Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Claudius's Explanation
  • 1:05 Gloomy Hamlet
  • 3:05 Hamlet's First Soliloquy
  • 4:14 The King's Ghost
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

This lesson summarizes Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet.' Claudius explains why he married Gertrude so quickly after his brother's death, and he and the Queen urge Hamlet to let go of his own grief and anger. Then, Horatio tells Hamlet about seeing his father's ghost.

Claudius' Explanation

Act 1, Scene 2 of Hamlet opens with Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, and various courtiers entering. Claudius starts explaining why he and Gertrude have married immediately after the King's death. Don't forget that the King was Claudius's brother, Gertrude's husband, and Hamlet's father.

The King's funeral has barely concluded by the time his brother has moved in on his wife and his kingdom. Claudius acknowledges that the marriage happened fast and that the kingdom should mourn:

The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe.

But, he also says they have to think about the future. According to Claudius, quickly making his 'sometime sister' into his new wife was in the best interest of the kingdom. If the kingdom grieves for too long, then Young Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, might think that they are vulnerable to attack. Claudius has written to Fortinbras's uncle to put a stop to any plans.

Gloomy Hamlet

Claudius begins to address Hamlet, saying'

But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son--

In Shakespearean times, cousin could mean cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew. Hamlet mutters off to the side:

A little more than kin and less than kind.

These are the first words that Hamlet speaks, and they clue us in to Hamlet's feelings about Claudius.

'A little more than kin' means that now Claudius is more than just Hamlet's uncle - he is now his stepfather. The second part ('less than kind') has multiple meanings. Hamlet says that though Claudius is more than kin, he is less than 'kind', meaning not of the same stock or type as Hamlet and the late King Hamlet. He also refers to what he sees as Claudius's unnatural desire for Gertrude, with 'kind' meaning 'natural.' Third, Hamlet's words mean that Claudius's hasty marriage is not kind in the sense that it is not considerate to the memory of Hamlet's father and Claudius's brother.

Both Claudius and Gertrude ask Hamlet why he is still so sad. Gertrude says:

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not forever with thy vailèd lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know'st 'tis common. All that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

Basically, Gertrude is saying that everyone dies, and there's no sense for Hamlet to continue grieving about it. Hamlet agrees that everyone must die, and Gertrude asks why it seems that he is particularly upset. This sets Hamlet off. He responds:

Seems,' madam? Nay, it is. I know not 'seems.'

Hamlet is saying that it's not that he just looks like he is mourning because of his black clothing and other visible signs; he really is grieving. Hamlet doesn't think that his mother and his uncle have sincerely mourned his father.

Claudius and Gertrude remind Hamlet that he is next in line for the throne and should stay in Denmark rather than going back to school. Hamlet reluctantly agrees and is left in the room alone.

Hamlet's First Soliloquy

The next part of the scene is Hamlet's first soliloquy. A soliloquy is when a character speaks their thoughts out loud while alone on stage or unaware of potential listeners. Soliloquies are often used in plays to show a character's inner thoughts and feelings.

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