Hamlet Act I, scene ii Summary & Analysis | SparkNotes (2023)

Summary: Act I, scene ii

The morning after Horatio and the guardsmen see the ghost, King Claudius gives a speech to his courtiers, explaining his recent marriage to Gertrude, his brother’s widow and the mother of Prince Hamlet. Claudius says that he mourns his brother but has chosen to balance Denmark’s mourning with the delight of his marriage. He mentions that young Fortinbras has written to him, rashly demanding the surrender of the lands King Hamlet won from Fortinbras’s father, and dispatches Cornelius and Voltimand with a message for the King of Norway, Fortinbras’s elderly uncle.

His speech concluded, Claudius turns to Laertes, the son of the Lord Chamberlain, Polonius. Laertes expresses his desire to return to France, where he was staying before his return to Denmark for Claudius’s coronation. Polonius gives his son permission, and Claudius jovially grants Laertes his consent as well.

Turning to Prince Hamlet, Claudius asks why “the clouds still hang” upon him, as Hamlet is still wearing black mourning clothes (I.ii.66). Gertrude urges him to cast off his “nightly colour,” but he replies bitterly that his inner sorrow is so great that his dour appearance is merely a poor mirror of it (I.ii.68). Affecting a tone of fatherly advice, Claudius declares that all fathers die, and all sons must lose their fathers. When a son loses a father, he is duty-bound to mourn, but to mourn for too long is unmanly and inappropriate. Claudius urges Hamlet to think of him as a father, reminding the prince that he stands in line to succeed to the throne upon Claudius’s death.

With this in mind, Claudius says that he does not wish for Hamlet to return to school at Wittenberg (where he had been studying before his father’s death), as Hamlet has asked to do. Gertrude echoes her husband, professing a desire for Hamlet to remain close to her. Hamlet stiffly agrees to obey her. Claudius claims to be so pleased by Hamlet’s decision to stay that he will celebrate with festivities and cannon fire, an old custom called “the king’s rouse.” Ordering Gertrude to follow him, he escorts her from the room, and the court follows.

Alone, Hamlet exclaims that he wishes he could die, that he could evaporate and cease to exist. He wishes bitterly that God had not made suicide a sin. Anguished, he laments his father’s death and his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle. He remembers how deeply in love his parents seemed, and he curses the thought that now, not yet two month after his father’s death, his mother has married his father’s far inferior brother.

(Video) Hamlet by William Shakespeare | Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (I.ii.150–157)

See Important Quotes Explained

Hamlet quiets suddenly as Horatio strides into the room, followed by Marcellus and Bernardo. Horatio was a close friend of Hamlet at the university in Wittenberg, and Hamlet, happy to see him, asks why he has left the school to travel to Denmark. Horatio says that he came to see King Hamlet’s funeral, to which Hamlet curtly replies that Horatio came to see his mother’s wedding. Horatio agrees that the one followed closely on the heels of the other. He then tells Hamlet that he, Marcellus, and Bernardo have seen what appears to be his father’s ghost. Stunned, Hamlet agrees to keep watch with them that night, in the hope that he will be able to speak to the apparition.

Read a translation of Act I, scene ii

(Video) Hamlet Analysis (Act 1 Scene 2) - Nerdstudy


Having established a dark, ghostly atmosphere in the first scene, Shakespeare devotes the second to the seemingly jovial court of the recently crowned King Claudius. If the area outside the castle is murky with the aura of dread and anxiety, the rooms inside the castle are devoted to an energetic attempt to banish that aura, as the king, the queen, and the courtiers desperately pretend that nothing is out of the ordinary. It is difficult to imagine a more convoluted family dynamic or a more out-of-balance political situation, but Claudius nevertheless preaches an ethic of balance to his courtiers, pledging to sustain and combine the sorrow he feels for the king’s death and the joy he feels for his wedding in equal parts.

But despite Claudius’s efforts, the merriment of the court seems superficial. This is largely due to the fact that the idea of balance Claudius pledges to follow is unnatural. How is it possible to balance sorrow for a brother’s death with happiness for having married a dead brother’s wife? Claudius’s speech is full of contradictory words, ideas, and phrases, beginning with “Though yet of Hamlet our late brother’s death / The memory be green,” which combines the idea of death and decay with the idea of greenery, growth, and renewal (I.ii.1–2). He also speaks of “[o]ur sometime sister, now our queen,” “defeated joy,” “an auspicious and a dropping eye,” “mirth in funeral,” and “dirge in marriage” (I.ii.8–12).

