What atmosphere is established at the beginning of the first scene of Act I in Hamlet?Explain. ACT 1. SCENE 1

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Compared in its artistry to the stirring opening scene of Macbeth, Scene 1 of Act I of Hamlet generates a mystifying atmosphere as it opens in media res, then flashes back to the origin of King Hamlet's conflict, only to fast forward to what might occur, and, finally to return to the present. This movement of time with images of death hovering over each challenges the audience to focus carefully upon events as they must try to put clues together and predict what will happen.

It is with apprehension that Horatio speaks of King Hamlet's ghost as the "dreaded sight, twice seen" which is most foreboding; in fact, he alludes to it and the other visions "As harbingers preceding still the fates" since the ghost of King Hamlet is dressed in armor just as he was when he battled the Norwegian King Fortinbras and won his lands from him.  This "king that was and is the question of these wars" (1.1.125), is a warning figure of problems to come, Horatio believes, because the prince Fortinbras has built up troops of "lawless resolutes" and has ships built that he plans to regain this land that was forfeited.

With the introduction of the supernatural element of the ghost, as well as the flashbacks and fast forwards that forebode danger and unrest, the atmosphere is most unsettling for both audience and Hamlet, the "prince of hesitation," as critic Harold Bloom names him.