Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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There is some logic therefore behind his ambivalent attitude to her. On the one hand she is ‘The fair Ophelia’ and ‘Nymph’; on the other hand – playing mad – he accuses her, by implication, of deceit, and tells her to enrol in a nunnery before she becomes enmeshed in sexual sin. Ophelia, not unreasonably, assumes that Hamlet is completely lunatic. Her grief is intensified by Hamlet’s killing of her father, which pushes her over the edge into true madness herself – a partial parallel with Hamlet’s own character development. In her mad ballad singing, she harps on death and on sexual licentiousness before drowning herself.

THE PLAY

ACT ONE, SCENE ONE

The first scene of Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s longest expositions. He aims in these lines, above all, to create an atmosphere of darkness and obscurity, which comes to permeate much of the play, which is so full of questions, mysteries and different characters’ attempts at interpretation. The central mystery of the Ghost in this scene prepares the audience for this, as well as suggesting the great question of death that concerns Shakespeare throughout Hamlet . The characters’ attempts to interpret the Ghost’s appearance are used to introduce the Fortinbras story and the possibility of war with Norway, which Shakespeare will return to at the end of the play. Finally, the ambiguous nature of the Ghost is established. It must hurry away from the light of dawn: is it therefore a hellish creature, aiming to mislead and damn those who give ear to it?

1 ‘Who’s there?’ – The first words of Hamlet are like the opening theme of a symphony. This is a play that is full of questioning and uncertainty. Barnardo is coming to relieve his fellow guard Francisco and nervously appropriates the sentry’s words. It is clearly very difficult to see.

8-9 ‘’Tis bitter cold,/And I am sick at heart’ – Shakespeare adds to the atmosphere. Francisco simply means that he is in low spirits, but his ‘sick at heart’ is the first indication that something is wrong more generally: a more serious ‘sickness’ or ‘disease.’

18-19 ‘Holla, Barnardo!/Say – /What, is Horatio there?’ – broken dialogue that adds to the sense of uncertainty. Francisco has walked a few paces away from Barnardo on his way back to his barracks and meets Horatio and Marcellus coming to join Barnardo. Even though the characters are only separated by a few feet, they still cannot see clearly, allowing Shakespeare to evoke an unsettling pitch black night.

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William Shakespeare