Read more about incestuous desire as a motif.

These ideas sit uneasily with one another, and Shakespeare uses this speech to give his audience an uncomfortable first impression of Claudius. The negative impression is furthered when Claudius affects a fatherly role toward the bereaved Hamlet, advising him to stop grieving for his dead father and adapt to a new life in Denmark. Hamlet obviously does not want Claudius’s advice, and Claudius’s motives in giving it are thoroughly suspect, since, after all, Hamlet is the man who would have inherited the throne had Claudius not snatched it from him.

Read an in-depth analysis of Claudius.

(Video) Hamlet Summary (Act 1 Scene 2) - Nerdstudy

The result of all this blatant dishonesty is that this scene portrays as dire a situation in Denmark as the first scene does. Where the first scene illustrated the fear and supernatural danger lurking in Denmark, the second hints at the corruption and weakness of the king and his court. The scene also furthers the idea that Denmark is somehow unsound as a nation, as Claudius declares that Fortinbras makes his battle plans “[h]olding a weak supposal of our worth, / Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death / Our state to be disjoint and out of frame” (I.ii.18–20).

Read more about the theme of the nation as a diseased body.

Prince Hamlet, devastated by his father’s death and betrayed by his mother’s marriage, is introduced as the only character who is unwilling to play along with Claudius’s gaudy attempt to mimic a healthy royal court. On the one hand, this may suggest that he is the only honest character in the royal court, the only person of high standing whose sensibilities are offended by what has happened in the aftermath of his father’s death. On the other hand, it suggests that he is a malcontent, someone who refuses to go along with the rest of the court for the sake of the greater good of stability.

Read an in-depth analysis of Hamlet.

In any case, Hamlet already feels, as Marcellus will say later, that “[s]omething is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv.67). We also see that his mother’s hasty remarriage has shattered his opinion of womanhood (“Frailty, thy name is woman,” he cries out famously in this scene [I.ii.146]), a motif that will develop through his unraveling romantic relationship with Ophelia and his deteriorating relationship with his mother.

(Video) 'Hamlet' Act 1 Scene 2: Summary and Analysis

Read more about misogyny as a motif.

His soliloquy about suicide (“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” [I.ii.129–130]) ushers in what will be a central idea in the play. The world is painful to live in, but, within the Christian framework of the play, if one commits suicide to end that pain, one damns oneself to eternal suffering in hell. The question of the moral validity of suicide in an unbearably painful world will haunt the rest of the play; it reaches the height of its urgency in the most famous line in all of English literature: “To be, or not to be: that is the question” (III.i.58).

In this scene Hamlet mainly focuses on the appalling conditions of life, railing against Claudius’s court as “an unweeded garden, / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely” (I.ii.135–137). Throughout the play, we watch the gradual crumbling of the beliefs on which Hamlet’s worldview has been based. Already, in this first soliloquy, religion has failed him, and his warped family situation can offer him no solace.

Read more about the mystery of death as a theme.


What is a brief summary of Hamlet Act 1 scene 2? ›

Act 1 scene 2

King Claudius addresses the court and talks about the sad death of his brother, Old Hamlet. He then toasts his marriage to his brother's wife, Gertrude, saying 'With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, / In equal scale weighing delight and dole' he has 'Taken to wife' his 'sometime sister'.

What is the theme of Hamlet Act 1 scene 2? ›

Moral corruption and the consequent dysfunction of family and state. Some related scenes: Act 1 Scene 2: King Claudius and Queen Gertrude urge Hamlet to raise his spirits; alone on stage he expresses his outrage at his mother's speedy remarriage to his uncle.

What is Hamlet most upset about in Act 1 scene 2? ›

Hamlet is as upset about his mother's remarriage as he is about his father's death. His mother's willingness to marry Claudius undercuts Hamlet's view that his mother and father loved each other deeply.

