Summary and Detailed Notes for Hamlet Act I
Brief Summary of Act 1
Shakespeare’s play Hamlet begins with a ghost sighting, which leads to discussions about premonitions of disasters and the nature of violence. Marcellus and Horatio discuss a ghost they have seen; they plan to tell Hamlet.
King Claudius addresses the court, discussing Fortinbras’ provocations. Laertes requests permission to return to France but requires his father’s approval. Hamlet appears troubled and the Queen urges him to be more cheerful.
Grief and Mourning
Hamlet discusses the nature of grief, rejecting external expressions of mourning and questioning why people become so focused on death. Hamlet’s mother asks him not to go to Wittenberg, he reluctantly agrees. Hamlet mourns his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage to his uncle.
The Ghost Resembling Hamlet’s Father
Hamlet speaks to Marcellus and Horatio about their purpose in Elsinore. Horatio tells Hamlet about a figure resembling his father that appeared to them at night. Hamlet’s friends witness a ghost, which they believe resembles Hamlet’s dead father. Hamlet plans to investigate further.
Laertes Advises Ophelia
Laertes advises Ophelia to be cautious about Hamlet’s love, as his choices affect the state. He warns against losing honor and virtue.
Polonius Advises Laertes
Laertes receives advice from his father Polonius, including to be true to himself and to be careful with friendships and quarrels. Polonius warns Ophelia not to believe Hamlet’s affections fully, as they may not be genuine, and advises her to be more guarded.
Hamlet Discusses Drinking and Encounters Ghost
Hamlet discusses the negative reputation of excessive drinking and how it can overshadow one’s virtues, before encountering the ghost of his father.
Hamlet Follows the Ghost
Hamlet follows a ghost that appears to him, despite his friends’ warnings. They speculate on the potential danger it poses.
King Hamlet’s Ghost Urges Revenge
Hamlet talks to his father’s ghost, who reveals he was murdered by his own brother, now king, and urges Hamlet to seek revenge. King Hamlet’s ghost describes how he was murdered by his brother and warns Hamlet not to seek revenge against his mother.
Hamlet Swears His Friends to Secrecy
Hamlet speaks to Horatio and Marcellus about wiping away memories and being loyal to his commandment, before discussing the recent sighting of a ghost in Denmark. Hamlet asks his friends to swear they will not reveal what they have seen, and they swear on his sword.
Unknown Characters Exit and Hamlet Feigns Madness
Hamlet puts on an “antic disposition.” Two unknown characters exit together after expressing a desire to make something right. No further information is provided.
Detailed Notes on Act 1
Summary of Hamlet’s Opening Scene
•Barnardo and Francisco, two sentinels, are on their watch when Barnardo sees a mysterious figure approaching.
•He asks, “Who’s there?” but gets no response. Francisco tells him to leave it be, but Barnardo continues to call out.
•The figure turns out to be Horatio, who is joined by Marcellus.
•They discuss the ghost of Hamlet’s father, which they claim to have seen before.
•Horatio scoffs at the idea of ghosts until they see the ghost for themselves.
Analysis of Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1
•Marcellus and Horatio discuss the appearance of the ghost and its similarity to the late King.
•They recall that the late King defeated Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, in combat and as a result, Fortinbras lost his lands and possessions.
•However, Fortinbras seeks to regain his lost lands through forceful means, hence he has been gathering an army.
•Horatio reveals that the ghost appeared to Hamlet, which could be a sign of dangerous times ahead.
•The two discuss the reason for the heightened military preparations and their concerns for the state.
•Marcellus and Horatio believe that the appearance of the ghost could be an indication of impending danger to the state, possibly caused by Fortinbras’ army.
Analysis of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Act 1, Scene 1-2
•Marcellus and Horatio witness a ghost who disappears at the crowing of a cock. Some say the bird’s song indicates the night is free from spirits and witchcraft, while others have doubts (Scene 1).
•Horatio suggests they share their experience with young Hamlet, who may receive messages from the spirit (Scene 1).
•In the second scene, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude are celebrating their marriage. Claudius discusses Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, seeking revenge, and the council agrees to take diplomatic action (Scene 2).
•Hamlet appears and speaks with the king and queen, who ask him to mourn his father, but he expresses his despair (Scene 2).
Meeting with ambassadors and Laertes
•The King and his court received ambassadors from Norway informing that Fortinbras plans to invade Denmark.
•The King then sends Cornelius and Voltemand with a letter to the king of Norway, explaining the situation, and asking him to stop Fortinbras’ plans.
