Hamlet 1.2 - Video Clip

Hamlet Act 1 - Exposition & Intro to Big Ideas

Today we covered - or at least touched on - a the big ideas of Act 1 in Hamlet.

Hamlet Act 1 is predominantly filled with information that sets the groundwork for the play. We learn what is going on in Denmark, who the major players are, what is going on (death of Hamlet, marriage of Gertrude, Prince Hamlet's return) and are introduced to the initial conflict (appearance of Ghost).


On the dramatic arc, this means that we are covering the exposition. We also learn some antecedent action (Hamlet having fought in a battle against Norway and having annexed lands as a result). We also learn additional antecedent action from the ghost when he tells Prince Hamlet the story of his father's murder.

We also get the beginnings of the rising action with the protagonist's (Hamlet) objective being stated. He says at the end that he will seek revenge for his father's murder.


The big idea of the Act is definitely the death of King Hamlet since that sets everything else in motion.


We are discussing a couple of questions in regards to this Act. The first is that of growing up: When does it stop? When does the pain of it, the hardship of it stop?

We had a discussion on this and decided that growing up stops when you are grown up. That was simple. So what does being grown-up mean? According to class suggestions, this means that you are able to make decisions for yourself and your future; you are independent, and you are able to take responsibility for yourself.

So looking at Hamlet, we see someone who is definitely not fully grown up, but is moving in that direction. Based on our definition of what it means to be a grown up, we know he isn't grown up because he isn't making decisions for himself. He decides to stay in Denmark instead of going back to Wittenberg, in order to make his mother happy. Does this feel like the grown up thing? I guess it depends on why he is doing it. Is he making the choice for himself? Is it a good choice for his future? Also he states that he must hold his tongue about the disturbing marriage of his mother to his uncle. Long before the ghost comes, Hamlet isn't comfortable with what is going on in Denmark. Should he say something? What is the grown up thing to do?

Once the ghost comes on the scene and tells him of his father's murder, we see Hamlet at another crossroads of adulthood. What should he do with this information. Is it the adult thing to automatically swear to revenge his father's death? Is this the best decision for him? His future? Is he taking authority of and responsibility for his life by standing up for what is right?


On a side note, some of you may be interested in a book named Reviving Ophelia (yes it was named after our poor Ophelia who died too soon). It is about how to raise adolescent girls in a world that can be very hostile towards young women. You can read about it here. I've also included a video clip of the author describing her book. Click here to view it.

Act 1 Scene 3 Laertes/Ophelia/Polonius Scene

Something we didn't touch on in class is why boys grow up more slowly than girls. This was a question posed by the class, and we thought we would take a stab to see what Hamlet says about it. Or, really if this is even true?

Interestingly in scene 3, we see an interesting exchange between Laertes and his sister where he warns her about being careful with Hamlet. Hamlet has shown overtures of affection to Ophelia, but Laertes is worried that he may not be able to follow through on them and that Ophelia may be hurt, or have her reputation spoiled if she doesn't break it off. Ophelia obviously does have feelings for Hamlet, but she does as she is told. Is this the grown up decision? Maybe maybe not. She definitely makes it in response to her family's wishes. So perhaps she is not completely grown up yet, but what is apparent is that while Hamlet is free to choose to stay or go, say or not say anything. Ophelia has choices but they are within different parameters. Hamlet will be okay whether or not he chooses to stay or go, and nothing will go badly for him necessarily if he chooses to say something or not say something, or whether or not he chooses to revenge his dead father or not.

However, for Ophelia, Laertes makes it clear that her decisions,her actions will have very big consequences. In essence it becomes clear early on that it is different for girls. She has less freedom in her actions and her decisions are more critical because the consequences are greater. This is clear from the unequal relationship that Hamlet and Ophelia have together. Hamlet can like of Ophelia but Ophelia needs to be careful because it's her reputation on the line if he plays with her and then can't follow through.

So what does it look like for Ophelia to grow up? How will she make decisions for herself and her future? How can she take responsibility for herself and be independent? And will she need to do it sooner than Hamlet?

We'll see...