What are internal and external conflicts in the first act of Shakespeare's Hamlet?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is also a conflict between Hamlet and his mother, as she seems to expect him to be out of mourning, though his father only recently died.  She tells him to,

 Cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not forever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust. (1.2.70-74)

Gertrude wants Hamlet to cheer up and quit dwelling on his father's death.  This angers Hamlet because, as he says, "I have that within which passes show / These but the trappings and the suits of woe" (1.2.88-89).  In other words, he feels the loss of his father deeply, and he does not just wear mourning clothes for "show." This implies that this is what his mother has done.

There is additional conflict between Hamlet and his stepfather/uncle Claudius, both the new king and his mother's new husband.  Hamlet has requested permission to return to school in Wittenberg, but Claudius denies him, saying, 

Your intent 
In going back to school in Wittenburg,
It is most retrograde to our desire,
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye. (1.2.116-120)

Claudius implies that he wishes to keep Hamlet at home, in Denmark, because the king cares so deeply for his new "son."  It is more likely, however, that Claudius wants to keep an eye on Hamlet because the prince is acting strangely.  We can contrast his refusal of Hamlet's request with his acquiescence to Laertes's request to return to France; Claudius seems a lot more familiar and comfortable with Polonius's son than his own nephew.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first, and main, external conflict of Hamlet is the conflict that exists between Claudius and Hamlet.  In Act I, the external conflict is a bit one sided thought.  Hamlet suspects that Claudius murdered his father, so Hamlet wants revenge, but Claudius doesn't know this.  It's not an external conflict full of fisticuffs and sword fights until later.  

The internal conflict is squarely centered on Hamlet.  There are actually several.  First, Hamlet struggles with communicating with ghosts.  

If it assume my noble father's person, 
I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape 
And bid me hold my peace

He wants the information that the ghost has, but Hamlet does worry about his eternal soul.  

Another internal conflict of Hamlet's is his love and relationship with his mother.  She's his mom.  He loves her, but he struggles with how he feels about her after knowing her actions with Claudius.  

The last internal conflict that is introduced in Act I is Hamlet's struggle with revenge and death.  He knows murder is wrong, but wants revenge.  He also is so distraught that he struggles with his own will to live while knowing that he should be seeking vengeance.  This last conflict will continue to grow throughout the rest of the play.  

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main cause for the conflict in the first act of William Shakespeare's Hamlet is that Claudius, who murdered Hamlet's father, is now marrying his mother. The ghost confirms that he was indeed murdered by Claudius and has Hamlet swear to revenge himself on Claudius but let God deal with Gertrude. Thus the main external conflict is between Hamlet and Claudius, complicated by the fact that Hamlet is in the power of Claudius.

Hamlet has several internal conflicts. The first is that speaking to a ghost carries a riusk of damnation:


If it assume my noble father's person,
I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace


The other major internal conflict is between the filial love he owes his mother and his revulsion at her conduct.