In Act I what do we learn about the political and personal situation in Denmark
In Act I what do we learn about the political and personal situation in Denmark

In Act I what do we learn about the political and personal situation in Denmark

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  • Published: October 9, 2017
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To understand a play fully, we must understand the setting and context in which it is set. To understand Hamlet fully, we must analyse its contextual setting through language, events and its characters. The first instance through which we begin our understanding of the social situation in Denmark is through thee first scene of Act I. immediately and economically, using fragments of conversation; he establishes a mood of anxiety and dread.

(“… This bodes some strange eruption to our state”) The verse does not flow.

The Broken rhythms generate an atmosphere of unease, apprehension and confusion. (“… And this I take it/Is the main motive of our preparations/ The source of this our watch, and the chief head/ Of this post-haste and romage in the land. ” It is the fear, uncertainty, mystery, tension and impending doom are key elements which create an overall negative atmosphere.

The atmosphere in the first scene of Hamlet is created by both the environment and the characters of the play.It is excruciatingly cold, dark and quiet in Denmark and as a result of such a mysterious and gloomy atmosphere the characters in the first scene of the play react in such a way, that they too are a reflection of such atmosphere, ‘Tis bitter cold, And I am sick at heart. ‘ As readers, we can sense a great deal of tension, misfortune and hesitation among the sentries who guard the castle of Denmark, a country preparing for war. We empathize with Bernardo, Marcellus and Horatio, for it i

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s they who transmit to the readers the general atmosphere.Right from the beginning, when the play opens, Bernardo the guard emits the general atmosphere through his feelings of fear, uncertainty, tension and perhaps impending doom This unease and tension springs from the markings of conventional tragedy.

Unrest in the higher social strata is reflected in the people of the state. Denmark has just had the death of a king of whom we are told was very great and caring to his people: “…

valiant Hamlet… the world esteemed him. ” The Ghost in Hamlet is a very potent symbol of the decay that is taking place in Elsinore.

To an audience today it would be seen as a device used for dramatic effect yet in the period it would have told the audience that treachery was rife. Shakespeare had recently written Julius Caesar, and as such his audience would have been well aware of what it symbolised. It also symbolises unrest, the upset of not belonging to either this world or the next, that in fact it belongs nowhere. Another great belief was that ghosts were demonic and would attempt to make a living person do wrong, and some would have believed that the ghost was trying to get hamlet to kill Claudius wrongly.Yet it is not the Ghost that is actually rotten. He no longer exists as a person to contribute to the state of Denmark apart from in Hamlet’s mind.

Marcellus comments that something is rotten in Act One scene four, after Hamlet has seen the ghost for the first time and has departed to tal

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to it. In a short space of time, Marcellus has seen the ghost of the old King in arms and Hamlet, the heir apparent to the Danish throne airing his suicidal tendencies. Horatio his fellow officer of the watch has similar foreboding and morbid thoughts ‘This bodes some strange eruption to our state.Primarily this would appear to be the situation of Denmark as it prepares for war with the Norwegians, but could be a prophecy similar to Marcellus’s that this would bode badly for their nation state. We are again given a taster of the political situation in the first scene when the ghost of Old Hamlet appears in military attire.

This is a direct link to conflict with Norway. The first scene also holds an invitation to the learned Horatio to explain Denmark’s political situation to the audience. We learn how Old Hamlet has slain Old Fortinbras in battle resulting in Fortinbras’ land being given to Denmark.Horatio then goes on to liken the situation in Denmark to the ‘palmy state of Rome’ where Julius Caesar died, and how the ‘sheeted dead’ did not rest, but walked the streets.

There is a general feeling that something disastrous is going to occur. Horatio speaks about heralds and goddesses of fate. He implies that the death of Old Hamlet is an omen. In the second scene of Act I we learn of the controversial marriage of the newly crowned king Claudius to his late brothers wife Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark.

This marriage engenders a number of conflicting opinions. However Claudius’ marriage to Gertrude would have been regarded in Elizabethan times as incestuous and unlawful. To the Elizabethan audience Claudius would immediately be cast as an evil character because of his sinful behaviour. This makes us sympathetic to the people of Denmark for having such an immoral leader, and anxious as to the political future of the state. We know that it would have commonly been believed so as there are historical parallels of which we may compare the scenario to.

For example, Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon believing he had sinned by marrying his brother’s widow. We also know Denmark was Christian. An example of this fact influencing the text is Marcellus’ reference to the celebration of ‘our Saviour’s birth. ‘ This line explicitly identifies hamlet’s Denmark as a Christian country. The union would have been forbidden in Leviticus XVIII. At this conference we also learn that in both Denmark and Norway, the dead kings have been succeeded not by their sons but by their brothers.

Apparently the court has ‘freely gone/ With this affair along’ (lines 15-16) although, as I have mentioned before, Shakespeare’s audience would have considered this union incestuous. We also learn how Claudius has sent ambassadors to the King of Norway to deal with Fortinbras’ threatened invasion. Claudius’ eloquent, rational pragmatism immediately identifies him as belonging to a different mind-set from that of his old-fashioned warrior brother. His speech implies he has a more modern, practical style of kingship. Another symbolism used by Shakespeare is the transition period after old Hamlet dies and Claudius becomes King.There is a trial

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