Act I - Scene I


[Elsinore. A platform before the Castle.]

Enter Bernardo and Francisco two Sentinels

BERNARDO:
Who's there?
FRANCISCO:
Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.
BERNARDO:
Long live the King!
FRANCISCO:
Bernardo?
BERNARDO:
He.(5)
FRANCISCO:
You come most carefully upon your hour.
BERNARDO:
'tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco.
FRANCISCO:
For this relief much thanks. 'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
BERNARDO:
Have you had quiet guard?(10)
FRANCISCO:
Not a mouse stirring.
BERNARDO:
Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
FRANCISCO:
I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who is there?(15)

Enter Horatio and Marcellus.

HORATIO:
Friends to this ground.
MARCELLUS:
And liegemen to the Dane.
FRANCISCO:
Give you good night.
MARCELLUS:
O, farewell, honest soldier.
Who hath relieved you?(20)
FRANCISCO:
Bernardo hath my place.
Give you good night.

Exit Francisco.

MARCELLUS:
Holla, Bernardo!
BERNARDO:
Say,
What, is Horatio there?(25)
HORATIO:
A piece of him.
BERNARDO:
Welcome, Horatio. Welcome, good Marcellus.
MARCELLUS:
What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?
BERNARDO:
I have seen nothing.
MARCELLUS:
Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,(30)
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us.
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
That if again this apparition come(35)
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
HORATIO:
Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
BERNARDO:
Sit down awhile,
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story,(40)
What we two nights have seen.
HORATIO:
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
BERNARDO:
Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole(45)
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one—

Enter the Ghost.

MARCELLUS:
Peace! break thee off! Look where it comes
again!(50)
BERNARDO:
In the same figure, like the King that's dead.
MARCELLUS:
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
BERNARDO:
Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.
HORATIO:
Most like. It harrows me with fear and wonder.
BERNARDO:
It would be spoke to.(55)
MARCELLUS:
Question it, Horatio.
HORATIO:
What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? By heaven I charge thee speak!(60)
MARCELLUS:
It is offended.
BERNARDO:
See, it stalks away!
HORATIO:
Stay! speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!

Exit the Ghost.

MARCELLUS:
'tis gone, and will not answer.
BERNARDO:
How now, Horatio? You tremble and look pale.(65)
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?
HORATIO:
Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.(70)
MARCELLUS:
Is it not like the King?
HORATIO:
As thou art to thyself.
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated.
So frown'd he once when, in an angry parle,(75)
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
'tis strange.
MARCELLUS:
Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
HORATIO:
In what particular thought to work I know not;(80)
But, in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.
MARCELLUS:
Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,(85)
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war,
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week.
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste(90)
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day?
Who is't that can inform me?
HORATIO:
That can I;
At least the whisper goes so. Our last King,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,(95)
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet—
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him—
Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,(100)
Well ratified by law and heraldry,
Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror;
Against the which, a moiety competent
Was gaged by our King; which had return'd(105)
To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
Had he been vanquisher, as, by the same covenant
And carriage of the article design'd,
His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved metal hot and full,(110)
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there,
Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other—
As it doth well appear unto our state—(115)
But to recover of us, by strong hand
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost. And this, I take it,
Is the main motive of our preparations,
The source of this our watch and the chief head(120)
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.
BERNARDO:
I think it be no other but e'en so.
Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch, so like the King
That was and is the question of these wars.(125)
HORATIO:
A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;(130)
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of feared events,(135)
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climature and countrymen.

Enter Ghost again.

But soft! behold! Lo, where it comes again!(140)
I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me;
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,(145)
Speak to me;
If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid,
O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life(150)
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it! stay, and speak! [The cock crows.] Stop it,
Marcellus!
MARCELLUS:
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?(155)
HORATIO:
Do, if it will not stand.
BERNARDO:
'tis here!
HORATIO:
'tis here!
MARCELLUS:
'tis gone!

Exit Ghost.

We do it wrong, being so majestical,(160)
To offer it the show of violence;
For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
And our vain blows malicious mockery.
BERNARDO:
It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
HORATIO:
And then it started, like a guilty thing(165)
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day, and at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,(170)
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine; and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
MARCELLUS:
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever, 'gainst that season comes(175)
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,(180)
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
HORATIO:
So have I heard and do in part believe it.
But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill.
Break we our watch up; and by my advice(185)
Let us impart what we have seen tonight
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?(190)
MARCELLUS:
Let's do't, I pray: and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.

Exeunt.


