One of the best known pieces of literature throughout the world, Hamlet is also granted a position of excellence as a work of art. One of the elements which makes this play one of such prestige is the manner in which the story unfolds. Throughout time, Shakespeare has been renowned for writing excellent superlative opening scenes for his plays. By reviewing Act 1, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the reader is able to establish a clear understanding of events to come. This scene effectively sets a strong mood for the events to come, gives important background information, and introduces the main characters. With the use of this information, it is simple to see how Shakespeare manages to create stories with such everlasting appeal.
In Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1 proves to be a vital element to understanding the play. One important task it serves is to determine the mood of the play. From the beginning of the scene, the reader is aware of the atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty lingering in the air. When the reader is first introduced to the main characters outside the castle, they are suspiciously asking each other to identify themselves. Everyone seems to be on edge from the start, as if anticipating something. Another factor that reveals a mood of wariness and caution is how the night is dark, the air is chilling, and the characters speak of “the bitter cold,” (p. 9, ln.8). This evokes a mood of foreboding and mystery. At one point, Fransisco ends his watch thankfully because, “he is sick at heart,” (p.9, Ln. 10). Shortly after the atmosphere is created, the reader is introduced to the idea of a ghost, which sets a mood of dread and eerieness. The men speak of the ghost with great fear, and are very apprehensive to witness it again. Also introduced is the impression of death and the supernatural. Although it is assumed that the ghost is that of the late king, it is also presented that perhaps it is a demon, posing as the king. And if it is a ghost, why has it returned? The appearance of a wordless ghost is an important dramatic device that Shakespeare uses to rivet attention to the action, as well as to set the tone of the story. With use of such elements, Shakespeare effectively paints a distinct mood for the remainder of the play.
In addition to setting a mood for the story, the first scene of Hamlet also reveals important background information. While speaking about the ghost, the men inquire whether it is the dead king or not. This clearly indicates that there is some sort of situation to be resolved, and that there is a reason for the king to be returning from the grave. From their speech, the reader learns that there has been a battle, and the result was the king’s death.”Such was the very armor he had on when he the ambitious Norway combated,”introduces the conflict between Denmark and Norway. Through dialogue, it is also told that military preparations are taking place at Elsinore, because Fortinbras seeks to reclaim the Norwegian lands that his late father lost to King Hamlet. “So nightly toils the subject of the land, and why such daily blast of brazen cannon, and foreign mart for implements of war…”(p13, ln71) reveals that Denmark is intensely preparing for the war being carried out in Denmark. From this scene, there is also much to be said about the people of the land. It is quite apparent that they are very superstitious and wary of the supernatural. They fear that which they are unfamiliar with. If the reader is to read deeper into the plot, it can be seen that the people of the story are very closely intertwined. When Bernardo and Marcellus believe that they have witnessed a ghost, they decide that they must tell Horatio. After the ghost is observed, the three men decide to tell Hamlet of what they have seen. This indicates that the characters in the story are familiar with each other, and possibly that the people of the city are all well known to each other. From studying Act 1, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the reader is able to extract valuable background information for the story.
As well as giving crucial background information, Act 1, Scene 1 also introduces some of the characters that will be encountered throughout the play. Initially the reader is introduced to Marcellus and Bernardo. Though they are not key players to the story, they do provide some background information. And although not living, an important person introduced is the late King Hamlet. Without the presence of the ghost, it could be speculated that there would not be a story at all. When Horatio and Marcellus are speaking of the war, the reader is also introduced to the king’s opposition, Fortinbras. Horatio describes young Fortinbras as being “of unimproved metal, hot and full.” Although he is driven and determined, he is young, and does not have much experience. An important figure introduced in Act 1 Scene 1 is Horatio. He is a true friend and confidant to Prince Hamlet. When the men learn of the ghost, Horatio decides that they must let Hamlet know of what they have seen. This in turn, begins the plot. From his description of Julius Caesar and the times of the Romans, we also learn that he is very educated and intelligent. Horatio is well informed and very aware of the circumstances surrounding him. Nearer to the end of the scene, the presence of Prince Hamlet is introduced, although he is not yet present on the scene.
By studying Hamlet, it is plain to see that this is a timeless story of mystery, drama and sometimes humour. In order to achieve such greatness, there is a specific criteria that the author must meet. In history, Shakespeare was renowned for writing riveting opening scenes for his plays. From these superior introductions, the reader is exposed to many important factors. Mood, background data and characters are all vital aspects of the play which are shown in the first scene alone. With this information, the reader is armed with the tools that will help them better understand and appreciate the amazing events to come.