In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, there is a significant presence of monologues or soliloquies that convey to the audience the character’s psychological state, intentions, and feelings. They can be compared to being called the “window” into a certain character’s soul. The second scene of the first act of Shakespeare’s work, Hamlet, takes place immediately following the first scene concerning the Ghost, when Barnardo, Horatio and Marcellus watch it disappear into the darkness. As they are assured that they have observed the Ghost of King Hamlet, they decide to inform Prince Hamlet. This first scene presents the situation in the country as very dark. On the other hand, the second scene is the first scene presenting the situation within the castle.
In this scene, almost every character is present on stage; therefore, this allows the reader to have a general presentation of the main characters as well as their relation to each other. Moreover, the presentation of the scene is important as it permits the author to present the situation within the kingdom: the death of the previous king, King Hamlet, and the birth of a new one, Claudius. It particularly showcases a first impression of Claudius and makes the audience feel already uncertain whether Claudius is an honest character or a manipulative and opportunist one. In this passage, Shakespeare introduces Claudius’s first official duty as the new king of Denmark.
In his opening discourse, Claudius gives a speech in which he seems like an honest character, as this is decisive to building his authenticity as the new leader of state. Although Claudius tries to appear as a decent and honest new king and gives the impression his place is for the good of the realm, his speech contains many controversial elements that make him seem as a more complex and manipulative character. Firstly, Claudius delivers a political speech for the purpose of affirming himself as the new king.
Indeed, it is an evaluation of the new king’s political proficiencies; he needs to attain a judicious harmony between recognizing the bereavement of the country over its loss and moving on to defy the burdens that are enduring the nation. He begins with acknowledging Denmark’s grief over the recent lost king and shows that himself also grieves over King Hamlet’s death. He includes himself in the kingdom as a whole and brings to light that he has feelings and shares the feeling of the people in order to be accepted as the new king. Shakespeare has him mention the grieving of the kingdom as a whole: “To bear our hearts in grief” and has him personify the kingdom for the purpose of emphasizing the collective nature of its grief “our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe”.
This metonymy represents how everyone in the realm ought to mourn. Furthermore, this one mentions the fact that he has married his sister-in-law; a deed judged to be incestuous back then. The writer has him deliver “Together with remembrance of ourselves” as a smooth transition to say that the king’s death is dreadful but that the individuals should not quit living their own lives. Moreover, he refers to Gertrude as “our sometime sister, now our queen” in order to confront the issue openly; thereby, this reveals that he does not try to avoid the subject, thus leading to a more positive view of him. This enables him to appear more trustworthy as people would tend to think that he is not a liar but a person who assumes all of his actions and choices. By explaining the wedding, Claudius manages to not make it not just appear as a personal choice but as well as a question of state by later assigning Gertrude to “Th’imperial jointress to this warlike state”; he gives the image she is a comparable spouse and recalls his auditors that combat is menacing Denmark. The writer has the character state “Therefore our sometime sister”,”Have we” and “Taken to wife” in order to present his arguments at the same time he presents his decision of marrying her. In this way, this allows to make his decision more acceptable by the audience.
Claudius employs language as a tool to smooth over actions that are immoral. He makes use of language as a way to create the appearance of propriety. In addition, the new king thanks his council, which he observes, has “freely gone/ With this affair along.” He recognizes the work done by his men and counselors, thus trying to appear once more as a decent king who is not egocentric and full of himself; he attempts to seem like he is a grateful person, who accepts and recognizes the help from others. Additionally, after Claudius has handled the domestic circumstances, this one continues to give a speech on another urgent concern on every person’s psyche: the menace made by Fortinbras, who is pursuing the recovery of the grounds misplaced by his father to King Hamlet, long ago. In fact, the author has him state “He hath not failed to pester us with message/Importing the surrender of those lands”, for the use of affirming his authority. Throughout his soliloquy, he recommends that the young prince is perhaps attempting to press his interest by supposing an internal tumult in the country due to Hamlet’s death, however, he tries to reveal both domestically and internationally that the nation is in reliable and adequate hands.
Actually, Claudius showcases his awareness of the situation and immediately reacts by proposing a solution to his listeners. Through what must be a balanced acumen system, he has found out that the elderly and ill king of Norway is not notified on what his nephew is planning; the writer has him declare “To Norway, uncle of young Fortinbras/Who, impotent and bedrid, scarcely hears/ Of this his nephew’s purpose”. This is the reason why Claudius sends two envoys with a missive to Norway, apprising him with the desire that he will halt his young nephew, thus precluding combat. If the new king achieves, he will have accomplished a considerable triumph and will have been successful in corroborating his status as a king. Claudius’s soliloquy is essential as he employs it to reveal his knowledge of the realm’s troubles and points out his capacity to react to these, thus appearing at first as a decent king. Moreover, this one uses high-flowed and hyperbolic language such as metonymy, imagery (“our state to be disjoint and out of frame” l.20 to evoke that something is not working properly), alliteration (l.13 “delight” and “dole”) and rhythm for the purpose of appearing as a distinguished and intelligent king; yet, the content of his speech makes it a more controversial speech and reinforces the theme of appearance vs reality.
Nevertheless, despite his intent of seeming like an honest king, this controversial speech leads to an uncomfortable idea of Claudius. Throughout his speech, he contradicts himself at many times, making him appear not only as the one he is trying to appear as: an honorable and reliable king. Although it is tough to conceive of a more intricate family forceful or a more unstable political position, he exhorts a moral harmony to his royal court attendants, oathing to bolster and merge the sorrow he senses for the King Hamlet’s death and the glee he feels for his marriage as proportionate parts. In spite of his efforts, the hilarity of the court appears perfunctory; the new king promises to follow is unnatural. As a consequence, the reader wonders how is it feasible to balance anguish for a brother’s death with delight for having wed a dead brother’s spouse. Furthermore, this speech contains a profuse of contradictory words, ideas, and phrases. Shakespeare has him proclaim “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death / The memory be green”; this combines the idea of death and decay with the idea of greenery, growth, and renewal.
Also, the alliteration “dear” and “death” is an association of these two opposite terms, thereby creating a contradiction in his pronounced words. As the writer has him announce “Our sometime sister, now our queen”, a contradiction by nature is present as he claims Gertrude becoming his wife, in a natural way, even though it was considered as incest at the time. He as well states “defeated joy”, “mirth in funeral” and “dirge in marriage”, which are concepts that assemble incongruously with one another; the author employs this discourse for the purpose of providing his audience with a troublesome and distressing first feeling of the new head of state. As the author has him say “with one auspicious and one dropping eye”, he manages to trigger suspicion among the audience and provokes its questioning concerning Claudius’ genuine intentions. His marriage with Getrude appears as a political wedding; indeed, by stating “Th’imperial jointress”, he objectifies Gertrude and raises the question whether his love is authentic or only a tool in order to have access to power, now that his brother passed away. The outcome of all this conspicuous falsehood is that this passage depicts as pressing a context in Denmark as well as the first scene presents it: the first scene demonstrated the dread and uncanny peril skulking in Denmark and the second scene hints at the corruption and weakness of the king and his court. This one as well presents the conception that the nation is by some manner unwholesome as a state, as the writer has Claudius assert “Holding a weak supposal of our worth, / Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death / Our state to be disjoint and out of frame”, to evoke that young Fortinbras is undervaluing his fortitude and to highlight his reflection of his nation experiencing turbulence caused by King Hamlet’s death.
To conclude, despite the fact that this passage is the first speech of the new king, it already makes him appear as a controversial man. The audience ignores the new king’s true intentions and motives. Even though he affirmed himself as the new king of the country in this inaugural speech, his mastering of the language makes him seem as a manipulative man; indeed, he is for instance able to make the court accept a marriage that at the time, should have been more than contested.
Shakespeare employs this speech in the continuity of the first scene for the purpose of presenting the situation in the country as obscure and dismal. In this passage, the audience discovers the different characters in this scene and is only given a part of the problem yet.