•Laertes asks for permission to leave for France.
•The King gives him permission and wishes him well.
•Hamlet seems displeased with his uncle’s response to Laertes, and his mother’s request for him to stop mourning his father.
Hamlet’s grief and the King’s counsel
•Hamlet acknowledges that death is a common occurrence but his personal grief goes beyond external symbols of mourning such as black clothing or tears.
•The king commends Hamlet’s duty to mourn his father but reminds him that his father also lost a father and expects Hamlet to move on from his grief eventually.
•The king criticizes Hamlet for dwelling too much on his grief, calling it an unmanly and impious display of stubbornness against heaven and nature.
•The king reminds Hamlet of his noble position and responsibilities as a prince and urges him to stay in court instead of returning to university.
•The king expresses his love and affection for Hamlet and encourages him to view the king as a father figure.
Analysis of Hamlet’s emotional turmoil in Act 1 Scene 2
•Queen urges Hamlet to stay in Denmark and not to go to Wittenberg.
•Hamlet agrees to obey the Queen’s request.
•The King is pleased with Hamlet’s response and invites everyone to leave.
•Hamlet expresses his desire for death and his disgust at the world around him.
•Hamlet mourns his father’s death and his mother’s hasty remarriage to his uncle.
•Hamlet feels betrayed and disgusted by his mother’s actions.
•Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo enter and greet Hamlet.
•Hamlet is happy to see Horatio and introduces him as his friend.
Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2 Notes
•Marcellus and Barnardo encounter a ghostly figure resembling Hamlet’s father.
•Horatio claims he witnessed King Hamlet’s funeral and Queen Gertrude’s wedding.
•Hamlet shares his sadness over his father’s death and the recent marriage of his mother.
•Horatio claims he saw the ghost two nights in a row on watch with Marcellus and Barnardo.
•Hamlet demands to hear more about the ghostly encounter and urges Horatio to describe it.
•The ghostly figure of King Hamlet walks slowly past Marcellus and Barnardo three times, leaving them petrified with fear.
Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2 Ghost Appearance
•Marcellus informs Hamlet of a ghostly apparition that has appeared three times.
•Horatio confirms the details of the ghostly appearance, including its likeness to Hamlet’s deceased father.
•Hamlet decides to join the guards to witness the ghost’s appearance for himself.
•Horatio describes the ghost’s appearance as sorrowful, with a pale countenance and grizzled beard.
•Hamlet swears to speak to the ghost if it appears as his father and urges the guards to keep quiet about the encounter.
•Hamlet promises to visit the guards later that night and thanks them for their duty.
Analysis of Hamlet’s speech to Ophelia, Act 1, Scene 3
•Hamlet expresses suspicion regarding some foul play, hinting at his later plan to feign madness.
•Laertes tells Ophelia to stay in touch and not to believe Hamlet’s flattery, as he does not have full control over his actions or decisions.
•Laertes highlights the importance of Hamlet’s choice, which affects the safety of the state, and warns Ophelia against risking her honor or chastity for love.
•Laertes advises Ophelia to be cautious and avoid exposing herself to societal pressures to be sexually provocative.
•Ophelia accepts Laertes’ advice and promises to take it to heart.
Advice from Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet
•Polonius advises Laertes not to follow the path of a reckless libertine and to beware of ungracious pastors who may lead him astray. (lines 43-47)
•Laertes assures Polonius that he will follow his advice. (lines 48-51)
•Polonius reminds Laertes of a double blessing for a second leave and urges him to depart quickly as the wind is in his favor. (lines 53-56)
•Polonius gives Laertes additional advice about how to conduct himself in society, including being true to himself, careful in making friends, and not getting involved in quarrels. (lines 57-80)
•Laertes thanks Polonius and takes his leave. (lines 81-85)
•Polonius asks Ophelia what Laertes said to her, and she responds that she will keep it locked in her memory. (lines 86-91)
Polonius warns Ophelia about Hamlet’s intentions
•Polonius tells Ophelia that he knows Hamlet has been spending time with her lately
•Polonius warns Ophelia that Hamlet’s intentions might not be pure
•Ophelia admits that Hamlet has expressed his love for her
•Polonius belittles Ophelia’s judgement and warns her not to trust Hamlet’s vows
•Polonius reminds Ophelia to maintain her reputation and not be too easily convinced by Hamlet’s advances
•Polonius tells Ophelia to set her standards higher than just a conversation with Hamlet
•Polonius compares Hamlet’s promises to traps set for the unsuspecting prey
•Polonius tells Ophelia that she should not be easily swayed by Hamlet’s sweet talk
•Polonius instructs Ophelia to be more cautious and not let her guard down around Hamlet
Analysis of Hamlet’s Views on Customs and Society
•Hamlet remarks on the cold weather during his conversation with Ophelia in Scene 4.
