Hamlet Paper. 4. In retrospect, the reader often discovers that the first chapter, the opening scene of a drama introduces some major themes of the work. Write an essay about the opening scene of Hamlet and explain how it functions in this way. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark seems, at first sight, to be a very slow and somewhat irrelevant prelude to the real action which follows…
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This setting emphasizes the exclusion of the people in this scene from the important and royal people who are tucked up inside the castle. It is as if the author is leading the audience gently up to the castle from a long distance and forcing them to pause and reflect on the time and place before tackling the main characters and plot. As the scene develops, however, it gradually becomes clear that this opening scene is setting down some markers for what is to come. It does this by drawing attention to three main themes which are: loyalty to the monarch, the difference between fantasy and reality, and the dread of some impending but unknown evil. The opening lines of the play are evidently an exchange between two guards, Bernardo and Francisco, who are changing places because it is time for one to finish his shift, and the other one to start. They speak to each other robustly and yet also respectfully, and it is clear that they both are in service to a monarch since Bernardo shouts out “Long live the king!” (Act I, Scene 1, line 3) as a means of identifying who he is. Both Bernardo and Francisco define themselves by their duty of loyalty to the king, and although they take their jobs seriously, it seems to be a life of hardship, because Francisco complains of the cold and of the fact that he is “sick at heart.” (Act I, Scene 1, line 8). This same declaration of loyalty to the king is repeated when Horatio and Marcellus appear, declaring that they are “friends to this ground/And liegemen to the Dane.” (Act I, Scene 1, line 8). The Dane is a reference to the king of Denmark, since kings were often referred to simply with the name of the country they ruled, and it is Shakespeare’s way of making it clear to the audience that the action takes place in this foreign country of Denmark. The loyalty of these men to the Danish throne is not in the least questioned but an element of doubt creeps in when it becomes clear that the ghostly apparition in front of them is “In the same figure, like the king that’s dead” (Act I, Scene 1, line 41). This reference informs the audience that there has been a recent changeover in the kingship, and that the soldiers have not yet adjusted to the new king’s reign. Bernardo says “Looks it not like the king?” (Act 1, Scene 1, line 43) and does not use a phrase like “the old king”, or “the former king”. This suggests he is still loyal to the old king and thinks of him automatically as the rightful monarch. The soldiers ask Horatio, who is addressed as a scholar, meaning that he has more education and status than the ordinary soldiers, to speak to the ghostly figure, and Horatio too, reveals his fondness and respect for the dead king, whom he refers to “the majesty of buried Denmark.” (Act I, Scene 1, line 48). In this case the usage drives home the message that if the fate of the whole country is tied up with the fate of the king. This little exchange injects an element of suspense into the scene, because the audience is bound to be wondering what happened to the old king, and who is now ruling Denmark in his place. These questions are left hanging in the air, so that the whole topic of kingship acquires an aura of uncertainty. Further information about the dead king is given by Horatio, who presumably knew him, and fought with him
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Claudius himself tries to understand him, but to no avail. Therefore, Hamlet’s complex nature may be seen to stem from a different approach to life that was not very common (Sandra 13). He is what Plato would term a thinker. This
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