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How does the language and dramatic action of the opening lead the audience to an awareness of a state that is entrenched in both personal and political conflict?

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Introduction

How does the language and dramatic action of the opening lead the audience to an awareness of a state that is entrenched in both personal and political conflict? Throughout the opening scenes of 'Hamlet', Shakespeare brings to our attention that the state of Denmark is deep in conflict, using many different techniques. The play begins on the gun platform at Elsinore Castle, just after midnight, on a cold and bitter night. The first line is 'Who's there?' a question to establish a mood of anxiety and dread. Even now we can sense apprehension and tension in the air. The next few lines consist of abrupt, nervous exchanges between the guards, causing an atmosphere of anxiety and fear. It is already clear to us that something is not right in the state of Denmark. This idea is reinforced when Francisco says he is 'sick at heart'. The dramatic appearance of the ghost, bearing a striking resemblance to the dead King Hamlet, further indicates that something eerie is going on. Horatio, an educated scholar, is skeptical of the ghost's appearance and this is shown when he says 'tush tush t'will not appear' and 'tis but our fantasy'. However, when he accepts he has seen the ghost he is 'harrowed with fear and wonder' and 'trembles and looks pale'. ...read more.

Middle

Claudius twice takes the opportunity to pay tribute to his brother which again suggests underlying guilt. When the King addresses Hamlet, we can at once, sense Hamlet's animosity towards him. His first line, spoken to the audience is 'a little more than kin, and less than kind', a bitter pun that shows us he is totally lacking in family feeling for Claudius and even considers Claudius from a different species to himself. He thinks he is 'too much in the sun', implying he does not want to be taking part in this celebratory event. The King tells Hamlet that death is 'common', 'all that lives must die' and 'tis a fault to nature', insinuating Hamlet is mourning too excessively and should move on with his life. This is strange as we would expect the brother and wife of the deceased to be mourning their loss too. Claudius tells Hamlet 'you are the most immediate to our throne', which is ironic because Hamlet would have been King, had Claudius not stolen the crown from him. We are surprised when the King requests that Hamlet stays in Denmark as we would expect him to want Hamlet out his way. However 'in the cheer and comfort of our eyes' suggests he wants to keep an eye on Hamlet, as he could be a threat if in Wittenberg. ...read more.

Conclusion

Scene four is set on a cold, late night with the air 'biting shrewdly', establishing the atmosphere for what is about to happen. As expected, the ghost of the dead king appears which provokes Hamlet into a frenzy of questions, one being the question of whether the ghost is 'a spirit of health' or 'blasts from hell'. The ghost beckons for Hamlet to accompany him to somewhere where they can be alone, and Hamlet follows him, announcing that his 'fate cries out'. At the end of the scene, Marcellus states that 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark', bringing back the idea of political conflict to the audience. The final scene in act one incorporates Hamlet and the Ghost having a one on one conversation, revealing the truth behind the former King's death and what he wants Hamlet to do about it. The ghost introduces himself, confirming his identity, and then continues to dominate the scene. It tells Hamlet that his murder was "foul, strange and unnatural" and goes on to explain how it happened. We are shocked, angered and disgusted when we find out who the murderer is; 'that incestuous, adulterate beast'. The ghost tells Hamlet to seek revenge on his uncle, and Hamlet readily commits himself to this act 'with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love'. This new plot in the play is sure to continue the personal and political conflict throughout 'Hamlet'. ...read more.

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