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ACT I SCENE I Elsinore. A platform before the castle. 
[FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO]
BERNARDOWho's there?
FRANCISCONay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.
BERNARDOLong live the king!
FRANCISCOYou come most carefully upon your hour.
BERNARDO'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
FRANCISCOFor this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
BERNARDOHave you had quiet guard?
FRANCISCONot a mouse stirring.10
BERNARDOWell, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
FRANCISCOI think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?
HORATIOFriends to this ground.
MARCELLUSAnd liegemen to the Dane.
FRANCISCOGive you good night.
MARCELLUSO, farewell, honest soldier:
Who hath relieved you?
FRANCISCOBernardo has my place.
Give you good night.
MARCELLUSHolla! Bernardo!
What, is Horatio there?
HORATIOA piece of him.
BERNARDOWelcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.20
MARCELLUSWhat, has this thing appear'd again to-night?
BERNARDOI have seen nothing.
MARCELLUSHoratio says 'tis but our fantasy,
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,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
HORATIOTush, tush, 'twill not appear.
BERNARDOSit down awhile;30
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen.
HORATIOWell, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
BERNARDOLast night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,--
[Enter Ghost]
MARCELLUSPeace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!40
BERNARDOIn the same figure, like the king that's dead.
MARCELLUSThou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
BERNARDOLooks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio.
HORATIOMost like: it harrows me with fear and wonder.
BERNARDOIt would be spoke to.
MARCELLUSQuestion it, Horatio.
HORATIOWhat 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!
MARCELLUSIt is offended.
BERNARDOSee, it stalks away!50
HORATIOStay! speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!
[Exit Ghost]
MARCELLUS'Tis gone, and will not answer.
BERNARDOHow now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?
HORATIOBefore my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.
MARCELLUSIs it not like the king?
HORATIOAs thou art to thyself:
Such was the very armour he had on60
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown'd he once, when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
'Tis strange.
MARCELLUSThus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
HORATIOIn what particular thought to work I know not;
But in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.
MARCELLUSGood now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,70
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
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
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?
HORATIOThat can I;
At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king,80
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
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,
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 competent90
Was gaged by our king; which had return'd
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 mettle hot and full,
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--100
As it doth well appear unto our state--
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
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.
BERNARDOI 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 king110
That was and is the question of these wars.
HORATIOA 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:
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:120
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
[Re-enter Ghost]
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,130
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me:
[Cock crows]
If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid, O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it: stay, and speak! Stop it, Marcellus.
MARCELLUSShall I strike at it with my partisan?140
HORATIODo, if it will not stand.
BERNARDO'Tis here!
HORATIO'Tis here!
[Exit Ghost]
We do it wrong, being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence;
For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
And our vain blows malicious mockery.
BERNARDOIt was about to speak, when the cock crew.
HORATIOAnd then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,150
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,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
MARCELLUSIt faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:160
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
HORATIOSo 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,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,170
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?
MARCELLUSLet's do't, I pray; and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.

Next: Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 1

From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.

Stage Direction. Elsinore, the modern Helsingor, a seaport on the north-east coast of Denmark, to the north-west of Copenhagen: A platform before the castle, a terrace in front of the castle, up and down which the sentinels patrolled.

2. me, emphatic; it is for the watch to challenge any one who appears, not for him to challenge the watch: unfold yourself, declare who you are.

3. Long live the king! Malone supposed this to be the watch-word, but Delius points out that Horatio and Marcellus, when similarly challenged, give another answer, and Pye believes that Bernardo's answer corresponds to the former usage in France, where to the common challenge Qui vive? (who goes there?) the answer was, Vivi le Roi! (long live the king!), like the modern answer, 'A friend.'

6. You come . . . hour, you have come with exact punctuality to your time; for upon, = at, or immediately after, see Abb. § 191. Though Francisco is, in 1. 16, spoken of as an "honest soldier," and in the dramatis personae is called " a soldier," his question "Bernardo?" is more like that of an equal, and it has not been explained how a common soldier came to be relieved by an officer.