Footnotes

  1. Beowulf would be Old English. Chaucer was Middle English.

    — Angela Conrad
  2. The verb "illume" means to light something up. It is an uncommon variation on the more familiar verb "illuminate." Shakespeare wrote during a linguistic stage called Early Modern English, which lasted from around 1500 to 1700 CE and was characterized by the Great Vowel Shift, which saw the pronunciation of most English vowels changing. Middle English, which can bee seen in works like Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, is far less recognizable to modern readers. Shakespeare is one of the defining literary figures of the Early Modern English era and his works have had a lasting impact on the formation of Modern English conventions as well.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  3. From these lines, we learn that Marcellus has access to Prince Hamlet and knows his schedule. It would be fairly easy for an officer, particularly a nobleman loyal to Hamlet, to find him in the place that's most "convenient," or safest. Though the Ghost's appearance has national implications, the officers are correct in assuming that the Ghost only wants to speak to the Prince, not the King.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. The adjective "russet" refers to a reddish-brown color, which the dawn wears like a "mantle" or cloak. The dawn is personified in that it is capable of "wearing" a mantle. It then walks out over a hill, suggesting the slow rise of the sun as the light falls over the crest of the hill.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. The birth of the "Savior" Jesus Christ refers to the celebration of Christmas, establishing that it is currently Winter in Denmark. Able-bodied men didn't have to tend to the fields during Winter and were instead available to fight in the upcoming war. This line also indicates that these characters live in a world of superstitions and that, for them, myths and legends are often as important as reality.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Traditionally, a cock or rooster crows at the crack of dawn, heralding the start of a new day. Given that it was midnight at the beginning of the play, we can now assume that several hours have passed over the course of this scene.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. In Christian folklore, an apparition was said to disappear when the rooster crowed, because, being watch-birds, roosters had the power to scare ghosts away. Many churches and Christian households had either live roosters or rooster statues, which were meant to deter any demons or spirits that might threaten members of the flock.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. Though the officers are clearly afraid of the Ghost, Marcellus's use of the word "majestical" suggests that there's also an element of awe in their response, likely linked to the fact that the Ghost is wearing armor and looks like the dead king. Marcellus wishes that they hadn't let their fear get the better of them and that they'd instead found a way to talk to the Ghost and learn its true intentions.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. In this exchange, the ghost appears to have many of the supernatural features associated with spirits, including the ability to fade in and out and appear in unexpected places. In all likelihood, the officers are spread out on the stage, turned to face different directions where the Ghost might materialize. It's also possible that they have their weapons drawn.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Elizabethans had many conventions about ghosts and their intentions, with the most common of these being that they came back to seek vengeance for their deaths or for an injustice committed against them in life. There was also the idea that they haunted places if they weren't properly buried. Additionally, it was thought that they sometimes returned to warn their families of impending danger. In this sense, Horatio asks all the proper questions, and eliminates many of the most common answers.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. This command, though ineffectual, tells the reader that the Ghost doesn't come up to the officers but, instead, passes them. Furthermore, the use of the word illusion underscores the possibility that this ghost is actually a figment of their collective imagination.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. Neptune was the Roman god of the seas who controlled the waters in and around the Roman Empire. Bernardo suggests that while Neptune was certainly very powerful, his empire was still beholden to the moon, "the moist star," who held sway over the tides.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. Julius Caesar was a famed Roman Emperor and the subject of Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. Caesar was killed on March 15th, 44 BCE, when the Senate, unhappy with his bid for power, orchestrated an assassination with the help of his friend and protégé, Brutus. This line refers to what happened after Julius Caesar was killed, as the Roman Empire descended into turmoil and civil war.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. Even in death, the dead King's actions affect the nation. His presence in this scene is both literal and figurative, with his Ghost representing a very real threat to the nation even as his decisions during his life continue to impact foreign policy. In this, we see that the real danger isn't supernatural in nature, but hereditary; war, grudges, and inner turmoil get passed down from generation to generation.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. Young Fortinbras, unlike Hamlet, hasn't studied at Wittenberg and has no use for formal education. As heir to the throne, he intends to wage war against the Danes in order to regain the lands his father lost in battle, which he claims were stolen illegally. This establishes him as a man of action.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. When Prince Hamlet's father, King Hamlet, killed King Fortinbras of Norway, the Norwegian lands mentioned in their "compact," or contract, were ceded to Denmark. This process was fairly common in the Middle Ages and resulted in the frequent redrawing of boundaries between the various nations and states of Europe. Denmark, though not a major military power, had tactical advantages due to its location and terrain, which made it a difficult enemy to conquer.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. The Danes are now in the middle of an ongoing war with Norway. Prior to his death, the Danish King killed the Norwegian King in combat. This can provide a note of confusion for readers, since both deceased kings shared their names with their living sons. The Ghost of the Danish King, occasionally referred to as King Hamlet, is the father of Prince Hamlet. Similarly, the deceased Norwegian King, referred to as Fortinbras, is the father of the Fortinbras mentioned later in the play. As often happens in Shakespeare plays, the death of one king sparks the death of another, which feeds into an ongoing cycle of revenge.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. Marcellus has witnessed military preparations (such as cannon fire, arms purchases, and increased shipbuilding) that suggest that the country is readying for war. Preparations are so intense that the shipbuilders have been working non-stop, without taking (or in this case "dividing") Sunday as a day of rest separate from the work week.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. Horatio is attempting to understand the Ghost's reasons for returning. In doing so, Horatio is aligned with the audience, making the appearance of the Ghost less a supernatural oddity and more a question of what dangers lie ahead. Why has he come and what is it about this world that makes it both possible and necessary for him to arrive?

