In Hamlet, what qualities of Hamlet's character are brought out by his first few words of the play in Scene 2?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Hamlet's conversation with Claudius and Gertrude in the beginning of Act I, Scene ii, Hamlet's introduction into the play, his first exchanges with them reveal much of his character, establishing traits that will be developed throughout the drama. Most significantly, Hamlet is shown to be a young man who feels grief profoundly. When his mother asks why he "seems" to be taking his father's death so hard since death is part of the natural order, Hamlet replies, "I have that within which passes show." He does not simply "seem" or appear to be grieving; his real grief is deeper than any outward trappings of mourning can express.

Furthermore, when Claudius observes to Hamlet that "the clouds still hang on you," Hamlet replies, "Not so, my lord. I am too much in the sun." His words can be interpreted as a pun, as "sun" becomes "son." At this moment, the role of son weighs heavily on Hamlet: He is a natural son who grieves for his dead father, and he has become the unnatural "son" of his uncle. Hamlet is a young man who is introspective and acutely sensitive to his circumstances.

Other remarks by Hamlet suggest his character more subtly. Hamlet's aside that he stands in relationship to Claudius as "A little more than kin and less than kind," indicates his independent thinking and inner conflict. He does not blindly accept his mother's marriage to Claudius; his resentment is clear. When Gertrude makes requests of him, Hamlet will promise only to do "all my best" to obey her; he will not vow complete obedience to her wishes.

Hamlet's expressing his feelings in an aside shows that he is one who can keep the truth of his feelings to himself, if he wishes. In this first scene, therefore, Hamlet shows that he is capable of deceit; throughout the play he and Claudius will deal with each other through deceit, each working to achieve hidden agendas.

In his first appearance in the play and in very few words, Hamlet is revealed to be a complex and deeply conflicted character.


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