7. now, just this moment: get thee, on verbs followed by thee instead of thou, see Abb. §§ 205, 212.

8. much, great in quantity, formerly used of size also: bitter, bitterly.

9. sick at heart, heartily weary, thoroughly exhausted, with watching in such weather.

10. Have you ... guard? has your watch been undisturbed by any alarm?

13. rivals, partners, associates; see A. C. iii. 5. 8, "Caesar... presently denied him rivality; would not let him partake in the glory of the action"; i. H. IV. iv. 4. 31, "And many moe corrivals and dear men of estimation and command in arms." Elsewhere Shakespeare always uses the word in its modern sense. Trench, Study of Words says, "'Rivals' properly are those who dwell on the banks of the same river. But as all experience shows, there is no such fruitful source of contention as a water right, and these would be often at strife with one another in regard to the periods during which they severally had a right to the use of the stream, turning it off into their own fields before the time, or leaving open the sluices beyond the time, or in other ways interfering, or being counted to interfere, with the rights of their neighbours. And in this way 'rivals' came to be applied to any who were on any grounds in unfriendly competition with one another."

15. ground, soil, land: liegemen, subjects. of liege, Skeat [Ety. Dict.] says, "We now say 'a liege vassal,' i.e. one bound to his lord; it is easy to see that this sense is due to a false etymology which connected the word with Lat. ligatus, bound... But the fact is that the older phrase was 'a liege lord,' and the older sense 'a free lord,' in exact contradiction to the popular notion... 'A liege lord ' seems to have been a lord of a free band; and his lieges, though serving under him, were privileged men, free from all other obligations; their name being due to their freedom, not to their service"...: the Dane, the king of Denmark, Claudius, uncle to the Prince.

16. Give you good night, i.e. God give you, etc. Cp. god-den, God dig-you-den, God ye god-den, frequent in Shakespeare.

19. A piece of him, a bantering answer to Bernardo's surprise; as one might say, 'Well, it looks like it.' Ingleby, Shakespeare Hermeneutics, p. 137, illustrates the expression from Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, where the heroine "has come upon the blind Rochester, and placed her hand in his: 'Her very fingers,' he cried, 'her small, light fingers! If so, there must be more of her.'"

{ The following is an alternate view by William George Clark in his 1874 edition of Hamlet: "This is, of course, said jestingly. But the German editor Tschischwitz finds a deeper meaning. 'The philosophic Horatio,' he says, 'regards the personality of a man in his merely physical aspect as only a part of himself.' Another editor, Max Moltke, takes the same view. He supposes that Horatio, being a sceptic as to the reality of the Ghost, does not bring with him that belief which predominates in and fills the whole being of Bernardo and Marcellus, and thus the whole Horatio is not present but only a piece of him." }

21. What, has...tonight? The quartos give this speech to Horatio; and many editors follow them on the ground that Marcellus would not use the contemptuous expression this thing of that which he immediately afterwards calls "this dreaded sight," while in the mouth of the sceptical Horatio such contempt would be appropriate. Grant White objects that Horatio does not yet believe that the Ghost has appeared at all; but in his mouth the words need not mean more than 'has your imagination again been conjuring up this apparition you told me of?'

23. fantasy, fancy; the fuller form of the word which has now been corrupted into 'fancy.'

24. And will...him, and refuses to yield himself to belief.

25. dreaded, dreadful; cp. Cor. iii. 6. 98, "in the presence of dreaded justice": Of, by.

27. the minutes of this night, indicating the tediousness, and perhaps the closeness, of the watch they were to keep. Steevens quotes Ford, Fancies, Chaste and Noble, v. 1. 129, "I promise, ere the minutes of the night Warm us to rest, such satisfaction... as more you cannot wish for"; where, however, the short time to elapse is indicated.

