Hamlet Act I Scene Ii 1-179 - Ambiguous Characters

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I do agree that the characters in this scene are portrayed in a very ambiguous manner. At this point in the play, many of the characters are masking their real feelings; this is usually quite apparent in their language and behaviour on stage.

The structure of the scene is an important feature used to display the characters' ambiguity, especially with the characters of Hamlet and Claudius. Only Hamlet is alone on the stage at any one time, and is therefore the only character who can express his true feelings. Claudius, however, is only on stage when in the company of his court, and cannot be as free with his thoughts and language. The scene can be divided roughly into four sections; the assembly of the court and the King's speeches, Hamlet's soliloquy, the discussion about the ghost, and Hamlet's second shorter soliloquy. However the extract in question only concerns the first two sections.

The first section of this extract contrasts dramatically with the scene preceding it. The Danish court is assembled in a celebratory mood and everyone appears happy – however the figure of Hamlet is clad in a "nighted colour". This particular effect immediately isolates Hamlet from the rest of the characters present. Hamlet's attire is interpreted as overly melodramatic by Claudius and Gertrude; Hamlet insists he is truly grieving for his father, but it is also possible that he is deliberately lengthening his "mourning duties" to indicate that he will not accept Claudius as neither his King or his stepfather.

Hamlet's soliloquy has tremendous dramatic effect - as he is alone on the stage and is able to share his thoughts with the audience, it is an important method of displaying his feelings of ambiguity in this scene. When in the presence of the king and court, he is politely hostile - "Not so my lord," - but his first words are undoubtedly bitter; Hamlet informs his Uncle that he himself is "A little more than kin, and less than kind." When he is alone on the stage, the audience is given an insight into his real thoughts about Claudius and Gertrude, and their marriage. In contrast to when he is actually in Gertrude's presence, it is discovered that his attitude toward his mother's heartlessness is much the same as his attitude toward Claudius; Hamlet is of the opinion that "A beast that wants discourse of reason/ Would have mourned longer." The use of "beast" in particular indicates his true disgust at the marriage; referring to his own mother in such a way. This specific choice of lexis could almost be interpreted as Hamlet seeing his mother and stepfather's relationship as inhuman and bestial.

Claudius's rather dramatic opening speech appears to be relaxed, eloquent and confident, but its careful structure indicates that the speech is well rehearsed. The style of his first extended speech is open to interpretation; he can be portrayed as overly confident about his marriage, referring to Hamlet as his "cousin" and "son" and his kingship; insecure about his marriage, referring to Gertrude as "th'imperial jointress"; crafty and devious, speaking of Hamlet's death with no real sorrow or observably fake sadness; or unsure of his role as King; he begins his first Royal speech by speaking at length on personal matters – this could be seen more as small talk than anything else. The reaction of his court can also be seen as ambiguous – his subjects are portrayed as respecting their new King, declaring "In that and all things will we show our duty," but the characters can also be interpreted as disliking him and his moral standards, as being fearful of him, or being intrigued by the whole affair. Throughout his first speech, his façade shows little signs of cracking – he says "discretion" has overcome his natural grief for his "dear brother." However, during the course of his speeches, there is much evidence of his hypocrisy. He describes old Hamlet as "valiant" and "dear", despite the fact that...
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