What is the atmosphere at the opening of Hamlet and how does Shakespeare produce it?
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The atmosphere created at the beginning of the play is one of foreboding and suspense, full of portents of disaster. Of course, this is created by the appearance of the ghost of the recently deceased King Hamlet, but it is also developed by Horatio's interpretation of the event, which he compares to the night before Julius Caesar was assassinated, an evening in which the dead roamed the streets of Rome. Shakespeare also emphasizes that there are preparations for war ongoing in Denmark. Horatio explains that young Fortinbras threatens invasion of Denmark to reclaim some lands his father lost in battle to the elder Hamlet. In fact, he interprets the appearance of the ghost as a sign that perhaps the time for war is near. So it is obvious even early in the play that something is, as Horatio will say later, "rotten" in Denmark. But it is not clear exactly what that is, and it is only when young Hamlet meets his father's ghost that Shakespeare reveals exactly what is wrong.
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