds to be judged and punished by God, and that Hamlet should not take revenge on her himself. The dawn comes, forcing the ghost to return to the hellish underworld he must inhabit, because of the wrongful deeds he did prior to his own death. Hamlet is very angry about the events the ghost told him of, and swears that he will remember the ghost and what the ghost asked of him.
He also swears that he will forget all trivial matters and that his life will be focused on one event, avenging his father’s murder. Horatio and Marcellus find him and Hamlet has them swear that they will reveal to no one the events surrounding the ghost. The ghost calls up from below for them to swear when they seem hesistant to do so. Before the scene ends, Hamlet warns his friends that he will put on an ‘antic disposition’ for everyone to see. In other words, he will pretend to be crazy until he can avenge his father’s death. Text: Act I, Scene v Act II, Scene i: As we find out later in the scene, apparently Hamlet has been following the plan he told Horatio about, putting on an ‘antic disposition.’ The scene opens with Polonius sending Reynaldo to Wittenberg to give Laertes money.
Although Reynaldo’s quest at first appears straight-forward, Polonius also gives Reynaldo the added duty of spying on Laertes. Because Polonius is concerned for his family name, he wants to find out all about Laertes’ actions and goings-on. Even though Reynaldo states that he was going to make some discreet inquires into Laertes’ actions, he is shocked when Polonius tells him to do whatever he can, short of dishonouring Laertes, to find out what Laertes is up to; including making up stories about incidents that didn’t happen in hopes of freeing men’s tongues to tell stories concerning Leartes that Reynaldo may not have heard about. Even though Reynaldo doesn’t agree with Polonius’ way of gathering information, he gives in to Polonius’ request. Ophelia enters as Reynaldo leaves and her father, seeing that she is distressed, asks her what is troubling her. Ophelia relates a strange encounter she has just had with Hamlet. He came to see her in complete dissarray.
His clothes were a mess and his appearance was pale and sickly. She goes on to say that Hamlet grabbed her hand and studied her at arms length. He didn’t say anything, but after a perusal of her face he shook his head threee times and gave out a wail that was piteous and profound. He then dropped her arm and, without taking his eyes off Ophelia, walked out of the room. Polonius, thinking that Hamlet is still madly in love with Ophelia, believes his request for Ophelia to stop seeing Hamlet is the cause of his recent apparent madness. He tells Ophelia that they must report this incident to the King. They leave, after Polonius chastises himself for making what appears to be a wrong judgement regarding Hamlet’s true feelings for Ophelia.
Text: Act II, Scene i Act II, Scene ii: The action takes place two months after Hamlet has met with the ghost. The scene opens with Claudius and Gertrude talking to two of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It seems that Hamlet has been acting strangely for the past couple of months, and no one is able to find out why. Although Gertrude guesses it is because of the death of his father and her overhasty marriage, Claudius is not so sure this is the reason. Because Claudius and Gertrude are unable to find out the reason for Hamlet’s madness they send for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with the hopes that they will be able to find out the truth. Both gentlemen agree to spy on Hamlet to find out the cause of his madness after Gertrude tells them they will gain the king’s money, thanks and recognition.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave to find Hamlet. Polonius enters at the same time as the messengers sent to Norway return with news regarding Fortinbras. Polonius tells the King and Queen that he has found out the cause of Hamlet’s madness, and will tell them after they hear the news from the messengers. Voltimand and Cornelius enter and report to the king that they met with Fortinbras’ uncle and have found a way to stop Fortinbras’ plan to attack Denmark. The uncle, after finding out the true goal of Fortinbras’ army, rebukes Fortinbras for his deeds and tells him to forget this plan. Fortinbras obeys his uncle’s wishes and with his uncle’s help decides to use his army to attack the “Polacks.” The king looks over a paper that has Fortinbras’ plans for crossing safely through Denmark on his way to fight the Polacks, and turns his attention to Polonius.
Polonius tells the King and Queen about his suspicion that Hamlet’s madness is caused by Ophelia’s rejecting Hamlet’s affections. Although the queen believes Polonius’ speech is too long-winded, and chastises him for his round-about ways, he brushes her off and continues with his theories. As proof of his suspicions, he reads a letter Hamlet wrote to Ophelia that expresses his love and feelings for her. Seeing that the king and queen don’t agree with his assumptions as whole heartedly as he does, Polonius tries to prove his theory by approaching Hamlet himself. He ushers the King and Queen out as Hamlet approaches.
Although Polonius tries his best to pin down Hamlet’s thoughts, he fails. Hamlet not only manages to evade Polonius’ questions, but he seizes the opportunity and slanders Polonius and his foolish, meddling ways without Polonius’ realization. Polonius leaves after realizing that there is a lot of meaning in Hamlet’s rantings. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter and Hamlet greets them affectionately. Hamlet is pleasant and cheerful to them until he finds out that they are there to spy on him and report to the King the reason for Hamlet’s madness. Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hesitant to admit they were sent for, they cannot deny it further when Hamlet convinces them that he knows they were sent for.
The focus of the conversation changes to acting and the theatre when Rosencrantz informs Hamlet that players (entertainers) are on their way to the castle to perform a play for the King. They discuss the use of child actors in the theatre and Hamlet takes another opportunity to insult Polonius when he comes in to tell Hamlet about the players. When Hamlet makes a remark about a ‘fair daughter’ in a play, Polonius believes he is hinting at Ophelia. They are interrupted by the entrance of the players. Hamlet greets the players warmly and asks the leader to recite a passage he once heard player speak. Hamlet remembered the recital because the player spoke it in such an honest and passionate way.
The playe …