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. To do something with "martial stalk" means to do something with a military bearing. "To stalk," in its original verb form, meant to walk stealthily or with cunning, particularly when hunting. In this line, "stalk" indicates that the Ghost carries himself like a soldier, moving both proudly and cautiously so as not to draw attention from the sitting king. This attempt at stealth is further emphasized by the fact that he appears at night.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. "Polacks" has been used since the 1590s as a derogative term for Polish people. There may, however, be an alternate meaning, according to Patrick Murray, the editor of an Irish edition of Hamlet. Murray argues that Shakespeare may have meant "pole-axe," a reference to the dead King Hamlet breaking up the ice with his battle axe.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. In this line, Horatio makes a pun on the word "sensible," which here means of or pertaining to the senses, as opposed to wisdom or prudence. It also provides the most conclusive evidence yet that this Ghost is, in fact, the dead king. The declaration "before my God" is very serious in Hamlet's setting, lending credence to everything Horatio says.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. In a suit of armor, it would've been very difficult for an actor to get a reaction as subtle as offense across to the audience. Marcellus says that the Ghost is offended to cue the actor to a more visible reaction, like turning away. This also establishes the idea of etiquette, broached earlier by Bernardo and Francisco in the first lines and broken here by Horatio, who has demanded something of a king who doesn't have to answer to him.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. Hamlet's father, the former King of Denmark, was known for his prowess in battle, particularly in the war against the former King of Norway, Fortinbras. The Ghost's appearance in a suit of armor suggests to Horatio and the others that his return has something to do with war (perhaps with Norway).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. Horatio, we later learn, was a classmate of Prince Hamlet at Wittenberg University, the Protestant University that Martin Luther attended. Literary scholar Harold Bloom has pointed out, however, that Horatio, who claims to have been present when Hamlet's father defeated the King of Norway, can't possibly be Hamlet's age, because that battle took place around the time Hamlet was born. That makes Horatio older than the typical student at Wittenberg.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. This line introduces several key pieces of information. First, it establishes that there's been a fairly recent regime change, with one king dying (by what cause, we're not sure) and a new one taking the throne. Then, it clarifies that this is the king's ghost. Finally, it primes the audience for when the dead king's ghost speaks to the prince.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. Bernardo accuses Horatio of being unwilling to believe the story Marcellus and Bernardo are trying to tell him. This characterizes Horatio as a skeptic and positions him as a kind of cipher for the audience, who tend to disbelieve until they're shown or told a thing is true. In effect, Bernardo isn't just convincing Horatio, but convincing readers well.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. This exchange establishes a timeline or a pattern of sightings. Readers learn that this "thing" (or apparition) has only come at night, when these guards are on watch. Marcellus also states that these sightings have occurred regularly enough that he can anticipate them.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. Putting the adjective "good" in front of a man's name was a sign of respect. It was most often used between people who were already familiar with one another. Here, it signifies that the two men know each other and that they work together, giving them call to refer to each other as "good."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. "Holla" originated in the 1520s and began being used as a command to get a person's attention by the 1580s. It means to "stop" or "cease" and wasn't generally used as a greeting, though it may have transformed into one over time. Here, Marcellus uses it to tell Bernardo to stop and speak to him for a moment in what appears to be half greeting, half command.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. The noun "liegemen" refers to the followers of a lord or nobleman. "Liege" means "lord" or "sovereign," and liegemen are those in service of that lord or sovereign. The more modern definition, where liegemen are all vassals in service of a nobleman, doesn't apply in this case, since Horatio is himself a nobleman. Instead, the two men have pledged their allegiance to the king (or "Dane").

