Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 2


Knowing his weakness, Hamlet decries his inability to commit suicide, revealing his devotion to the laws of Shakespeare's religion. Hamlet refers to Gertrude's marriage to Claudius as incestuous, though history and cultural practices often encourage marriage between a widow and her brother-in-law. Elizabethan laws had only recently been changed to ban such unions. Hamlet's pain and embarrassment over his mother's incest — a marriage that besmirches her entire culture — is great enough to make him long for the comfort of death but not great enough to allow him to reject "His canon 'gainst self slaughter."

When Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio tantalize Hamlet with news of the Ghost, Hamlet excitedly questions them as to the details of the sighting and asserts his absolute surety that the Ghost is "honest" rather than a "goblin dam'd." Horatio contradicts his own earlier observation that the old king was angry by telling Hamlet that the Ghost seemed clothed "More / In sorrow." The Ghost's misery reinforces Hamlet's belief that the Ghost is in earnest. As his interchange with Horatio illustrates, Hamlet's sardonic sense of humor disguises his own aching melancholy and nagging suspicion that some "foul play" is afoot.


in one brow of woe Everyone in the kingdom ought to mourn.

jointress a woman who has been given an interest for life in her deceased husband's estate; here, a partner.

weak supposal poor opinion.

importing concerning.

ourself royal plural, used throughout the King's speeches.

gait progress.

delated articles detailed provisions set forth in their instructions.

pardon permission.

cousin kinsman. This word was used for any near relation; here it would refer to nephew.

sun a pun on son, again indicating Hamlet's dislike of the new relationship between himself and his uncle.

nighted black, signifying deep mourning.

obstinate condolement grief that is contrary to the will of heaven.

corse corpse, dead body.

impart behave.

bend you incline yourself.

Be as ourself in Denmark Claudius is extending to Hamlet all the special privileges and prerogatives belonging to a crowned prince.

rouse draught of liquor, toast.

bruit proclaim.

Fie for shame! an interjection expressing a sense of outraged propriety.

merely entirely, absolutely, altogether.

Hyperion a Titan often identified with the sun god.

satyr in Greek mythology, a woodland diety usually represented as having pointed ears, short horns, the head and body of a man, and the legs of a goat, and as being fond of riotous merriment and lechery.

beteem permit.

Niobe in Greek mythology, a queen of Thebes who, weeping for her slain children, is turned into a stone from which tears continue to flow; hence, an inconsolable woman.

Hercules in Greek and Roman mythology, the son of Zeus, renowned for his strength and courage, especially as shown in his performance of twelve labors imposed on him.

I'll change that name with you I am your servant.

make you from what is the news from?

Season your admiration Moderate your wonder. Shakespeare frequently uses admiration in its original (Latin) sense of wonder.

cap –– a –– pe fully armed from head to foot.

truncheon a general's baton.

beaver the visor of the helmet, which could be lowered in battle.

sable silver'd black streaked with white.

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