What does Claudius say about Hamlet's sorrow in Act I, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I, Scene I of William Shakespeare's play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Bernado, Marcellus and Horatio encounter the ghost of a figure bearing a striking resemblance to the late king of Denmark, father of the titular figure of the story. This opening passage introduces the audience to the melancholy felt by some of the late king's subjects, and allows for reference to the young prince who should have inherited the throne. As Act I, Scene II begins, the audience is introduced to Claudius, the new king, Hamlet's uncle, and also new stepfather. Hamlet, we learn, continues after a protracted period of time to mourn the death of his father and, just as significantly, is exceedingly upset by the too-soon marriage of his widowed mother to Claudius. This is the context behind the newly-crowned king's observation that his nephew/stepson needs to overcome his grief and get on with his life. 

Initially, Claudius merely seeks to reason with Hamlet, to suggest the prince accept that all die eventually and that life goes on:

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark. Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity. 

This, however, does not assuage Hamlet, who continues to exude a mixture of sadness and anger that is clearly tiring to some of those around him. Claudius is not unsympathetic with Hamlet's sorrow, understanding that the young man has lost his father, but the new king believes that the prince's period of mourning has dragged on long enough and that Hamlet's conduct is unbecoming a man:

To do obsequious sorrow: but to persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness; 'tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschool'd.

King Claudius is telling Hamlet that the latter's practice of moping around the castle and visibly mourning his father's death has brought into question the prince's masculinity, and that it is past time that he, Hamlet, grow up. Hamlet, as the audience will learn, has yet to encounter the aforementioned ghost from Act I, Scene I, at which time he learns of his uncle's foul deed—a revelation that will set in course the tragic chain of events to come.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Claudius says that Hamlet's grief is verging on becoming "unmanly." Displays of sorrow after an extended period of time, in fact, speak to a defect of character:

It shows a will most incorrect to heaven, 
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient, 
An understanding simple and unschool'd.

So while it was appropriate for Hamlet to mourn his father's death after it happened, it is now, "within a month," as Hamlet will later observe in his soliloquy, time for him to get on with his life. To do so, of course, requires that Hamlet "think of us (meaning Claudius) as a father." As a prince and the heir to the throne, Hamlet should accept the new reality. At this point, Hamlet does not know that Claudius has murdered his father, but as he reveals in his soliloquy later in the scene, he is not simply sad about his father's death, but also about his mother's hasty marriage to Claudius, who he holds in low esteem.