Hamlet context and Act 1

The Tragedy of
Prince of Denmark
By William Shakespeare
• Hamlet:
• You are the only child of a mother and father who are
married. They have been married your whole life.
• Your mother is a queen, and you are next in line for the
• Your father dies. Your mother remarries in only 2 months.
• Your new step-dad is your uncle, your father’s brother.
• You are the only person who is not celebrating.
• Your best friend tells you that he has seen your father’s
ghost ... it wants to see you...
• Your father’s ghost tells you that he was MURDERED by
his brother, your uncle, your mother’s new husband ... the
man who is THE NEW KING.
Historical Context
a police
Age characterised
1588 Shakespeare was 24. Spanish Arnarda is on
time of
the way. The coast is heavily watched. Victory
The national
changed from
of foreign
helps create the myth of Queen Elizabeth.
a religious
People did not know who to trust.
revolution started by Henry the Eighth.
Problems of succession, Queen Elizabeth had ruled Briton for 45
(Three changes within 12 years)
years but she was getting old, who would lead the country?
(James 1 1603)
The Poisoned State
• The Elizabethan’s believed that the ruler was
the life giving center of the kingdom, with
power bestowed by God. The sickness of the
leader is a national calamity. Hamlet is the
story of a ruined kingdom.
Claudius’ reign looks impressive but is
hollow. Discrepancy between appearance
and reality. Polonius, Leartes, Ophelia…
Everything is rotten: sickness, madness,
poison (both literal and figurative).
• Questions are about the limits of our
perception; what we can and cannot see.
“A play about doubt, about being unsure, about ambiguity.
“Who’s there reverberates though the entire play.” Huw
Act 1 scene 1 sets the atmosphere for the play.
Doubt, limited perception, who can see who?
See stick figure summary of
Act 1 .1
• MARCELLUS: Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us.
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
That if again this apparition come
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
• HAMLET “Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed “seem,”
For they are actions that a man might play.
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
Paragraph One (lines 1-129):
How are we introduced to Hamlet?
How are we introduced to Claudius? 7 minutes
• Ambiguity surrounding Claudius’s intentions? His tone,
attitude & treatment of Hamlet? Is he:
warm & supportive; hard & uncompromising; rebuking
Hamlet; reasonable & sincere; addressing the court rather
than Hamlet personally?
• Significance of introduction to Hamlet through an aside?
• Characterisation of Hamlet: emotional, melancholy, griefstricken?
• Masculinity? (“unmanly grief”)
Allusions and analysis of Hamlet’s
first soliloquy
Hyperion- one of the Titans (Greek)a sun-god
Satyr- half human but with the legs
of a goat..
synonymous with lechery.
Niobe- the mythical mother whose
fourteen children were slain by the
gods…she wept until she was
turned to stone-and still the tears
Paragraph 2 explore Hamlet’s
soliloquy. Allow 7 minutes
• What does he feel about the world right now?
• What does Hamlet think of Gertrude?
“O” creates an air of heaviness, depression and woe.
Notice the use of commas before and after “thaw” slow
the language down.
Repetition is used to indicate Hamlet’s desperation and
incomprehension at the speed at which his mother
Explain the metaphor of the unweeded garden.
Hamlet’s problems are seen as titanic and this impossible
to overcome.
Notice the tone of fury and disbelief.
Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
A meditation on suicide (a sin and a
Hamlet established as a man with a fine
mind, his world seems increasingly
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on ’t, ah fie! 'Tis an unweeded garden
long drawn out vowel sounds
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this.
But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two.
So excellent a king, that was to this
a tone of exhaustion, despondency and
synecdoche- part represents the wholeflesh to represent his physical life
Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly.—Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
metaphor of an unweeded garden
indicating corruption
Allusions to compare his father to
By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on ’t. Frailty, thy name is woman!—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
rhetorical devices: repetition, rhetorical
questions, exclamation
With which she followed my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears. Why she, even she—
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle,
Hamlet’s attitude towards woman
moves from the personal to the
general...relationships with woman
continually disappoint
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
incestuous sheets “Marriage to a
brother’s wife was explicitly forbidden
by the Church”
drawn out vowels, sharp, rhythmic
It is not nor it cannot come to good,
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
imagery: organic, kinesthetic, tactile,
Act 1 scene 3
characterisation of Polonius
Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear ’t that th' opposèd may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.
Paragraph Three allow 7 minutes
• Characterisation of Polonius? Is he:
• a pompous bureaucrat; a loving father; an
authoritarian guardian?
• Polonius’s 8 sentences of advice? On speech,
friendship, quarrelling, judgement, dress, money
& consistency?
• Ophelia: lock/key analogy but doesn’t hold
tongue? Why?