29. approve our eyes, confirm by his acknowledgment the truthfulness of our eyesight; admit that we were not the victims of an allusion: for approve, in this sense, cp. A. C. i. 1. 60. "I am full sorry That he approves the common liar, who Thus speaks of him at Rome."

30. Tush, an exclamation of impatient incredulity; awhile, for a time; originally two words, A.S. ane hwile, (for) a while.

31-3. And let us ... seen, and let us, in the endeavour to convince you, once more attack your ears that so resolutely refuse to listen with belief, by telling you what for two nights together we have seen. In keeping up the metaphor in assail and fortified (words, as Eltze points out, so appropriate in the mouth of a soldier), Shakespeare treats the clause What ... seen as though it has been preceded by 'inform,' 'relate to,' instead of assail.

33. sit we down, Abbott (§361) thinks we may perhaps explain the so-called imperative here as = 'suppose we sit down?' 'what if we sit down?'

35. Last night of all, only last night.

36-8. When yond . . . burns, when that very star which you see to the west of the pole had travelled along its path to light up that part of the heavens in which it is now shining, i.e. almost at this very time last night; yond, properly an adverb, yon, being the adjective; Had ... illume, not, had caused its course to light up, but, proceeded on its course with the object of lighting up.

39. beating, much the same as 'tolling,' but more vividly indicating the harsh clangour of the bell as heard in the deep stillness of midnight; cp. K. J. iii. 1. 37-9, "if the midnight hell Did, with his iron tongue and brazen mouth Sound one into the drowsy ear of night."

40. break thee off, cease speaking; see note on 1. 7.

41. In the same figure, in the same shape and dress.

42. Thou art a scholar, the usual form of exorcism being in Latin, a scholar would be required for the purpose; cp. M. A. ii. 1. 264, "I would to God some scholar would conjure her." Reed compares Beaumont and Fletcher, The Night - Walker, ii. 1. 89-90, "Let's call the butler up, for he speaks Latin, And that will daunt the devil."'

43. the king, i.e. the dead king, Hamlet's father.

44. harrows, confounds, paralyzes; more usually spelt harry, the form harrow being "chiefly confined to the phrase 'the Harrowing of Hell,' i.e. the despoiling of hell by Christ ... — A.S. hergian, to lay waste. Literally to over-run with an army" ... (Skeat, Ety. Dict.). Steevens compares Comus, 565, "Amazed I stood, harrow'd with grief and fear."

45. It would be spoke to, it desires to be spoken to. "There was, and is, a notion that a ghost cannot speak till it has been spoken to " (CI. Pr. Kdd.). For the conditional use of would in such phrases, see Abb. § 329, and for the curtailed form of the participle, § 343.

46-9. What art thou ... march? Of what nature are you that without right you claim as a time for your walking these peaceful hours of the night, and with equal want of right assumme the noble and warlike form in which the majestic sovereign of this land was wont to walk when alive? Denmark, the king of Denmark; the name of the country being frequently used by Shakespeare in this way, e.g. K. J. i.1.20 "so answer France"; W. T. i. 1. 23, 4, "Sicilia cannot show himself over kind to Bohemia"; sometimes, formerly; in which as in other senses, Shakespeare uses sometimes and sometime indifferently.

50. stalks, strides with a slow and stately step; A.S. staelcan, to walk warily.

52. will not, is determined not to, etc.

53. How now ... pale, said with ironical surprise.

54. Is not ... fantasy? now that the apparition has so terrified you, you will hardly again twit us with being under a delusion.

56. Before my God, I speak in the presence of my God and call upon Him to witness that, etc.: might, could; see Abb. § 312.

57, 8. Without ... eyes, had it not been vouched for by the certain warrant of my visual sense; had not the appeal been made to my senses, and made in a way about which there could be no mistake; for sensible, in this passive sense, cp. Macb. ii. I. 36, "Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight?", and see Abb. 3; avouch, a substantive formed from the verb, ultimately from the Lat. ad, to, and vorare, to call.

