In the opening two scenes of the play explore how Shakespeare puts you inside the mind and heart of Hamlet himself.
The opening scenes of a play are always vitally important. They must grasp the attention of the reader, arouse interest and expectation.
In Hamlet, the play’s beginning is extremely effective, as there is a dramatic purpose to the first and second scene, and this will help us to explore how Shakespeare puts us inside the mind and heart of Hamlet himself.
The first scene is dominated by the appearance and reappearance of a Ghost to night watchmen. We are informed that the Ghost is that of Hamlet’s father, the late King of Denmark. The night watchmen ask Horatio, Hamlet’s friend, to investigate the Ghost’s appearance in the hope that he, as a learned man, will have an explanation for the apparition. Horatio witnesses the presence of the Ghost, and decides to relate the event to Hamlet.
After the first scene, the reader expectantly awaits Horatio’s encounter with Hamlet and events that may unfold in scene two.
Shakespeare’s effectiveness in enabling the reader to become in harmony with the mind and heart of Hamlet is achieved by the clever use of language. One method of achieving this is by the use of the “aside” and this occurs the first time Hamlet is introduced into the play.
His aside follows the comment made by Claudius, who says,
‘But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son’.
Hamlet takes offence to these words. He does not see his uncle as a father figure, and despises the fact that Claudius has snatched the title of King from him, and married his mother. Bitterly, Hamlet retorts to this comment by saying aside, ‘ little more than kin, and less than kind’.
This aside allows the audience to delve inside Hamlet’s mind, and find out his true feelings towards Claudius. Hamlet acknowledges that although Claudius is his uncle and stepfather, he has no feelings of kindness, affection, or respect towards him, and views him with contempt.
This aside is a means for Hamlet to communicate directly with the audience. He turns aside from the action on stage and speaks to the audience. This aside is very short, and although there are other characters in the scene, they are not aware of what the audience is told. These words give the audience more knowledge than characters on stage, and makes us feel like friends and confidantes. This is used to great effect, as it is a puzzling and enigmatic comment. It is possible to interpret what Hamlet said about Claudius as a derogatory comment, or perhaps in another light, as not so insulting, but merely sarcastic.
Shakespeare also allows us to see inside Hamlet’s mind and heart, by the conversations he has with his mother and Claudius. Hamlet’s words often convey his feelings towards the other characters in the play.
This is a preview of the whole essay
When Hamlet talks to Claudius, whom he immensely dislikes, he often says very short, snappy, sarcastic remarks to display his feelings of resentment towards this character. For example, when Claudius says to Hamlet, ‘How is it that the clouds still hang on you?’, Hamlet retorts with the pun, ‘ Not so, my lord, I am too much I’th’sun’. Shakespeare deliberately makes Hamlet’s language witty, mocking, and weapon-like. The use of the word ‘sun’, having the same sound but different meaning to the word ‘son’, adds greater depth to Hamlet’s characterisation. This allows the reader to empathise with him, and to feel his inability to cope with Claudius and his mother’s marriage, as every time Hamlet speaks, no matter what the subject, we are told something about him by the kind of language he uses.
Shakespeare also makes Hamlet’s language extremely metaphorical and elaborate, in order to emphasise his feelings. One example of this is as follows:
‘ Nor the windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river of the eye’
This phrase, is directed at Hamlet’s mother, and strongly implies his annoyance at her quick remarriage, and his feelings that her mourning for his dead father was all a façade.
As Hamlet speaks, Shakespeare allows him to reveal some of what he is feeling to both the reader and the characters involved in the play.
‘ But I have that within which passes show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.’
Shakespeare has allowed the reader to be told what Hamlet is feeling, by the character himself. Hamlet tells us of his powerful feelings concerning the death of his father, and this enables the reader to become more involved with the character’s emotions.
