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By referring to specific examples from Act One of Hamlet, describe the atmosphere,...

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ipood | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted November 9, 2010 at 10:49 AM via web

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By referring to specific examples from Act One of Hamlet, describe the atmosphere, mood, and tone of the play. 

I know Act One sets a dark, worrying tone. I have one example.  However, I can't find any others.

 

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shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted November 9, 2010 at 7:53 PM (Answer #1)

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The most obvious part of Act I to refer to, when citing examples that set atmosphere and mood, is scene i.  The scene begins on a bitterly cold night, just after the clock has struck midnight (Barnardo:  "Tis now struck twelve.") -- a recognizable sort of  beginning for any ghost or horror story.  So, before a word is spoken, there is, potentially, an established atmosphere of tension and suspense.

We know that it is dark, because the characters have trouble seeing each other.  This trouble seeing could also indicate that there is fog or some other spooky condition.  When the first line of a play is, "Who's there?", then it really sends a signal of tension and suspense to the audience.  These soldiers are jumpy.  The question "Have you had quiet guard?" also indicates that there is some underlying reason that these men are on edge.  This tense, suspenseful atmosphere continues through scene i, culminating in the actual ghost story started by Barnardo (lines 38 - 42) and the appearance of the ghost.

I would have to say, however, that though scenes iv and v continue in the same spooky, suspenseful, ghost story-esque vein of scene i, scenes ii and iii of this Act set entirely different tones.

The court of scene ii is one of regal calm, one in which the tones of pomp and circumstance, of order and control, are contrasted against Hamlet's un-courtly behaviour.  The domestic tension established in this scene, however, is very different in mood and tone from the ghostly atmosphere of scene i.  And scene iii continues this domestic mood, lightening the atmosphere to the jovial exchange of banter between Ophelia and Laertes.  This scene ends on a bit of a tense note (when Polonius commands Ophelia to cut off contact with Hamlet), but the overriding atmosphere and mood of the scene iii is light and domestic.

Scenes iv and v concern Hamlet's confrontation with the Ghost and hearken back to the mood created in scene i.

This act begins with a very clear, very strong setting of a particular mood and tone, but scenes ii and iii contrast this mood of suspense with one of domestic and courtly order.  It is interesting to note that Hamlet, even before he learns of the ghost's visitations, carries much more of the tone of darkness and foreboding in his soliloquy of scene ii.  It's as if he is already connected internally to the "rotten"-ness of Denmark, even though, on the surface, the court seems stable and calm.

 

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