At the castle Elsinor in Denmark, the sentries have invited
Horatio to join them and talk about a ghost which has appeared before them
during the previous nights. For the sentries this is a sign of imminent danger,
perhaps indicating an attack by Fortinbras, Prince of Norway. Horatio refuses
to believe them but then the ghost suddenly appears, and he recognizes it
as the King of Denmark, who has recently died. It says nothing and disappears
almost immediately. It reappears shortly afterwards and seems on the point
of speaking when the crowing of a cock, signaling dawn, obliges it to disappear.
Horatio decides to warn Prince Hamlet.
Act One, Scene Two
In his castle Claudius is addressing his Council and refers to his accession
to the throne, the death of Hamlets father, his own marriage to Gertrude,
the widowed queen, and announces that he has written to the old king of Norway,
charging him with the task of reining in the ambitions of his nephew, Fortinbras,
who wants to reclaim land lost by his father to Hamlet's father. He then speaks
to Laertes, the son of his advisor, Polonius, giving him permission to return
to Paris. Turning to Hamlet he questions him as to the source of his melancholy,
urging him to put an end to his sadness, which he deems excessive, and asks
him not to return to the University of Wittenberg. The queen adds her own
pleas to those of the king and Hamlet promises to do his best to follow their
After the departure of the king and his court Hamlet, alone, gives vent to
his sadness and expresses his disgust at his mother remarrying a month after
the death of his father (First soliloquy: "O that this too too sullied
flesh . . . " Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo arrive. Horatio breaks
the news of the ghosts appearances and Hamlet decides to keep watch
with them that evening and to speak to the ghost. For the first time Hamlet
wonders about the circumstances of his fathers death and suspects a
Act One, Scene Three
Laertes is preparing to leave for France. He warns his sister Ophelia against
Hamlets declarations of love as, even if they are genuine, he is a prince
and may not be able to marry whom he chooses. Polonius arrives and showers
Laertes with advice before telling Ophelia to avoid Hamlet. Ophelia promises
to obey him.
Act One, Scene Four
Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are waiting for the ghost on the battlements.
On hearing the sounds of merriment from the feast arranged by the new king
Hamlet comments on the reputation for drunkenness acquired by the Danes, a
tendency which in a people or an individual can often be ruinous: The
dram of evil/ Doth all the noble substance often dout/ To his own scandal.
The ghost appears and Hamlet implores it to speak. The ghost makes a sign
that Hamlet should follow it and he does, against the advice of his companions.
Act One, Scene Five
The ghost declares itself to be the spirit of Hamlets father, returned
to earth to spur him to wreak vengeance. He tells Hamlet he was murdered by
his uncle Claudius who, taking advantage of his being asleep, poured poison
into his ears. Having achieved his dark mission Claudius persuaded everybody
that the king had been bitten by a snake. Hamlets father was killed
before he had an opportunity to confess his sins, and is thus condemned to
wander in Purgatory. He orders Hamlet to kill the murderous and incestuous
brother but not to harm his mother who will, in any case, be subjected to
remorse by her conscience. The ghost disappears.
Horatio and Marcellus arrive. Hamlet feigns a light-hearted mood and makes
them swear three times to say nothing concerning the ghost. Each time the
ghost, from now on invisible, cries Swear! They finally swear
to reveal nothing, even though Hamlet warns them that his subsequent behavior
may seem unusual or eccentric at times.