Discuss the dramatic significance of Hamlet Scene 1 Act 1
The play ‘Hamlet’ was composed in tempestuous times for England. There was death caused by ‘The Plague’ and hardship was widespread. Much value surrounded the outward support of the monarch, Elizabeth. Throughout her reign, religion caused divisions and factions of the Protestant church thought about the theatre as sinful, amoral perhaps. In his plays, Shakespeare utilizes his understanding of mankind to entertain by attending to love, power, loyalty, honour and friendship. These values address unvarying aspects that touch us even today.
‘Hamlet’ is meant to represent the significance of the monarchy and the insecurity created by the danger of a foreign intrusion – the message being that anything can occur to anybody. This then is the underlying setting of the style for ‘Hamlet’ – occurring on a dark winter season night, creating thriller, intrigue and offering home entertainment to an otherwise denied audience. In the opening, Act 1 and Scene 1 of ‘Hamlet’, the playwright, William Shakespeare, utilizes a number of dramatical devices to affect the crowd’s moods, behaviour and mindset towards the play; this is referred to as psychological audience manipulation.
Shakespeare skillfully uses one – dimensional characters to deliver background information to the audience in a more amusing style. The setting – the guard – platform of the Castle, on a dark, wintry cold night at midnight more heightens the remarkable impact. ‘Who’s there?’ – and ‘Quiet guard’ – these statements suggest a foreboding. Right away the audience is mesmerized, especially when one associates midnight with evil. The declarations: ‘T is now struck twelve’ and ‘Bitter cold’ further add to the significant state of mind that is being produced.
Francisco’s admission: ‘I am ill at heart’ has an unfavorable connotation, recommending feelings of anxiety. Bernardo’s reply:’ Quote them make haste’ – he is undoubtedly scared of something. A recommendation to loyalty to the Sovereign follows, ‘Friends to this ground’ and ‘Liegemen to the Dane’- here Shakespeare uses a manipulative technique to resolve the value of remaining patriotic – an aspect of life everybody can recognize with. Once again it is suggested that they are swallowed up by darkness and they can just see that which is truly close up to them:’ A piece of him’.
By extending his hand, Horatio reassures the guards that he is a friend not a foe. There are sinister undertones at the outset of the scene, which effectively serve to introduce the tenor of the play. Despite this, there is a hint of humour and sarcasm by Horatio : ‘What, has his thing appear’d again to-night? ‘ An air of intrigue is created by this: it is not known what it is is actually being referred to. It is Marcellus who then goes on to explain to the audience what Horatio’s views are: ‘And will not let belief take hold of him’ – this means that he will not allow himself to believe anything of a supernatural nature.
He has been invited to see if: ‘This apparition come’, but remains unyielding in his opinion: ‘ Tush, tush ’twill not appear’. Bernardo tries to convince Horatio, ‘Again assail your ears’. Another example is: ‘That are so fortified against our story’. Here he is openly addressing Horatio’s incredulity on the subject of the spectre. Bernardo recounts how the Ghost appeared and that the ‘Yond same star’ was in the same place, when it had originally appeared, adding to the drama and heralding its reappearance. An essentially frightened audience is introduced to the Ghost. ‘ Like the King that’s dead’.
Even the originally sceptical Horatio is outwardly scared now, raising the intensity of the drama. ‘It harrows me with fear and wonder:’ he uses strong language. It therefore fell upon Horatio, who was encouraged by the other guards, to address the Ghost in order to attest that this spectre was real. The well spoken Horatio, the scholar states:’ What art thou that usurp’st this time of night’ – by this he suggests that the Ghost has upset the peace of the night and has taken ‘ That fair and warlike form’. By this reference, the audience is psychologically manipulated into feeling admiration for the dead king.
He further challenges: ‘ By heaven I charge thee, speak! ‘ The scene continues and Horatio admits to believing because he has seen with the: ‘True avouch of mine own eyes’. Horatio recalls the previous battle with Denmark and Norway: this is political propaganda, which is the strong theme for the play, providing essential background information. This also casts a positive reflection of the previous king: ‘When he the ambitious Norway combated’ – this already gives the audience a positive reflection on the deceased King, as we are told of his bravery, ‘He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
‘ It also suggests that the king may have some unfinished business and that is why he has returned as the Ghost three times. Horatio warns the audience that: ‘This bodes some strange eruption to our state, ‘ moreover, this is a warning of the inevitability that: Denmark may be on the brink of war. There are other suggestions of this: ‘Daily cast of brazen cannon. ‘ This infers that people are working round the clock. All this creates a sense of apprehension. Shakespeare attempts to draw a parallel with ancient Rome: Horatio now eloquently delivers his views and this has a religious connotation.
Examples of this are made by: ‘In the most high and palmy state of Rome’ and ‘ Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse’ and ‘As harbingers preceding still the fates’. The conjecture here is that the Ghost is the forerunner of what is yet to come and also is connected with the Bible, as was prophesised that Christ would come to judge the living and the dead. This is effective use of imagery and is symbolic would most certainly create a growing sense of fear in the audience. Another biblical reference with far reaching effects is: ‘The cock crows’: this suggests betrayal and moreover, ‘And at his warning’ is ominous.
There is dramatic impetus by Horatio and he uses aggressive language on the Ghost’s reappearance: ‘I’ll cross it, though it blast me. Stay illusion. ‘ He asks ‘ If thou art privy to thy country’s fate’- can the Ghost share a secret, any light on what lies ahead for Denmark? Despite the audience not having being introduced to Hamlet, we are psychologically manipulated into feeling sorry for him and empathise with him. In the indirect reference made to him we understand that Horatio suggests that they tell young Hamlet of the appearance of the Ghost.
We learn that there is staunch support for Hamlet: ‘As needful in our loves, fitting our duty? ‘ In the space of a few days, sadly, his father has passed away: ‘The majesty of buried Denmark ‘. His rightful inheritance has been taken from him: ‘ So by his father lost’ which suggests that he is in mourning and ‘This, I take it is the main motive of our preparations’ – to take back that which was theirs. This automatically gives the audience someone to support and “root for” in ‘Young Hamlet’ as the play unfolds and we learn more of his personal story. This is linked to another theme that the audience can identify with: family values.
The element of mystery and foreboding are inherently present in Act One, Scene One and is further personified in the form of an apparition, ‘This apparition come. ‘ The contemporary audience that this was aimed at, being more religiously aware than the public nowadays, would have been fearful of the spectre and would have made links to the devil and hell, gaining the audience’s full attention. By the spreading of its arms, it has connotations to Jesus Christ, creating a sombre aura. They are encouraged to believe that the Ghost is an omen: ‘ That this portentous figure’, is a sign that they are ready for battle.
Essentially, the mood further reflects insecurity as Denmark may be on the verge of war. A clever technique Shakespeare uses serves to encourage loyalty to the monarch at the time, ‘Long live the King’. Therefore, he has put his political views forward successfully and with discretion. The Ghost exits, leaving everyone none the wiser as to the reason for its apparition. The first Act and Scene allows for speculation and would have created a sense of dramatic anticipation, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, ready to see what will ensue in the next scene.
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