How does Shakespeare create the mood of suspense in the play Hamlet? What kind of imagery is used to support this mood? What do you believe was the most suspenseful part of the play?

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Hamletis a very suspenseful play from the opening scene. The conversation between Barnardo and Marcellus on the ramparts of Elsinore, combined with the first sighting of the ghost, sets up the otherworldliness, drama, and tragic nature of the plot that’s about to unfold. As Hamlet learns the truth...

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Hamlet is a very suspenseful play from the opening scene. The conversation between Barnardo and Marcellus on the ramparts of Elsinore, combined with the first sighting of the ghost, sets up the otherworldliness, drama, and tragic nature of the plot that’s about to unfold. As Hamlet learns the truth of his father’s murder, the suspense of the work escalates.

One way the play escalates suspense is by Hamlet’s decision to “put an antic disposition on.” His decision to pretend to have gone crazy creates internal drama as the audience watches him ramp up the lengths he is willing to go to in order to achieve his goal. Many people know the plot of Hamlet extremely well at this point, but one point that still drips in suspense is whether, and to what extent, Hamlet is pretending to be insane. Most people would probably agree that he is suffering some form of psychological breakdown, and watching him spiral in madness (while also pretending to be mad) and losing control of his own scheme adds a lot of suspense.

Sometimes, the play successful adds suspense by cueing the audience in to what is about to transpire. For example, the audience knows that Polonius is hiding behind the arras before Hamlet stabs him. It creates a situation where the audience knows something the character does not and is waiting to see how it plays out. Another example is at the end of the play, when the audience knows that Laertes is using a poisoned blade.

Sometimes, depending on the director, the play within the play is used as a suspenseful moment. The audience watches the Murder of Gonzago played onstage, waiting to see if Claudius will finally snap and show Hamlet his hand.

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Hamlet features a strong current of suspense from the very first scene, with the watchmen nervous about the night and the appearance of the ghost. The scene takes place outside at night, making these two men seem quite vulnerable. A good director will emphasize darkness to enhance the suspense. Like the watchmen, the audience does not know what the ghost wants or if it intends to do anyone harm.

The main reason Hamlet is so suspenseful is that the whole play is permeated with the threat of violence. Dread hangs over even the most peaceful scenes or scenes, when nothing extreme is happening, because of the question of Hamlet's sanity and his fits of impulsive, bloody rage.

While Hamlet is most known for his indecision, he does lash out now and then. He is reluctant to kill the praying Claudius, going against audience expectations, but he also rashly stabs Polonius when he catches him hiding in Gertrude's chambers, another example of subverting expectations. Because Hamlet's behavior keeps the audience guessing, they are in a constant state of suspense, never knowing when the next body is going to fall.

The most suspenseful moment is no doubt the duel during the climax. The audience knows Laertes' sword is poisoned, but Hamlet does not. Hamlet is blithely unaware of the mortal peril he is in, and this puts the audience on edge.

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The irony here is that, for many of us who have read this play umpteen times, we have to return to long, long ago (to our very first reading of the play) to remember that ultimate suspense.  Luckily, the universal Shakespeare is an excellent enough writer to succeed in bringing at least some of that suspense back for each subsequent reading.

For me there is no contest, the highest point of suspense is near the end of the duel.   We know that the sword is tainted and that the pearl is poisoned.  Both Hamlet and Laertes are scratched and Gertrude drinks from the cup!  How (oh how!) will it end, allowing Hamlet to live up to the title of “tragic hero”! ?!  The key is in  Hamlet’s final revenge and  Horatio’s “good night, sweet prince.”  Ending with hope is always a plus.

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Hamlet becomes very secretive when he sees his father's ghost. In Act 1, Scene 4, Hamlet and the night guardsmen see the ghost of King Hamlet. Horatio and Marcellus have seen the the ghost before. The suspense builds because the ghost has said nothing on the nights before when the guardsmen have seen it. On this night, Hamlet is with the night guardsmen, Horatio and Marcellus. The ghost insists that Hamlet follow it. The suspense builds for the reader as well as the characters. Marcellus fears that Hamlet will go with the ghost:

 

MARCELLUS:
Look with what courteous action It waves you to a more private ground. But don’t go with it!
Will Hamlet follow the ghost? What will the ghost have to say? These are all questions that cause the reader to be in suspense. Hamlet decides to follow the ghost:

 

HAMLET:
If it will not speak, then I will follow it.
Here, the reader is filled with great anticipation as to what the ghost has to say. When the ghost speaks, it is to say that he has been killed by the man who wears his crown: GHOST:
I find you ready, And if you were duller than the fat weed That rots itself in ease on the river bank, You wouldn’t move on this. Now, Hamlet, listen. The story goes that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent bit me. So the whole country of Denmark Is extremely abused by a lie about the Process of my death, but know, you noble youth, The serpent that poisoned and took your father's life Now wears his crown.

When Hamlet learns what his father's ghost has to say, Hamlet becomes very secretive. He orders that the night guardsmen keep the secret. Now, Hamlet is grief stricken. He now feels a responsibility to avenge his father's death. The reader begins to feel Hamlet's burden. The reader is in suspense as to whether or not Hamlet will follow through and kill his Uncle Claudius for murdering his father.

As the scenes unfold, the reader has sympathy for Hamlet. When he tries to avenge his father's death and accidentally kills Polonius, the suspense builds. The reader is concerned for Hamlet's safety. Will Claudius kill Hamlet before Hamlet can kill him? These are questions the reader ponders.

Another suspenseful moment is when Laertes and Hamlet fight. The reader is wondering who will win. Will Hamlet be killed before he can avenge his father's death. These are all moments of great suspense.

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