• Polonius’s treatment of Ophelia & view of Hamlet
& young love?
Act 1 scene 4Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee “Hamlet,”
“King,” “Father,” “royal Dane.” O, answer me!
Act 1 .4
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness? Think of it.
Paragraph 4- write for 7 minutes
• Hamlet’s reaction to the Ghost? Is he more:
• amazed; questioning; fearful; pleading?
• Hamlet’s steely determination & will to
follow Ghost? Ironic decisiveness?
• Talk of courage & madness?
• Rotting/corruption motif?
Act 1:5I am thy father’s spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combinèd locks to part
Elizabeth 1
Sir Francis
the globe.
First American
cusp of medieval and modern world
Context 2
• Renaissance-growth of liberal ideas that focused
on the value of the individual.
• This milieu valued intellect, ideas, philosophy and
moral speculation.
• Structured and ordered society with a stricty
hierarchy of class and position.
•The disrupted state is restored to social and political
stability at the end of the play
Elizabethan values: a belief in Christianity and faithreinforcing the notions of sin, virtue, fixed moral laws,
punishment and redemption.
Elizabethan revenge tragedy
• Exposition
• Anticipation
Act 1
Act 2
• Confrontation Act 3
• Delay
Act 4
• Completion
Act 5
Use of apostrophe, exclamation
and negative adjectives to berate
himself and incite himself to
action. Self loathing (criticism)indicative of his grief.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
…What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?...
Hamlet breaks iambic pentameter- lack of control
Rhetorical questions put emphasis on Hamlet’s
motivation and lack of resolve.
Hamlet berates
himself as a coward?
Is he? What is
holding him back
from taking revenge.
Ha? 'Swounds, I should take it; for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall…
Bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless
The alliteration and exclamations
break the rhythm and conveys
Hamlet’s disgust at Claudius. He
appears to work himself up into a
frenzy with the four linked
adjectives and the repetition of
O, vengeance!—
Why, what an ass am I? Ay, sure, this is most brave,
That I, the son of the dear murderèd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words…
The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape;.... I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.
How important is catching the “conscience of the King”? Rhyming
couplet drives his idea home and reinforces his resolve. Use of
monosyllabic words and confident tone emphasise the importance of
the plan to test the ghosts’ words.
12 cases of espionage.
People watching others, people being watched.
Night watch
Polonius employs Reynaldo to spy on Laertes
Ros and Guil asked to spy on Hamlet
Polonius “loose” his daughter to Hamlet
“To be or not to be..” watched
The Mousetrap
“ Hamlet
Ros and Guil sent to England with
Hamlet watches Claudius at prayer
Polonius behind the arras in Gertrude’s chamber
The ghost invisible to Gertrude
Ophelia to be followed and watched
Hamlet and Horatio watch Ophelia’s funeral
• The following slides are for after the play
has been studied.
Personal engagement
Engage with the text and its ideas confronts aspects of the text
Almost everyone in Hamlet is crippled by grief.
Act 3.1 presents a meditation of the paralysing impact
that grief has on the human psyche.
Hamlet will remain ineffective until he has grieved and
forced some sign of remorse from his mother.
“closet scene” of Act 3.4, “Leave wringing of your
hands…And let me wring your heart.”
Development of knowledge and understanding of the
prescribed text
exploration of the ideas …detailed and close analysis of
its construction, content and language…how particular
features of the text contribute to textual integrity.
Most famous soliloquy-centre of the play-imagery and
preoccupations resonate through the play as a whole.
Death, deception, disillusionment,
procrastination…textual integrity
Pivot, hinge, “labyrinths of thought” Schlegel
Romantic critics “prince of philosophical speculators”
• Human condition-audience can connect
• The Hamlet of Goethe “[Hamlet] sinks
beneath a burden which it cannot bear…”
• “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”
antithesis, unusual syntax- …
• Metonymy- sleep =death
• Metaphor of the “undiscover'd country”…
Religious connotations, problematic nature
of the ghost
• Imagery of isolation and battle- help
reinforce the heavy ponderous tone
Development of an informed response
others’ perspectives of the text are explored
and tested against students’ own
understanding, informed by notions of
Grief-Validated by Zefferelli- claustrophobic
space of the tomb, the soliloquy delivered over
the effigy of his father.
• Articulation of an informed personal response and
• deep individual understanding of the text through
thoughtful exploration of questions of textual
integrity and significance, with a heightened sense of
the complex processes by which meaning is made.
• Character and the preoccupations echo throughout
the seven soliloquies
• Gertrude says it best “His father’s death, and our
o’erhasty marriage.”
• Uses his skills in rhetoric to maintain control and
come to terms with death and fate
• Forcing his mother to grieve and coming to terms
with death- willing to act “the readiness is all.”