What happens in Act 1 scene 2 of Hamlet quizlet? ›

Act 1 Scene 2: Claudius declares that life goes on: "Happiness (marriage of Claudius and Gertrude) can be found in the midst of sadness (death of Hamlet Sr). Now, Fortinbras Jr. is trying to invade but [Claudius] has sent two ambassadors to the king of Norway to stop the attacks.

What is the conflict in Act 1 Scene 2 of Hamlet? ›

A summary of the conflict in act 1, scene 2, is that King Claudius plans to marry Hamlet's mother. He recently widowed her by murdering her husband and Hamlet's father. The critical conflict centers around the hostile relationship between the main characters and Claudius.

What is the dramatic effect in Act 1 Scene 2 of Hamlet? ›

Detailed answer: In Act 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet the Scene 2 is of great significance as it introduces the major conflict of the play. The scene establishes that Old King Hamlet has died recently and that his brother, Claudius, ascended to the throne and married his widow Gertrude quickly after his brother's death.

What literary devices are used in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Hamlet's first soliloquy takes place in act 1, scene 2, when Hamlet is expressing his misery and shock at his mother's new marriage to his uncle. He uses metaphor ("Frailty, thy name is woman!") and simile ("Like Niobe, all tears").

What is the theme of Hamlet Act 1 analysis? ›

Closely linked to the theme of madness versus feigned madness is the theme of appearance versus reality. This idea is introduced in Act One. Queen Gertrude asks Hamlet why he is still so heavily mourning the death of his father, claiming that he seems to be grieving more than is necessary.

What is the main idea of Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2? ›

The theme in this scene deals with family relationships. Since the king sends someone to spy on Hamlet, it suggests that he doesn't trust him. Therefore the theme is sometimes there is lack of trust in families, and they won't always be completely honest with one another.

Why does Hamlet hate himself in Act 2 Scene 2? ›

Hamlet knows that he's stalling, and hates himself for it. He is too lost within his own mind in order to take decisive action against Claudius—it's not in his nature to act promptly and brashly, even though he told the ghost he was committed to swiftly securing vengeance.

What is Hamlet really mad about in Act 2? ›

In a soliloquy, Hamlet laments his inability to take action against his father's murderer while an actor can stir such emotion in a performance. He curses himself and despises his inaction, frustrated that he can't summon the necessary fury to kill Claudius.

Why is Hamlet mad in Act 2 Scene 2? ›

Turning to the subject of Hamlet, Polonius declares, after a wordy preamble, that the prince is mad with love for Ophelia.

What events happened in Act 2 of Hamlet? ›

  • Polonius asks Reynaldo to spy on Laertes. ...
  • Ophelia tells Polonius of Hamlet's strange coming on to her. ...
  • Polonius believes it is because Hamlet loves Ophelia. ...
  • Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet. ...
  • Voltemand and Cornelius return. ...
  • Voltemnd tells Claudius of Fortinbras's plan.

How is Hamlet portrayed in Act 1 Scene 2? ›

This passage introduces Hamlet as sulky and cheeky—but justifiably so in many ways. His comment that he is “too much in the sun” is a play on words which demonstrates how unhappy he is about Claudius's marriage to his mother.

What happens in Act IV Scene II of Hamlet? ›

Summary: Hamlet has just hidden Polonius's body when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive to handle the situation. When they ask Hamlet where he has stashed the body, Hamlet refuses to reveal the location, telling the pair that all their favors for the king will bring them nothing in the end.

In what ways is Scene II a contrast to Scene I in Hamlet? ›

In Scene I, the guards are made aware of King Hamlet's ghost and it is alluded to that he is still sticking around for a good reason. In Scene II, we are introduced to Claudius and the fact that he is married to Hamlet's mother, despite being King Hamlet's brother and Hamlet's uncle.

What is the main conflict in Act 1 Scene 1? ›

Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 1. The scene opens with a brawl on the streets of Verona between servants from the affluent Montague and Capulet households. While attempting to stop the fight, Benvolio (Romeo's cousin) is drawn into the fray by Tybalt, kinsman of the Capulets.

What do Claudius's speech in Scene 2 suggest about his character? ›

Claudius reveals that he feels guilty about something – the murder of his brother. He compares his deed to a harlot's cheek being covered by make-up; in other words, something that is attractive in appearance, but ugly underneath. This relates to the theme of illusion vs. reality (things aren't always what they seem).

