Act 1, scene 2 of Hamlet begins with the new king of Denmark, Claudius, addressing the Council for the first time since his coronation. He first comments on the nation’s mourning and his new position. His comments then turn to the threat of war, as young Fortinbras, a royal youth of Norway, is clamoring to regain territory that Denmark has claimed. His third and related topic is the diplomatic solution that he is pursuing by sending two emissaries, Voltemand and Cornelius, to take a letter to Norway’s king, who is Fortinbras’s uncle.
Claudius has gained the throne after the death of his brother, Hamlet Sr., and married his brother’s wife, Queen Gertrude. Claudius expresses his mixed emotions over losing his “late dear brother” but having been blessed with marrying Gertrude: “With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage….”
Denmark is in a difficult situation, he reminds them, because the threat of war looms large. The change of monarch has left some people seeing the country as weak. Young Fortinbras of Norway is “thinking by our late dear brother's death / Our state to be disjoint and out of frame….” Denmark had lawfully gained some lands that Norway had also claimed, but young Fortinbras is insisting that Denmark surrender them.
The elderly king, whom Claudius calls “old Norway,” is frail and largely unaware of his nephew’s activities. Claudius has written him to apprise him of the precarious situation. Two noble emissaries, Voltemand and Cornelius, will now depart for Norway to with the explicit mandate of delivering this letter to the elderly king.