60. Such, not necessarily the very armour, but armour closely resembling it.

61. combated, met in personal combat; the verb is now used in a figurative sense only.

62. when, in an angry parle, when, on the occasion of a conference which ended in angry words; parle, and parley are elsewhere used by Shakespeare only of a friendly conference, or a conference held with the view of coming to an agreement, and we can hardly suppose blows to have been exchanged while the parle was going on.

63. the sledded Polacks, the Poles fighting from their sledges; it is not of course necessary to suppose that all the Polish army was in sledges, the word sledded used merely as a graphic touch; "Polack was, in that age, the term for an inhabitant of Poland: Fr. Polaque" (Johnson).

65. jump at this dead hour, just at this very hour of dead stillness; for jump, cp. below, v. 2. 386, and Oth. ii, 3. 392, "And bring him jump when he may Cassio find soliciting his wife"; for dead hour, cp. T.A. ii. 3. 99, "at dead time of the night"; H. V. iii. Chor. 19, "as dead midnight still"; and the substantive, Lucr. 1625, "Far in the dreadful dead of dark midnight."

66. gone by our watch, passed by us then keeping watch.

67-9. In what ... state, though of many lines of thought I do not know which one would, if explored, show the particular danger threatened, the general drift of my opinion is to foreshadow some strange outbreak which shall shake our state; gross and scope is a hendiadys; for the former word, which is properly an adjective, cp. M. V. i. 3. 56, "I cannot instantly raise up the gross Of full three thousand marks"; for the latter, R. II. iii. 3. 112, "His coming hither hath no further scope Than for his lineal royalties"; eruption, here meaning violent disturbance, is in J. C. i. 3. 78, used in the plural of the natural phenomena supposed to indicate calamity to the state, "Yet prodigious grown And fearful, as these strange eruptions are."

70. Good now, very well, then; or perhaps used as in W. T. V. i. 19, "good now, Say so but seldom"; C. E. iv. 4. 22, "Good now, hold thy tongue," i.e. my good fellow: tell me ... knows, let him who knows tell me.

71, 2. Why this ... land, why, night after night, the king's subjects are worn out by their vigilance so strictly observed, with which we have all become so familiar; for transitive verbs formed from nouns and adjectives, sec Abb. § 290; subject, used collectively.

73. And why ... cannon, and why, day after day, the casting of cannon proceeds without interruption.

74. And foreign ... war, and why there is this constant trade with foreign countries for the purchase of, etc.

75, 6. Why such ... week, why shipwrights are compelled to work in the docks week-days and Sundays; impress, Wedgwood (Dict.) has shown that to be pressed, in the sense of compelled to serve, has nothing to do with press in the sense of 'crush,' 'Squeeze,' but is a corruption of prest, ready, prest-money being ready money advanced when a man was hired for service, the shilling now given to recruits. "At a later period," he says, "the practice of taking men for the public service by compulsion made the word to he understood as if it signified to force men into the service, and the original reference to earnest-money was quite lost sight of."

76, 7. What might ... day, what can possibly be in preparation that all this heavy labour goes on day and night; for toward cp. below, v. 2. 376, "What feast is toward in thine eternal cell ...?, and M. N. D. iii. 1.81, "What, a play toward."

80. the whisper goes so, it is whispered that the reason of all this is such as I will relate to you.

81. image, semblance; not elsewhere used by Shakespeare of a ghostly apparition, though in ii. H. VI. ii. 2. 1-17, "And to survey his dead and earthly image," we have the word in the sense of that which in death is the mere semblance of the living man: even but now, redundant.

83. Thereto ... pride, he being goaded to do so by a spirit of strong emulation; cp. Oth. iii. 3. 412, "Prick'd to't by foolish honesty and love."

