The overall Dramatic impact of Act One and to the rest of the play
The first scene sets the play in motion, fills the audience in with background information, gives an exciting and chilling beginning and starts the plot. The first scene is one of the most interesting and a significant scene in the play, as it has a spooky entrance and a chilling dialogue. It starts the plot to kill the king in motion, which the play is all about.
The short introductory lines add to the Dramatic tension at the beginning of the play.
When Barnardo enters the castle Elsinore at the beginning of the play, he cannot find his fellow custodian, showing the audience it is dark. The bell that tolls earlier plays a significant part later on in the scene, but it also tells the audience that it is midnight, which again shows it is dark. When Barnardo enters he says,” Who’s there?”
Shakespeare is attempting to give the audience an element of fear because later on in the scene Horatio says “What, has this thing appeared again tonight?”
The guards are expecting some sort of visitor that frightens them, for this reason, the guards are afraid. Often guards are hired for their strength and bravery which gives a hint that the visitor they are expecting is possibly supernatural.
The ghost that does appear to them does not speak, but according to a speech made by Barnardo to Horatio after the ghost had left,”It was about to speak when the cock crew.” This shows that it took from the time the ghost appeared to the time the cock crew (which signifies early morning), to get a response. The bell tolls at midnight, so it takes them a very long time to get the ghost to speak.
As it is already known that the ghost is that of Hamlet’s father, the fact that the ghost is only willing to talk to Hamlet is quite irrelevant. It may to show distrust in the three men present, possibly because they now serve the new King Claudius, brother (in law and blood relative), step father to his child and murderer of himself. In act I scene IV this state of negativity confirms what the audience are thinking about all not being well in Denmark when Marcellus puts his views forward about the corruption in Denmark, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Earlier in the play, Marcellus met the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father. So the reference to something rotten in the state of Denmark could be referring to the state of Hamlet’s father, as dead bodies rot. Although he does not know this, but as the king is corrupt, there is ambiguity in his statement that is only seen by the audience. No outright obloquy is used here, as Marcellus does not know about king. But this act of dramatic irony suggests many interesting points.
Back at the beginning of the play, when Barnardo enters, Francisco, who is on guard, is challenged by Barnardo before he has time to react. Barnardo shows fear and anxiety here, the reason being, he has seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father and is frightened at the prospect of seeing it again. Francisco is not expecting a ghost and seems relatively bored and tired as he reacts last even though he is the man on guard. Barnardo says in a frightened voice, “Who’s there?”
He says this before Francisco notices anybody there at all. This shows he is more afraid than Francisco. At this point the audience does not know why he is afraid, creating and tense and chilling atmosphere among them. He later says after the ghost of the late king had left,
“I think it mat be no other but e’en so,
Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch so like the king
That was and is the question of these wars.”
He mentions wars and that the he was battle armoured just like the king. He may not have been able to tell for sure if it was the king, so he says “so like”. The audience would now have the belief that the king was killed during a battle and a war between Denmark and Norway was occurring. It would have to be Norway because Horatio mentioned earlier that the king killed the king of Norway.
Horatio’s speech states,
“Our last King,
Was as you know by Fortinbras of Norway,
Dared to combat; in which our valiant Hamlet,
Did slay this Fortinbras.”
King Hamlet has slain the king of Norway which (to the audience) would seem sufficient reason for a war between the two countries. Horatio also mentions in his speech,
“Fortinbras did forfeit (with his life)
All those his lands.”
In this case his son, Fortinbras, has succeeded his father to the throne and would now want vengeance. This is similar to the Hydra of Greek mythology, where as one dies, two more appear in its place. As Fortinbras dies, not only does his son become a new enemy, but, quite unexpectedly, so does his power hungry brother.
As the king is dead, the audience would need to believe in another form of death rather than battle (Horatio just mentioned he survived battle). This is where another element of revenge is introduced. The audience finds out later on that the son of the departed king of Norway is massing an attack on Denmark. This war is diverted which shows that revenge is not as important to Fortinbras compared to Hamlet.
“Hamlet” is classed as a revenge tragedy for several reasons. The strong part that revenge plays in the lives of many of the main characters is the main reason. Revenge tragedy plays cannot be classed under that specific genre if the main character survives to the end. Usually, that same character must discover the identity of the person or persons who has upset the main character by the murder of a close friend or family member or by humiliation or betrayal. The play involves the character’s desire for revenge through a careful plan to identify the perpetrator and then kill that person. The person in question is usually very difficult to kill as they are more often than not very powerful people or very well guarded.
There are three main points of revenge in “Hamlet”, all caused by members of Hamlet’s family. The murder of the king by his brother Claudius is not known to Hamlet or the audience until the ghost tells him later in act I. Also, Laertes is grief-stricken when he finds his father murdered by Hamlet. The third main figure of revenge is Fortinbras. His father was murdered by the late king of Denmark. It is ironic to note that all of the victims (Fortinbras, Polonius, King Hamlet) were all murdered by members of Hamlets family (King Hamlet, Hamlet, Claudius) respectively.