How is tension and suspense created in act1 scene1 of Hamlet

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amymc | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Tension and suspense are created from the very beginning of the play.  The first act and scene features a midnight watch in the bitter cold.  They are joined by Horatio, a close friend of the title character Hamlet, and hope that he can help them sort out a strange, ghostly occurrence.  It seems that the ghost of the recently deceased King, Hamlet's father, has been appearing at night, dressed in his army as if ready for a fight.  This has frightened the watchmen and does thes same to Horatio, as noted by one of the guards, Bernardo:

How now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more than fantasy?

Beyond the appearance of the dead king, Horatio relates a bitter rivalry between their home, Denmark, and neighboring Norway.  With a dead king, an attack may be imminent.  In addition, Horatio compares this evening to the night of Julius Caesar's death when the dead rose from their graves and likens it to foreboding doom.

A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun;

All of these things raise the level of suspense and tension in the reader.

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