Act I - Scene V

[The Castle. Another part of the fortifications.]

Enter Ghost, and Hamlet.

Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak! I'll go no further.
Mark me.
I will.
My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames(5)
Must render up myself.
Alas, poor ghost!
Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.
Speak; I am bound to hear.(10)
So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,(15)
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,(20)
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
But this eternal blazon must not be(25)
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love—
O God!
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.(35)
I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear.
'tis given out that, sleeping in mine orchard,(40)
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.(45)
O my prophetic soul! My uncle!
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts—
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!—won to his shameful lust(50)
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen.
O Hamlet, what a falling off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline(55)
Upon a wretch, whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine.
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel link'd,(60)
Will sate itself in a celestial bed
And prey on garbage.
But soft! methinks I scent the morning air.
Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,(65)
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment, whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man(70)
That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And, with a sudden vigour, it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine;(75)
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust
All my smooth body.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd;(80)
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!(85)
If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not.
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive(90)
Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once.
The glow-worm shows the matin to be near
And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire.(95)
Adieu, adieu, adieu! Remember me.


O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?
And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart!
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee?(100)
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,(105)
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix'd with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!
O most pernicious woman!(110)
O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark.
So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word:(115)
It is ‘Adieu, adieu! Remember me.’
I have sworn't.

Enter Horatio and Marcellus.

My lord, my lord!
Lord Hamlet!
Heaven secure him!(120)
So be it!
Illo, ho, ho, my lord!
Hillo, ho, ho, boy! Come, bird, come.
How is't, my noble lord?
What news, my lord?(125)
O, wonderful!
Good my lord, tell it.
No; you will reveal it.
Not I, my lord, by heaven!
Nor I, my lord.(130)
How say you, then; would heart of man once think it?
But you'll be secret?
Ay, by heaven, my lord.
There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark
But he's an arrant knave.(135)
There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the
To tell us this.
Why, right! You are in the right!
And so, without more circumstance at all,(140)
I hold it fit that we shake hands and part;
You, as your business and desire shall point you—
For every man hath business and desire,
Such as it is; and for my own poor part,
Look you, I'll go pray.(145)
These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.
I am sorry they offend you, heartily;
Yes, faith, heartily.
There's no offence, my lord.
Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio,(150)
And much offence too. Touching this vision here,
It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you.
For your desire to know what is between us
O'ermaster't as you may. And now, good friends,
As you are friends, scholars, and soldiers,(155)
Give me one poor request.
What is't, my lord? We will.
Never make known what you have seen to-night.
My lord, we will not.
Nay, but swear't.(160)
In faith,
My lord, not I.
Nor I, my lord, in faith.
Upon my sword.
We have sworn, my lord, already.(165)
Indeed, upon my sword, indeed.

[Ghost cries under the stage.]

Ah, ha boy, say'st thou so? Art thou there,
Come on! You hear this fellow in the cellarage.(170)
Consent to swear.
Propose the oath, my lord.
Never to speak of this that you have seen.
Swear by my sword.
Hic et ubique? Then we'll shift our ground.
Come hither, gentlemen,
And lay your hands again upon my sword.
Never to speak of this that you have heard:
Swear by my sword.(180)
Well said, old mole! Canst work i' the earth so fast?
A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.(185)
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
But come!
Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself—(190)
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on—
That you, at such times seeing me, never shall,
With arms encumber'd thus, or this head-shake,
Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,(195)
As “Well, well, we know,” or “We could, an if we would,”
Or “If we list to speak” or “There be, an if they might,”
Or such ambiguous giving out, to note
That you know aught of me; this is not to do,
So grace and mercy at your most need help you,(200)
Rest, rest, perturbed spirit! So, gentlemen,
With all my love I do commend me to you;
And what so poor a man as Hamlet is(205)
May do to express his love and friending to you,
God willing, shall not lack. Let us go in together;
And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!(210)
Nay, come, let's go together.



