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How Does Act One of Hamlet Shape Your Understanding of the Main Concerns of the Play Essay

In the interactions of characters, Shakespeare’s Hamlet examines fundamental characteristics of society which can result in moral ambiguity for both the characters and the audience. In a time of transition between the traditional church led tenets and the emerging Renaissance humanist views, the title character is related to other characters to explore the notions of corruption, loyalty and love. Contrastingly, it is also in the rejection of others and isolation of Hamlet that questions as the nature of life is unravelled.

Indeed, whilst the world of Hamlet may appear unfamiliar to a 21st century audience it is the examination of such intrinsic qualities of humans that remains pertinent. Corruption is established as a main thematic concern of Hamlet from the opening and continues throughout the play. On a political level, corruption is explored through the dissolute nature of the Danish court. This reflects the contextual concerns of Shakespeare’s world with the belief in the Divine Right of Kings.

This idea believes that a monarch is subject not to earthly authority but derives his right to rule directly from the will of God. Thus, in having a king that has not been given the right from God, but rather took it and is corrupt there would be a corrupt country- as Denmark is established to be from Act One. Through the imagery of nature in a degenerated state such as an “unweeded garden” the idea of corruption in the kingdom is established.

Such imagery continues throughout the play and Denmark becomes synonymous with a state of decay. The Jacobean thoughts suggest that the nation reflects a ‘diseased body’ because a state has the wrong king and thus the natural order is unbalanced. Further, moral corruptION is set up in Act One through the character of Claudius and establishes the theme for the later exploration for the moral corruptness of Hamlet. That is, in Act One, the catalyst for Hamlet to become morally corrupt occurs.

Moral corruption is most obviously seen in Act One through Claudius. His first speech gives the impression that HE Claudius is a good man, upset by his brother’s death. However, it is soon discovered that he is corrupt and has wrongfully taken the throne from Hamlet. In this first speech Claudius is very controlled and uses poetic language to make the marriage seem normal despite the fact that Denmark has only recently been unbalanced by the death of their king. The use of “our” as the royal plural eans that he has adopted the language of kingship but because he has taken its wrongfully, a sense of corruption is immediately established. For a Jacobean audience, the wrongful king would make them question their own monarchy, where a very didactic Elizabeth sat on the throne. When corruption presents itself, tensions arise between a tragic individual who condemns it and their society. It is in the interaction with Claudius, as the embodiment of such corruption, that Hamlet becomes disillusioned with his state.

In Hamlet’s first line “a little more than kin/a little less than kind” the pun directly attacks Claudius’ facade of benevolence, utilising a pun to highlight his awareness of the deceptive appearances with the court. Moreover, Hamlet rallies against the superficial merriment of the court in his “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt” soliloquy comparing his father as a ‘Hyperion’ to Claudius as ‘a satyr. ’ Claudius tries desperately to maintain a weak and unnatural court in the balance between the supposed sorrow he feels for the king’s death and the joy he must feel for marrying his dead brother’s wife.

This is supported in his inconsistency of “through yet of Hamlet our late brother’s death the memory be green”, whereby the idea of death and decay is fused with imagery of greenery, growth and renewal. Such actions lead Hamlet to question the way in which corruption can grapple his entire state, likening it to “all things rank and gross in nature. ” This isolates him, despite his clearly identified place in Denmark. His “inky cloak” becomes a metaphor for both his physical and mental isolation – a result of Claudius corrupt action.


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