Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Summary of Act I, Scene 2

Scene II opens in the throne room, where Claudius – the brother of the dead king and thus Hamlet's uncle – is giving a speech. He explains that while he's certainly sad about his brother's untimely death, he has decided to balance his grief against his happiness in his recent marriage to Gertrude, his brother's widow (and Hamlet's mother). Claudius also notes that young Fortinbras of Norway is making plans to invade Denmark, and he dispatches two messengers, Voltemand and Cornelius, to the Norwegian court. Next, Claudius turns his attention to Laertes, the son of his Lord Chamberlain, Polonius. Laertes asks for leave to go back to France to continue his studies, which Claudius grants after checking in with Polonius.

Then, Claudius turns to Hamlet and asks why he is still in mourning. Gertrude, too, encourages her son to quit moping, to which Hamlet replies that his inner grief is so strong that his outer attitude is only a shadow of it. Claudius then undertakes to bestow some fatherly advice on Hamlet, telling him that all fathers die, that all sons lose their fathers, and that while it is appropriate for a son to mourn his father, it is not appropriate to mourn for too long. Claudius then encourages Hamlet to think of Claudius as a father and reminds Hamlet that he will succeed to the throne on Claudius's death.

Then, Claudius decrees that Hamlet should not go back to Wittenburg to continue his studies, as Hamlet has asked to do. Gertrude chimes in, urging Hamlet to stay in Denmark rather than return to Wittenburg. Hamlet grudgingly agrees, which (apparently) so delights Claudius that he calls for a celebration.

The court, along with Claudius and Gertrude, exit the stage, leaving Hamlet alone, where he vents his true feelings for the first time. He wishes he could disappear and that God had not forbidden suicide. He laments his uncle's quick marriage to his mother and remembers how very much in love his parents had seemed when his father was alive; with this in mind, he curses his mother's haste in remarrying so soon after his father's death.

Hamlet stops suddenly as Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo enter. Hamlet asks Horatio, who is a friend from Wittenburg, what Horatio is doing in Denmark. Horatio says he is there for Hamlet's father's funeral, to which Hamlet replies sarcastically that Horatio is actually there for Hamlet's mother's wedding. Horatio agrees that the two events did follow one another rather quickly. Then, Horatio tells Hamlet about seeing a ghost that looked like Hamlet's father. Surprised, Hamlet agrees to keep watch with Horatio during the coming night, to see if the ghost will reappear and speak to him.