Act One, Scene One - Hamlet

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The first scene of Act One in the play ‘Hamlet’ begins on a cold, dark winter’s night outside Elsinore Castle in Denmark. As the scene takes place at night, the stage is pitch black with only the guards’ lit lanterns giving light. Francisco’s cautious response to a stranger (Barnado) in the dark, ‘Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself’ creates a tense atmosphere. His next statement ‘tis bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart’; a sign of low spirits, tells the audience that something is not right in Denmark. However, Shakespeare does not reveal yet the reason of it thus leaving his audience in suspense.

As the scene moves on, the audience is introduced to one of the major characters of the play, Horatio. He is brought to join the watch by Marcellus, being told that both Barnado and Marcellus have seen a ghost but Horatio is skeptical and believes it to be ‘tis but our fantasy’. Just as Barnado is about to ‘speak of this’ and dive into the details, the Ghost appears ‘in the same figure like the King that’s dead’. The supernatural appearance of a ghost further indicates to the audience that something wrong is happening in Denmark. The fact that the Ghost takes the form of the dead King, ‘the majesty of buried Denmark’ shows that this issue is related to the King’s death and that it has cast a shadow over the country and messed with the balance of nature in Denmark.

Horatio who sees the Ghost for the first time is left to worry about the future of Denmark. He sees its apparition as an omen for the fate that is going to fall upon the country and uses analogies ‘in the most high and palmy state of Rome’ whereby natural warnings such as ‘stars with trains of fire and dews of blood’ were apparent before Julius Caesar was murdered. For a moment there, Horatio takes a superstitious view to the Ghost’s appearance, which is ironic as he is presented at the beginning of the scene to be rational minded. The fact that the Ghost ‘started like a guilty thing’ when the...
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