84. Dared, challenged; in the sense of venturing to do a thing, the verb 'to dare' has 'durst' for its preterite; for the, denoting notoriety, see Abb. § 92.

85. For so, I say 'valiant,' for so he was accounted, etc.: this side ... world, the inhabitants of this portion of the world that is known to us.

86. compact, with the accent on the latter syllable, as always in Shakespeare.

87. Well ratified ... heraldry, "Law would be wanted to draw up accurately the contract, heraldry to give it a binding force in honour; as the court of chivalry has cognizance of contracts touching deeds of arms or of war out of the realm" (Moberly).

88. with his life, when forfeiting, losing, his life; those his lands, those lands of his.

89. Which he ... of, of which he was at the time possessed; seized, from O. F. saisir to put one in possession of, to take possession of, a technical term in law still in use.

90. the which, for the making which more definite, and used where the antecedent, or some word like the antecedent, is repeated, or where such a repetition could be made if desired, see Abb. 270: moiety, Lat. medietas, a half, is used by Shakespeare as often for any portion as for the half: competent, adequate, sufficient; originally the present participle of the F. verb competer, to be sufficient for.

91. gaged, pledged, staked.

91, 2. which had ... Fortinbras, and this would have gone as an inheritance to Fortinbras; would have passed into his possession. For return'd, involving no idea of going back, cp. Tim. iii. 2. 92, "Had his necessity made use of me - i.e. had he in his necessity applied to me - I would have put my wealth into donation, And the best half should have return'd to him."

93-5. as, by the same ... Hamlet, in the same way that, by the agreement of which I have spoken, and the tenour of the stipulation formally drawn up between them, his possessions passed to Hamlet; for article, properly a particular clause in a stipulation, cp. H. V. v. 2. 360, "The king hath granted every article"; for covenant, the quartos read co-mart, i.e. bargain; young Fortinbras, the son of King Hamlet's opponent.

96. Of unimproved ... full, of fiery and full-blooded courage that has not yet been disciplined in action. Dyce, following Gifford, gives 'uncensured,' 'unimpeached,' as the meaning of unimproved, and no doubt 'improve' was formerly used as = reprove; but Horatio is clearly disparaging Fortinbras, and while allowing him plenty of mettle, speaks of it as intemperate and untried. Cp. H. VIII. i. 1. 132-4, "anger is like A full, hot horse, who being allowed his way, Self-mettle tires him"; mettle, only another spelling of metal, the former being used in a figurative, the latter in a literal, sense. The construction of the line is not, as Johnson takes it, 'Full of unimproved mettle,' but '(a man) of unimproved mettle which is hot and full.'

97. skirts, the outlying districts where there would be plenty of young fellows ready for any employment; used much in the way that we speak of the 'purlieus,' and Shakespeare of the 'suburbs,' of a city, where the refuse of society is gathered together: here and there, in all directions.

98. Shark'd up, greedily swept up, as the shark voraciously sweeps up all prey that comes in its way: a list, a gang; literally, catalogue: lawless resolutes, wild-blooded young fellows ready for any enterprise however desperate and unjustifiable; for instances of inflected adjectives and participles, see Abb. § 433.

99. For food and diet, merely for their keep, caring nothing about being paid.

100. That hath ... in 't, such as has plenty of resolution in it, one that indicates a determined purpose: which is no other, and this enterprise is nothing else than.

101. As it ... state, — for so it plainly appears to our rulers; for state, cp. Lear, v. 1. 22. "With others whom the rigour of our state Forced to cry out."

102. of us, from us.

102, 3. by strong ... compulsative, by force of arms, and on compulsory conditions; i.e. not on terms of agreement such as had been entered into between Hamlet and the elder Fortinbras; the quartos give compulsatory.

