Hamlet Act 1 scene 2 comments

  1. Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death the memory be green
  2. Young Fortinbras . . . so much for him
  3. And now Laertes, what's the news with you?
  4. A little more than kin and less than kind.
  5. Seems, madam?  Nay, it is.  I know not "seems."
  6. 'Tis unmanly grief
  7. You are the most immediate to our throne
  8. I shall in all things obey you, madam.
  9. O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt
  10. Must I remember?
  11. frailty, thy name is woman
  12. no more like my father than I to Hercules
  13. but what is your affair in Elsinore?
  14. His beard was grizzled, no?
  15. (Foul) deeds will rise though all the earth o'erwhelm them to men's eyes.

 

Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death the memory be green

This is Claudius' first "set" speech; he looks good, explains the quickness of the marriage while the country was supposedly still in mourning, handles the major problem was hinted at scene 1, takes care of Laertes well, and finally turns to a problem within the royal family.  His language is masterly.  His oxymorons such as "defeated joy", "mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage" allow the audience to focus in on whatever emotion they want to find.  Those who are still mourning will hear "defeated", "funeral", and "dirge"; those who are celebrating the wedding will hear "joy", "mirth", and "marriage."  The language is appropriate for the formal, ritualistic situation.

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Young Fortinbras . . . so much for him

In successful Machiavellian manner, Claudius has figured out a way to handle the threat of Fortinbras at the cheapest possible cost.

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And now, Laertes, what's the news with you?

Claudius flatters Laertes by using his name often, using his first name which suggests a more informal relationship with Laertes and Polonius.  During this speech, Claudius calls himself "The Dane" as the King

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A little more than kin and less than kind.

Hamlet's language, like his costume, is strikingly different from the formal, ritualistic quality of the King's speech; here, Hamlet is cynical, sarcastic.  His pun suggest that he is closer in kin to Claudius than he would like to be, yet he does not believe Claudius feels kindly towards him.  Notice that the pun would have worked as well if, instead of "kind" Hamlet had said "king."  He is still the Prince, not the King as he perhaps should have been through the law of primogeniture as the son of the Old King.

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"Seems, madam? Nay, it is.  I know not "seems."

Hamlet acknowledges that his appearance could be faked, but his use of the "inky cloak" truly denotes his inner feelings, and he would certainly not fake anything.   He is claiming to be the True in a world of Counterfeits.  This suggests that Hamlet believes that appearance and reality are one and the same; later after seeing the ghost, he changes his mind and acknowledges that "a man may smile and smile and be a villain."  But it comes to him as a revelation or epiphany when his suspicion of Claudius' villany is confirmed by the ghost.  This first view point is closer to the Renaissance Christian Humanist than the Machiavellian.  The view that a man may smile and be a villain is more of a Machiavellian view.

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'Tis unmanly grief

Claudius tries to sound friendly but is very critical of Hamlet, here suggesting that his grief makes him unmanly.  Claudius lectures Hamlet, saying about the same thing that Gertrude did, but suggesting that Hamlet's actions are against heaven.  Of course, when we realize that Claudius killed Old Hamlet, this speech in retrospect is the ultimate in hypocracy.  In scenes 2,3, and 5 of this act, fathers (or in this case a step-father) lecture to their children, telling them what to do.

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You are the most immediate to our throne

Again, in a smart Machiavellian move, Claudius tries to forestall Hamlet's potential ambition to be King, which might find supporters among the court or the people, by announcing that Hamlet is his heir.  In Denmark the succession to the throne is decided by the court, not the way England would use, the oldest son inheriting the crown.   However, this would be an issue to the Elizabethan audience who was very concerned about whether there might be civil war after her death if she did not have an heir or clearly name her successor.

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I shall in all things obey you, madam.

Hamlet acknowledges Gertrude's position in his family as deserving of duty, but ignores Claudius.  But Claudius, being the smart manipulator, can turn this answer into a good way to "win" in front of the court.  He quickly leaves the stage before this impression can change.

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O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt

Hamlet gives us the first view of death, that it would be relief to one who is deep into grief.  But he also verbalizes the view that suicide is a sin.  He sees the world as a declining world, going from the ideal of the past when his father was King to the corruption of the court by Claudius.

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Must I remember?

Memory brings the past into his awareness and makes him sad because it seems so much worse.  How one is remembered and for how long after his death is a theme that Hamlet wrestles with throughout the the play.

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frailty, thy name is woman

Hamlet is as upset about his mother's remarriage as he is about his father's death.   His mother's willingness to marry Claudius undercuts Hamlet's view that his mother and father loved each other deeply.

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but no more like my father than I to Hercules

This is an ironical statement; Hercules accomplishes 12 mighty labors, yet Hamlet cannot even perform one task given him by the ghost.  Hamlet is also suggesting that he himself is part of this declining world; he is cynical even about himself.

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But what is your affair in Elsinore?

Hamlet tests everyone.  He wonders how Horatio might have heard that first speech of Claudius'; is he still grieving for the dead king or celebrating the marriage of the queen.

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His beard was grizzled, no?

Again Hamlet tests Horatio.  Here he tries to use a falsehood to reveal that Horatio's tale of seeing a ghost of his father was just made up, but Horatio corrects him.

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(Foul) deeds will rise, though all the earth o'erwhelm them to men's eyes

This world view is a remnant of the Renaissance Christian Humanist view that God has a plan and he will revenge all wrongs, bring to light wrong-doings.  Here Hamlet is willing to wait on God's timing to reveal why things are so rotten in Denmark.

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Chris Barkley.
Copyright Chris Barkley. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 14, 1999 .