Hamlet, Act I Analysis

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What is established in Hamlet, act I?

Act I of Hamlet is mainly a highly successful exposition but also establishes elements of the revenge tragedy, a distinct tone and mood and Elizabethan values still resonating with modern society. Additionally, the act is part of arguably Shakespeare’s best play and in itself is a sophisticated and effective piece of theatre.

Beginning on a tense, cold night in Denmark act I of Hamlet successfully introduces setting, characters and plot, all of which further develop as the play continues. The first scene involves two sentinels on castle watch and establishes the setting as Denmark’s castle, during an uncertain and slightly chaotic time where they are preparing for war. As the act continues more information is revealed and all of the main characters have been introduced by act II. The last two scenes of the play are instrumental in constructing the plot and through explaining the murder of Hamlet’s father the protagonist is given a motive for revenge. Without using other sources it can be assumed the play is set in Elizabethan times due to the fact that a king’s death causes widespread worry, which would indicate that the people believe in the chain of being. (A hierarchy of godly and worldly rulers, which when disrupted is believed to cause universal disorder)

Revenge tragedy play’s often follow certain guidelines and contain various elements. Hamlet is no exception with just the first act setting up many revenge tragedy conventions. Firstly by examining Hamlet’s character it can be seen that a high-status hero, with a tragic flaw, (in this case it would be uncertainty) is faced with a vengeful task in which it seems he has no choice but to fulfil. Feigned madness, supernatural involvement, a corrupt higher order and ethical issues, such as murder and the right for revenge) all feature in the play’s first five scenes and are all typical conventions of the revenge tragedy.

As aforementioned, the opening scene of...
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