  1. Hamlet thinks the state of affairs ("time") in Denmark resembles a shoulder that is "out of joint." He thinks of himself as the physician who must restore the crippled kingdom to health.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Hamlet is outraged because the Ghost of his recently-deceased father has revealed that he (the late King) was murdered by his own brother, the new King Claudius.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Figuratively speaking, Hamlet is giving himself up (or placing his trust) in these men, but an alternate reading of the word "commend" suggests that he's insisting on his worth, both as a person and a prince, and trusting on the strength of that worth to ensure Horatio and Marcellus's loyalty in this matter. He has commended himself to them without receiving their oath, which makes this a foolhardy act on his part.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. Notice that, in spite of all this, Horatio and Marcellus never swear, at least not out loud. It's possible that in his state of agitation Hamlet didn't realize that they didn't swear, or that he believes they did simply because he's demanded it so many times, but, regardless, the two men haven't been bound to any oath, and it remains to be seen what they'll do with their relative freedom.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. Hamlet has effectively tied their hands behind their backs, making it impossible for them to discuss what they've seen, except in ambiguous suggestions like a shake of the head or a "maybe" or "if" that could hint at what they've witnessed without having to directly say it. Hamlet anticipates the desire to gossip and cuts it off by making them swear not to do it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Hamlet reveals something of his plan in this line. Madness or the appearance of madness has already been established in the play through the acts of grieving, which accounts for Hamlet's strange, unsettling behavior. Hamlet will play on this established aspect of his character in enacting his revenge. But madness, like evil, can corrupt a person, and it remains to be seen if in performing madness he won't become genuinely mad.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Keep in mind that Hamlet is only one step ahead of Horatio here, and that, before Hamlet met with the Ghost, he was in the same position as Horatio is now: unaware of how ignorant he is of the real world and of people's true intentions. His words, then, reveal him as both eloquent and arrogant, and we'll see these two aspects of his personality battle as the play progresses.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. Remember that earlier in Act I, Scene VI, Hamlet used the phrase "mole of nature" to refer to a spot on one's character or a negative aspect of one's personality. Here, "mole" refers both to the animal, a creature that burrows underground, where the Ghost appears to be, and to this "mole of nature," which doesn't tarnish the Ghost's character but rather tarnishes Hamlet's by forcing him to lose himself in revenge.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. Hit et ubique is a latin phrase meaning "here and everywhere," ubique being the root of the English ubiquitous, meaning onnipresent, like God. Hamlet obliquely refers yet again to his father's holiness while at the same time expressing irritation with the Ghost's constant interruptions. This line also emphasizes Hamlet's education, as a man who can casually rattle off Latin.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. The noun "truepenny" refers to a trustworthy or honest person, likened to a coin made of genuine metal, not a counterfeit. Shakespeare again builds on the theme of money established in Act I, Scene III, when Polonius spoke of Hamlet's "tenders" or affections as coin or "sterling."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. In medieval Europe, swords, with their long blades and sturdy hilts, resembled and were associated with crosses. Thus, they were often sworn upon as if they were crosses, making this oath, in effect, the most binding one: an oath to God. It's no wonder that Marcellus and Horatio hesitate, because, while loyal to the prince, it's in their nature to gossip, and there's no better gossip than the appearance of a dead king.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. This isn't just an assessment of their character, which Hamlet has reason to suspect. It's also evidence that Hamlet is thinking about his safety, now that he knows about his father's murder, and has begun to understand that if word of this meeting gets back to Claudius, the King will know exactly what the Ghost said and will take measures to keep Hamlet from enacting his revenge.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, is said to have spent forty nights praying and fasting in a cave now known as "Saint Patrick's Purgatory." In Shakespeare's time, this legend was well-known, and is used here to tie into the theme of Purgatory connected with the Ghost and to once again equate Hamlet with a Christ-like figure (Christ himself having spent forty days and forty nights fasting, just like St. Patrick did).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. Hamlet's behavior has become erratic in the wake of meeting with the Ghost, and he's either incapable of or unwilling to respond directly to Horatio's questions. Horatio, for his part, recognizes this and to an extent understands it, because he too was afraid of the Ghost. Nevertheless, he's concerned for the Prince, because if Horatio can see it, so can everyone else (including the King).