•Horatio and Marcellus join Hamlet, and they discuss hearing trumpets and drumming signaling the king’s revelry in Act 1, Scene 4.
•Hamlet explains that drunkenness is not an honorable custom even though it is a common practice in Denmark.
•He believes that society is too quick to judge people’s character based on their faults, rather than their virtues.
•In Act 1, Scene 5, Hamlet sees his father’s ghost and questions its intentions.
The Ghost’s Appearance in Hamlet’s Life
•Hamlet witnesses the rise of the ghost of his deceased father.
•Hamlet is curious as to why his father’s preserved bones have been disturbed, and why the sepulcher which kept him peaceful has opened its marble jaws.
•Horatio signals to Hamlet to walk away from the ghost, as it tries to impart a message to Hamlet.
•Marcellus cautions Hamlet about the possibility of the ghost tempting him towards a dangerous end.
•Despite Marcellus’s warning, Hamlet follows the ghost, while Horatio and Marcellus fret about his sanity.
•Something is amiss in the state of Denmark.
Hamlet’s Encounter with the Ghost of his Father in Act 1 Scene 5
•Hamlet and the Ghost enter the scene and then exit.
•The Ghost informs Hamlet that he is doomed to suffer in flames and must give himself up soon.
•Hamlet feels pity for the Ghost, who asks for serious attention to his revelations.
•The Ghost reveals that he is Hamlet’s father and urges him to seek revenge on his murderer.
•Hamlet is shocked and eager to hear more about his father’s death.
•The Ghost explains that he was killed by his own brother, who is now the current king.
•Hamlet realizes that his prophetic soul might have warned him about his uncle’s treachery.
The Ghost’s lament for his murder by Claudius and his disgust for the incestuous relationship between Claudius and Gertrude.
•The Ghost speaks of Claudius as an “incestuous, that adulterate beast” who seduced and won the will of his “most seeming-virtuous queen” to satisfy his shameful lust.
•He expresses disappointment in his dear wife, Gertrude, for declining from him and choosing to commit such sinful acts with a man whose natural gifts (of intellect and cunning) are poor compared to his own.
•The Ghost warns Hamlet not to seek revenge against his mother for her moral failings, but rather to leave her to face her own thorns and endure any suffering heaven may inflict upon her.
•He describes how he was murdered by his brother with a poisonous potion, which caused his whole body to be covered with a loathsome crust, leading to his sudden demise and sentencing all his imperfections to his final account.
•The Ghost concludes his lament by urging Hamlet to remember him and avoid being tainted by thoughts of vengeance, while also acknowledging the nearing morning by bidding farewell to the family.
Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5
•Hamlet plans to erase all memories of trivial things and to remember only his father’s commandment.
•Hamlet curses his mother for marrying his uncle, calling him a pernicious and damned villain.
•Hamlet writes down his plan to catch his uncle’s true intentions, stating that a person can smile on the outside and be a villain on the inside.
•Horatio and Marcellus inform Hamlet of a ghost sighting, but Hamlet doesn’t believe it at first.
•Hamlet agrees to go with them to see the ghost for himself.
•Horatio doubts Hamlet’s wild and whirling words and finds them offensive.
•Hamlet assures him that he meant no offense and reveals his plan to catch his uncle.
•Horatio agrees to help Hamlet with his plan.
•Hamlet requests Horatio and Marcellus not to reveal what they have seen
•Horatio and Marcellus initially refuse to swear, but eventually do so upon Hamlet’s request
•The Ghost demands that they swear by his sword
•Hamlet comments on the Ghost’s “strangeness” and asks his friends to swear to never disclose anything
•They all swear by his sword, with the Ghost also demanding them to swear
•The group exits the scene together, with Hamlet urging his friends to keep quiet about what they have seen.
O cursèdspite scene analysis
•The scene takes place in Act 1, Scene 5.
•The speaker expresses frustration with his situation, exclaiming “O cursèdspite!”
•The speaker remarks that he was born to “set it right,” conveying his sense of duty.
•The speaker invites someone to accompany him, saying “Nay, come, let’s go together.”
•The two characters then exit the stage, leaving the audience to ponder the significance of the speaker’s words and actions.
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