In Hamlet, there are numerous references made to other countries which include France, Germany, Norway, Poland, and England. Despite these locations, the majority of the play occurs in and around Elsinore Castle, located in Denmark. Elisnore is better known as Helsingoer to the Danish population and to Shakespeare enthusiasts and the English, it is better known as Elsinore.
This is a true location and it serves as the literary home to Hamlet. It has become apparent that Shakespeare was very familiar with the state of Denmark as he accurately described all the necessary details of the country.
The motifs of spying and deception in “Hamlet” are helped along significantly by the setting, which includes the castle itself and multiple chambers bearing scenes. In general, the close quarters of the castle provide a great opportunity for plenty of eavesdropping between characters. However, a closer look at specific scenes highlights even further Shakespeare’s use of setting to be successful with these themes.
For instance, the very opening of the play depicts deception and mistrust as the guards who are friends still must question who is approaching before any trust or kind words are offered. This is due to Shakespeare’s setting engaging the audience to immediately perceive a sense of dishonesty and a lack of loyalty, which will lead to deception later on.
Another scene that demonstrates the significance of the setting is the graveyard scene. In this specific scene, Hamlet espouses his existential ideas on the meaning (or lack thereof) of life in a graveyard, surrounded by bones of the dead. There is not a place more ideal for this event to happen.
Immediately, in the first scene of Hamlet, Shakespeare creates a mysterious atmosphere, by the techniques he uses including arising questions regarding the ghost and the suspense it caused. The first scene takes place in the dark, at midnight, as Barnardo verifies “It is now struck twelve” and advises Francisco to “Get to bed” (1:1:7). The darkness of the hour is best suited to a mysterious atmosphere. Also, there are men on watch and this raises the question of “What are they watching for?”, creating tension.
As the drama continues, there are numerous attributes regarding the atmosphere and mood which cause the setting to play a large part. For example, as stated, an atmosphere of evil and darkness pervades the play from the start, for “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. (1:4:89). Hamlet believes that he is living in a world of corruption, as he is being deceived by everyone around him.
The imagery of disease, destruction, and decay help contribute to the madness in Denmark, as well as the darkness. The aura of tragedy is completely present from when the play begins, to when it finishes, as even the comedy in the gravedigger’s scene is morbid.
- Hamlet takes place in the Renaissance period, generally around the 800’s
- Character’s chambers, attitudes, and motivations affect the setting and mood
- The weather is drowsy, cold, winter, yet sometimes sunlight appears
- Setting consists of plenty of flowers, trees, clouds, birds, rain, etc.
- Simple indoor life of routine drinking, eating, cooking depicts setting