104. So, in the way I have already described: I take it, I understand.

106, 7. the chief ... land, the main spring, origin, of all this hurry and bustle which we see throughout Denmark; for head, cp. R. II. i. 1. 97, "all the treasons ... Fetch from false Mowbray their first head and spring; post-haste, literally, the haste made by a post or runner; romage, "... the word [rummage] is merely due to the substantive room-age, formed by suffix -age ... from E. room, space. Roomage is a similar formation to stowage, and means much the same thing. It is an old nautical term for the close packing of things in a ship; hence was formed the verb to roomage or romage, i.e. to find room for or stow away packages; and the mariner who attended to this business was called the roomager or romager" ... (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

108. I think ... so, I think that this and no other must, as you say, be the cause of all this bustle; be, the subjunctive, indicating uncertainty; see Abb. § 299; but, used in its exceptive sense.

109, 10. Well may it ... watch, quite in keeping with such a state of things is it that this ominous apparition should pass through our midst when keeping watch, itself clad in armour as though prepared for battle; sort, agree with the present state of things; the substantive (from which the verb comes) means a lot, class, species, and is ultimately from the Lat. sors, sortis: destiny, chance, condition, state.

111. That was ... wars, whose action was, and still is, the subject of these wars, both past and now brewing between the two countries; cp. T. C. ii. 2. 18, "Let Helen go: Since the first sword was drawn about this question."

112. A mote ... eye, it (the apparition) like a mote in the eye, which, minute as it is, causes the organ infinite pain, perplexes and molests our mental sight: mote, a particle of dust, speck, formerly spelled moth; Malone quotes Preface to Lodge's Incarnate Devils, 1596 "they are in the aire, like atomi in sole, mothes in the sonne."

113. In the most ... Rome, when Rome was at its height of power and glory; the palm was an emblem of victory. Wilson would print "State" with a capital, taking it as reigning city; but it is the time, rather than the place which is here indicated.

114. mightiest, supremely mighty; not mightiest of all that bore that name.

115-20. The graves ... eclipse, cp. J. C. i. 3. 3-32.

115. stood tenantless, opened and gave up their dead: sheeted dead, corpses clad in the winding-sheet, or shroud, in which they had been buried.

116. squeak, squeal, cry out in a shrill tone as if in anguish; gibber, gabble, talk in unintelligible language.

117, 8. As stars ... sun. In this corrupt passage various emendations and transpositions have been proposed, but probably a line, or more than one line, has dropped out. Malone suggests Astres, an old synonym for star, for As stars, and with this word, taking it in the sense of a spot of light, Brae thinks that Disasters, in the sense of spots of darkness, spots on the sun's disc, is contrasted: the moist star, the moon; cp. M. N. D. ii. 1. 162, "the chaste beams of the watery moon"; W. T. i. 2. 1. "Nine changes of the watery star hath been."

119. upon whose ... stands, which governs the ebb and flow of the tides; cp. W. T. i. 2. 427, "you may as well Forbid the sea for to obey the moon."

120. Was sick almost ... eclipse, was sick almost to death with the long and entire eclipse it suffered; was so long in a state of complete eclipse as to seem almost doomed to perish; doomsday, the day of doom or judgement, especially the day of the last judgement, on which the general doom will be pronounced; but here the day of death, as in R. III. v. 1. 12, "All-Soul's day is my body's doomsday."

121. And even ... events, and the precisely similar signs fore-running terrible events; precurse, not elsewhere used by Shakespeare, though Malone quotes precurser, Phoenix and Turtle, 6; fierce, cp. K. J. v. 7. 13, "fierce extremes."

122. harbingers, literally a forerunner; an officer in the royal household, whose duty it was to allot the lodgings of the king's attendants in a royal progress; "The older form is the M. E. herbergeour ... from 0. F. herberger, to harbour, lodge, or dwell in a house" ... (Skeat, Ety. Dict.): still, constantly: the fates, what was fated, destined, to happen.

123. prologue ... on, prologue to the disastrous events to be enacted here; for omen, in this sense, Farmer compares Heywood's Life of Merlin, "Merlin, well vers'd in many a hidden spell, His countries omen did long since foretell." For a similar thought expressed in the language of the theatre, cp. Macb. ii. 4. 5, 6, "Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with's man's act, Threaten his bloody stage."

