Hamlet Act I, Scene II Summary and Analysis | SparkNotes (2023)

Summary: Act I, scene II

The morning after Horace and the guards see the ghost, the KingClaudiushe makes a speech to his courtiers, explaining his recent marriageGertrude, the widow of his brother and his motherPrince Hamlet. Claudius says that he is mourning his brother, but has chosen to balance Denmark's grief with the joy of his marriage. He mentions that young Fortinbras has written to him, urgently demanding the surrender of the lands King Hamlet won from Fortinbras's father, and sends Cornelius and Voltimand a message to the King of Norway, Fortinbras' elderly uncle.

The speech over, Claudius addresses Laertes, son of the Lord Chamberlain,Polonium. Laertes expresses his desire to return to France, where he resided before returning to Denmark for Claudius' coronation. Polonius gives his son permission and Claudius happily gives Laertes his consent as well.

Turning to Prince Hamlet, Claudius asks why "the clouds still hang" over him, since Hamlet still wears black mourning clothes (I.ii.66). Gertrude urges him to abandon his "color of the night", but he bitterly replies that his inner sadness is so great that his sad appearance is but a bad mirror of it (I.ii.68). Hitting a ton of fatherly advice, Claudius declares that all fathers die and all children must lose their fathers. When a child loses his father, he is doomed to mourn, but crying for too long is out of place and inappropriate. Claudius urges Hamlet to think of him as a father, reminding the prince that he is in line for the throne after Claudius' death.

With this in mind, Claudius says that he does not want Hamlet to go back to school in Wittenberg (where he studied before his father's death), as Hamlet asked. Gertrude echoes her husband, expressing the desire that Hamlet remain close to her. Hamlet reluctantly agrees to obey her. Claudius claims to be so pleased with Hamlet's decision to stay that he will celebrate with festivities and cannon fire, an ancient custom called "the king's wake". Ordering Gertrude to follow him, he escorts her out of the room and the court follows.

Alone, Hamlet exclaims that he would like to die, evaporate and cease to exist. He bitterly wishes that God had not made suicide a sin. Distraught, he mourns his father's death and his mother's hasty marriage to his uncle. He remembers how his parents seemed in love and he curses the thought that now, not even two months after his father's death, his mother is marrying his father's much younger brother.

God, a beast that needs reason
I would regret more! - married to my uncle,
My dad's brother, but not like my dad anymore
than I stopHercules. Within a month,
Even before the salt of the most unfair tears
She had left the blush in her sweet eyes,
She got married. O shrewdest speed, to publish
With such skill in inbreeding leaves! (I.ii.150-157)

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Hamlet is suddenly quiet as Horatio enters the room, followed by Marcellus and Bernardo. Horatio was Hamlet's close friend at the university of Wittenberg, and Hamlet, happy to see him, asks why he left school to travel to Denmark. Horatio says that he has come to see King Hamlet's funeral, to which Hamlet replies that Horatio has come to see his mother's wedding. Horatio agrees that one closely followed the other. He then tells Hamlet that he, Marcellus and Bernard have seen what appears to be their father's ghost. Stunned, Hamlet agrees to watch with them that night, hoping to speak with the apparition.

Read a translation of Act I, scene ii


Having created a somber, unearthly atmosphere in the first scene, Shakespeare dedicates the second to the seemingly gay court of the newly crowned King Claudius. If the area outside the castle is clouded with an aura of dread and anxiety, the rooms inside the castle are dedicated to an active effort to banish that aura, as the king, queen, and courtiers desperately pretend that nothing is outside the castle. . habitual. It's hard to imagine a more complicated family dynamic or a more unbalanced political situation, but Claudius preaches an ethic of balance to his courtiers, promising to maintain and combine the pain he feels for the king's death with the joy he feels for his marriage. in equal parts.

But despite Claudius' best efforts, the court's joy seems superficial. This is largely due to the fact that the idea of ​​balance that Claudio is committed to pursuing is not natural. How is it possible to balance the sadness of a brother's death with the happiness of marrying a deceased brother's wife? Claudius' speech is full of contradictory words, ideas and phrases, starting with Hamlet's "Though the death of our late brother / Memory is green", which combines the idea of ​​death and decay with the idea of ​​green, growth and renewal (I.ii.1-2). He also speaks of "once our sister, now our queen", "conquered joy", "auspicious and winking", "funereal joy" and "dirt in marriage" (I.ii.8-12).

Read more about incest as a motive.

These ideas are uncomfortable with each other and Shakespeare uses this speech to give the audience an uncomfortable first impression of Claudius. The negative impression is reinforced when Claudius plays a fatherly role to the grieving Hamlet, advising him to stop mourning his father and adjust to a new life in Denmark. Hamlet clearly does not want Claudius' advice, and Claudius' motives for giving it are wholly suspect, since, after all, Hamlet is the man who would have inherited the throne if Claudius had not taken it away from him.

Read an in-depth review of Claudius.

The result of all this blatant dishonesty is that this scene depicts a dire situation in Denmark, just like the first scene. While the first scene depicts the fear and supernatural danger lurking in Denmark, the second alludes to the corruption and weakness of the king and his court. The scene also reinforces the idea that Denmark is somehow inadequate as a nation, as Claudius claims that Fortinbras is making his battle plans "[h]e being a weak case of our valor, / Or thinking of the death of our deceased beloved brother / Our state will be disconnected and out of context" (I.ii.18–20).

Read more about the nation as a sick body.

Prince Hamlet, devastated by his father's death and betrayed by his mother's marriage, is introduced as the only character who doesn't want to play along with Claudius' extravagant attempt to imitate a wholesome royal court. On the one hand, this might suggest that he is the only honest character in the royal court, the only high-ranking man whose sensibilities were offended by what happened after his father's death. On the other hand, it suggests that he is a villain, someone who refuses to go along with the rest of the field in the name of the greater good of stability.

Read an in-depth review of Hamlet.

In any case, Hamlet already feels, as Marcellus will later say, that "something is rotten in the Danish state" (I.iv.67). We also see that his mother's hasty remarriage shattered his view of womanhood ("Frailty, your name is woman," he famously cries out in this scene [I.ii.146]), a motif which will develop through your romantic relationship. withopheliaand the deterioration of his relationship with his mother.

Read more about misogyny as a pattern.

His soliloquy on suicide (“Oh, let this very solid flesh melt, / Thaw and dissolve in a dew!” [I.ii.129–130]) introduces what will be a central idea in the play. The world is painful to live in, but, within the Christian context of the play, if someone kills himself to end that pain, he is condemned to eternal suffering in hell. The question of the moral validity of suicide in an unbearably painful world will haunt the rest of the work. reaches its height of urgency in the most famous line in all of English literature: "To be or not to be: that is the question" (III.i.58).

In this scene, Hamlet focuses primarily on the dire living conditions, projecting Claudius's court as “a garden without weeds, / That grows on seed. things are of a gross and coarse nature / They merely possess it” (I.ii.135–137). Throughout the play, we witness the gradual collapse of the beliefs on which Hamlet's worldview is based. Already in this first monologue, religion has failed him and his distorted family situation cannot offer him any comfort.

Read more about the mystery of death as a topic.

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