Analise Claudius's opening speech to the court in Act One Scene Two

Essay by superier1High School, 11th grade May 2007

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Having established a dark, ghostly atmosphere in the first scene, Shakespeare devotes the second to the seemingly jovial court of the recently crowned King Claudius. If the area outside the castle is murky with the aura of dread and anxiety, the rooms inside the castle are devoted to an energetic attempt to banish that aura, as the king, the queen, and the courtiers desperately pretend that nothing is out of the ordinary. The speech by Claudius to the court highlights a number of key themes and ideas, central to the play as a whole, and allows the audience to form initial impressions of the newly crowned king.

The notion of appearance v reality is addressed throughout Claudius’s speech, giving hints to the audience about his guilt. On the surface, the speech appears relaxed, level-headed, eloquent and persuasive, however, Shakespeare hints to the audience of the false nature of the speech.

Despite Claudius’s efforts, the high spirits of the court seems superficial. This is largely due to the fact that the idea of balance Claudius pledges to follow is unnatural. How is it possible to balance sorrow for a brother’s death with happiness for having married a dead brother’s wife? Claudius’s speech is full of contradictory words, ideas, and phrases, beginning with “Though yet of Hamlet our late brother’s death / The memory be green,” which combines the idea of death and decay with the idea of greenery, growth, and renewal. He also speaks of “our sometime sister, now our queen,” “defeated joy,” “an auspicious and a dropping eye,” “mirth in funeral,” and “dirge in marriage”. These ideas sit uneasily with one another, and Shakespeare uses this speech to give his audience an uncomfortable first impression of Claudius.

There are many different interpretations as to how this scene should be...