124. together, i.e. the heaven by comets, eclipses, etc., the earth by the appearance of ghosts: demonstrated, with the accent on the first syllable.

125. climatures, properly the influence of climate in its original sense of distance from the equator, but here apparently for the different regions of the land.

126. But soft, but hold, stop; said to himself as much as to those he is addressing: lo, "generally considered as equivalent to look; but the A.S. la, lo! and locian, to look, have nothing in common but the initial letter. The fact is, rather, that la is a natural interjection, to call attention" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

127. I'll cross it ... me, I will walk across its path, intercept it, even though the result should be that it blast me; an allusion to the old belief that any one crossing, or being crossed by, a spirit came under its baneful influence: illusion, the sceptical Horatio still refuses to acknowledge the reality of the apparition.

128. If thou ... voice, if you are capable of making yourself heard in any way, or of using speech; not quite tautological.

130. If there be ... me, if your appearance here means that there is any good deed to be done whereby you will be relieved, and which it will be to my credit to do; for grace, cp. i. H. IV. ii. 1. 79, "which for sport sake are content to do the profession some grace." Tschischwitz quotes Simrock, Mythologie, "A ghost can be not infrequently laid, especially when a living person accomplishes that for him which he, when alive, should have himself accomplished."

133. If thou ... fate, if you have some knowledge (obtained by means to which we have no access) of what destiny hangs over your country.

134. Which, happily ... avoid, foreknowledge of which may perhaps enable us to avoid; happily for hapily, i.e. by hap, chance, is frequent in Shakespeare. Some editors take the word in its more ordinary sense, explaining which happy, or fortunate, foreknowledge may avoid; but the former sense seems more in accordance with the sceptical mind of Horatio.

136-8. Or if ... death, or if while living you have hoarded up, by burying it in the earth, treasure unjustly wrung from its owners, an offence for which men say, spirits like yourself are often condemned to wander up and down the earth; walk, in this special sense applied to spirits or spectres, is frequent in Shakespeare.

140. partisan, a kind of halberd, or long-handled axe, a weapon borne by foot-soldiers; "etymology doubtful; but the word must almost certainly be extended from O. H. G. parta. M. H. G. barte a battle-axe, which occurs in E. hal-berd" ... (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

141. will not stand, refuses to halt when called upon to do so.

143, 4. We do it ... violence, it is an insult on our part to make an attempt to offer violence to one so majestical in form and carriage.

145, 6. For it ... mockery. I say 'show of violence,'for it, like the air, is invulnerable, and our blows thus spent in vain are but the merest mockery of enmity; for invulnerable, cp. Macb. v. 8. 9, "As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed; Temp. iii. 3. 62-4, "as well Wound the loud winds, or with bemock'd-at stabs Kill the still-closing waters"; vain blows, blows made vain by the fact of the apparition being invulnerable.

147. the cock, Farmer quotes Bourne's Antiquities of the Common People, "It is a received tradition among the vulgar, that at the time of cock-crowing the midnight spirits forsake these lower regions and go to their proper places. Hence it is that in country places, where the way of life requires more early labour, they always go cheerfully to work at that time."

149. Upon a fearful summons, immediately upon hearing a summons that it dreads; for adjectives having both an active and a passive meaning, see Abb. § 3.

150. the trumpet to the morn, which summons the morning to awake as the trumpeter summons sleeping soldiers; trumpet, for 'trumpeter,' as in K. J. i. 1. 27, and standard for 'standard-bearer,' Temp. iii. 2. 18.

151. lofty, high-sounding, as in i. H. IV. v. 2. 98, "Sound all the lofty instruments of war"; but also perhaps with an allusion to the cock throwing up its head when crowing.

