What are the main character's first words in Hamlet? What do they tell us about him?
Hamlet's first words appear in Act 1.2, line 65. The line is:
A little more than kin, and less than kind.
Delivered as an aside, or spoken directly to and only to the audience, the line uses puns to ridicule Claudius, who has just referred to Hamlet as his kinsman (cousin) and his son. Kinsman is used for relatives outside of one's immediate family, and son, is of course, son.
Hamlet plays on these two terms in his response.
When Hamlet says that Claudius is more than kin, he is saying that Claudius is too much of a relative, both uncle and stepfather: the stepfather part is too much.
When Hamlet says that Claudius is less than kind, he is saying the following:
- Claudius is unkind for taking the throne from Hamlet, the former king's son and rightful heir.
- Claudius is unkind, of a certain kind, an unnatural kind, because he has married the wife of a dead brother, which is considered incest in Shakespeare's time and within the play.
Hamlet is sharp, witty, and definitely unhappy about his uncle's marrying his mother and claiming the Danish throne. Hamlet doesn't yet suspect Claudius of murder, since this scene appears before Hamlet's meeting with the Ghost. But he certainly does not consider himself to be the new king's son.
Hamlet's first line is an aside:
"A little more than kin and less than kind" which suggest all kinds of things, given that he is responding to his uncle Claudius' referring to Hamlet as his son. Hamlet is likely bringing up the idea that he already suspects his uncle is a devious man and certainly not just playing the role of uncle and father, now that he has married Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. He is the king, he is perhaps a murderer, all kinds of fun implications in Hamlet's words.
His second line is:
"Not so, my lord; I am too much i'the sun."
He is letting us know that he is not actually oppressed by gloominess but is in fact much too exposed, he'd rather not have to grieve in public but since everyone else has moved on, he is forced to be the only one still grieving for his father.
In addition to the superb answer above, the first line is a paradox, verbal irony, and an equivocation, all of which reveal opposites conjoined. The phrase "A little more than kin and less than kind" shows Hamlet's wit and the duality of his nature.
Hamlet will reflect dualities in his words and character throughout the play, namely in his monologues and soliloquies, the most famous of which is "To be or not to be." Most of these paradoxes show the split in modern man, as he is split between action and observation, will and reason, freedom and authority, consciousness and narcissism. All of these paradoxes add up to man's existential questioning of a God (Hamlet's father, the Ghost) whose responses may or may not be his own, a kind of single-minded double argument.