How does Shakespeare present ideas of disorder, corruption and decay in Act 1 of Hamlet?

Authors Avatar

How does Shakespeare present ideas of disorder, corruption and decay in Act 1 of Hamlet?

Hamlet was believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601 by William Shakespeare, and is considered one of Shakespeare’s most prestigious and renowned plays. It is a tragedy and therefore traditionally ends with a death. The numerous accounts of disorder, corruption and decay throughout the play link with the theme of a tragedy and this may be why Shakespeare made many suggestions of this throughout.

        The play’s opening scene is at night in Denmark, where it is very cold. This immediately gives a sense of anxiousness. There are two sentinels (guards) to stop intruders. This means that the people they are protecting are possibly at war and have enemies. Immediately, Shakespeare is suggesting an unpleasant start to the play, it being at night, very cold, and guards protecting people from enemies.

The first line of the scene, ‘who’s there?’ immediately gives a sense of urgency and panic. Barnardo is challenging everyone who approaches. Francisco’s words, ‘tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart’ gives a sense of death and illness. Then he Barnardo repeats himself when Horatio and Marcellus enter, saying ‘Stand! Who’s there?’  This makes the reader or viewers of the play question why he is so anxious and alert. Not too long after, you find out that Barnardo is on alert because he is waiting to see a ghost, which he is sure he saw two times previously. He explains this to Horatio by saying,

Join now!

‘Sit down awhile,

 And let us once again assail your ears,

 That are so fortified against our story,

 What we two nights have seen.’

This waiting creates a spooky mood and atmosphere as they are expecting a ghost to appear. The waiting keeps the reader or viewer in suspense.

        When the ghost does appear, they immediately notice that it resembles the king. ‘In the same figure like the king that’s dead’ and ‘looks it not like the king?’ This intrigues them and Horatio speaks of how ‘it harrows me with fear and wonder’. He is afraid of the ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


This essay explores Act One in detail and relates much of the analysis to the question. The essay would demonstrate a higher level of analytical skill if points were linked through theme and key ideas rather than taking in each scene in turn. 4 Stars