Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 5


The major issues of the play are now out in the open and conjoined: By marrying Claudius, Gertrude has committed incest and has failed to carry out her duties to her slain husband. In Claudius, because of his duplicity, these sins are unforgivable. How his people perceive him concerns Claudius more than making things right with Hamlet, Gertrude, or the people of Denmark. On the other hand, Gertrude is a woman who has been led by her weakness and frailty to follow the charismatic devil of a king to his bed.

Hamlet swears Horatio and Marcellus to secrecy and garners further support from his audience. His genuine leadership capability and honest friendship for Horatio inspire great loyalty from the two men, and that loyalty is clearly Hamlet's earned reward for his strength of character.

Hamlet tells Horatio that he plans to feign madness before the King and the court. The madness will render him invisible so that he might observe and discern the best way and time for his revenge. Hamlet's meaning here remains ambiguous. Is his madness a mask? A costume? A lie? The answer to this question provides the key to Hamlet's characterization, and an actor playing the role must decide what that "putting on" signifies. In some portrayals, Hamlet pretends to be mad; in others, while he may believe he is pretending, he is quite mad. In still others, Hamlet's madness grows as he develops. In others again, Hamlet is a child who can't grow up and accept the burdens of adulthood, which include his duties to his slain father. Shakespeare seems to have deliberately left Hamlet's ruse ambiguous enough so that the performances of the role may vary.


Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled without the sacraments of communion, penance, and extreme unction.

Hic et ubique Latin for here and everywhere.

truepenny honest fellow.

knotted and combined locks hair lying together in a mass.

porpentine porcupine.

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