Whenever Hamlet appears in a situation, the reader feels that he is known to them as a real person. Shakespeare has achieved this, because what Hamlet is given to say and do, as well as the content of his dialogue, all blends together as a believable entity. Hamlet is consistently unhappy about his life at Court, his feelings towards his mother and stepfather. This makes him a consistent character and as a result, more convincing.
In the play, Shakespeare has given us further insight into the character of Hamlet by the way in which other characters relate to him, and how Hamlet responds to them. Claudius insults Hamlet by saying that he is displaying,
‘ A heart unfortified, or mind impatient
An understanding simple and unschool’d’
This implies that Hamlet’s grieving is excessive, and that he has become obsessed by it, causing him to be ‘obstinate’ and ‘unmanly’. Whether this is a true appraisal of Hamlet’s behaviour or not, the reader is given further insight into the dramatic action of the play, and Hamlet’s characterisation.
After King Claudius’ long speech, the queen intervenes to avoid an argument between her husband and her son. Hamlet gives only a one line sentence in reply to all that has been said.
‘I shall in all my best obey you, madam.’
Hamlet only responds to his mother, as a deliberate gibe at Claudius. He does not wish to talk to Claudius as he dislikes him so much, and therefore Hamlet purposely gives only a reply to his mother. The emphasis of his sentence would be on the word ‘you’, to show that he will not obey Claudius, only his mother.
Hamlet’s mother, in a conversation to her son, reveals her thoughts on what she feels is distressing him, but does not realise what is truly at the heart of Hamlet’s bitterness.
‘ Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.’
Hamlet’s mother thinks that his father’s death is the cause of his pain and suffering. She feels that it is for this reason that he is upset, but does not realise her own part in his unhappiness.
Another way in which the reader becomes involved with Hamlet’s thoughts and feelings, is through his soliloquy. The soliloquy is a way of letting the reader know what a character is thinking and enables them to get inside the head of the character. In scene two, Hamlet’s soliloquy communicates his disgust and loathing towards his mother. On his own, Hamlet begins to ponder over recent events, and displays his resentment and anger towards the world. The reader is not sure whether these are simply Hamlet’s thoughts, or whether he is talking out loud to himself to make sense of all that has gone on. However, whether or not the soliloquy is of his thoughts or his words, it is a powerful outpouring of his emotions that allows the reader to get into the heart of what is troubling him. This technique is cleverly used by Shakespeare, so that the audience finds out about Hamlet’s distress and confusion, without any of the other characters knowing.
Hamlet’s soliloquy is one of pain and suffering, in which he laments his father’s death and his mother’s hasty remarriage. The opening lines of the soliloquy begin:
‘O that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew’.
Hamlet wishes himself to be dead, for his existence to evaporate into thin air. He feels that he has been made ‘sullied’, dishonoured, by his mother’s marriage to Claudius. Hamlet also feels that the memory of his father has been betrayed by the speed at which his mother has sought the company of his uncle.
Shakespeare reveals to us that Hamlet is so disgusted by his ‘sullied flesh’, that he can see no other outcome to his disgust, other then to end his life, and escape his ‘contaminated world’.
‘ Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter.’
However, due to his religious convictions, Hamlet is prevented from taking his life, and forced to live out his painful, anguished existence. Religion can offer him no solace from his warped family circumstances.
Hamlet describes his world as being,
‘ an unweeded garden
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature’.
Hamlet sees his ‘world’ as despicable, unnatural and out of control.
Hamlet tells us of how he hero-worshiped his father, who is
‘but two months dead’. He describes his father as ‘Hyperion’, a sun-god, while Claudius is described as a ‘satyr’-a mythical oversexed creature. Hamlet adored his father, and through his soliloquy, we the reader, can explore his inner most feelings and begin to understand his anger and righteous indignation.
Hamlet tells us of how his mother would, ‘hang’ on his father, yet ‘within a month’, she had remarried to Claudius. Due to Hamlet’s disappointment in his mother’s need for a sexual mate, his perception of the female sex is tainted into thinking that all women are promiscuous and easy to sexually exploit.
