Throughout the course of the play, “Hamlet”, by William Shakespeare the audience is drawn into a deepening plot that is thick with intrigue and mystery. The play begins with the audience having many questions about what is happening, the when the play draws to a close, the audience does not have answers to most of those questions. Shakespeare uses the element of mystery to draw the audience into the play through a complex series of mysterious scenes and intriguing characters.
By creating an undeniable mysterious feel to this play, Shakespeare shows the audience that certainty is not always a possibility. Hamlet is constantly searching for answers in this play, and though he finds the answers he seeks in the end, many of the discoveries he makes along the way were not at all anticipated by the young Prince. Shakespeare sets the opening scene between the two sentinels changing posts, fearing the appearance of the Ghost, which creates the mysterious mood for the rest of the play.
The audience also meets the Ghost, who adds to the aura of suspense in the play, as the reader learns very little about this Ghost and his purposes. The element of mystery is also evident in the motives that Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius has for marrying Queen Gertrude, and what Claudius’ true agenda is. The play begins with a scene in which Barnardo and Francisco are reporting to their posts at night. The two men are sentries and stand guard at night, to help protect the town. As Barnardo approaches his post, he asks, “Who’s there? ” Francisco replies, “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself”.
Obviously this routine changing of the shifts occurs on a nightly basis for Barnardo and Francisco, so the fact that Barnardo seems unsure of whom he is meeting and where he is baffles the audience from the beginning. This mystery is slowly unfolded when the audience learns of the fear that the men have of encountering the Ghost that has appeared on previous nights. However, this initial conversation between the two sentinels sets the mysterious mood for the rest of the play. The second mystery that the audience encounters in the play is that mystery surrounding the Ghost.
The audience’s initial encounter with the Ghost leaves many more questions than answers. The Ghost is not initially identified as the dead King. The belief at this time is that Ghosts could easily be evil spirits, so that audience becomes absorbed in whether or not the Ghost can be trusted, or if it is an evil spirit trying to trick Hamlet into something. The audience finds itself contemplating if this Ghost can be trusted or if his admission about the murder of Hamlet’s father is a trap or if it is the truth. In Act 1, Marcellus and Horatio discussed whether or not to follow the Ghost and Hamlet.
Marcellus notes, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Act I, Scene iv, Line 67), which links the mystery of the Ghost to something mysterious and that scares the men. By linking this particular quote with the Ghost, Shakespeare gives an ominous feel to the appearance of the Ghost, and makes the audience wonder if the Ghost’s intentions are malicious. The audience finds itself wondering if the appearance of this Ghost could even be a figment of an overactive and desperate imagination from a son in mourning.
Another way in which Shakespeare incorporates the element of mystery into this play is through the interactions that the audience sees between King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. Claudius, brother of the dead King, marries Gertrude shortly after the King dies. Hamlet makes the observation that, “A little month; or ere those shoes were old; With which she followed my poor father’s body; Like Niobe, all tears;—why she, even she,— O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason, would have mourn’d longer” (Act I, Scene ii, Line 147-151).
Hamlet cannot help but wonder why his mother rushed to marry her brother-in-law after the death of her husband. Hamlet sees how quickly Claudius courted Gertrude, and is perplexed at the true motives of Claudius. This sense of mystery continues throughout the play, with respect to the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude, with no answer ever being completely obvious to the audience. This intriguing relationship between Claudius and Gertrude sets the stage for Hamlet’s incessant obsessing over Claudius’ involvement in the death of his father.
Hamlet is absolutely disgusted by the marriage of his mother to Claudius, and this only infuriates Hamlet further. This unexpected union also drives Hamlet deeper into his search for the truth with regard to the death of his own father, giving credence to the Ghost’s accusations that Claudius is to blame for the death of the King. The Shakespearean play, “Hamlet” is teeming with mystery and intrigue, drawing the reader into a web of uncertainty that stays with the audience throughout the course of the play.
From the initial interaction between Barnardo and Francisco in the beginning of the play, the audience is wracked with a sense of mysterious happenings, and things left unsaid. Throughout the course of the play, Shakespeare keeps the audience guessing about what will happen next through consistent use of the element of mystery. The audience meets the Ghost, who could be a helpful reincarnation of the dead King, trying to avenge his own death, or could be an evil spirit trying to lead Hamlet astray.
The swift marriage of Claudius to the Queen leaves the audience reeling and wondering what Claudius’ hurry was, and why the Queen would consent to marrying her brother-in-law such a short time after burying her own husband. Throughout this play, Shakespeare keeps his audience on their toes, constantly using his sense of mystery to make sure the audience never knows what is truly going to happen next. Through Hamlet’s investigation into the death of his father, and his search for the truth, Hamlet learns that there is no such thing as the possibility of true certainty.