At the beginning of Hamlet, the tone is mournful and ominous. The characters’ interests and motivations are clouded by the recent death of the previous king. Violence is present from the play’s first scene onward, but Hamlet’s discovery of his father’s murder and subsequent focus on revenge makes the tone of the play one of obsessiveness. Hamlet’s mental state as the protagonist determines the play’s tone throughout, and during the play’s first half, Hamlet is still well-reasoned and future-oriented. His desire for justice moves the play forward and keeps the possibility of retribution in the minds of the audience.
The major tonal turning point takes place in Act 3, Scene 4, after Hamlet commits his first murder and therefore loses hold of his sense of morality and justice. After Hamlet stabs Polonius, violence takes center stage and becomes inescapable. This affects all of the characters, but in Hamlet the change is dramatic. As he comes to understand the gravity of his actions, he no longer has the same sense of justice to propel him forward. The play’s tone suffers as a result, becoming more and more confused and violent. Hamlet no longer understands how he should act, and therefore his perspective of the world around him becomes even more dark and fragmented.