‘- Frailty, thy name is woman -’
These words would have been spat out, to emphasise the extreme fury that Hamlet felt. The use of punctuation, in this instance dashes, indicate pauses in Hamlet’s speech which imply that he is so enraged, that he cannot continue his line of thought without interruption. His distress is very evident.
Hamlet’s thoughts continually return to his mother’s marriage, in order for the reader to realise how much the relationship sickens him. It is constantly on Hamlet’s mind, so we are allowed to become intimately involved with the dramatic aspects of the plot.
‘She married – O most wicked speed! To post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!’
Throughout scene two, Hamlet refers to the speed of the marriage, as he cannot understand how his mother could have dismissed his dead father so quickly. The thought of his mother’s and Claudius’ sexual relationship repulses him. The relationship is torturing him inside, and causing him to burn up in anger and sorrow. Hamlet sees the marriage as incestuous, furthering his view of it as evil and corrupt. Under church law a widow’s marriage to her brother-in-law was considered ‘incestuous’, so this gave credence to Hamlet’s hatred of the relationship and his disgust that the church had not upheld the sanctity of marriage. To Hamlet, the marriage ‘cannot come to good’, yet he realises that he must prevent the outpouring of his heart and ‘hold (his) tongue’, for fear that others have a differing view.
Hamlet’s soliloquy is interrupted by the entrance of his friends Marcellus, Barnardo and Horatio. He is ‘ very glad to see’ his friends, especially Horatio, whom he calls a ‘good friend’.
Upon their arrival, Hamlet’s spirits seem to have lifted, and we see a different, more cheerful man. However, conversation soon turns to his father’s funeral, and Hamlet’s bitterness towards his mother’s marriage soon returns. Hamlet then makes a spiteful joke about the wedding, saying:
‘Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables’.
This is a very blunt remark, which allows the reader to share Hamlet’s revulsion at his mother’s inappropriate relationship with Claudius. Hamlet is implying that the married couple were trying to save money by serving left-over food from his father’s funeral at their wedding celebration. This reinforces Hamlet’s feelings of distaste.
Hamlet talks of his father to Horatio with a heartfelt tribute from father to son:
‘ He was a man, take him for all in all:
I shall not look upon his like again’.
The reader is shown that Hamlet holds his father in high esteem, and respects him, even after his death. He has fond memories of him and feels that he is irreplaceable. It is inconceivable that Claudius could ever take the place of a father, and become cherished by his new step-son.
Later, Horatio relates to Hamlet the news that was foremost in the first scene; that he has seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father. In response to this news, Hamlet says:
‘For God’s love, let me hear!’
Hamlet, already of a distraught mind, becomes even more restless at the news of his father’s ghostly appearance. The news of the ghost ‘troubles’ Hamlet, as he realises that the ghost of his father must have unfinished business, as he has not been quietly laid to rest.
Hamlet throws many questions at Horatio, in order to confirm that the ghost is in fact that of his father. Hamlet is understandably deeply troubled by these events, and after much deliberation, comes to the conclusion that ‘foul play’ may have been involved in his father’s death.
In the first soliloquy, Hamlet has no suspicions relating to the circumstances of his father’s death. Although he is upset at the marriage of his mother to Claudius, he is not inclined to accuse anyone of ‘foul play’, and does not doubt that his father’s death was anything but a natural occurrence. Now we are aware that Hamlet is undergoing a transformation and we can surmise what may happen in future scenes of the play.
From the opening two scenes of the play, we have clearly seen by what means Shakespeare has put us inside the mind and heart of Hamlet himself. This has been achieved by the use of an intriguing plot; imaginative language techniques of the soliloquy and the aside; characters who have related to Hamlet himself, and contributed information about him; what Hamlet says and does himself and how he relates to others throughout the scene.