In any play, the opening act is essential to the purpose of outlining the main themes and characters of the piece. It also reveals the plot and the mood of the play to the audience. Act I of Hamlet is very successful in outlining these aspects and yet is also successful in highlighting the atmosphere of the play and in doing so, suggesting aspects of the play as a whole. Shakespeare communicates this using a variety of dramatic techniques and I will also be outlining these in this essay.
One of the most important aspects that is revealed in this act is that of the themes of the play. There are various themes that are suggested but I will comment on those that I consider most important; those of conflict and appearance versus reality.
The theme of conflict is one that is emphasised from the start of the Act. The setting which Shakespeare starts the play is dark, desolate and "bitter cold". This aids with the atmosphere of tension as it emphasises the atmosphere that is being communicated; one of tension which in turn suggests conflict. The theme is also established at an early point as even the second line of the play regards a conflict, as Bernado is forced to "Stand, and unfold yourself". From this point onwards the atmosphere of conflict is highlighted by the constant use of military language, "Let us assail your ears...host of heaven". Yet it is also highlighted by other subtle aspects of the Act, the ghost's military apparel and the ongoing conflict between Hamlet and Claudius, "A little more than kin, and less than kind". In my opinion, the need for this conflict to be communicated early in the play was essential as, it is the major theme of the text; Hamlet's inner struggle id the epitome of the conflict in the play and it is this that is the central theme of the play.
With regards to the theme of appearance versus reality, one must consider Hamlet and how he is communicated in the first Act. It was Shakespeare's aim to communicate the inner conflict within Hamlet in this act and therefore, establish empathy between the audience and the character of Hamlet.