The opening scenes of Hamlet tell us a lot about the play. This is done through the use of language, literary devices, pace, structure and historical, social and cultural references. I will be discussing how scenes one and two of act 1 affect the audience and their preconception of the rest of play. The first scene of many Shakespeare plays sets the scene. In “Romeo and Juliet” there was a monolog that described some of the background story behind the contents of the play, and in Hamlet the first scene sets the audience up for seconds scene, were the story actually starts.
This scene, instead of supplying us with a lot of background information, gives the audience narrative elements that makes us more want to read on. The most oblivious of these is the ghost. Peace, break thee off. Look where it comes again! … In the same figure like the King that’s dead. ” Even without the knowledge of who the ghost represents, the sheer presence of a spectre this early in a play make you want to read on, to find out why there’s a ghost. Of course, the character who represents the ghost is incredible important to the plot.
This is shown though the quote above identifying him as a dead king. From social and historical contexts, the idea of a king, thought of as one down from god himself, stuck in purgatory (which is what the Elizabethans thought was meant when u were a ghost) must have been intriguing to say the least. This scene also sets the scene because the protagonist of the play is absent, which sets the scene around him. This scene also shows us that the dead Kings son is Hamlet. “Let us impart what we have seen tonight Unto young Hamlet”
This tells us that Hamlet at the moment should be the King. The second scene also does a lot for the setting, but also develops the plot and the characters. The King plays a major part in the second scene, and we get a big incite into his character. He opens the scene with a speech to those present at his court. It shows us that the present King was the old Kings brother, not his son. “Through yet of Hamlet our brother’s death” This shows us that the Kings death is known, and Hamlet is aware of it. This now begs the question why isn’t Hamlet the King.
One part of this shows us that whatever dubious methods he might of used to get the throne, he is actually a good king. “and we dispatch You good Cornelius, and you Valtemand For bearers of this greeting to old Norway;” This tell us that The King is going to try and use a diplomatic approach to war, by sending to ambassadors to a nearby country of the enemy’s to try and help prevent the was altogether. It also give us some incite into the position of the new Queen, Hamlets mother. This means Hamlets mother married his father, The King, and when he died, married the dead Kings brother who became King.
“Therefore our sometimes sister, now our Queen” This leads us to an incestuous relationship in the family. The Queens power, unlike what her position as a woman would suggest, is not unimportant. The King describes her: Th’ imperial jointress to this warlike state”. This declares to his court that the Queens influence, is as greatly valued as the Kings advisors, she has joint power. This can draw instant comparisons with Lady Macbeth form “Macbeth”. Both desire power and both hold a considerable sway over there husbands. Scene two is where are protagonist first speaks.
From what he says, he still feels the loss of his father. When he refers to Hamlet as “my cousin” and my “son” (another side of an incestuous relationship), Hamlet reacts. “A little more than kin, and less than kind. ” This response tells the audience that Hamlet sees himself as nothing like his uncle (father in law) and this may create tension between the two later in the play. Hamlets feelings at this time are greater explored later in the scene, in his soliloquy. This also shows the audience the full extent of Hamlets ‘melon collie’.