154. extravagant, stalking abroad; used again in its literal sense, 0th. i. 1. 137, "In an extravagant and wheeling stranger Of here and everywhere": erring, wandering; Steevens quotes from Chapman's Odyssee, bk. iv., "My erring father," said of the wandering Ulysses, and bk. ix., "Erring Grecians we, From Troy returning homewards." For both words, see Abb. Intro. p. xiii.

155. his confine, the habitation to which it was restricted except during the hours of night, sc. the regions of the dead; cp. K. J. iv. 2. 240, "This kingdom, this confine of blood and breath"; here, as in A. Y. L. ii. 1. 24, with the accent on the latter syllable.

155, 6. and of the truth ... probation, and of the truth of this belief, this object, a moment ago present to our sight, gave proof in disappearing at the cock's crow; for probation, cp. Macb. iii. 1. 80, "This I made good to you In our last conference, pass'd in probation with you, How you were borne in hand"; Oth. iii. 3. 365, "That the probation bear no hinge or loop To hang a doubt on." We now say 'to make proof,' or 'probation,' in the sense of obtaining proof by means of trial, and speak of 'giving proof' in the sense in which Shakespeare here uses made probation.

157. faded, faded away, gradually vanished; cp. Temp. iv. 1.

155, "And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind": on the crowing of the cock, when the cock crowed.

158. 'gainst ... comes, in anticipation of the coming of that time; cp. below, iii. 4. 50, and see Abb. 142.

162. no planets strike, a reference to the old astrological belief in the malignant influence of the stars.

163. takes, strikes with disease, etc; cp. M. W. iv. 4. 32, "And there he blasts the tree and takes the cattle," Lear, iii. 4. 61, "Bless thee from whirlwinds, star-blasting, and taking." So, of witches, A. C. iv. 2. 37.

164. so gracious, so touched with heavenly grace.

165. in part, partly; the sceptical Horatio will not admit it unreservedly.

166. in russet mantle clad, dressed in roseate, or ruddy, hues; the personification of the morning is carried on in Walks, in the next line. Cp. Milton, P. L. v. 1, "Now morn her rosy steps in th' eastern clime Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearls."

167. eastern is preferred by most modern editors to eastward, the reading of the quartos, as being more in accordance with the poetical phraseology of the time.

168. Break we, see note on 1. 33.

168, 9. and by my ... impart, and, if you will take my advice, let us, etc. Apparently a mixture of constructions between 'by my advice do you impart,' and 'if you agree with my advice, let us impart.'

170. upon my life, i.e. I am ready to stake my life upon the certainty of the spirit doing as I say.

171. dumb to us, though dumb to us, or, which was dumb to us; referring to the near relationship of father and son.

173. As needful ... duty? as being a thing which the love we all bear him renders necessary, and one to which our loyal duty makes becoming in us; loves, "the plural is frequently used by Shakespeare and writers of the 16th and 17th centuries when designating an attribute common to many, in cases where it would be now considered a solecism" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

174. I pray, I strongly urge you.

175. Where we ... conveniently, where conveniently for our purpose we may make sure of finding him.


How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < >.
How to cite the scene review questions:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet: Scene Questions for Review. Shakespeare Online. 27 Nov. 2013. < >.

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Scene Questions for Review

microsoft images 1. Describe the atmosphere in this opening scene.

2. Why does it matter if Horatio is a scholar?

3. How is the Ghost made impressive and why is his manner of dress so important?

4. Which passage introduces the Norway subplot?

5. Which character are you most interested in at the end of the scene? Why?

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Did You Know? ... The Ghost of the late king of Denmark appears and promptly withdraws into the night. Horatio recognizes the armour covering the Ghost and remarks that it is the very armour that the King wore "when he the ambitious Norway combated" (61). Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio suspect that the appearance of the ghostly King is an ominous message to all of Denmark, as they prepare for war with Norway. Horatio pleads with the apparition to reveal its intentions. Read on...


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