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. The noun "knave" describes a young man, often a page or a servant to a nobleman, capable of being "arrant" (errant, that is, traveling) or moving between social stations, in this case by way of villainy. It would've been simple enough for a young, unscrupulous man, like the former Prince Claudius, brother of the King, to use the information he's gathered in service of the kingdom to his advantage. Horatio and Marcellus could do the same.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. Hamlet has very literally circumscribed Claudius, writing down who he is and what he's done as if taking a definitive measure of his character. Claudius, though a cunning, complex, interesting character, will nevertheless never be more than what Hamlet has inscribed him to be: a villain. His character development, in effect, ends here.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. This line retroactively serves as stage direction for the actor playing Claudius, who hasn't been instructed to smile and yet must do so throughout the play. This act of guile on his part may be the most powerful representation of the theme of deceit. It characterizes him not just as a villain, but as a charismatic, emotionally manipulative, violently envious man who would stop at nothing to consolidate his power and ensure his own safety.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. Like a student, Hamlet's first instinct is to write down what his father has told him. Hamlet sees this as a definitive act, an accomplishment, rather than a mere gesture of loyalty, and in writing down what he knows sets about determining his course of action. Many men would immediately strike out at Claudius, but Hamlet takes a different route, revealing that his character is more inclined towards careful plotting than swift action.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. "Globe" refers both to Hamlet's head or mind, which has been distracted by his studies and uninterested in memories, and to the globe itself, where "memory," meaning history, becomes less and less important as time goes on. Soon, he implies, everyone will forget about his father, like his mother has, and he'll be the only one left holding onto his memories. In that sense, he's the sole bearer of his father's legacy.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. In order to carry out his father's wishes, Hamlet has to rid himself of all his memories ("records") of the past, in effect erasing himself and all the knowledge he's accumulated at university. He's determined to do this out of fealty to his father, but if he were to instead make use of what he's learned at school, he might be able to find some alternate solution to this problem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. In traditional Christian practice, the faithful are supposed to make a final confession before they die, absolving their souls of sin before they reach the "Promised Land." King Hamlet wasn't given the opportunity to confess, thus, he was sent to Purgatory, even though his sins, according to him, weren't very serious. Under normal circumstances, it is implied, he would've gone to Heaven.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. Lazar, meaning a poor or diseased person, is derived from the name Lazarus, taken from the parable of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus was a poor man, covered in sores, who begged outside of the home of a wealthy man. The wealthy man ignored Lazarus' suffering and, after he died, was sentenced to eternal torment for his greed, while Lazarus was sent to heaven. For King Hamlet to refer to himself as "lazar-like" is ironic, considering his wealth and the "fires" he indicates are waiting for him, and suggests, once again, that he may not have been the saintly figure Hamlet likes to portray him as.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. An eruption of the skin, as in eczema or ringworm, resulting in dryness, flaking, itching, and pus. Again, Shakespeare's knowledge of botany and medicine are called into question, as there seems to be no known poison that would cause all of these symptoms. Skin lesions are a common symptom of chronic arsenic poisoning, but it appears that there was only one instance of poisoning, so that might not be the cause.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. The verb "posset" means to curd or to curdle, as milk curdles when it sours. This suggests a thickening of the blood, a clumping of blood cells in the arteries, or "alleys," of the body. Such prolonged thickening of the blood can lead to blood clots and strained blood flow, all of which can be symptoms of poisoning and cause heart failure or death. In Hamlet's time, it would've been very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of these symptoms.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. Quicksilver, also known as elemental mercury, moves quickly and unpredictably in its liquid form. It's also extremely poisonous, with its gaseous and solid states resulting in toxicity in less than a gram. Mercury poisoning is characterized by loss of sensation and lack of coordination, both of which coincide with the symptoms of a traditional poisoning.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. Hebenon is a poison of unknown origin. Shakespeare's scholars suggest that it could either be hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates, henbane, a kind of nightshade, ebony, sometimes spelled with an "h," or yew, a common poison extracted from the tree. Other scholars argue that Shakespeare's knowledge of botany was insufficient for him to know what poison, exactly, Claudius would've used; so he made one up.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. In this construction, Claudius would be the "predator" and Gertrude the "prey," making her "garbage" in King Hamlet's eyes. While there's some debate as to whether or not Gertrude was involved in Claudius' plot, the text doesn't seem to care whether she was or she wasn't, condemning her outright for not remaining faithful to King Hamlet's memory.