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. This expression, used to call attention to something (for example: Land, ho!), likely originated in Middle English or is of Norse origin. Francisco uses it like a military command, demanding that the newcomers identify themselves to him.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. From this exchange, we can conclude that Francisco wasn't expecting to be relieved of his post yet and that he's familiar enough with Bernardo's voice to recognize it without having to see his face. In this way, Shakespeare signals both their level of acquaintance (either friendly or professionally familiar) and their proximity, since Bernardo needs to be close enough for Francisco to hear him yet far enough away not to be seen in the darkness.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  34. Notice how the characters keep calling out and using each other's names. The audience at one of Shakespeare's plays would've needed these identifying lines to introduce them to the characters and keep track of who was speaking. In fiction, this would all be done through the use of exposition, but in drama, writers have to devise other ways of clarifying the text for their audiences.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  35. Denmark's real-life Kronborg Castle, built as a stronghold by King Eric VII in the 1420s, lies on the northeast tip of the island of Zealand in the Baltic Sea. This location was strategically important because it provided coastal fortification and allowed the Danes to control the entranceway into the Baltic Sea. In the late 16th century, the medieval fortress was transformed into a Renaissance castle, which was later captured by the Swedes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  36. This well-known exclamation originated in 1422 in France, following the death of Charles VI and the ascension of Charles VII. The original expression was "The king is dead, long live the king!" ("Le roi est mort; vive le roi!") In England, to avoid civil war over the order of succession, the Royal Council declared that "[t]he throne shall never be empty; the country shall never be without a monarch." Thus, "long live the king!" became an English cry as well. In this case, it's less a sign of patriotism and more of a signal that Bernardo is a friend and not a foe.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  37. In wartime, the common soldiers were kept ignorant of military plans to prevent gossip from getting back to the enemy. However, Horatio, as a nobleman, would've been privy to this information.

    — William Delaney
  38. Actors in Shakespeare's company, or any of the acting companies of his era, would have had access to their part and nothing else. Only the first two or three words of the previous speaker's lines preceded their own.

    These words became known as "cue words" and the rolls each actor's part were printed on were called "cue scripts."

    Source: Carr, David and Ben Crystal. *The Shakespeare Miscellany. *New York: The Overlook Press, 2005. Print. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  39. According to Alec Guinness, the famed Shakespearean actor, London's Globe Theater, where Shakespeare's tragedy was originally performed, was built with plaster mixed with goat hair. This hair is said to give the human voice resonance in the theater, allowing the actors to be heard with little effort. This raised platform would've been built directly on the stage, allowing the actors to benefit from the goat hair.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  40. Military protocol dictates that the current sentinel (Francisco) demand that the replacing sentinel (Bernardo) identify himself. Bernardo's question breaches this protocol and results in a sharp refusal to answer. That he asks this question in the first place indicates something of his emotional and psychological state, which Shakespeare uses to foreshadow Hamlet's later crisis.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  41. Another officer in the King of Denmark's army, Francisco exits the scene without interacting with Hamlet, suggesting that he might be of a lower military rank and social class than either Bernardo or Horatio. His primary role in the drama is to introduce both tension and military urgency, which we will see later in this scene. In that sense, he functions more as a set piece than as an actual character.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  42. An officer in the King of Denmark's army, Bernardo never speaks directly to Hamlet, instead using Hamlet's friend, Horatio, as a kind of go-between to bridge the gap in social station between him and the Prince. Together, the three men (officer, nobleman, and royalty) represent three of the social classes present in both Hamlet and Shakespeare's times.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  43. The phrase "where now it burns" means that Ghost appeared at the same time last night. In the Middle Ages, when this play is set, time was often determined by the position of the sun and stars in the sky. Though there wouldn't have been any need for them to do so, the three men would've been able to identify and navigate by Polaris, the "pole" star, also known as the North Star. These lines reinforce the fact that it's night to create the illusion of darkness in the bright theater.

    — William Delaney
  44. Instead of merely introducing the ghost, this scene sets up a situation where some people think they've seen it and others don't. This creates conflict and establishes some of the keys themes in the drama: grief, the supernatural, disbelief, death, and friendship.

    — William Delaney
  45. To be "sick at heart" is to be disappointed, dejected, or grief-stricken. This line, while brief, builds on the mood previously established by "bitter cold" and creates an atmosphere of displaced sorrow and distress, which sets the tone for the rest of the play.

    — Lisa Metcalf
  46. Traditionally, the Ghost is dressed in full body armor and wears its helmet with its visor raised in order for the audience to see its face. On stage, there wouldn't be any mention of the stage directions identifying this character as a ghost, so Shakespeare had to use the guards to both identify the ghost and establish a few possible reasons why it might be appearing. As in all Shakespeare plays, this Ghost has unfinished business with the main characters.

    — William Delaney
  47. Midnight has long been associated with ghosts and other supernatural entities like witches and demons. It is thought to be the time when magic is at its most powerful. Because of these associations with the supernatural, midnight later became known as the "witching hour," a term first used in print by the American author Washington Irving in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in 1820. 

    — Scott Locklear, Owl Eyes Contributor
  48. Elsinore is the English spelling for a real place, known in Danish as Helsingør. It is located in the northeastern corner of Zealand, one of the larger islands in Denmark, and is home to about 50,000 people. Shakespeare's Hamlet takes place in Elsinore in the late 1500s, although the oral tradition inspiring it is older and was first written down around 1180.

    — Scott Locklear, Owl Eyes Contributor