Why does Hamlet act crazy in Act 2 scene 1? ›

Two of the characters that showed signs of insanity are Claudius and Ophelia. Hamlet faked his madness at the beginning of the play for the sake of revenge for his father.

What is the dramatic irony in Hamlet Act 2? ›

In Act 2, Ophelia tells her father Polonius that Hamlet behaves strangely. Polonius finds the reason for his madness in the “ecstasy of love.” As her father asked, Ophelia rejected Hamlet's love, and Polonius concluded that it “made him mad.” In this situation, again, only readers know that this madness is a pretense.

What is the dramatic purpose of Act 2 scene 1? ›

Act 2 scene 1 is highly important in creating the character of Macbeth, surrounding him in madness, the supernatural and evil. Moreover the speech is highly famous, it is the climatic decision making soliloquy and it a high point of tension within the play.

What is ironic about Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Situational irony is where a situation turns out differently than you expect. In this case, you would think that Gertrude would morn over the loss of King Hamlet just as long as her son, but instead, marries Hamlet's uncle one month after the death.

What is the personification in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Act 1, Scene 2

married with my uncle. In his speech, Hamlet personifies his mother's frailty, cursing her weakness and attributing it to her womanhood. It is not enough to call his mother a frail person, instead he laments that frailty itself is a woman and is therefore the incarnation of womanhood.

What is the foreshadowing in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2. After the appearance of the Ghost of his father, wearing armor, Hamlet says how he suspects foul play – political corruption – in the death of his King Hamlet. The lines foreshadow that bad deeds, no matter how deeply hidden, will be revealed.

What is the setting of Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Detailed Summary. Claudius, the new king of Denmark, is holding court with his new wife Gertrude (Hamlet's mother), Hamlet, Claudius's advisor Polonius, Polonius's children Laertes and Ophelia, and other court members.

What is the figurative language in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1? ›

Metaphor in Hamlet

For example, in Act I, scene 1, Horatio notices that the sun is coming up and says, 'But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, / Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill. ' This uses a form of metaphor called personification in which an object is compared to a person.

What is the tension in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1? ›

Answer: In act 1, scene 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the appearance of the ghost creates an immediate sense of suspense. On a bleak, frigid night, the guards Francisco and Bernardo tell Horatio, a friend of Hamlet, about the ghost they had seen that resembles Hamlet's father.

What is the main point of Act 2? ›

Act 2 is basically about the emotional journey of the main character. Give your characters all sorts of challenges to overcome, because the key in this act is conflict. Without conflict you can't move the story forward.

What is Scene 2 of Hamlet? ›

Hamlet, mourning for his father's death, is left alone to vent his despair at what he regards as his mother's all too hasty marriage to his uncle, Claudius. The audience learns that the marriage took place “within a month” of the former king's death.

Who betrayed Hamlet in Act 2? ›

Claudius and Gertrude set Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two boyhood friends of Hamlet, to spy on him. When Hamlet himself enters, he is confronted first by Polonius and then by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whom he quickly identifies as Claudius's spies.

What is Hamlet's mental state in Act 2? ›

Watching the lead actor deliver a compelling monologue, Hamlet becomes sad that he, unlike the talented actor, can't seem to summon any courage or passion when it comes to avenging his father's death. He then hatches a plan: he'll have the actors stage a play with a plot similar to the king's murder.

Why does Hamlet reject Ophelia in Act 2? ›

Hamlet is cruel to Ophelia because he has transferred his anger at Gertrude's marriage to Claudius onto Ophelia. In fact, Hamlet's words suggest that he transfers his rage and disgust for his mother onto all women.

Why is Hamlet depressed in act 2? ›

All these are depressive symptoms and he has experienced events likely to precipitate depression: his father's sudden death, his mother's hasty marriage, and his disappointment in the succession. Hamlet is not just a typical Elizabethan melancholy man.

Is Hamlet actually mad in act 2? ›

The YES, HE WAS MAD side:

He tells her that he never loved her when she returns his letters and gifts, but then professes to be the only one who ever truly loved her during the fight with Laertes at her grave. His mood changes abruptly throughout the play.