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. Distinct from Claudius' "wicked" wit and gifts, former King Hamlet's natural gifts would've been anything regarding his strength or physical prowess: his skills in battle, his face and appearance, and his abilities as a lover. "What a falling off was there!" means that Gertrude took a big step down, in terms of spouse, and that Claudius isn't half the man that King Hamlet was.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. Claudius faked ("forged") King Hamlet's death by spreading a false story about a serpent in the garden. In reality, the King's death was planned and carried out by Claudius. While it's possible that he was able to carry out the plot on his own, it's more likely that he had one or two co-conspirators, meaning that Hamlet is in danger as well, since he is King Hamlet's son.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. Here the serpent, who nows "wears [the] crown," is Claudius. However, the fact that he is called a "serpent" should also be taken as a symbol of evil and cunning. King Hamlet's orchard alludes to the Biblical Garden of Eden, where the devil in the form of a serpent tricked Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (often depicted as an apple). Again, the analogy positions King Hamlet as a holy character (in this case Eve) and Claudius as the devil.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. Lethe is the river of forgetfulness, one of five rivers in Hades, according to ancient Greek mythology. It's said that anyone who drank from Lethe's waters would have their memories erased. The Ghost personifies the fat weed on the wharf, which, as a plant, wouldn't have a mind or memories beyond its basic biological function, but would still be subject to the same forgetful properties of the river's water.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. Keep in mind that this is Act I, Scene V, and there are still four more acts in this play. Though Hamlet professes that his thoughts are swift, the audience knows from experience that he spends a lot of time brooding and that his meditations are in fact slow and measured. Curious that he would also call his "thoughts of love" swift, which would appear to give credence to Laertes' earlier assertion that Hamlet's interest in Ophelia is just a passing ("swift") fancy.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. In Shakespeare's time, murder was both reviled (as a sin against humanity) and revered (as inspiration for some of the finest and most popular dramas). To suggest that the foulest murders are the best murders is, in some ways, to glorify the act of murder and everything it entails (a strange thing for the "saintly" King Hamlet to do, especially when he knows that these are the kinds of sins that sent him to Purgatory in the first place).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  34. From this, we can assume that Hamlet, still in mourning over his father's death, hasn't been taking care of his appearance, except to make a point of wearing black. Mourners in this time were known to "rend" or pull their hair as they grieved, and it's possible that Hamlet has been tormenting himself this way for the past several weeks and months, growing progressively paler, thinner, and madder as he goes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  35. The verb "harrow" means to torment or to tear apart. Shakespeare may be alluding to the Harrowing of Hell, a scene depicted in Dante's Inferno (a major source of inspiration for Shakespeare), in which Jesus descended into Hell in the days between his Crucifixion and his Resurrection and brought salvation to the souls that had been suffering there. In that sense, this line means both to torment and to set free from torment.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  36. In Christian theology, the soul went to one of three places: purgatory, where it awaited final resolution of its fate and finished any business it had on Earth; heaven, provided the individual earned it; or hell, where flames engulfed the souls of the dead for all eternity. Hamlet's father doesn't specify whether these "sulphurous and tormenting flames" are waiting for him in purgatory or hell, and this makes the audience question whether he's really as saintly as Hamlet made him out to be.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  37. By nature, Hamlet is a quiet, introspective, scholarly person, and has never killed anyone or wanted to kill anyone. He's not, as he says, born for this kind of work, and yet he's bound by his honor to seek revenge for his father's murder. This obligation will put strain on his character, demanding that he become someone he isn't and do something he doesn't want to do. We'll see how this effects him throughout the play.

    — William Delaney
  38. Shakespeare opens this scene with a conflict between Hamlet and the Ghost. For the audience to fear the Ghost, Hamlet must show some fear (his unwillingness to go further) but at the same time display courage (here defined not as fearlessness but as the ability to function in spite of fear). This develops the theme of the supernatural while making the audience question the Ghost's motives.

    — William Delaney
  39. Hamlet promises to reward the officers for their silence. Though Hamlet is only the Prince, and not Claudius' heir, he's nevertheless next in line for the throne, and a promise of a reward from a future king would've been taken very seriously, even if that promise seemed to come in a fit of madness. When he says, "God willing," it's as if he's swearing to God that he'll reward these men, which more or less ensures their loyalty.

    — William Delaney