In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, what attitude dominates Hamlet's personality in Act I, Scene II?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As Scene II of the first act of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet begins, the audience has already been greeted by the macabre scene of castle guards and officers discussing the peculiar visions some have experienced, specifically, an apparition bearing an uncanny resemblance to the late King Hamlet, whose son, Prince Hamlet, we will see, is despondent over his father's death. As this scene opens, the new king, Claudius, brother of the recently deceased monarch, laments the melancholy atmosphere that accompanied the deceased's recent death:

"Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe...."

In his comments, Claudius also alludes to another development--one that will play a prominent role in the titular figure's emotional state:

"Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen..."

In that brief reference, Claudius is indicating that familial relationships in this kingdom are complicated and, quite possibly, incestuous (by Elizabethan standards). As the scene progresses, it becomes known that the "sometime sister" is, or was, the previous monarch's wife/queen. It also becomes apparent that the character to whom Claudius refers, Gertrude, is now his wife/queen. Prince Hamlet, of course, is Gertrude's and the late king's son. In short, Gertrude, in mourning over the death of her first husband, King Hamlet, is now wed to her second husband, King Claudius, King Hamlet's brother.

We also know, as stated earlier, that Prince Hamlet, like others throughout the kingdom, is despondent over the death of his father. It will, however, soon be revealed that Hamlet is equally upset over news of his mother's marriage to Claudius--a sentiment that will intensify enormously after Prince Hamlet's encounter with his late father's ghost. In this scene (Act I, Scene II), King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Prince Hamlet and others among the court of the king are together. Claudius addresses the young prince by noting the latter's demeanor: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" With this question, Claudius is acknowledging that his effort at distracting from the despondency over the previous king's death with his marriage to Gertrude has failed. Hamlet is still melancholy. And it is that melancholy demeanor, the depression being experienced by the young prince, that leads to his contemplations of suicide.

Examples of Hamlet's despondency are many in this scene. When he is left alone, Claudius, Gertrude, and myriad strap-hangers having left the room, he gives full measure of his sadness, noting, "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world!" His beloved father and king is dead, and his mother has quickly remarried her dead husband's brother, a development that leads Hamlet to lament, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" Hamlet is angry and deeply saddened and is complicating suicide, a sentiment that reaches its emotional zenith with one of the most famous passages in English literature, "To be, or not to be."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is the scene in which Claudius announces his marriage to Gertrude.  Hamlet can best be described as grumpy in this scene.  He is bitter about his mother's quick marriage.  He feels she has betrayed his father and he doesn't trust Claudius.  He is despondent, feeling that he is alone in the world.  Hamlet's "asides" - his muttered comments to himself - show how bitter he is.  He criticizes Claudius, calling him:

"A little more than kin, and less than kind."

He challenges his mother outright, insisting his feelings are strong and valid:

"Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not seems."

When they are gone, he wishes for release from his pain:

"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt!"

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial