This is my first time reading Hamlet. I knew something about a ghost, and something about a prince, and Denmark, and a few other things like that. And the language in this act was a big challenge for me, so I was genuinely surprised when I found out that Claudius had killed Hamlet’s father (1.5.74-79) [Unless there is a MAJOR PLOT TWIST coming up that will shock me even further].
While I was reading Claudius’ long talk to Hamlet, about how he would be as a father to him, and telling him to “throw to earth This prevailing woe” (1.2.106-107), I felt bad for him. Hamlet is not very gracious to his new step-father or mother. I rolled my eyes at his first soliloquy, when Hamlet claims to be so upset that he would kill himself if it wasn’t for God’s “Fixed…canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (1.2.131-132).
However, when I discovered that Claudius had, in fact, been the cause of Hamlet’s father’s death, I realized that I had been fooled by his gentle words. This reminded me strongly of Iago from Othello. If we had not been aided by Iago’s asides, telling us of his hatred for Othello: “I do hate him as I do hell pains” (Othello, 1.1.155), we would be inclined to believe Iago when he says “My lord, you know I love you” (3.3.121). In a similar fashion, Claudius gives off an appearance of gentle love: “With no less nobility of love Than that which dearest father bears his son Do I impart towards you” (1.2.110-112). Yet we discover Hamlet’s father was killed by Claudius!
Shakespeare writes his dialogue in such painful ways that we, the outsiders, can see the irony and tension being created by the villains, while the characters in the play are fooled and almost seduced by the same. Good luck Hamlet.