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The morning after Horatio and the guardsmen see the ghost, King Claudius gives a speech to his courtiers, explaining his recent marriage to Gertrude, his brother’s widow and the mother of Prince Hamlet. Claudius says that he mourns his brother but has chosen to balance Denmark’s mourning with the delight of his marriage. He mentions that young Fortinbras has written to him, rashly demanding the surrender of the lands King Hamlet won from Fortinbras’s father, and dispatches Cornelius and Voltimand with a message for the King of Norway, Fortinbras’s elderly uncle.
His speech concluded, Claudius turns to Laertes, the son of the Lord Chamberlain, Polonius. Laertes expresses his desire to return to France, where he was staying before his return to Denmark for Claudius’s coronation. Polonius gives his son permission, and Claudius jovially grants Laertes his consent as well.
Turning to Prince Hamlet, Claudius asks why “the clouds still hang” upon him, as Hamlet is still wearing black mourning clothes (I.ii.66). Gertrude urges him to cast off his “nightly colour,” but he replies bitterly that his inner sorrow is so great that his dour appearance is merely a poor mirror of it (I.ii.68). Affecting a tone of fatherly advice, Claudius declares that all fathers die, and all sons must lose their fathers. When a son loses a father, he is duty-bound to mourn, but to mourn for too long is unmanly and inappropriate. Claudius urges Hamlet to think of him as a father, reminding the prince that he stands in line to succeed to the throne upon Claudius’s death.
With this in mind, Claudius says that he does not wish for Hamlet to return to school at Wittenberg (where he had been studying before his father’s death), as Hamlet has asked to do. Gertrude echoes her husband, professing a desire for Hamlet to remain close to her. Hamlet stiffly agrees to obey her. Claudius claims to be so pleased by Hamlet’s decision to stay that he will celebrate with festivities and cannon fire, an old custom called “the king’s rouse.” Ordering Gertrude to follow him, he escorts her from the room, and the court follows.
Alone, Hamlet exclaims that he wishes he could die, that he could evaporate and cease to exist. He wishes bitterly that God had not made suicide a sin. Anguished, he laments his father’s death and his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle. He remembers how deeply in love his parents seemed, and he curses the thought that now, not yet two month after his father’s death, his mother has married his father’s far inferior brother.