Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Analysis of Act I, Scene 1

Each of Shakespeare's plays deals in some way with the breakdown of the social or natural order, often symbolized by the death or disappearance of a monarch. Hamlet follows this tradition by opening with the appearance of the ghost of the former king, indicating that the natural order in Denmark has been disrupted by the king's untimely death.

The scene also introduces several of the recurring themes and motifs of the play. When the ghost appears, Horatio is skeptical; his hesitation in believing that the ghost even exists and in challenging it to speak presages Hamlet's own hesitation to act decisively, which ultimately leads to his demise. The watchmen describe the ghost as an “eruption in Denmark,” indicating an imbalance in the social order through a metaphor that compares Denmark to a physical human body and the problems it faces to disease – a metaphor that is spun out repeatedly during the play. Finally, the ghost's refusal to speak to Horatio connects with the play's ongoing motif on ears and hearing, which argues that lies and deceptive speech “poison” those who hear them.

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