What are some examples of Hamlet pretending to be mad? ›

Hamlet shows signs of madness when he speaks to Ophelia while Polonius and Claudius are spying on him. He expresses misogynistic behaviour by telling Ophelia “if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.” (III, i, 138 – 140).

What is the dramatic irony in act 2 Scene 2 of Hamlet? ›

SARAH: The very setting of this scene is full of dramatic irony — as King, Queen and Royal Counsellor are making plans to find out what's going on with the Prince, so Hamlet is observing them, also wanting to know what the King knows, and to what extent Polonius is implicated.

What happens at the end of Hamlet act 2? ›

Laertes forgives Hamlet and dies. Hamlet himself then dies in Horatio's arms, asking Horatio to live and tell Fortinbras what happened, as well as crown Fortinbras king of Denmark.

Why is Ophelia so upset act 2? ›

Once Reynaldo has departed, Ophelia arrives. She is upset by a recent interaction she had with Hamlet. He entered her room in a state of undress, grabbed her by the wrist, and would not let go until she physically resisted. He did not speak to her.

What does Claudius think of Hamlet in Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Claudius thinks Hamlet is far too mopey about his father's death and should move on with his life.

What is the tone of Hamlet's soliloquy Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Analysis of Hamlet's Soliloquy, Act 1. Scene II. This soliloquy begins with Hamlet desiring death, saying, 'this too solid flesh would melt', but this desire comes coupled with the fear that God does not condone 'self-slaughter'. This reveals that Hamlet is feeling melancholic.

What does Hamlet mean by this reference to Claudius in Act 1 Scene 2 of Hamlet? ›

In his first line, Hamlet alludes to and plays on the Elizabethan proverb, “The nearer in kin, the less in kindness,” which means our closest relatives often treat us the worst. In this line, he suggests that now Claudius is his kin twice over—first his uncle, and now his stepfather.

What happens in Act 2 Scene 3 of Hamlet? ›

Hamlet slips quietly into the room and steels himself to kill the unseeing Claudius. But suddenly it occurs to him that if he kills Claudius while he is praying, he will end the king's life at the moment when he was seeking forgiveness for his sins, sending Claudius's soul to heaven.

What happens in Act Three Scene 2 Hamlet? ›

Act 3, scene 2 Hamlet gives direction to the actors and asks Horatio to help him observe Claudius's reaction to the play. When the court arrive, Hamlet makes bawdy and bitter comments to Ophelia.

What happens in Act 4 Scene 2 summarize? ›

Summary: Macduff's wife, Lady Macduff, questions Ross about her husband fleeing to England. She doesn't understand why he would leave his family defenseless at a time like this. Ross tries to reassure her, but no sooner does he leave than a messenger arrives to tell Lady Macduff and her son to run for their lives.

What figures of speech are used in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2? ›

Hamlet's first soliloquy takes place in act 1, scene 2, when Hamlet is expressing his misery and shock at his mother's new marriage to his uncle. He uses metaphor ("Frailty, thy name is woman!") and simile ("Like Niobe, all tears").

What is a short summary of Hamlet Act 4 Scene 2? ›

Summary: Hamlet has just hidden Polonius's body when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive to handle the situation. When they ask Hamlet where he has stashed the body, Hamlet refuses to reveal the location, telling the pair that all their favors for the king will bring them nothing in the end.

What does Hamlet do in Act 2? ›

He resolves to devise a trap for Claudius, forcing the king to watch a play whose plot closely resembles the murder of Hamlet's father; if the king is guilty, he thinks, he will surely show some visible sign of guilt when he sees his sin reenacted on stage.

What is the setting of the scene Act 2 Scene 2? ›

The Balcony Scene

At the start of this scene, Romeo hides beneath Juliet's balcony and overhears her talking about him. He eventually comes out and they talk to each other.

What is the irony in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1? ›

In Act 1, the Ghost of the King, however, reveals the truth to Hamlet that it was Claudius who poisoned him. There is dramatic irony because only the readers and Hamlet know this truth. It also turns out that only Hamlet can talk to the Ghost while Gertrude does not see him.

What is Act 1 Scene 2 Hamlet's first soliloquy? ›

Within a month, Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. O most wicked speed! To post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets, It is not nor it cannot come to good; But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.


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