Explore ways in which Act 1, scene 1 is an effecti
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Explore ways in which Act 1, scene 1 is an effective opening to Hamlet
In Act 1, scene 1, Shakespeare sets up an uncertain atmosphere and creates a sense of anticipation through the use of fragmented speech and rhetorical questions which create a broken rhythm and suggest something is wrong in the country of Denmark. While Shakespeare uses the apparition of the ghost to shock a strictly Jacobean audience to create an effective opening, the noble qualities of King Hamlet are hinted at in Act 1 Scene 1, where Horatio uses honourable descriptive language to reveal to the audience King Hamlet's brave and noble side.
The play opens with the declarative question ‘Who's there?' which lends a forceful quality and immediately creates a sense that something is wrong as the audience are made aware that a character is entering the stage, but it is no t yet known if this person poses a threat to the guard watch. This defensive statement from Bernardo instantly demonstrates his loyalty to the king, made clear by his willingness to confront the intruder. However, this uncertainty is amended as Shakespeare creates a role reversal as it is in fact, Francisco, who should be questioning Bernardo on watch. This breach of context and character authority is a recurring theme throughout Hamlet. The idea of uncertainty is further stressed when Francisco claims ‘tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart,' where the cold weather mirrors his depressed emotional state and the metaphor ‘sick at heart' is almost hyperbolic, highlighting that something is amiss in the state of Denmark - perhaps the entire country is ‘sick.' Francisco then goes on to reveal that he cannot hear even a ‘mouse stirring,' where this statement could be interpreted metaphorically to suggest evil is present in Denmark as the mouse i s an animal which is submissive; a significant characteristic of future characters in the play such as Laertes and Gertrude who are meekly obedi ent, conform ing to authority. Shakespeare's choice to reference mice may also suggest that something is going on behind the platform of Elsinore Castle, without the knowledge of the characters on stage.
Shakespeare also uses the apparition of the ghost not only to create suspense, but to reveal the bold qualities of the king. The presence of a ghost on stage would have been arresting of a strictly Jacobean audience, as the ghost was a symbol of hell and damnation in the 20 th century , creating an engaging opening to the scene. The ghost of King Hamlet appears dressed in military attire as a pose to court attire, perhaps reminding the audience that this figure has an important military status. Horatio's use of words which link to nobility such as ‘ambitious, ‘sledded' and ‘ smot e' almost idolize the ghost, outlining its impressi ve presence as it moves past Horatio. The use of alliteration here also highlights King Hamlet ' s brave qualities and ability to carry out actions (unlike his son) as the King is described by Horatio to have ‘ smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.' This line foreshadows future violence in the play and this brief characterization suggests there is hope for the close associates to Hamlet in the future as these brave qualities are passed down to young Prince Hamlet. Shakespeare's choice to reference these characteristics create s an engaging opening scene as the audience becomes more aware of character traits and the emotions of each of the characters on stage.
Shakespeare uses the sequence of lines ‘Tis here!' ‘Tis here!' ‘Tis gone!' which lends an almost comedic tone to the scene, as the repetition creates a rhythmical flow of words. The quick shift to "‘tis gone!' sounds almost comic al , as if the Ghost simply passed right through them and vanished. Shakespeare perhaps does this to engage the audience and remind them that all is not as it seems in the state of Denmark, whilst revealing that a status figure has recently died. Shakespeare then introduces the next section of the scene with the cockerel to symbolise the fact that dawn is approaching. Shakespeare's choice to compress time adds to the dramatic effe ct as the audience
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