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Free MonkeyNotes-Hamlet by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Summary
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ACT I, SCENE 2

Summary

Claudius, the new King of Denmark and brother of the late King Hamlet, enters with his new wife Queen Gertrude, his nephew-turned-stepson Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, and other courtiers and attendants. Claudius is warning the members of the court against excessive grief over the late king. He justifies his admittedly hasty marriage to Gertrude, the widowed queen, by saying that the marriage had been done in the best interest of Denmark and with the approval of the courtiers. He then turns to the issue of the growing animosity between Denmark and Norway.

Claudius tells the members of the court about the recent aggression by Young Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, who is mobilizing his military resources with the intention of recovering from Denmark the lands lost by his late father. Claudius feels the young Fortinbras is taking advantage of the confusion and disorganization of Denmark in the wake of the sudden death of King Hamlet. Claudius tells his court that the new King of Norway, who is the uncle of the young prince, is old and bed-ridden and has no knowledge of his nephew's vengeful actions. Claudius states that he has written a letter to the old King requesting him to restrain his nephew from his aggressive military preparations against Denmark.

Claudius then turns to Laertes, who requests permission to return to France. Laertes explains that he had come to Denmark in order to be present at the coronation ceremony. Laertes' father, Polonius, is reluctant to say goodbye to his son, but finally consents. Claudius then grants leave to Laertes.


Claudius turns to Prince Hamlet, who continues to grieve for his father, and questions him regarding his melancholy. Queen Gertrude advises Hamlet to deal philosophically with his grief, telling him all human beings must die eventually. She then begs her son to regard the new King (her new husband) as a friend. Hamlet, extremely upset at his mother's hasty remarriage and her apparent lack of mourning, is deeply hurt and irritably replies to his mother that his grief is genuine and cannot be philosophized away. He explains that his dark cloak and other external signs of mourning are nothing in comparison with what he feels in his heart. Claudius commends Hamlet for his intense devotion to his late father but points out that everybody, at some point in life, suffers such a loss. He adds that a protracted period of mourning goes against the teachings of religion and is evidence of "impious stubbornness."

Claudius asks Hamlet to regard him as his father and tries to give him paternal advice. Not approving of Hamlet's wish to return to Wittenberg, Claudius implores him to remain at Elsinore. When the Queen also urges Hamlet to stay, he consents. Claudius proclaims that a great feast will be held that night to celebrate Hamlet's "gentle and unforc'd accord." Claudius, Gertrude, and the courtiers then depart. Left alone for the first time, Hamlet expresses his melancholy aloud. He is disgusted with life, and the world appears to him "weary, stale, flat, and, unprofitable," a place fit for only those who are gross and ill of nature. He longs to die and wishes that suicide were not a sin. He is outraged by his mother's hasty marriage to his Uncle laudius barely two months after the death of his father and curses her frailty. Though Claudius is the late King's brother, he is a much inferior man and cannot be compared with Hamlet's father. Hamlet curbs his emotions as he sees Horatio and Marcellus approaching.

During conversation with Hamlet, Horatio makes it clear that he does not approve of the Queen's hasty remarriage. He also tells Hamlet about Bernardo and Marcellus seeing the ghost of the late King on two consecutive nights during their guard duty. Horatio also explains that he himself joined the watch and saw the ghost with his own eyes. When Hamlet asks his friend whether he tried to speak to the ghost, Horatio explains how it remained silent and shrank away when the cock crowed. A curious Hamlet questions Horatio about every little detail of his encounter with the apparition. He then decides to join the watch later in the night, hopeful of seeing the ghost himself. He swears Horatio, Bernardo, and Marcellus to secrecy about what they have seen.

After his friends depart, Hamlet is once again left alone and reflects upon the strange news he has just heard. He is convinced that the appearance of his father's apparition is an omen of foul play that will soon be revealed. Hamlet exclaims, "My father's spirit in arms! All is not well."


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